My new favourite lens - The Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G AF-S.

10th Dec 2011


My favourite lens would have to be… hmmm maybe not, perhaps it’s the… or at least it was? That would be a toughie! But to name my favourite lens right here, right now, today, would be very easy. That would be my Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G AF-S. It’s not a new lens to the market place or indeed even to my own camera bag, but it’s the lens I’m most enjoying using at the moment.

The 50mm f/1.4 has been around in one guise or another since Nikon invented it in 1950. I’ve actually carried the latest incarnation around since it was launched back in 2008, but for some strange inexplicable reason, I’ve rarely used it. I carried it mainly for those low light situations when my f2.8 zooms are going to struggle, but I don’t seem to have needed it, managing mostly by introducing off camera flash; that is until last Friday!

I was due to shoot an editorial piece for one of the outdoor magazines, a piece on bouldering and would need enough photos to cover 4 – 6 pages.

The lower Churnet valley comprises of a collection of Sandstone crags lying along the banks of the river Churnet, between the small picturesque villages of Oakamoor and Alton.

The area is probably best known to the masses for being home to the first “Theme park” in the UK, the aptly named Alton Towers or as one local shopkeeper put it “Vomit Towers” however I think he was referring to the stomach churning quality of the rides and not the overall ambience of the situation and character which tends to be pretty and varied, being amongst the pastoral farmland, wooded hillsides or rhododendron jewelled river-banks.


Whenever I visit or re-visit a climbing area I try and ask myself “what’s special about this place? What sets it apart, is there one thing which somehow really captures the essence of the climbing in the area?” The lower Churnet is a highly popular and respected area with boulderers offering a unique and fingery style of climbing on very unusual rock. Or to sum it up in just one word -  “pebbles” Yep you read that correctly, the kind of pebbles you find on a beach, except in the case of the Churnet the pebbles are embedded into the rock face and used as hand and foot holds by the climber.

As luck would have it we had a good and fairly diverse group of climbers out for the day, which somehow compensated for the fact it was raining and a lot of the rock was wet. This played a limiting factor in what we could and couldn’t climb and obviously had a direct impact on what I could photograph, probably the deciding factor in why I picked up the 50mm out of my bag that day.

It became obvious from the onset of the rain that I would need to crop fairly tight in for a lot of the shots, concentrate more on climber and “the move” and less on the environment. After much deliberation I opted for one of the final moves on the extended version of a problem called “The Long Traverse” a close-up of a pebble with the climber reaching for it using a very shallow DOF, around f2 – bokehlichious!

The Second shot I’ve included here is a composite image which hopefully illustrates six of the moves during the central section of the previously mentioned traverse, which ends with the pebble move described above – I think the combo works well, what do you think?