man on a skateboard performing a jump

Ahead of the Game

Bertrand Bernager

“Often,” says Bertrand Bernager, “street photography is like a game between you and the subject. Sometimes you’ll just walk the city without goals, searching for something interesting. Other times it’s about finding a great spot with beautiful light and waiting patiently for a person to enter it, like an actor crossing a stage. Either way these new lenses are perfect for it.”

people walking across a car park with strong shadows being cast

© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7C + FE 24mm f/2.8 G | 1/500s @ f/8.0, ISO 200

Bertrand, who makes street images in his native Paris and around the world, is talking about three new Sony lenses in the shape of the FE 24mm f/2.8 G, the FE 40mm f/2.5 G and the FE 50mm f/2.5 G. So, what did they bring to his work?

buildings in paris with soft shadows on the wall

© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7C + FE 24mm f/2.8 G | 1/320s @ f/11, ISO 100

“I normally use a mix of primes and zooms for my street shooting,” he explains, “and that includes the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, the FE 24mm f/1.4 GM and the FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, so the new lenses fitted my most used focal lengths nicely. They’re incredibly compact, but they’ve still got everything that the top G lenses have, like the double linear autofocus motors as well as manual aperture rings, which is really important to me, not only because I like to shoot manually, but on a prime lens it just feels right!”

Bertrand focuses on architecture as well as people in his street photography, combining the two to amazing effect, as his shots with the three new lenses show. His work often features small human figures dwarfed by buildings and manmade spaces, or picked out by sunlight in the deep city canyons. “It’s one of my favourite ways to depict our cities and how people interact with them,” he explains, “and having a set of lightweight, high quality primes makes it easy for me to do.”

couple crossing the road in bright sunlight

© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7C + FE 40mm f/2.5 G | 1/640s @ f/5.6, ISO 100

“With these new lenses,” he continues, “I’ve been playing a lot with the heavy contrast between sun and shadow, like a dark road and with just a single patch of light within it. Of course, there have been fewer people on the streets due to the pandemic, but combined with the light and shade, this makes the spaces feel emptier and the people more iconic, caught within the city’s geometry.”

3 buildings in paris showing different textures

© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7C + FE 40mm f/2.5 G | 1/640s @ f/5.0, ISO 100

Using the new 24mm, 40mm and 50mm to capture these spaces, he’s found the 40mm gives an exciting new view. “It’s the first time Sony has made a 40mm,” he says, “and it’s a nice balance between the other two lenses. It’s great for street, as it’s so close to a perfect standard lens on the full frame Alpha cameras. And with aspherical and extra low dispersion elements all of the new lenses have incredible corner to corner sharpness, too.”

Moving around the city so much and generally shooting handheld, weight is a big deal for Bertrand and he’s found freedom from it in the new lenses.

All the lenses have exactly the same lightweight body design,” he explains, “they’re the same size, and they’re made of the same high-quality metal, with this lovely vintage aesthetic, so from far away, it almost looks like a film camera. They even have the same filter size of 49mm filter, so you don’t have to carry different filters. It’s definitely more comfortable to shoot all day with this kind of glass.”
gold coloured statue on top of a parisian building bathed in light

© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7C + FE 50mm f/2.5 G | 1/100s @ f/8.0, ISO 200

“And, of course, there’s the size,” he continues, “because smaller lenses mean you carry a smaller bag, and you have a smaller looking camera in your hands. When you’re shooting street photography, you have to be like a ninja, discrete or almost invisible, so you can just observe and record and not have people’s behaviour influenced by you. You want to be quiet, too, so the linear motors in these lenses really make a difference, as well as the aperture ring which can be de-clicked if you need it. That’s mainly for video, but it helps me with street portraits, too.”

pink blossom on a tree

© Bertrand Bernager | Sony α7C + FE 24mm f/2.8 G | 1/125s @ f/8.0, ISO 100

Finally, and maybe most importantly, these new Sony prime lenses have helped put Bertrand back in touch with the city. “For such a vibrant city, Paris has been like a ghost town, and though I was initially put off by documenting the changes, I realised that street photography will be an important historical document of these times, too. It was important that I stayed true to myself as a photographer, being curious and creative, and playing my usual game on the streets, and these lenses really inspired me to do that.”

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Bertrand Bernager

Bertrand Bernager | France

"Through photography I try to track the light, sublimate the movement, capture the moment"

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