Entry level headshot lens

Started 10 months ago | Discussions
thebasharjobs
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Entry level headshot lens
10 months ago

Hi there,

I'm an entry level photographer that'd like to explore...entry level headshots. Being entry level unfortunately means I work on something of a budget and have been looking around the internet weighing the various pros and cons of everyone's suggestions.

For awhile I was set on a 50mm 1.8g until progressively more digging uncovered the distortion level to be way too much in certain cases and not an optimal lens for portraits (yet the price point remains haunting).

After that the resounding cry across the internet seems to settle upon anything between a 85-135mm lens that's mostly out of my price range.

I did stumble upon the 70-300mm f4/5.6 thats attractively priced. While it wouldn't offer the crispness of a prime nor does it have the lowest f stop it seems like it might be ok for someone just starting out. Any thoughts?

Leonard Migliore
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

thebasharjobs wrote:

Hi there,

I'm an entry level photographer that'd like to explore...entry level headshots. Being entry level unfortunately means I work on something of a budget and have been looking around the internet weighing the various pros and cons of everyone's suggestions.

For awhile I was set on a 50mm 1.8g until progressively more digging uncovered the distortion level to be way too much in certain cases and not an optimal lens for portraits (yet the price point remains haunting).

After that the resounding cry across the internet seems to settle upon anything between a 85-135mm lens that's mostly out of my price range.

I did stumble upon the 70-300mm f4/5.6 thats attractively priced. While it wouldn't offer the crispness of a prime nor does it have the lowest f stop it seems like it might be ok for someone just starting out. Any thoughts?

The 85mm f/1.8G is probably your best bet unless it's out of your price range. I'm assuming you have a DX Nikon that requires AF-S lenses for autofocus, making it harder to use the somewhat cheaper 85mm f/1.8 D lens. Is this correct? It would have been good if you said what camera you had.

The 70-300 f/4-5.6 is not as good as the popular 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR. Also, it is not an AF-S lens. You would probably be using it wide open for portraits, where it would be at its worst.

The absolute best bargain portrait lens is the 105 f/2.5 AI. Now, it's manual focus and your camera probably won't meter with it, but it's relatively inexpensive (used, of course), sensationally sharp and renders beautifully.

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EKB
EKB
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

thebasharjobs wrote:

Hi there,

I'm an entry level photographer that'd like to explore...entry level headshots. Being entry level unfortunately means I work on something of a budget and have been looking around the internet weighing the various pros and cons of everyone's suggestions.

For awhile I was set on a 50mm 1.8g until progressively more digging uncovered the distortion level to be way too much in certain cases and not an optimal lens for portraits (yet the price point remains haunting).

After that the resounding cry across the internet seems to settle upon anything between a 85-135mm lens that's mostly out of my price range.

I did stumble upon the 70-300mm f4/5.6 thats attractively priced. While it wouldn't offer the crispness of a prime nor does it have the lowest f stop it seems like it might be ok for someone just starting out. Any thoughts?

Which camera do you have? I'm guessing that it's one of the DX cameras, rather than a D600 or higher-priced model.

If you are worrying about perspective distortion (aka "big nose, small ears") then you need to remember that a DX body has that 1.5 crop factor: Multiply focal lengths by 1.5 to get the full-frame focal length with the equivalent field-of-view and thus the equivalent perspective distortion.

The conventional wisdom is that the 85-135mm range is good for head shots on full frame, which translates to 58-90mm on DX. So that 50mm would translate to 75mm-full-frame-equivalent, which is not completely horrible, but not all that good either.

If your budget is really tight, you need to get creative and deal with the shortcomings of whatever you end up going with. One possibility is to use the 18-105mm or 55-200mm lens that you might already have, and just accept that you can't get the aperture very wide. Another is to get a 50mm, stand further back than you otherwise would (to reduce the perspective distortion), and then crop heavily.

If you have enough budget to cover a ~$500 lens, then two more possibilities are the Nikon 85mm f/1.8g, and the Tamron 60mm f/2 macro. FWIW, Thom Hogan really likes the Tamron as a portrait lens for DX cameras. But there are also a lot of people who swear by the Nikon 85mm, on either DX or FX.

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Osvaldo Cristo
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50mm for FX, 85mm for DX
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

thebasharjobs wrote:

Hi there,

I'm an entry level photographer that'd like to explore...entry level headshots. Being entry level unfortunately means I work on something of a budget and have been looking around the internet weighing the various pros and cons of everyone's suggestions.

For awhile I was set on a 50mm 1.8g until progressively more digging uncovered the distortion level to be way too much in certain cases and not an optimal lens for portraits (yet the price point remains haunting).

