What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?

Started Jun 27, 2013 | Discussions
tamasine
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What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
Jun 27, 2013

Hi folks – I’m hoping you can give me some advice please.

My current kit comprises:

D600

18-35G - I use this for landscapes, architecture

50 f1.8G - for general photography

70-300 VR - errr..portraits

I feel I'm missing a lens somewhere. I considered the 28 f1.8 and the Sigma 35 f1.4, but with the 18-35G I don't feel I would use those (28 + 35) focal lengths enough (I'm not really into street photography where I guess they come into play).

This brings me to the 85mm f1.8G. Most reviews state it is exceptionally sharp and good value for money. I like a light set up so it would go well with the 18-35G and 50mm as they are both pretty light lenses.

The only thing in the back of my mind is that it seems most people use it for portraits. I don’t really do portraiture that much and when I do, it is with the 70-300.

For those who own an 85mm, if you weren’t going to use it exclusively for portraits, is it still a lens you would choose to use/buy and what could you do with it? Have you taken any of your best pictures with this lens (please feel free to post your pics - it would help me enormously)?

Thanks!

T.

Nikon D600
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mehigh
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 27, 2013

Hi

The 85 F1.8 offers you the ability to shoot in low light. With the Nikon 85mm@F1.8 you can really get some reach when the light goes down...unlike the 70-300 which is useless without abundant light, especially at the tele end. You really need to increase the ISO when using the 70-300 on a DX camera in a low light environment, which increases the noise. Something that I don't like at all.

Plus the big aperture allows you to separate your subject more from the background, which is very useful, not only for portraits!

Plus the lens is less bulky then a zoom, making you more agile

Here are some of my Nikon D90 taken with the 85mm at F1.8

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Guidenet
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 27, 2013

I'm not sure what you're asking. An 85 f/1.8 or f/1.4 is a wonderful short telephoto. When you nail the focus under a basketball net, you really nail a shot. I use my Nikon 85 f/1.4 for anything I need a short fast tele for. Mostly my use is in my studio or on location for work, but even for pleasure use, it's great. What can you say about one of Nikon's very best two lenses?

One problem I have with these kinds of questions is that it seems backwards in how to go about things.  In other words, you choose the application then find the lens to fit it. What you're doing is considering the lens, then asking how to use it. That also strikes me like chasing your tail.

Also, you're using the 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR as a portrait lens which seems to me to be a poor choice unless maybe you are inside with a studio backdrop. Then, I might shoot at 100mm and f/5.6 or f/8 regardless of what the lens might capable of. Out of a studio, I may want to isolate the subject which becomes a bit hard with a slow lens. Also, the OOF rendering of that lens is not the best. It's really not designed to make a good portrait lens. If you want a short telephoto zoom that can double as a portrait lens, I'd look at one of the 80-200 f/2.8 or 70-200 f/2.8 lenses on the market.

If you decide to get the 85 f/1.8G, then of course that should instantly be your portrait lens. It can also serve as a general purpose fast short tele, as I mentioned. It's nice for sidelines indoor sporting events as well. I use it for most anything at all, when I wish. It's one of those lenses I'd probably never sell.

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tamasine
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to Guidenet, Jun 27, 2013

Thank you both for your replies.

I know my question was a bit strange but actually some of your pics seem to help. I would use it as a portrait lens but I mainly shoot landscape and still life, so what I was trying to ask (and not doing a good job ) is could you use the 85mm for landscape and still life?

Especially still life. When I've shot pics of objects before I've used the 50mm f1.8 so I was thinking would the 85mm be any better or not worth it? Again, I know it seems a naive question but to me 85mm might be a difficult focal length to use for still life...

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Art Jacks
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 27, 2013

I take very few ' portrait ' shots but my 85 1.4 is the lens I use most of the time for my walking about looking for interesting things situations,  I  have  his lens plus a 35 1.4 and as a minimalist outfit I feel I have things about right for ' my ' needs, the wide apertures give a great ideal of options regarding how the mages are captured regarding  DoF etc, I am an aged amateur so I do not expect my kit to be suitable for everyone but if I could only have one lens it would be the 85

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wasserball
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 27, 2013

I used it for HS basketball, under the basket, in dark HS gym.  The fast lens allow me to do some creative shots.

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PHXAZCRAIG
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 27, 2013

I personally view it as a 'mostly portrait' lens.   I have the same opinion of my 85F1.8 AF too.   Basically because it is good at portraits, but not all that great at general photography.

