Looking for advice for a single portrait lens that best fits me

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biggles266 Senior Member • Posts: 1,042
Looking for advice for a single portrait lens that best fits me

Hello, I have both Canon and Micro four thirds systems, the m43 I use more as my primary system, but I also have a Canon M with the 11-22mm lens as my wide angle solution, and a Canon 5D Mark II, which I like to use mostly for portraits to complement m43, for when I want a shallower depth of field. I also use it to play around with vintage lenses.

Getting the most suitable portrait lens for the Canon 5D II has been causing me some trouble. I currently have the 50mm 1.8 STM, the 85mm 1.8, and a Sigma 50mm 1.4 HSM (not the Art model). I also have on loan a 100mm L macro from a friend.

My budget is modest, so I'm not looking for the best and expensive gear, please keep that in mind when offering suggestions. I am happy to buy gear second hand, and usually do, to reduce cost.

I have micro focus adjusted all the lenses below, the 50mm and 100mm lenses needed nothing, and the 85mm needed +10 or +11, something like that.

The Canon 50mm STM I find nice and light, but quite poor wide open, so I have to treat it like an f2.5 lens, or f2.8 is when it starts to get really good. That's not really shallow enough to distinguish itself from my m43 gear, since I have a lens for it that is 50mm f3.5 equivalent in terms of DOF (with excellent image quality wide open, like most m43 lenses).

The Canon 85mm 1.8 is very nice at f2.8, I am very happy with the photos I get from it at f2.8, but faster than that I find its quality goes down, as does its focus accuracy. For example, if I take a photo with the live view mode, at say f1.8, it is actually not too bad, but if I take a photo of the same scene with normal phase detect, the focus doesn't seem as reliably accurate. I've even taken multiple test photos of a chart on a wall at f1.8 on a tripod, and still the image taken the normal way with phase detect doesn't look quite as nice as through live view, even when micro-adjusted as best as possible. And in the field, when shooting at f1.8, I find it sometimes is quite accurate, but sometimes not, which gets frustrating.

The Canon 100mm L lens is great, I like it. Sharp and good wide open unlike the other two, and focus is 100% reliable. The negative is that being f2.8, it's not *that* different in shallow DOF capability to my m43 gear, one if whose lenses works out to be a 90mm f3.5 equivalent in terms of DOF. The 100mm is not really different enough from that to warrant its cost.

The Sigma I only got this week, a used copy for a good price to try out - buying used it effectively costs me nothing to test out and resell if I need to. It's OK at the fast apertures, not great but not too bad. I haven't really tested it thoroughly enough to be sure yet. However, I have found that shooting distance drastically affects its focus accuracy. It's accuracy was fine on my test chart, no MFA needed, and it seems OK at middle distances (say 2m away or more), but when I shoot things closer than that, it starts to drastically front focus every time, until if I shoot less than a meter away, even giving it +20 MFA is still not enough to stop the front focusing. It's also a very big and heavy lens, which is a negative.

I would be happy with a single FF body, with a single, good, reliable portrait lens that could go much shallower DOF than my m43, whose image quality is good wide open, and whose focus is accurate and reliable. I'm surprised that it is this hard to get a good solution without paying big dollars.

Is the 5D II just not good at focusing fast lenses? (I only use the center focus spot almost all the time, it is a cross-type.) I could perhaps try and sell it to upgrade to a used 6D if that would fix things, but can't afford a new 6D II. I thought the 5D II was a workhorse for many people and should be good enough.

The Canon 50mm 1.4 is apparently very poor wide open, so I've avoided that. I'm also wanting to get as shallow a DOF as possible, and I've always liked the 85mm range, so perhaps a longer 85 or 100mm lens is more ideal for those reasons than 50mm, since I also don't really like the facial distortion a 50mm seems to give up close. But which one meets the criteria above? I've read indifferent things about third party brands like Tamron and Sigma. And I can't afford the new Canon 85mm 1.4. I've even thought about the Canon 200mm f2.8, which is not super expensive used, and can take lovely images but it seems a little limiting.

I've focused on primes just because they are generally cheaper, and because I like the reduced weight. So is there a really good portrait lens in the Canon system that isn't too expensive that I've missed that would suit me best?

Thanks for your advice.

 biggles266's gear list:biggles266's gear list
Canon EOS M Canon EOS 6D Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 Olympus OM-D E-M10 II Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM +14 more
Canon 6D Mark II Canon EOS 5D Mark II Canon EOS 6D
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