After that the resounding cry across the internet seems to settle upon anything between a 85-135mm lens that's mostly out of my price range.

I did stumble upon the 70-300mm f4/5.6 thats attractively priced. While it wouldn't offer the crispness of a prime nor does it have the lowest f stop it seems like it might be ok for someone just starting out. Any thoughts?

Welcome to dpreview!

You can make your headshots virtually with any lens, but I think you can go for a "more classical" approach (translation: my personal preference):

  • For FX (commonly named "full frame") cameras, for full body, torso and head, the usual is 50 mm, 85mm and 105/135mm
  • For DX cameras, the usual for full body, torso and headshots is 35mm, 50mm and 85mm

Once decided for focal length you probably will look for aperture. Bigger aperture will offer you more creative options. Although most of the headshots are made at f/2.8 and smaller, some very interesting effects can be reached with f/2, f/1.8 and even f/1.4 - it is particularly critical when using DX cameras.

Last but not least, the bokeh is particularly important for better portraits, so my suggestion is looking for lenses with better ones.

I shot DX and my preferred lens for that application is Nikkor 85 f/1.4 AFD (and my faithful Nikkor 135 f/2 DC). The newer Nikkor 85 f/1,4 AFS looks marginally better, but sincerely, I think both are overpriced for their performance. If you are looking for the best cost/performance ratio, I think the Nikkor 85 f/1.8 is a better option, mainly if you can get an used sample in good condition.

All the best... and enjoy!

Regards,

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O.Cristo - An Amateur Photographer
Opinions of men are almost as various as their faces - so many men so many minds. B. Franklin

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Stacey_K
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85mm f1.8G
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

Buy this lens, you'll be happy!

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anotherMike
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

Easy:

85/1.8G if you can afford it, and if that's a bit of a stretch, go manual focus and pick up a good condition used 105/2.5 AIS for a couple hundred. To this day I *seriously* regret selling my 105/2.5; that was one of the dumbest moves I ever made. Either way you go, you are getting something WAY beyond entry level in terms of quality as a lens, for not really that excessive amounts of cash.

-m

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Kitacanon
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

thebasharjobs wrote:

Hi there,

I'm an entry level photographer that'd like to explore...entry level headshots. Being entry level unfortunately means I work on something of a budget and have been looking around the internet weighing the various pros and cons of everyone's suggestions.

For awhile I was set on a 50mm 1.8g until progressively more digging uncovered the distortion level to be way too much in certain cases and not an optimal lens for portraits (yet the price point remains haunting).

After that the resounding cry across the internet seems to settle upon anything between a 85-135mm lens that's mostly out of my price range.

I did stumble upon the 70-300mm f4/5.6 thats attractively priced. While it wouldn't offer the crispness of a prime nor does it have the lowest f stop it seems like it might be ok for someone just starting out. Any thoughts?

I won't recommend lenses outside of your budget...but you're going beyond FL range that you need for an "entry level" portrait lens.

Most portraits, as suggested earlier, are going to be shot between 50mm and 85mm on a DX format body...(equivalent to 75-135mm....)...so why not consider a zoom range between 28 and 85...

It's also been suggested that most portraits are typically shot between F2.8 and F5.6....sooo....look for zooms with 3.5-4 at their widest...again for entry lenses within your budget...I don't know which body you have, but I had the 28-85mm F3.5-4.5 Nikkor (@ less than $100) and found it VERY good...

28-85 Nikkor 28mm @ 5.6 100% crop shot on Canon 30D

and 100% crop @ 85mm @ 5.6...

A step up would be a zoom with F2.8 widest aperture, but they are considerably more...and even if you can't use the AF on this lens (if you body won't AF with it), it will be just fine as a manual focus lens for portraits...

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PSCL1
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to Kitacanon, 10 months ago

To the OP:  85 1.8G  if you can afford it.  If you can't, the discontinued 85 1.8D, available Demo/Used for $350 from time to time at www.adorama.com      Or the legendary 105 2.5 AI or AI-S, MF, with a cheap adaptor if you don't need AF.

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yray
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to anotherMike, 10 months ago

anotherMike wrote:

Easy:

85/1.8G if you can afford it, and if that's a bit of a stretch, go manual focus and pick up a good condition used 105/2.5 AIS for a couple hundred. To this day I *seriously* regret selling my 105/2.5; that was one of the dumbest moves I ever made. Either way you go, you are getting something WAY beyond entry level in terms of quality as a lens, for not really that excessive amounts of cash.

