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June 30, 2012

Portrait Lenses: Which One Is Best And Why??

Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS @ 150mm

So, which portrait lens is actually the best and why you ask? In this article I’ll go over depth of field as it relates to focal length, aperture, distance to the subject, and crop factor. Why some glass is better than others, and for what reason? What distance is optimal for portraits and at what focal lengths? Recommended Glass! If this sounds interesting, keep reading…

Note: Please keep in mind when reading this article that I used to do wedding and portrait work and used all Canon gear at the time. I have since switched to Sony, but still have all my Canon gear as I just can’t let it go ;) A lot of the lens references in this article will be to Canon lenses for the reasons I just explained, but Sony, Nikon, Sigma, and Tamron all make standard focal length lenses of great quality!! Check out all the lenses available for the Sony’s Here >>

I currently own a Sony Nex-7 and I’m eager awaiting the new Full Frame A99 that is supposedly coming out soon!!

 

Intro to Portrait Lenses

To start off this article on portrait lenses, I want to go over a few fundamental concepts about portraiture that will effect your lens choices and portraits overall.


  • Distance to subject and perspective
  • Focal length and perspective
  • Distortion
  • Aperture
  • Sharpness
  • Bokeh (Lens Blur effect)
  • Cost
  • Image stabilization (IS, OSS, VR)
 

Distance to the Subject

The ideal distance to the subject yeilds us the correct perspective, which will insure the features are captured with the correct proportions the human eye expects to see. That might sound confusing and I apologize, but it really is a pretty simple concept to grasp. When photographing people you want to be at least 10 feet away ideally and even further for groups. This distance might sound like a lot, but it really isn’t as it relates to perspective.

When using a wide angle lens up close for a head shot you will yield a very distorted look enlarging the nose and altering the perspective so much that the ears disappear. Check out the image below of Chopper. Although not a human you can clearly see the distorted effect that this Sigma 10-20mm lens has on my four legged friend ;)

Chopper - Canon Rebel XTI, Sigma 10-20mm @ 10mm, f/4 ISO 400, 1/800sec

Chopper – Canon Rebel XTI, Sigma 10-20mm @ 10mm, f/4 ISO 400, 1/800sec

His tongue is stretched and his nose and head are so ballooned he looks like the Tasmanian Devil from the cartoon! A very cool effect mind you, but not particularly flattering for a Senior Portrait head shot or a tight family photo.

However, in the correct circumstances a wide angle lens can create amazing landscape style portraits like in the image below of Grand Central Station and our friends Michele and Anthony.

Canon 5Dmark II, Canon 17-40 f/4 L @ 19mm, f/10, 1/8thsec, ISO 400

Canon 5Dmark II, Canon 17-40 f/4 L @ 19mm, f/10, 1/8thsec, ISO 400

Why the wide angle lens “works” for the Grand Central Station image, and not the other is muti-fold, but basically it’s the distance to the subjects as it relates to the camera and lens. Because I’m so far away in the Grand Central Station portrait, the perspective is correct enough that the models are not distorted looking. The point being, distance matters so you have the correct perspective on your subject and there “features” appear in the correct proportions. This way your model in theory should look there best. In other words the focal length of the lens has no effect on the perspective of the portrait, the distance controls perspective. So that being said, Any focal length in theory can be good for portraits if used correctly ;)

Focal Length

Focal length also matters!! In the image below I was using my 5D Mark II, and Canon EF 100–400 f/4-5.6 L IS lens at about 20 feet away. I got down on my belly and zoomed in to 400mm. This high focal length allowed me to get a great head and shoulders photo with no perspective distortion. This high focal length in relation to the subject to background also created an amazing fall foliage bokeh. The only downside I can think of to using a lens like this is you will need some room between you and the model which can be tuff at times.

Allison - Canon EF 100-400 f/4-5.6 L IS

Allison – Canon EF 100-400 f/4-5.6 L IS

The Sony equivalent lens to this is the 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM Lens and you can check it out over Here>>

70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM Lens and the Nex-5n

70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM Lens and the Nex-5n

 

The ideal focal length varies depending on what your shooting. For example, knowing that 10-12 feet is a good distance, the focal length will need to change in order to get a tight head shoot vs a full body shot. I personally love using my Canon 70-200mm lens on my full frame 5D Mark II for baby and child portraits. That 70-200mm focal length gives me enough range in my studio at ~10-12 feet to zoom in close for a killer face portrait, quickly adjust to about 135mm for a head and shoulder shot, then go out until I get a nice full body shot. This can all be done in about a second with this lens. The downside of using a lens like this is it can get heavy after a bit, especially if your not used to it. Strap on a 5D Mark II with a battery grip and you have one pretty heavy set-up. It’s tuff for Michele, but she can do it.

Check out he pics of Layla below both taken with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM lens at the same distance.

Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS @ 150mm

Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS @ 150mm

Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS @ 105mm

Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS @ 105mm

If I need to shoot a family I would prefer to use a 70-200mm lens and move as far back as needed, but sometimes that is just not possible. So I would put the Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS lens on and adjust the focal length until I can fit the group nicely.

 

Sharpness and Bokeh

Now we have the issue of sharpness and bokeh. This is where lens quality and large apertures come into play, which intern usually gets expensive :) The larger the aperture the easier it can be to get a nice bokeh and isolate subjects from the background. The larger the aperture the more glass that is needed to allow the light through to the sensor itself.

Here’s the back of the Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss lens so you can see how large the actual glass is on the camera side.

Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Lens

Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Lens

 

The Bokeh is the area in a portrait that is buttery looking behind and in front of the focal point. Like in the image below of Allison taken with the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens.

