Lenses solely for portraits

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by walangij, Jul 22, 2007.

  1. walangij macrumors 6502

    Mar 10, 2007
    I'm looking for advice on a lens or lenses that will solely be used for portraiture. I'm wondering whether anyone here has experience using adapted MF lenses on DSLRs, such as Zeiss, Leica, ect. Currently I'm considering purchasing the 135mm L as it would suit my needs extremely well , but I'm open to experiences from those who have shot with some MF lenses for portraits.

    Also your experiences with portraits, inside, outside, studio, candid, ect and the lenses you use most would be great too.
  2. Mike Teezie macrumors 68020

    Mike Teezie

    Nov 20, 2002
    FOr me it depends. If it's a single person in the portrait, I use the 85 f/1.2L 80% of the time, and the difference is split between the 35 f/1.4L and the 70-200 f/2.8L IS.

    For two or more people, it's kind of reversed. 35 most of the time, then the 85 the rest.

    I've shot medium format, but never adapted MF lenses on SLR bodies.

    Here's one at 85 1.2:


    and one at 35 1.4:


    *these were saved for web, so sharpness and saturation are less than are in a full-res jpg.
  3. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    90-135 mm film is IMHO the sweet spot for portraits. This corresponds to 60-90 mm with a 1.5x/1.6x crop factor. 135 mm corresponds to (roughly) 200 mm on film and that is a tad much for portraits, at least in my opinion it is.

    Hence I'd go for either 80 mm or 90 mm (macro) lenses. 80 mm aren't too expensive and Tamron has a nice 90 mm macro lens. If you have a Canon body, don't waste your money on the 1.2/80 lens, this is for available light and the DOF is too small for portraits anyway, the regular lens with a 1.8 aperture (which costs less then 1/4th!) will be fine. For about the same money, you can get 60 mm macro lenses as well (which roughly corresponds to 90 mm film).

    If you want to reuse your old Leica lenses, you might have to live with some limitation, e. g. most newer Nikon bodies (except for the high-end) do not support metering when you connect a MF lens (with the exception of the PC Nikkor), I'm not sure if that is also true for Canons.
  4. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    On a digital crop frame camera even an 85mm is a long lens good for
    head and shoulders. The 50mm is best for full length shots
    I used to have an RB67 and while the lenses used on that sound long they were actually shorter when you think in terms of the ratio of the
    frame diagonal to the focal length

    Also the depth of field is different by a stop or two. A "fast" lens for
    6x6 might be f/2.8 but in the ultra-small crop frame format (likel with a Nikon D80) you need f/1.4 to get the same result. So I'd pass on the
    modified MF lens simply because they are slow

    I have an older manual focus Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI-s. For formal
    shots from a tripod it is ideal. I don't care that it does not meter
    on the digital camera because I have a hand help flash meter that
    works better. I would not want anything longer then this and if I'm
    hand holding the camera I prefer the 85mm AF lens.
  5. absolut_mac macrumors 6502a


    Oct 30, 2003
    Dallas, Texas
    80mm to 135mm will give the most pleasing proportions. Keep in mind the magnification factor that most digital cameras throw into the equation.

    Less than 80mm will exaggerate one's features, and more than 135mm will flatten them out too much so you'll lose perspective.

    MF will give best results, but are not necessary unless you're a pro or are really blowing these up to large proportions where focus is absolutely critical.
  6. compuwar macrumors 601


    Oct 5, 2006
    Northern/Central VA
    It really depends on how far back you want to be. For head and shoulders in the studio, I like 35-70mm. Sharper isn't always better for portraits, as skin blemishes and imperfections eventually have to be photoshopped out.
  7. GoCubsGo macrumors Nehalem


    Feb 19, 2005
    I'm going to tend to agree with whoever said the 135mm on a digital is a bit much. An 85mm is great. I even use a 50mm wide open that works wonderfully for single and sometimes double portraits. Better if they want the photo from the bust up.

