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Lens Shoot Out | What’s The Best Portrait Focal Length?

By Wendell Weithers on May 30th 2018

Every photographer has a go-to lens; a lens you’d choose if you were forced to pick one and only one out of your kit. The options narrow significantly when you restrict the purpose of the lens to portraits. Even so, if you polled a group of photographers you’d find a varied set of responses. Be that as it may, Manny and his wife Diana have tried to settle the long-standing debate.

Be it resolved…

What Is The Ultimate Portrait Lens?

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You may not shoot Sony but, this video still provides a useful comparison for shooters of any system hoping to see the difference between the focal lengths; especially in their fast aperture variants. Let’s see what team Ortiz found.

A post shared by Manny Ortiz (@mannyortizphoto_) on

[REWIND: The Best Canon Lenses For Photographers On A Budget]

Highlights

What you should note is how the different focal lengths change the relationship between your subject and the background. A good example of this is found when comparing the 85mm and the 200mm end of the 70-200mm GM. While the 85mm is a favorite among portrait shooters, it doesn’t isolate the model as well as its longer counterpart, even though it has a wider aperture.

But this may not factor into why you’re taking your particular portrait. While a longer focal length renders your model’s facial features more favorably, your aim may be to include the environment to enhance the mood and atmosphere your image. So, as usual, the idea of “ultimate” or “best” subjective.

Still, if this video has pushed you over the edge and you want to buy a new lens, check out the links below.

[REWIND: The Properties of Camera Lenses | What You Must Know To Make Better Decisions]

Featured Focal Lengths

The sale prices listed below are current as of 05/30/2018

Sony

Zeiss 35 mm f1.4 – $1,498

Sony/Zeiss 55mm f1.8 – $898

Sony 85mm f1.4 GM – $1,798

70-200mm f2.8 GM – $2,698

Canon

Canon 35mm f1.4L II – $1,649

canon 50mm f1.2l USM  – $1,299

Canon 85mm f1.4 L IS – $1,599

Canon 200mm f2.8 L – $749

Canon 70-200mm f2.8 – $1,799

Nikon

Nikkor 35mm f1.4 – $1,695

Nikkor 50mm f1.4 – $446.95

Nikkor 58mm f1.4 – $1,595.95

Nikkor 85mm f1.4$1,596.95

Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 E FL ED VR Lens – $2,796.95

Sigma

Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art – $899

Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art – $949

Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art – $1,199

Tamron

Tamron 35mm SP f1.8 – $599

Tamron 45mm SP f1.8 – $399 —- “Whaaaaat?!”

Tamron 85mm SP f1.8 – $749

Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 G2 – $1,299

Wendell is based in Atlanta where he shoots events, portraits, and food photography. He also supports his wife Andrea as she runs their cake design business, Sweet Details.

Instagram: Wendellwphoto

2 Comments

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  1. Jason Trayer

    Thanks for making the video. I’m a 70-200mm guy on my Nikon D500. Simply the best workhorse lens, in my opinion. Also, 85mm is a focal length in the range anyway. Best of both worlds. One thing I didn’t see is the mention of crop factor and field of view. So depending on crop factor, the field of view will not be the same as the specific focal length. I think that’s important to mention. 

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    • Wendell Weithers

      Hey Jason, Thank Manny and Diana Ortiz! They are the ones with the nice glass and YT channel. You bring up good points. However, I didn’t want to go too far beyond what they presented in the video. I’m sure there will be chances to go more in depth in the future.

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