-m

I agree with this general sentiment, look into manual focus Ais lenses, the mentioned 105/2.5 is excellent (and, anotherMike, -- you can often find anotherLens like that used). I would also look into 135/2.8 Ais. Personally, I find 85mm a bit short for headshots, and 105 and 135mm are both better for that purpose IMO. Also, don't be afraid to look into zooms for portrait shots. Both 80-200 and 70-200 f/2.8 zooms make superb portrait lenses, though might be on the pricey side. But, the older Ais zooms, 50-135 f/3.5 and 80-200 f/4 could be acquired on the cheap, and they are very good too, plus you gain the flexibility of a zoom. I would argue that for a headshot you don't need super fast aperture, and f/4 is generally sufficient, or you will often risk having only one eye in focus.

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InTheMist
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Entry level portrait how-to...
In reply to yray, 10 months ago

Take the 55-200 step back and zoom tight, use some window light for dirt cheap, amazing results.

The trick is using telephoto and nice light.

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stevo23
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

Headshot? I think you can find some really nice scopes at Bass Pro shops.

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hajagosb
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

Most of the headshots i did are done with an 85 1.8D. It's not the best lens, but works well for this. Quite sharp stopped down. If you can afford get the newer G version. You can find my examples here: http://www.balinthajagos.com/portraits

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Kali108
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

thebasharjobs wrote:

Hi there,

I'm an entry level photographer that'd like to explore...entry level headshots. Being entry level unfortunately means I work on something of a budget and have been looking around the internet weighing the various pros and cons of everyone's suggestions.

For awhile I was set on a 50mm 1.8g until progressively more digging uncovered the distortion level to be way too much in certain cases and not an optimal lens for portraits (yet the price point remains haunting).

After that the resounding cry across the internet seems to settle upon anything between a 85-135mm lens that's mostly out of my price range.

I did stumble upon the 70-300mm f4/5.6 thats attractively priced. While it wouldn't offer the crispness of a prime nor does it have the lowest f stop it seems like it might be ok for someone just starting out. Any thoughts?

save your pennies for the 85 f1.8G.  50 f1.8G in the meantime.

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Nexu1
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

You might be able to find an older lens for cheap if you have a camera that can screwdriver focus.  You could buy a lens and manually focus it but I'm not sure I'd recommend that for a beginner, I hate manual focus, I didn't grow up with it :).

The 85mm f1.8G is THE portrait lens of choice on DX and comes in around $500.  You'll soon find out that the lens is so popular that you'll struggle to find it, even used, for much less than $375-400 (sometimes used on ebay go for $440ish).

If you're really budget limited, and there is nothing wrong if you are, another solid option is the Nikon 55-200 VR, you can find this periodically refurbished from a reputable seller like Adorama for around $115-120 (I just looked but right now it is out of stock).

The keys to getting good headshots are having a focal length of 85mm or longer so you can get close and fill the frame without distortion.  Getting close is critical, it will give you the best detail and will help with depth of field (making the background blur out of focus).  Shoot in A mode with the most wide open aperture your lens can handle (smallest F number).  If possible, setup your subject so the background behind them is somewhat far away.  This will allow the background to fade into a soft blur easier with a 55-200 type lens that can't go down to something like f1.8.

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bikinchris
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Don't forget
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

You have some good advice here and I didn't read through all of it, but don't forget that you don't need to buy a new lens. A good used lens from a reputable source like KEH will serve you very well and save you money.
You would be surprised what a BGN grade lens from KEH looks and works like. Buy an EX lens and you probably will think it's new.

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ayt
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 10 months ago

if you want an 85mm lens and do not mind it being manual focus, the Samyang 85mm f1.4 (and its clones) is a relatively cheap yet high performing option.

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CFynn
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to PSCL1, 10 months ago

PSCL1 wrote:

To the OP: 85 1.8G if you can afford it. If you can't, the discontinued 85 1.8D, available Demo/Used for $350 from time to time at www.adorama.com Or the legendary 105 2.5 AI or AI-S, MF, with a cheap adaptor if you don't need AF.

You don't need an adapter to use an AI/AIS lens on a Nikon body.

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vepar
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 9 months ago

I assume you're on dx body. nikkor 105mm 2.5 ai or ais is entry level lens for price, but top level performance lens for headshots. However on crop body it can be bit too long for general portrait photography.

If your camera body can AF with screw driven lenses - in my experience 35-70 2.8 AF-D is best solution for portraiture combined with crop sensor, even though it was designed for completely different purpose - as normal zoom on film bodies. This lens renders women skin simply amazing.

I never used 85mm 1.8g, but from what I saw, it could be excellent for your intended use.

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romfordbluenose
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Re: Entry level headshot lens
In reply to thebasharjobs, 9 months ago

For best bangs for a buck on DX buy the 50mm f1.8 , frame your shot, take 2 steps back then crop the image. With todays cameras you can even do the crop in camera, or buy a 85mm f1.8D second hand.

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