My argument for that opinion is that a) it doesn't focus all that close, and b) it only stops down to F16.  Any prime that focuses close is more versatile than one that doesn't, and occasionally it's nice to have a small aperture to reduce shutter speed in bright light (think flowing water shots).

As for 'going well with 18-35 and 50' lenses, I'd say 'sort of'.    A 50mm lens is pretty close to 85mm.  It's also close to 35mm.   One tends to find that you end up skipping the 50 a lot if you have 35 and 85 available.

If I feel like shooting primes, I take my 35, 85 and 105 and skip the 50.   If I had a better 24mm prime (I have the 24F2.8 AF-D, which I don't care much for), I might well take a 24, 50 and 105 combo.

The 105vr I have gets my nod for 'versatile prime', usually.   Or the 35mm (I have Sigma 35f1.4 and Nikon 35/f2).

Nothing wrong with the 50 (I have 50F1.8 AF and 50F1.4g) - sharp, handy lens.  Just tend not to use it unless I force myself to when I have 35 and 85 choices sitting in the bag.   That's on both DX and FX cameras.

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Guidenet
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 27, 2013

tamasine wrote:

Thank you both for your replies.

I know my question was a bit strange but actually some of your pics seem to help. I would use it as a portrait lens but I mainly shoot landscape and still life, so what I was trying to ask (and not doing a good job ) is could you use the 85mm for landscape and still life?

Especially still life. When I've shot pics of objects before I've used the 50mm f1.8 so I was thinking would the 85mm be any better or not worth it? Again, I know it seems a naive question but to me 85mm might be a difficult focal length to use for still life...

For me it would depend. If I wanted to climb into the still life and show space and depth, then I'd use a very wide angle lens. If I wanted compression and a flatter look from the outside looking in, then the 85mm is superb.

I use the 85 often enough in landscapes. Again, a lot depends on the scene. Sometimes I have to climb higher and be farther away from the image I want. With a wide angle I might be in a valley and be too far below the scene, so climbing higher on a hill or mountain and being farther away with a short telephoto might get exactly what I'm looking for.

Here's an example of a landscape I shot in Arizona. I wanted my position to be around 2/3rd the way up the butte in the center area. I had to hire a Navajo guide to drive me up a path on top of a fairly high hill or small mountain to a little flat area. I had to use a Sigma 150 lens in order to frame the area I wanted from that far back. I was also hoping the 150mm would enlarge the moon a little.

So, yes, the 85 can make a great still life or landscape lens. You just have to consider how far you need to be away from the scene and still get the framing you want. You see in the photo below how if I'd have used a wide angle, I'd have had to be a mile in front of where I was. I would have had to point my camera up at that butte. All the other background components might have been hidden behind the butte, including the moon. I would have had nothing in the foreground like I have here. See what I mean?

Have fun and take care.

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Cheers, Craig
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kiirokurisu
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 27, 2013

I find the 85 1.8G to be a superb all-rounder. It can be relied upon to give sharp results at any distance and aperture, leaving me to compose the shot any way I like without worrying about the limitations of the lens. I use it for indoor candids (without flash), portraits and some landscapes (70-200 f/4 is my preferred tele-landscape lens). Perhaps strangely I also like it for city/architecture. I like the slight compression of distance and the amount of subject separation it can achieve compared normal lens (35 or 50mm) in this use.

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VadymA
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Better alternatives?
In reply to Guidenet, Jun 27, 2013

I agree that with proper skills 85mm could be used practically for everything but is it the best choice for landscapes and stills? I think a couple of zooms covering wide and telephoto would provide much greater creativity/flexibility in framing the shot than 85mm. I love using mine for taking pictures of my kids indoor and out, but for everything else I would most definitely choose something else; in my case that would be a couple of fast zooms plus one macro. And since the OP doesn’t have a macro lens yet, maybe something like 105 macro would be a better alternative to 85mm (I might be mistaken the exact focal lens of the macro lens but you see what I mean). Just a thought.

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Guidenet
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Re: Better alternatives?
In reply to VadymA, Jun 28, 2013

VadymA wrote:

I agree that with proper skills 85mm could be used practically for everything but is it the best choice for landscapes and stills? I think a couple of zooms covering wide and telephoto would provide much greater creativity/flexibility in framing the shot than 85mm. I love using mine for taking pictures of my kids indoor and out, but for everything else I would most definitely choose something else; in my case that would be a couple of fast zooms plus one macro. And since the OP doesn’t have a macro lens yet, maybe something like 105 macro would be a better alternative to 85mm (I might be mistaken the exact focal lens of the macro lens but you see what I mean). Just a thought.

