What is a fast lens: a complete guide

A fast lens is an essential piece of gear for any photographer who wants to snap stunning shots in dim lighting or stop moving subjects.

This results in faster shutter speeds, greater image quality, and shallower depths of the field. The word “fast” alludes to how quickly a lens can take pictures, making fast lenses a popular option for both amateur and professional photographers.

In this article, we will answer the question of what is a fast lens, its advantages, and when it is suitable to use one, learn about fast lenses, including what they are, how they operate, and why photographers love them.

Discover the characteristics, the advantages of using one, and the ideal lenses to start with. Additionally, learn about common lens traps to avoid. I hope this complete guide will be interesting and informative for you to read.

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Types of fast lens

There are various kinds of fast lenses on the market, and they all have different optical properties, focal lengths, and aperture ranges. Some of the most typical varieties are listed below:

Standard fast prime lenses. These have a fixed focal length and a large maximum aperture that gathers as much light as possible, usually falling between f/1.2 and f/2.8. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM and the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G are two examples.

Telephoto fast lenses. These lenses feature a longer focal length and a large maximum aperture, making them perfect for portrait, sports, and wildlife photography. Examples are the Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II and the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM.

Wide-angle fast lenses. They have a shorter focal length, making them ideal for shooting landscapes and buildings, and they feature a large maximum aperture. The Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM and the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art are two examples.

Zoom lenses with a big maximum aperture. They are adaptable and excellent for a variety of photographic styles since they feature a variable focal length. Examples are the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM.

The choice of lens ultimately depends on the demands, preferences, and shooting conditions of the photographer.

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Factors to take into account before using a fast lens

There are a few things to think about before using a fast lens to make sure you get the most out of it. The following are important things to bear in mind:

Lighting. Although fast lenses are best used in low ambient light, they can potentially overexpose photos taken in strong light. Ensure that the exposure settings are adjusted appropriately, and if required, think about using a neutral density filter to lessen the quantity of light entering the camera.

Depth of field. Fast lenses can provide a very shallow depth of field when their maximum aperture is wide. This may be a creative advantage, but it can also make it difficult to maintain overall focus. If you want your shot to have the desired depth of field, think about altering the aperture setting.

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Shutter speed. Fast lenses can be used to capture moving objects since their wide maximum aperture allows for fast shutters. But make sure to change the shutter speed to prevent overexposure and motion blur.

You may produce high-quality photographs without motion blur in a variety of shooting scenarios by taking into account these elements.

Although it doesn’t indicate how good the lens is, you can determine a lens’s speed from its name. The maximum aperture of a lens is typically stated in the name of lens manufacturers.

There is an aperture range in some circumstances. That applies to some zoom lenses and shows that the maximum aperture varies with the zoom level.

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Fast lenses are a crucial tool for photographers due to their many advantages over slower lenses. They include:

  1. Better low-light performance. Fast lenses can let in more light since their maximum apertures wider than a slower lens.
  2. Narrower depth of field. You can focus on a single object and produce a stunning bokeh effect by using a wide maximum aperture. When photographing people or other subjects where you wish to highlight a certain region of the image, this can be extremely helpful.
  3. Shoot without a flash. Instead of using the sometimes unnatural-looking flash on the camera, you can rely on shooting wide open, using image stabilization (with newer ones), and using the available light.
  4. Take pictures without a tripod. For photographing portraits and landscapes, use tripods 90% of the time because it takes longer.
  5. Faster shutter speed. Wider highest apertures allow for higher shutter speeds, which are particularly helpful for stopping motion or capturing moving objects. In situations when speed is crucial, such as sports photography, wildlife photography, or any other, this can be advantageous.
  6. More creative control. Fast lenses provide you with more creativity when it comes to the final image. You can change the depth of field with a bigger aperture to give your photos a certain style and mood.

Fast lenses are generally favored by professionals and amateurs who wish to get the finest results under difficult shooting settings because of their benefits.

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Even though fast lenses have many benefits, there are a few drawbacks that photographers need to be aware of. They include:

  1. Price. They typically cost more than slower lenses. This is because they call for better materials and more complex optical designs. This may make them unaffordable for certain photographers with tight budgets.
  2. Size and weight. They are frequently bigger and heavier than slower lenses. Because of this, they could be more challenging to use continuously and carry around, especially if you’re shooting handheld.
  3. More challenging to use. They are more difficult in using properly since they demand more knowledge and experience. For instance, when using a wide aperture, it can be difficult to focus correctly, especially in low conditions of light.
  4. Limited range of focal lengths. Fastest lenses have a fixed focal length, thus to modify the composition, you must physically move closer or farther away from your subject. This can be constricting in some circumstances; in those cases, a zoom lens with a wider focal length range may be better suitable.

While they have numerous benefits, they also have some disadvantages that photographers should take into account before purchasing one. In the end, the choice of lens comes down to the particular requirements and tastes of the photographer as well as the shooting environment.

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Fast lens vs slow lens

Fast lenses are better at blurring backgrounds because they can collect light much more than slow. Slow lenses, however, are frequently more compact, lighter, and less expensive.

To avoid motion blur when shooting fast-moving action, short, light-starved shutter speeds are frequently used. So you’ll need all the illumination a quick lens can provide.

But you could be better off conserving money and choosing a lighter, slower lens if you frequently take portraits or static situations like landscapes that allow you to employ slower light-soaked shutter speeds.

For instance, I chose the Tamron 70-210mm F4 lens over the twice-as-bright Tamron 70-200mm since it cost less and weighed less.

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When to use fast lenses?

You are going to need a fast lens when you have to use slower shutter speeds. These circumstances include using your camera handed in dimly light settings where your shutter speed is constrained by how steadily you can hold it.

