A Guide to Choosing the Perfect Portrait Lens

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A Guide to Choosing the Perfect Portrait Lens

So, you've decided to dive into the captivating world of portrait photography, but now you may be wondering, "What kind of lens would be best for me?" Let's look at various focal lengths, examine the differences between lenses, and explain how they impact your work. We'll also discuss the pros and cons of prime lenses and zoom lenses for portrait photography.

Your choice of focal length plays a pivotal role in framing your subject and influencing the final look of your photographs. As we delve into this topic, you'll notice that mid-telephoto to telephoto lenses are more common for portrait work than wide-angle lenses. While wide-angle lenses can be creatively used for environmental portraits, or to achieve a stylized or exaggerated look, much of portrait photography relies on longer focal lengths for the flattering way they render the human face.

35mm

The 35mm lens is among the wider options for shooting portraits. Going even wider can add a stylistic flair to your photos but risks distorting facial features. The 35mm lens strikes a balance, maintaining a natural look for your subject while capturing a generous amount of the background. This is ideal for confined spaces or when you want to emphasize the environment alongside your subject. While not the most common choice for portraits, in a pinch, it can get the job done. Consider the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens, which features a maximum aperture of f/1.4 for excellent low-light performance, bokeh, and shallow depth of field. Its Hyper Sonic Motor technology ensures swift yet quiet autofocus, even for moving subjects.

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon EF
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon EF

50mm

The 50mm prime lens is an exceptional choice for portraits, creating a natural and flattering look. Its mid-range focal length makes it one of the most versatile options, allowing you to switch between close-ups and full-body shots effortlessly with just a few steps. The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens stands out as an incredibly sharp and technologically advanced option with a fast f/1.2 aperture, perfect for bokeh enthusiasts. Its impressive optics and large aperture create exceptional background separation, drawing attention to your subject.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens
Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens

85mm

While photography is undeniably an art form in which personal creativity and preferences play a significant role, it'd be safe to say that, when asked to choose just one lens for a lifetime of capturing portraits, most photographers would opt for the handy 85mm. The 85mm prime lens is often considered the “holy grail” of portrait photography as this lens allows you to capture compelling headshots from a comfortable distance while retaining accurate proportions of background elements. When combined with a fast aperture, such as Canon’s RF 85mm f/1.2 L USM DS Lens, the results are truly exceptional, with outstanding foreground-background separation and superb low-light performance.

Canon RF 85mm f/1.2 L USM DS Lens
Canon RF 85mm f/1.2 L USM DS Lens

135mm

You've likely noticed the preference for telephoto lenses in portrait photography, and the Nikon NIKKOR Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena Lens continues this tradition. It's a fantastic addition to any portrait photographer's tool kit, offering compactness and light weight for its focal length and beautiful, round bokeh across the frame. At 135mm, background elements appear larger due to the compression between the foreground and background, creating a grandiose feeling, especially when shooting against scenic backdrops.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena Lens
Nikon NIKKOR Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena Lens

70-200mm

For those seeking the utmost versatility in portrait photography, it's hard to beat the trusty 70-200mm zoom lens. This range covers most desired focal lengths for portrait work, allowing you to reframe your composition and adjust foreground-background compression quickly without moving an inch. The Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II Lens is highly sought after for its versatility and impressive image quality, boasting sharp resolution, pleasing bokeh, and an f/2.8 aperture in a lighter and smaller body than similar focal length lenses. 

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II Lens
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II Lens

Prime vs. Zoom

You might be wondering about the benefits of choosing a prime over a zoom lens, and vice-versa. In general, prime lenses offer faster apertures and sharper performance across the frame while remaining relatively small and lightweight. On the other hand, zoom lenses tend to be slower and are often larger and heavier. However, they provide greater versatility because you can change your focal length on the fly. The choice between prime and zoom lenses boils down to your personal shooting style and preferences. If you crave the shallowest depth of field and pronounced bokeh, a prime lens with wider apertures, such as f/1.2, is your best bet. On the other hand, if you need to adapt quickly while shooting, a versatile zoom lens is the way to go.

Watch Now: Prime vs. Zoom Lenses: Which Is Right for You?

In the realm of portrait photography, the choice of lens is a highly personal one, driven by artistic preferences and creative visions. What are your thoughts on these lens choices? Would you pick any of the lenses we've discussed, or do you have other favorites for your portrait work? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

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