My new f/1.2 lens reminds me to point out that vignetting is a good thing.

Let me explain.

Vignetting means “making the outsides of a picture dark”.

A lens, especially a fast lens, used wide open (at the lowest f-number) does this rather a lot. Like in this example. Here is the 50mm lens at f/1.2:

Vignetting at f/1.2

Vignetting at f/1.2

And here at f/2, “stopped down” just over a stop:

Less vignetting at f/2

Less vignetting at f/2

As you see, the wide open image gives you a lot more vignetting: the corners are dark. This is mentioned as a drawback for lenses that do this.

But hold on! Often, vignetting is a desirable thing. Especially in portraits.  Like many photographers, I often add vignetting using the “effects” tool on Lightroom. A little vignetting is hard to detect but makes the picture noticeably better. Vignetting, in this way, makes the subject in the centre looks like he is lit by a spotlight:

Make my day

Make my day (Michael Willems)

I could do this in Photoshop, true – but I like to say “I did it all in the camera”.

And that is why I believe that for a portrait lens, a little vignetting when the lens is wide open is not a bad thing. And I ignore it when lens reviews moan about vignetting wide open.

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