    I would recommend what seems to be the favorite 35-70mm or 35-85.
  8. CptnJustc macrumors 6502

    Jan 19, 2007
    If you're using a 1.6x crop Canon, the 60mm macro is an interesting option... haven't used one myself, but I like ~100mm equivalent, so that's just about right.
  9. walangij thread starter macrumors 6502

    Mar 10, 2007
    Well I just got back from a training seminar with the Hasselblad H3D series cameras and I am just wowed by their incredible detail and quality and the paired software on the MBP is absolutely amazing. I am completely amazed at how quickly a CD MBP can manage 50mb RAW files and 112mb TIFF files like JPEGs on Windows, amazing. But too much for my everyday family/friends/dogs/flower portraits needs. And after the seminar, the MF lenses I was looking at would not be worth the amount of usage, yet though I am considering the M8 but thats a whole lot of money to spend in a month.

    Thanks for the great advice from everyone.

    I have tried the 85mm f/1.8 and was disappointed with CA, although very good, just not good enough for me, and also it was not sharp enough in the f/1.8-2.8 range but was quickly fixed with UM in PS. I like the perspective on the 135mm L, it's the same perspective as FF, but just cropped. I don't like the crop factor multiplier b/c the perspective is still 135 not 200 but the equivalent length is said 216. Also sharpness is something I need, even though the imperfections are shown, it's fine for friends/family, but yes with clients they are PS'd out.

    I have the 60mm macro and used it for family portraits as well, the bokeh produced is less than pleasant outside of the ethereal bokeh that only appears when in the 1:1-1:5 magnification.
  10. Mike Teezie macrumors 68020

    Mike Teezie

    Nov 20, 2002

    (my bold)

    What? Why would you say that 1.2 is too narrow for portraits? I shoot at 1.2 the vast majority of the time. There's nothing like the diffusion you get at 85 millimeters/f/1.2.

    Also, I wouldn't recommend a Macro lens for portrait work. All of the Canon macro lenses focus terribly slowly. They can do in a pinch, but I'd never use them solely for portraits.

    walangij, If you are shooting at a 1.6 crop factor, I would recommend a 50mm prime, in the largest aperture configuration you can afford - 1.8, 1.4, or 1.2.

    At 1.6, the 50mm becomes an 80mm equivalent, which imho is the perfect portrait focal length.
  11. Daveman Deluxe macrumors 68000

    Daveman Deluxe

    Jun 17, 2003
    Corvallis, Oregon
    In my experience, fixed-length lenses are the way to go for portraits. Fixed-length lenses are typically faster, and they make you frame the shot the way you want it by moving around, not just by turning a ring. The difference in mindset is key.

    On a 35mm frame, I go with 50mm and 80mm. I guess that on a 22mm sensor, that would be 80mm 130ish mm.
  12. filmamigo macrumors member

    Sep 17, 2003
    Very happy with results from two manual-focus lenses adapted to my Pentax *ist DL.

    - 135mm f/2.8 Hanimex M42 (with K-mount adapter ring)
    - 55mm f/1.8 Super Takumar (with K-mount adapter ring)

    Lovely contrast, beautiful bokeh. Very sharp edge to edge.
  13. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

    Apr 14, 2001
    Sendai, Japan
    First of all, it's a question of price: for 95 % of the people, the 1.2/85 lens is not worth the money (not because it's a bad lens!). It is an available-light lens and most people will do just fine with the 1.8/85 lens (which costs less than a fourth). Also, the 1.2/85 is very heavy and focusses slower than (as you really have to hit the sweet spot). My 2.8/80-200 zoom is already unforgiving about focussing correctly, I can't imagine what the 1.2/85 is like (I've heard that you might have to send in your camera to have the AF module calibrated so that it focusses correctly, that's how small the dof is) ;)

    Again, it's not a bad lens, but I think it's not worth it, especially if you have enough light.
    Again, that depends on the kind of portraits you do.

    Edit: fixed a tag.
  14. Abstract macrumors Penryn


    Dec 27, 2002
    Location Location Location
    I believe you're right. Crop factor doesn't make things appear flatter.

    I use a 105 mm f/2.8 macro lens for portraits. Well, I don't take too many portraits, but I have using it, and it has always turned out well.....better than with my 24-70 mm f/2.8. I wonder whether a 100 mm would work well?

    I'd go for an 85 mm, 50 mm, and/or 35 mm Canon lens, and forget about the MF lenses for now, due to what Chris A mentioned.

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