Advice for portrait lenses

Started Mar 14, 2014 | Discussions thread
scott_mcleod Senior Member • Posts: 1,033
Re: Advice for portrait lenses

sapralot wrote:

scott_mcleod wrote:

sapralot wrote:

After using a D90 for more than five years I finally made the switchover to full frame - and I have absolutely no regrets about picking the D610. But having an FX body is only half the story, now I need to get some appropriate lenses, too. And since I love to shoot portraits, I plan to restrict myself to two, at a max three tele respectively standard primes. Maybe you can give me a word of advice?

Disclaimer: I no longer shoot Nikon but having owned a D700 and had experience with several of the lenses you are interested in, I thought I'd add my 0.02...

Scott, I really appreciate your feedback - even though you might have changed over to the opposite camp. ;D

You're welcome!

50mm: The Nikon 50/1.4 G seems to be a good deal, especially considering that I like to work with a shallow DOF. Or should I wait for the Sigma Art 50/1.4 DG? And what about the Zeiss ZF.2 Planar 50/1.4?

The 50/1.4G was my main lens on the D700. I found it to be excellent, though it was not as much better than the 1.4D than I expected (superior in the corners but not night-and-day). The AF was, how can I put it... deliberate. Definitely slower than the D, but not having to keep your hands away from the focus ring was nice. I also found it to be very accurate once a small AFMA was dialled in. Not having a front element that moved in and out of the lens body made it feel more robust than the D. Focus shift did not seem to be much of a problem.

I just don't see why a focal length of 50mm should be inappropriate for shooting people. Sure, you need to know how to use it but when done correctly the results can be amazing. Just take for example these shots:

I totally agree - see below

Or am I getting something wrong? So the 50 f/1.4 is still on my shortlist. (Would the 55 f/1.2 make sense?)

Apologies for not being clearer - I really like the 50/1.4G and I can't see why you couldn't use it for people. Maybe a bit wide for head-and-shoulders stuff but fine for a lot of other applications. It also makes a great all-round lens; I used mine for landscapes and stitched panoramas (up to 22 frames in Death Valley) and the results were very pleasing.

The 55/1.2 gets a lot of positive reviews for it's "dreamy" quality wide-open which might be great for people shots; opinions seem to differ on whether this is desirable or not. Personally I like it, though as a viewer rather than a shooter as I rarely photograph people. Either way it's also a fine general-purpose normal lens when stopped down, the AIS mechanics are top-notch and the focus throw and feel are beautiful. But... AF helps a lot on DSLRs especially in low light or with "ambiguous" subjects (unsuitable focusing screens and low-magnification viewfinders), so some of the usefulness of the AIS may be lost compared to the G, depending on what conditions you shoot in. I really enjoy manual-focus lenses but I also shoot a lot of stuff in very poor light and I'd be sunk without AF in those circumstances.

I have not used either of the ZF 50mm lenses. The Art 50 weight is not specified yet but it's physically larger than the 660g 35/1.4 Art and appears to have more glass in it so I'd expect it to be upward of 700g (maybe 800). This is big and heavy for a 50 but to put it in perspective it's similar to the Canon 135/2 L which balances superbly on a FF body.

85mm: I currently own a Nikon 85/1.8. Would it pay off to exchange it for the G version? (The 85/1.4 G might be a terrific lens, but I'm afraid I can't afford it.) Would it make sense to get 85/1.2 AI?

I had the 85/1.8D and sold it due to problems with focus shift around f/4 or so. Wide open or stopped right down it was fine. The 85/1.8G & 1.4G came out too late for me to try; they both get stellar reviews and if I'd kept the D700 I probably would have caved and bought one or the other.

I don't like the moving front element of the D, and the bokeh sometimes looks rather busy. But then again, I would rather fill the other gaps (105/135mm, 50mm) at first.

105/135mm: I love to take head shots with the 85mm mounted to my D90, hence I would prefer 135mm over 105mm. But the Nikon 135/2.0 D is rather high priced and the Zeiss ZF.2 135/2.0 is VERY high priced. Would a Nikon 135/2.8 AI do the job, too? What about the 105/2.8 AI, the 105/1.8 AI?

I too found 135EFOV to be very nice (i.e. 85mm on crop or 135 on FF). The Nikon 135DC is just spectacular - marred only by some purple fringing wide-open. I know it's pricey but you really ought to try it if you can (I used LensRentals). The Zeiss 135 is, as you say, very expensive. The ZF 100/2 Makro-Planar is overshadowed but the new 135 but it is really something. I can't remember another occasion when I put a lens on a camera for the first time, looked through the VF and actually said "Wow!". I did a double-take at the front of the lens almost as a reflex reaction to see what was in there! Hard to go wrong with this one, and even though it's only a 1:2 macro the close-focus is worth having.

135mm: The price difference between the Zeiss Apo Sonnar 135 f/2.0 and the Nikon DC 135 f/2.0 is EUR 600 (1.300 vs. 1.900); are those additional costs justified? And I can get a used Nikon 135 f/2.8 for around EUR 200; is the Zeiss really ten times 'better' on my D610? (Sorry for that exaggeration.)

Not really an exaggeration and the sort of decision that plagues a lot of people (I went through this a while back with a film Leica - I'll spare you the details, the regrets, etc., ;)). Since I assume this is a hobby and making money is not involved, I guess it really comes down to how much you're likely to use the lens and whether buying that particular item means you have to go without something else for a while. I don't think there's any combination of measurements that could say the Zeiss is 10x better. Maybe you could buy a used 135 AIS and see how it works out on the D610 for a while, how much you use it, whether you enjoy manually focusing, and so on. If you decide to get the Zeiss later and sell the Nikkor you're unlikely to lose much.

105mm: The price difference between the Zeiss Apo Sonnar 135 f/2.0 and the Makro Planar 100 f/2.0 is EUR 250 (1.900 vs. 1.650), but the sharpness, vignetting, and chr. aberration of the former seem to be much better. Hence the 135 seems to be the better deal? Then again I can get the Nikon DC 105 f/2.0 for EUR 1.000, and that lens doesn't seem to be a good deal worse than the Zeiss 100, at least in terms of sharpness. Or does the out-of-focus rendering outshine anything else? A used Nikon 105 f/2.5 is about EUR 300...

This is a tough call.

The DC Nikkors are quite special and have a property that you can't get in any other lens - the ability to choose whether you want the foreground or the background to appear more abberated. You've probably already seen it but Photozone has a really nice illustration of how this looks: nearly half the price of the Zeiss 100 and with the DC function it may well be what you're looking for. The real trump card of the ZF135 is the Apo part - it's really extremely well corrected for colour errors. Whether this is worth the $$$ for what you want to use it for is another thing

Overall, you could get the 105 DC and the 50/1.4G - new - for less than the Zeiss Makro Planar, so that might be a good setup.

Sorry for not replying earlier - I'm in a different hemisphere...


Post (hide subjects) Posted by
Keyboard shortcuts:
FForum PPrevious NNext WNext unread UUpvote SSubscribe RReply QQuote BBookmark MMy threads
Color scheme? Blue / Yellow