Then there is shooting quick-moving action. Football players or birds in flight won’t stop moving while your camera is capturing enough light, so you must use a quick shutter speed to stop them in their tracks and prevent camera shake and motion blur.

You need a fast lens with a big aperture to capture as much light as possible rapidly because your shutter is only open for a very little period.

Astrophotography also uses a lot of them. The Earth’s rotation causes the stars to move even when you are using a tripod.

Therefore, if you have a short window decreases the opportunity to obtain razor-sharp stars. If you spend too much time gathering light, the stars will start to smear.

Finally, professional photographers prefer to use them even in bright lighting since they are wonderful for blurring backgrounds.

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It’s important for several reasons

Exposure. You can snap images in low conditions of light without using your camera’s flash if your lens is quick. A slow shutter speed means you won’t need a tripod to hold the camera steady.

Shift ratio. The shutter doesn’t need to be open for as long to achieve the desired exposure if your Canon lens lets in more light. That might assist you in preventing fuzzy pictures due to camera or subject movement. You can stop a moving object in its tracks.

Focus. If your Canon camera has a fast lens, you can get a more attractive background blur. This is especially beneficial when taking portrait images or other pictures when the background shouldn’t distract from the main subject.

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The mythical and legendary fast glass

There have been some renowned fast glass lenses that have been discontinued for a very long time.

During the Apollo missions, the Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7 was created to take pictures of the moon’s dark side. Stanley Kubrick, a director of films, bought two.

On the used market, the Nikon 58mm Noct-NIKKOR f/1.2 attracts high prices. When shot wide open, its aspherical element was created expressly to prevent sagittal coma flare by replicating light sources as light sources rather than blobs.

The desert island fast glass lens is the Nikon NIKKOR 50mm f/1.2 manual focus.

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There was just one Nikon NIKKOR-O Auto 58mm f/1.0 lens made, and it sold at auction in 2022 for record prices.

The Minolta 58mm f/1.2 MC Rokkor and Minolta 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X were popular among Minolta photographers.

It is advised to start with a Nifty Fifty if you want to upgrade from your kit lens and take your photography to the next level.

In addition, Wide-angle to moderate telephoto focal lengths are all covered by a typical kit lens.

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What would be an example of a fast lens?

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The answer to the question of what is a fast lens and an example of a fast lens, a fast lens is one with a big maximum aperture, which lets in more light and permits quicker shutter speeds.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens is a good example of a quick lens.

This lens’s f/1.4 maximum aperture allows fast shutter speed and improves dim-light performance since it can collect more light than lenses with smaller highest apertures.

Because of this, it is a popular option for portrait and dim-light shooters.

Why are canons fast lenses expensive?

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Observe that just one Canon EF-S lens qualifies as fast. For full-frame cameras, almost all of the fast Canon lenses are EF “L” lenses.

The highest standards are used when producing Canon L lenses.

First, compared to ordinary lenses, they have a more expensive design and are made with the best materials and production tolerances.

Second, because they are larger and have larger lens elements, the materials they are manufactured of also contribute to their greater price.

Similar to how a Chevy Suburban costs more to produce than a Chevy Equinox, so does a bigger engine, bigger tires, and a bigger chassis.

Why are fast lenses better?

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For several reasons, they are preferable to those with smaller maximum apertures.
They let in more light, allowing you to shoot in dim light without using slow shutter speeds or high ISO settings. Images that are clearer and less noisy may be the consequence.

A fast lens with a wide aperture that determines how much light can come through and that can provide a shallower depth of field, which helps isolate your subject and enhance the bokeh.

Since they let in more light, you can use fast shutter speeds, which is particularly helpful for action photography or when you need to freeze motion.

They are frequently constructed of better glass and coated with better materials, which can provide images that are sharper and more contrasty.

They are a common choice for both professionals and beginners who want to produce the best results since they provide more flexibility and creative control over the final image.

What is a fast and slow lens?

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Fast shutter speeds and improved low-light performance are made possible by the fast lens. The speed at which the lens can take pictures is referred to as “fast”.
In general, they are those with maximum apertures of f/2.8 or wider.

A slow lens, on the other hand, has a narrower maximum aperture and as a result, lets in less light.

This may lead to shorter shutter speeds and less effective operation in low-light conditions. Generally speaking, slow lenses are those with maximum apertures of f/4 or below.

The decision between a fast and slow lens is based on the photographer’s requirements and the shooting environment.

A fast lens speed can be a better option if you frequently shoot in poor light or need to freeze moving subjects.

A slower lens speed might be a better choice, though, if you don’t require the extra speed and prefer a smaller or more reasonably priced lens.

What are mirrorless cameras?

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Unlike Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras, mirrorless cameras do not have a conventional mirror-based optical viewfinder system.

Instead, they preview and take pictures using an electronic viewfinder or the back LCD screen.

They are smaller and lighter than DSLRs due to the removal of the mirror and related prism mechanism.

Since they rely on contrast-detection and phase-detection autofocus technologies that are built into the camera’s sensor, they also frequently feature better autofocus performance and continuous shooting speeds.

Since they frequently contain interchangeable lenses, photographers may adapt to a variety of shooting situations and shooting techniques.

Additionally, they provide cutting-edge capabilities including wireless networking for remote control and image transfer, video recording, built-in image stabilization, and other features.

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A fast lens is a useful tool for photographers who want to capture photographs of excellent quality in poor light or stop-moving objects.

A narrower depth of field and greater image quality are produced by its big maximum aperture, which permits a faster shutter speed and more light to reach the camera.

They tend to cost more money and weigh more than slow lenses, but because of their advantages, both professionals and novice photographers like them.

It is important to know what is a fast lens for photographers but, the choice of using a fast lens or not ultimately comes down to the photographer’s tastes and unique shooting needs.

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