The Best Portrait Lenses?

Started Mar 19, 2013 | Discussions
Shotcents
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The Best Portrait Lenses?
Mar 19, 2013

I've owned some and only tried the others, but feel free to add your opinion as I want one more.

70-200 VR1 & VRII - These two are the versatility kings. Either are capable of beautiful results. Some will prefer the VR1 as it has less focus breathing, but then the VRII image quality is simply amazing with it's 3D rendering and endless sharpness/contrast combined with lovely bokeh.

85mm 1.8G & 1.4G - I'm in the happy camp of actually preferring the 1.8G. It makes a more honest and less dreamy portrait to my eyes. Stopped down slightly I found the 1.8 held a sharpness edge. The 1.4 is the bokeh king, but it never quite catches the snap of the 1.8. In the end I see them as being for different tastes irrespective of price.

105 DC - Still a great lens, but not enough interest in the 105mm over my 70-200 VRII to get me to buy.

135 DC - I though I'd buy one of these and then I tried one. It was very good, but it was not as good as the VRII optically. I have friends who swear by it, but it wasn't for me.

Sigma 50mm 1.4 - The best 50mm I've used, yet it's silly size makes me grab my Nikon 50mm 1.8G more often.

300mm F4 - Really an unsung hero for portraits with some distance, especially for candids. Bring out the VR version and we'll be happier.

300mm 2.8 - Any of the versions are great. I've not been able to pull the trigger on one because I'm cheap about lenses I know I won't use much.

Your favorites???

Robert

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thomo
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Shotcents, Mar 19, 2013

In order of preference, 70-200/2.8VR, 85/1.4D, 135/2DC

The 70-200/2.8VR, to me, is the most amazing lens for portrait work on FX - so much so that I've never been tempted to go for the VRII version. The sharpness wide open is just amazing and in the studio (at f11) I've not seen anything better (except for MF). The zoom range (without breathing) lets me change composition so quickly with having to move position.

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Leonard Migliore
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Shotcents, Mar 19, 2013

I have a couple of those lenses (85 f/1.8G and 300 f/4) but I like the 105mm f/2.5 AI better. I wish I didn't because it's manual focus but there it is.

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Rich Rosen
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Shotcents, Mar 20, 2013

The 85 1.4D,  the sigma 105 2.8, the 28-70 2.8 on DX, and the 70-200 VR I, are all good lenses for portraits. I like the 85 Best

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Keith Aitken
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Shotcents, Mar 20, 2013

Phew, I think you have hit them all

Absolutely near-perfect selection of great lenses . . . I tend to prefer the 85 length on DX, favouring the 105/135 for FX.

To your list, I would add the 180mm f/2.8 AF on DX or FX, for its bokeh and relative sharpness @ f/2.8.

Also, I use the 70-180mm for portraits - colour rendition, sharpness and bokeh are excellent, despite slow, noisy and slightly picky AF.

Realise that the 200 f/2 is not your average carry-over-your-shoulder portrait lens, but when you make the effort and use it for specific people shots/portraits, the rewards are very unique.

Keith

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Shotcents
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Leonard Migliore, Mar 20, 2013

I have a couple of those lenses (85 f/1.8G and 300 f/4) but I like the 105mm f/2.5 AI better. I wish I didn't because it's manual focus but there it is.

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Leonard Migliore

Tell me about the 105 2.5 AI. I never tried one.

Robert

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PSCL1
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Keith Aitken, Mar 20, 2013

105 f2.5 AI Nikkor:  This was the legendary portrait lens in all its iterations for 20 years before AF.  Nikon used to publish a "handbook" with lens data sheets, loose leaf, updatable in the pre-electronic era when equipment was not updated very often.  The data sheet for the 105 listed its optimal aperture at f4, rather than the f5.6-f8 of most lenses.  At f4 a head and shoulders portrait (from the film plane-to-person distance which filled the frame with head and shoulders)  would just pop out of the background.  The person was pretty mucn totally in focus but the background showed what would today be called excellent 'bokeh.'  IMO the lens' reputation was earned by this 'pop' factor.

