I took yet another low-budget manual lens out on the streets of Indianapolis for some challenging street photography. While the lens itself performed above and beyond expectations, using a 50mm lens for street photography is a challenge to say the least, regardless of what brand you're using, but take away the auto focus and you've just upped the challenge.
The Brightin Star 50mm f/1.4 performed like a champ, passed the test, and earned a spot in my permanent manual lens collection. I won't be returning this little gem as I have a few other brands that while inexpensive, didn't hit the mark like the Brightin Star did.
To be honest, I already purchased two Brightin Star manual lenses before adding this piece of glass for my Fuji X-T1. My two other purchases were the Brightin Star 55mm f/1.8, which I bought a couple years ago, and the Brightin Star 10mm f/8 fisheye lens, which proved to be much more usable than I expected. I produced videos highlighting both of those lenses, and both are available on my Youtube channel.
For this photowalk, I locked the settings in at 1/500 shutter and 400 ISO. I found that at these settings, I was shooting mostly around f/8, which is typically the sweet-spot (best focus) of any lens. I erred on the side of a little over-exposed, and it shows in several of the photos, but was paying more attention to the Focus Peaking than the aperture in the beginning.
Once I got used to the focusing ring, which is very smooth and easy to access, I started dialing in the proper f-stop and got used to using the lens quickly. The photos came out sharp, and this lens, as I stated, was very comfortable to use on the Fujifilm X-T1 in a street setting where you have to sometimes be quick and ready for the shot at a moment's notice.
No Auto Focus
Again, to be clear, you're doing all the work with a manual lens. There is no auto focus, but with most modern cameras, you can use a feature called 'Focus Peaking,' which gives you a color outline of the 'in focus' portion of your image through the viewfinder.
If you aren't familiar with how to use Focus Peaking on your camera, I have a couple videos explaining this, and will do another if you need more help. Just let me know in the comments section.
I personally prefer a manual lens over an auto lens. There's something more 'organic' about using a manual lens. And if poor vision is the problem for you, and the reason you only use Auto Focus, you might find that the Focus Peaking feature perfect for you. While i typically need glasses for reading or close up objects, when using Focus Peaking I don't need to be wearing my glasses, as I use the Red outline, which provides more than enough viewable focusing.
Again, there are plenty of videos about Focus Peaking for Manual lenses, and I would suggest looking into it if you're getting somewhat bored with your 'point and shoot' auto lenses. The creativity is fun, and again, even with poor eyesight, using Focus Peaking gets you in the game without your glasses falling off your head out in the street or fields.
No Meta Data
While you get a nice sturdy metal plate on the back of the lens that connects to the camera, there are no electronic connectors, so no data is tranferred to the camera. Your internal settings will still be recorded, like shutter speed, ISO, metering mode, flash mode, and any other settings you use in camera, but the F-stop will be recorded as f/1, regardless what the setting actually is on the lens itself.
If you want a record of the aperture, you'll need to write it down or capture the info in some other way, because it will not show up in the image file itself. Not something that really should be a big problem, unless you're using the lens for meticulous documentary and need all those details embedded in your meta file.
Why a 50mm lens isn't typical for Street Photography
A 50mm lens is typically too long for general street photography. The sweet spot most photographers prefer when it comes to focal length are 28mm or 35mm prime lenses. I personally prefer the wider 28mm when it comes to candid street photography, but I also shoot a lot of street portraits, as you'll see in this video, so a longer lens is of value to me when on the street as well as the wide angle.
Anything longer than 50mm on confined city streets can be a problem. You'll be surprised how much area you lose with a long lens in a downtown city setting. With a long lens you are forced to single out your subject, and there is less room for error. Therefore, it also makes it more difficult to be discreet and just 'point in the general direction of the subject' like you can with a wide lens that will grab more of the area, and make it easier to use your depth of field to get everything in the scene more in focus.
As I typically do, I asked several people if I could take their photo. This is an acquired skill and takes practice to come off sincere, and not creepy! People are naturally startled when you break their stride and ask if you can take their photo, their first reaction is curiosity. "Why is he asking to take my photo?" It's a natural first instinct to be protective of yourself, especially in the strange times we live today. But in general, most people will allow you to take their photo on the street if you have a good intro line, and are quick about taking the photo and allow the subject to move on with their day.
In this video, you'll hear me ask each person for their photo, and how they react to the question. A few were eager to oblige, while it took some explaining for others. Either way, just be sincere, have somewhat of a line ready, and more importantly, have the answer as to why you are taking the photo in the first place so you aren't stammering, stuttering, or look like you are coming up with an 'excuse' on the spot. Be professional in both appearance and approach, and a business card helps tremendously as well.
As I said in the first few paragraphs of this review, I found the Brightin Star 50mm f/1.4 manual lens to be a great addition to my manual lens collection, and is another quality piece of glass I can use for a lot of different situations, knowing I have a quality lens that will do the job.