I also agree with you. There's no right answer here as we all know. There are a lot of ways to skin and cook the same cat. I just find my 85 f/1.4G an extremely sharp lens, especially when stopped down to landscape f/stops. I can also fit it in my old man baggy pants pockets when I'm wanting to walk the town with a small fast twin lens kit. Yes, my 35-70 f/2.8 works and I sometimes carry it instead.

I also agree that my primary use of my 85 f/1.4 is portraits, and at work, I take an awfully lot of them. For my one company I take so many portraits it about drives me crazy. Every executive gets an exec portrait of his or her choice from bus casual to studio. VPs get a required studio and a bus casual of his or her choice. Publicity always wants a separate new one for a press release or news story involving an employee and this occurs nationwide and some out of the US offices or partners, so my 85 f/1.4 gets a serious workout.

I like an extremely sharp lens for still lifes and tend to use my Nikon 85 f/1.4g if I don't need to get close but my favorite for this, my Sigma 150 f/2.8 APO Macro, is one of the sharpest lenses ever made by anyone. Product shots in the studio sometimes gets my old 105 f/2.5 AI manual focus lens I bought new in 1978. Actually I have two of them, but one is an AI converted pre 1977 model I also bought new.

So yes, there are lots of choices here, zooms or primes. Lately in the mid ranges, I've been shooting a lot of primes for no particular reason. I cover most focal ranges with either, sometimes multiple times.

Have a great upcoming weekend.

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Cheers, Craig
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tamasine
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Re: Better alternatives?
In reply to Guidenet, Jun 28, 2013

Thanks again for all the helpful comments and advice.  After taking them all in I don't think the 85mm would be my best choice for what I want.  If I were doing portraits a lot of the time then it would be a no-brainer.  I think I have to decide whether 50mm suits me for still life or general photography in any conditions (i.e. low light) or should I go for a different focal length.

The Sigma 35 f1.4 doesn't seem to have any weaknesses and could allow me to take good still life pics...I just don't know whether I would gain much from it's slightly longer focal length than my 50 f1.8.

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tamasine
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to Guidenet, Jun 28, 2013

Btw - the pic in Arizona is absolutely superb!

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Guidenet
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 28, 2013

tamasine wrote:

Btw - the pic in Arizona is absolutely superb!

Thank you so much for your kind words. That image is one of the few images that ended up to be just about exactly how I envisioned that morning. It felt good to be able to plan it out and then bring it alive during processing to be like I thought it would be in my mind's eye.

The only thing that bothers me is that it looks tilted. It isn't and I was so careful to level it all before hand. I used the grid and a carpenter's level. I think the uneven horizon just makes it look tilted.

It's hanging in my living room and it's in my studio gallery. It's sold a few.

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stevo23
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 28, 2013

tamasine wrote:

Hi folks – I’m hoping you can give me some advice please.

My current kit comprises:

D600

18-35G - I use this for landscapes, architecture

50 f1.8G - for general photography

70-300 VR - errr..portraits

I feel I'm missing a lens somewhere. I considered the 28 f1.8 and the Sigma 35 f1.4, but with the 18-35G I don't feel I would use those (28 + 35) focal lengths enough (I'm not really into street photography where I guess they come into play).

This brings me to the 85mm f1.8G. Most reviews state it is exceptionally sharp and good value for money. I like a light set up so it would go well with the 18-35G and 50mm as they are both pretty light lenses.

The only thing in the back of my mind is that it seems most people use it for portraits. I don’t really do portraiture that much and when I do, it is with the 70-300.

For those who own an 85mm, if you weren’t going to use it exclusively for portraits, is it still a lens you would choose to use/buy and what could you do with it? Have you taken any of your best pictures with this lens (please feel free to post your pics - it would help me enormously)?

Thanks!

T.

The 85mm 1.8 G is one of my sharpest and most spectacular lenses for image quality. I use it a lot in landscape photography and street work. It isolates subjects so perfectly but also, in landscape work, it does a great job of compressing depth so that certain scenes become more dramatic. It has good edge and corner sharpness, so when you want to focus in the top third of the frame, it's good for that.

In your setup, you don't have any gaps for focal length, but I can guarantee you don't have a lens as sharp as this 85 1.8G. (Maybe the 50mm 1.8).