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Emeraldforest
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Keith Aitken, Mar 20, 2013

Nikon 105mm 2.5 AI is probably the best, if you know how to use manual lens

same thing goes with the Nikon 180mm 2.8 ED ais

I have and use the Nikon 85mm 1.4 AFD but I agree that it is best on my D200.  On my D700 it is not enough separation.

Nikon 75-150mm 3.5 e series pretty much rocks it if you can hang with the loose zoom

I like using the 300mm f/4 afd for long distance candids.  Killer lens

I have used the 80-200mm f/4 ais to good success but this would not be my choice but it has great bokeh and works like a dream.

There are others but these are my favorites.  By far, I love the 105mm 2.5 ai.  Really one of the best lens out there and very very underrated.  At f/5.6 and with the correct distance between you and the subject and subject and the background, the results are simply stunning.  I would never leave home without it if I knew I was going to shoot portraits.  The 105mm 2.8 ais micro does  a pretty damn good job as well.  But there is something very special about the 2.5 ai version.

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Dan_168
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Emeraldforest, Mar 20, 2013

Nikon 105mm 2.5 AI is probably the best, if you know how to use manual lens

There are others but these are my favorites. By far, I love the 105mm 2.5 ai. Really one of the best lens out there and very very underrated. At f/5.6 and with the correct distance between you and the subject and subject and the background, the results are simply stunning. I would never leave home without it if I knew I was going to shoot portraits. The 105mm 2.8 ais micro does a pretty damn good job as well. But there is something very special about the 2.5 ai version.

Do you have any experience with the 105 2.5 AIS? how does it compare? I thought the 105 F2.5 AI-S is great too.

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Emeraldforest
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Dan_168, Mar 20, 2013

I am sure the AIS version is really good too.  I think they changed the optical formula but I could be wrong.  The AI copy I have kills it.  Got it for $179 bucks and it was the best money I have ever spent.  I would think the ais version is the same but I have not tried it, so I can't speak for it.  There is something magical in that lens, something that just is not in modern glass.  I am a big fan of ai and ais lens, so I am partial to them but I have my share of modern lenses too and there is something dreamy and special about the old 105's.  I highly recommend getting one.  I would love to try out the AIS version.  I have the 105mm 2.8 micro ais and it is my favorite macro/micro lens by far.  Old pro glass is hard to beat, unless you can't hang with manual focus.  There is a time and place for manual and a time and place for mandatory autofocus but when I get the chance I almost always work in a few shots with my trusty 105mm 2.5 ai and shoot it around f/4 to f/5.6 and get the subject to be a distance from the background and whammo, the best bokeh ever.  I like to shoot it at f/2.5 because it gives a dreamy look but for face portraits, it is not enough DOF to get the nose to ear focus plane sharp.  I also like to use the 105mm 2.5 ai for flower portraits but usually the 105 2.8 ais micro jumps in there during that application.

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Chas P
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Emeraldforest, Mar 20, 2013

The only differences I know of is that the Ai has rounded blades and no built - in hood. Deeply regret selling mine but missing focus is just a drag.

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tabila117
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Emeraldforest, Mar 20, 2013

I love my 50mm f/1.8 G which gives you a 75mm on DX. Very versatile and light.

My new 70-200mm f/4 VR is not too bad. And is weight is a good thing for my shoulders

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markprincess
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Shotcents, Mar 20, 2013

Of the few lenses I own the 85 1.4G wins hands down. I had the 85 1.8G but didn't really get much from it other than sharpness so sold it and got 1.4G. My 70-200 VRI does pretty well but it's a heavy lens for longer portrait sessions. I want to get the new Sigma 35 1.4 to pair with my 85 1.4G. I  think that would be the best portrait combo for me!

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m_appeal
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to markprincess, Mar 20, 2013
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Chas P
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Shotcents, Mar 20, 2013

My new favourite (after the 24-120/4 ;-)) is the 28/1.8g. Wider than 35, so full - body capable, not as wide as 24 (which is pushing things to the limit). I am finding that 'environmental portraiture' is what I like best. Head and shoulders or headshots have their place, sure, but I like to get a bit of context in if I can. I'm just learning my way round the lens, but when I get it right I prefer it to any other FL.

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m_appeal
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What makes the 85 1.4 so
In reply to markprincess, Mar 20, 2013
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Michael Benveniste
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Chas P, Mar 20, 2013

I am finding that 'environmental portraiture' is what I like best. Head and shoulders or headshots have their place, sure, but I like to get a bit of context in if I can.

