The Carnival season in Venice has just finished and so did my photography workshop there. As we were getting close to the starting date, I started receiving questions from my guests regarding what equipment they should bring and especially what lenses. As this is a frequently asked question, I decided that it would be a good idea to collect my suggestions in a post, so here we go.
A Wide-to-Medium Range Zoom
This is the bread and butter of event and wedding photographers. The typical focal length spans 24mm to 70mm and professional grade zooms in this range have a fixed maximum aperture of f/2.8.
You want something that is pretty wide at the short end of the zoom because you will be shooting lots of environmental portraits. The Carnival of Venice is great because you have all those masked characters in incredibly elaborate costumes against the backdrop of the most beautiful city in the world, so you want to get a lot of full figure portraits that show a lot of the surroundings and you need a wide angle for that.
Personally I shoot most of the time with a Fujifilm X-T2 camera, which has a crop-size sensor (1.5 times smaller than full frame) so the corresponding lens for me is the Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR. This is one of the best lenses I ever used, it is sharp as a blade and focuses real quick. It’s only drawback is the lack of image stabilization, so you have to be careful with shutter speeds and use your best technique when hand-holding (something that we are more than willing to teach you, if you join us).
The other issue with pro-grade f/2.8 zooms is that they are big and expensive. You can of course take great pictures even with a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. You just have to bump up the ISO when it gets dark, to compensate for the smaller maximum aperture, and to step back a little when 18mm isn’t wide enough.
The other benefit of such a zoom is that it can also work to isolate the subject when used at the long end. If you want to really make the main subject stand out and turn everything else into a blur, you need the next lens.
A Telephoto Zoom
It is nice if you can put your subject in a context like St. Mark’s Square, but that is the most popular place in a city that is usually crowded with tourists. During our workshops, we will sometimes shoot in the wee hours of the morning to avoid the crowds or select equally beautiful locations that are not as busy, but that is not always possible, so sometimes you must find a way to zoom close onto your subject and isolate it from the surroundings. This is where a telephoto zoom comes handy.
The pro choice is a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom on full frame. Again, as a Fujifilm photographer, I would normally select the Fujinon XF 50-140mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR.
All of the similar offerings by the various manufacturers in this range offer great quality, but at a price and the lenses are big and heavy. A good compromise can be an f/4 lens, like the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L or for me the Fujinon XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS. While the maximum aperture of those lenses is smaller, they have incredibly effective image stabilization systems that make them usable even when the light is low, as long as the subject doesn’t move too fast.
One Or Two Fast Primes
Carnival is in winter, when days are short and it might easily be cloudy or foggy (which is incredibly atmospheric, by the way, so we always hope to get some foggy days). Sunlight is not in abundance, in other words, and as mentioned above, we often like to shoot at the edge of the day.
You need to capture as much light as possible and this means having a very large aperture, no smaller than f/1.8, ideally f/1.4 or even f/1.2. There are no zooms that are that fast, so the obvious choice is a prime lens, one that has a fixed focal length. My personal preference is for carrying both a wide angle and a moderate telephoto. In the Fujifilm world, these would typically be the Fujinon XF 16mm F1.4 R WR and the Fujinon XF 56mm F1.2 R. In the full frame world, the corresponding lenses would be a 24mm and an 85mm. Canon and Nikon sell 85mm lenses with apertures of either f/1.8 or f/1.4, the latter being the “pro” choice. Canon also has the amazing EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM, which costs about $2,000!
I don’t recommend anything longer than 85mm on full frame. The longer the focal length, the larger the distance you need to put between you and your subject and the bigger the chance of someone inadvertently photobombing your shoot. You also need to use faster shutter speeds and that complicates things even more.
I feel it is important to use the appropriate lens in every circumstance, if you want the best results, and I hope this little guide has given you some useful tips. If you want to really make the best of your experience in Venice, with the assistance of talented photographers, you can do no better than to join my Venice and the Magic of the Carnival workshop.
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