But if you want to fill out your kit, I would suggest a 60mm 2.8D micro - the newest one. It will replace your 50 most of the time and has much better bokeh and of course gets in for very close macro work.

Hope this helps!

Cheers,

Steve

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stevo23
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 28, 2013

tamasine wrote:

Thank you both for your replies.

I know my question was a bit strange but actually some of your pics seem to help. I would use it as a portrait lens but I mainly shoot landscape and still life, so what I was trying to ask (and not doing a good job ) is could you use the 85mm for landscape and still life?

Especially still life. When I've shot pics of objects before I've used the 50mm f1.8 so I was thinking would the 85mm be any better or not worth it? Again, I know it seems a naive question but to me 85mm might be a difficult focal length to use for still life...

The answer is...YES! That 50 is a sharp lens, but the out of focus treatment isn't nearly as appealing as with the 85 1.8G (or 1.4). Landscape photographers really benefit from a short telephoto.

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stevo23
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Re: Better alternatives?
In reply to VadymA, Jun 28, 2013

VadymA wrote:

I agree that with proper skills 85mm could be used practically for everything but is it the best choice for landscapes and stills? I think a couple of zooms covering wide and telephoto would provide much greater creativity/flexibility in framing the shot than 85mm. I love using mine for taking pictures of my kids indoor and out, but for everything else I would most definitely choose something else; in my case that would be a couple of fast zooms plus one macro. And since the OP doesn’t have a macro lens yet, maybe something like 105 macro would be a better alternative to 85mm (I might be mistaken the exact focal lens of the macro lens but you see what I mean). Just a thought.

You raise a good question. I suggested a 60mm micro, but a 90mm 2.8 Tamron would cover both the short telephoto and the macro and not break his piggy bank.

I'm one who uses short teles for landscape quite often, so I can vouch for that. But I think this guy needs a macro lens!

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stevo23
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to PHXAZCRAIG, Jun 28, 2013

PHXAZCRAIG wrote:

I personally view it as a 'mostly portrait' lens. I have the same opinion of my 85F1.8 AF too. Basically because it is good at portraits, but not all that great at general photography.

My argument for that opinion is that a) it doesn't focus all that close, and b) it only stops down to F16. Any prime that focuses close is more versatile than one that doesn't, and occasionally it's nice to have a small aperture to reduce shutter speed in bright light (think flowing water shots).

As for 'going well with 18-35 and 50' lenses, I'd say 'sort of'. A 50mm lens is pretty close to 85mm. It's also close to 35mm. One tends to find that you end up skipping the 50 a lot if you have 35 and 85 available.

If I feel like shooting primes, I take my 35, 85 and 105 and skip the 50. If I had a better 24mm prime (I have the 24F2.8 AF-D, which I don't care much for), I might well take a 24, 50 and 105 combo.

The 105vr I have gets my nod for 'versatile prime', usually. Or the 35mm (I have Sigma 35f1.4 and Nikon 35/f2).

Nothing wrong with the 50 (I have 50F1.8 AF and 50F1.4g) - sharp, handy lens. Just tend not to use it unless I force myself to when I have 35 and 85 choices sitting in the bag. That's on both DX and FX cameras.

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Craig
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Hi Craig,

I would agree that if close focus is important, the 85 loses out.

But the second point of stopping down past f16 should be highlighted. I don't know of a lens in this format that benefits from stopping down that much, maybe there are one or two. I would say that most lenses you are using start to degrade noticeably after f11 from diffraction. I've done this test with most of my lenses and there is almost never a benefit to stopping down past f11.

In fact, most lenses achieve their best image quality well before that. And that goes for the 85 1.8G. I think it really shines best at about f6.3 although acceptable results are had at f11 if shooting landscapes and you want more depth of field.

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PHXAZCRAIG
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Re: What does the 85mm f1.8 offer apart from portraits?
In reply to stevo23, Jun 28, 2013

There's a reason a lot of lenses stop down to F22 - it's a usable aperture for slowing shutter speed in bright light.    We aren't always chasing maximum sharpness.

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Mach Schnell
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How about a panorama?
In reply to tamasine, Jun 28, 2013

Here is a panorama I shot with a series of vertical images taken with the 85mm f/1.8 on my D700 - stitched together.

http://www.pbase.com/fotofanatik/image/107661575

I have a 4 foot wide print of this image displayed in my home office.

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