Fine shots.

My answer to "which portrait lens" is almost always the same.  Grab your current zooms and go take some portraits by your own definition of that term and according to your own tastes.  That way,  you can tailor your purchases to your preferences rather than the other way around.  Your shots provide a great illustration of my reasoning.

I shoot a fair number of more structured portraits, mainly using the following lenses (FX/film):
17-35mm f/2.8 (Mr. Squeaky) -- Groups, couples, and full body shots
50mm f/1.8 (various) -- Couples, busts and half height
85mm f/1.8D, Tokina 90mm f/2.5 macro -- More intimate adult head and shoulders.
105mm f/2.8 VR, 75-150mm f/3.5E -- "One lens" portraiture
135mm f/2 DC -- Children, more formal adult head and shoulders, tight head shots.

I dislike using a xx-200mm f/2.8 for portraiture for ergonomic reasons, but if you can't take a nice head and shoulders portrait with any of the xx-200mm Nikkors then the problem ain't with the lens.  I find that a 180mm f/2.8 or 300mm f/4 are not to my taste -- the perspective is too flat and the distance too long to communicate with my subjects.  But then I distinguish portraits from candids or fashion shots.

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I miss the days when I used to be nostalgic.

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Leon Obers
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Shotcents, Mar 20, 2013

I've owned some and only tried the others, but feel free to add your opinion as I want one more.

135 DC - I though I'd buy one of these and then I tried one. It was very good, but it was not as good as the VRII optically. I have friends who swear by it, but it wasn't for me.

Robert

Tried the new Zeiss APO 135mm/2.0 last year at Photokina. I was totally flabbergasted by it's quality. Fine bokeh, sharp, great contrast and micro contrast. No LoCA.
Lloyd Chambers did test it last time extensively and did comparison to the Nikkor 135 DC.

The quality for the Zeiss wide open for sharpness, contrast, micro-contrast, corrections for color aberrations etc. as LoCA , is already at the level what the Nikkor does when stopped down to F5.6 - f8.0
(Except for depth of field of course).

IMO the best 135mm you can find. Better than the previous Zeiss Planar 100mm/2.0 macro, specially as for correction of color aberrations.

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hypercore360
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Re: The Best Portrait Lenses?
In reply to Shotcents, Mar 20, 2013

I've owned some and only tried the others, but feel free to add your opinion as I want one more.

70-200 VR1 & VRII - These two are the versatility kings. Either are capable of beautiful results. Some will prefer the VR1 as it has less focus breathing, but then the VRII image quality is simply amazing with it's 3D rendering and endless sharpness/contrast combined with lovely bokeh.

85mm 1.8G & 1.4G - I'm in the happy camp of actually preferring the 1.8G. It makes a more honest and less dreamy portrait to my eyes. Stopped down slightly I found the 1.8 held a sharpness edge. The 1.4 is the bokeh king, but it never quite catches the snap of the 1.8. In the end I see them as being for different tastes irrespective of price.

105 DC - Still a great lens, but not enough interest in the 105mm over my 70-200 VRII to get me to buy.

135 DC - I though I'd buy one of these and then I tried one. It was very good, but it was not as good as the VRII optically. I have friends who swear by it, but it wasn't for me.

Sigma 50mm 1.4 - The best 50mm I've used, yet it's silly size makes me grab my Nikon 50mm 1.8G more often.

300mm F4 - Really an unsung hero for portraits with some distance, especially for candids. Bring out the VR version and we'll be happier.

300mm 2.8 - Any of the versions are great. I've not been able to pull the trigger on one because I'm cheap about lenses I know I won't use much.

Your favorites???

Robert

Nikkor 85 f/1.4G - simply amazing!

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Canyongazer
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all lenses mentioned are good
In reply to Shotcents, Mar 20, 2013

Those are good candidates, Robert.

Back in my fashion days I used a 300 quite a bit outdoors.

105 2.5 is hard to beat although my near eye focusing skills have deteriorated a bit (OK, gone to hell)

Today I like the 85 1.8 G but most of all the Sigma 150 2.8 macro which I usually shoot outside at f 4.

All on FX

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