_MG_3602-Edit

 

Sharpness is all about optical quality and like everything else, you get what you pay for $$$. Super high quality glass is very pricey, for a number reasons:

  • Ultra-Low Dispersion UD Glass
  • Fluorite & Aspherical Elements
  • Super Spectra Multi Coating
  • Image Stabilization, Vibration Reduction, Optical Stabilization,, ect..
  • Glass Polishing process

Usually the lenses with the killer glass are also better built and have at least some weather sealing if not awesome weather sealing. Designed for hard core professional use and abuse including what nature has to offer. The larger and heavier glass also needs a beefed up housing and the weather sealing pretty much guarantees no dust will get inside the lens.

Prime lenses are known for being the sharpest, because they have only one focal length. No moving parts other than the focus and possibly image stabilization hardware. So inherently you become the zoom by moving forward and back. This can be brutal in certain portrait sessions such as kids that are have a hard time staying still, but the quality and sharpness of a prime lens is incredible!!

 

Cost

Not all good portrait lenses are expensive though. The Canon 50mm f/1.8 II Prime lens for example is awesome and incredible cheap at only ~$135. This lens might not focus fast or have any bells and whistles, but it’s very sharp and makes for a killer low budget portrait lens. The 50mm focal length is also a favorite for baby portraits, as it allows you to get relatively close to insure safety ect… Babies are so small you can get away with a 50mm lens up close for a lot of images without much distortion. A must have for anybody starting out in portraiture photography! I still have this lens in my camera bag because I like it so much.

Below is a few photos I took with it:

 

Tim

Tim

Sadie

Sadie

 

Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is also a huge factor that can jack up the cost of a portrait lens really quick! The newest forms of Image stabilization are nothing short of incredible! This allows for hand holding at very low shutter speeds. If you have an unsteady hand I highly recommend trying one of these lenses out so you can see it with your own eyes through the lens. When your looking through and the IS turns on you can see the scene just smooth out. It’s incredible!! I can get down to as low as 1/15th on the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS lens @ 200mm if my subject is super still.

Sony has an in camera solution called steady shot, so most of the Sony A-Mount lenses do not have image stabilization. The Sony Nex E-Mount lenses however, have OSS (optical Steadyshot) builo in to most of them, because the camera body is so small Sony could not fit the in camera steadyshot feature. Check out all the Sony E-Mount lenses in anice guide form Here >>

 

Recommended Portrait Lenses

As long as your at the correct distance given the focal length your using, any lens can take a great Portrait! Good compositions, taking note of the background, posing, exposure, lighting, ect… all contribute to the quality of the portrait. Remember, it’s not all about the glass. It’s really all about what focal length to use under which circumstance, and more importantly having the camera set correctly for a sharp correctly exposed photo.

That being said, the killer glass will take your images to next level, there is no question!!

Note: I’m going to list my recommended lenses based on different types of portrait scenarios. The lenses I chose for the main list I’ve either owned and used personally or I have a friend that has one and I’ve heard nothing but good things about. The extra recommend lenses for each section are just killer lenses based on articles and reviews I’ve read. This list is by no means complete as there are dozens of other great lenses out there, but I don’t know enough about them to include them in my list.

 

Best Wide Angle lenses for Portraits:

I like to have some zoom flexibility with my wide angle lens at times for wedding and family fun types of portraits, and a high quality wide angle zoom is nice to have for this type of work in my opinion. Michele and I used a 17-55mm lens on our 1.6x crop factor camera to give it an effective focal length of ~27-88mm. And on the Full Frame 5D Mark II we used the 24-105mm lens.

This gave us that wide focal length we needed to get a group or room shot in tight quarters, as well as zoom in a bit for a much more isolated portrait, usually blurring the background in the process depending on the distance to your model.

Prime lenses are going to yield the sharpest results, but high quality zoom lenses these days are incredible sharp and offer more flexibility when time is critical.

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens

The Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens is a large-aperture lens specifically designed for EF-S type digital SLR cameras (Canon T3i, Canon 60D). This lens offers a super wide angle to short telephoto zoom range, with built-in Image Stabilization. Great value for the dollar. The focal length is equivalent to approx. 27-88mm in 35mm format. This lens features Canon’s latest optical Image Stabilizer technology, providing up to 3-stop compensation caused by camera shake and slow shutter speeds. This ensures clear, crisp images, even in dim light. Designed specifically for digital photography, the lens has specially shaped lens elements and Super Spectra coatings to suppress ghosting and flare, which can be caused by reflections off digital camera sensors. This is one of the first lenses with L quality optics we purchased. Although it doesn’t have good weather sealing and is only for crop factor cameras resulting in the Non L tag, this lens is awesome for portraits and produces tack sharp images!! Below is one of my favorite photos I ever took with EF-S 17-55 lens.

Michele and Sadie - Canon 40D, Canon-EF-S-17-55mm f/2.8 IS @ 38mm, f/4, 1/200sec, ISO 100, 1 large softbox camerea right

 

Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM Zoom Lens

I used to have this lens and loved it! It’s very affordable for starters, and the 17-70mm range allowed me to really experiment with compositions all from one spot.I purchased this lens with my first SLR which was the Canon Rebel XTI. It was a great combo and a much better lens than the standard lit lens from what I read. Turns out to be incredible and I wish I still had it ;)

The versatile Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM Zoom Lens is a standard macro zoom for digital SLR cameras with a Sigma lens mount. The lens is designed for cameras with APS size chips, and covers the most frequently used focal lengths. The maximum aperture of f/2.8 is fast enough for use under a wide variety of lighting conditions. The OS anti shake feature offers the use of shutter speeds approximately 4 stops slower than would otherwise be possible. Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) ensures quiet and high speed AF as well as full-time manual focus.

I took these shots shortly after the camera and lens arrived in the mail from BHPhotoVidoe!!

Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8 DC Macro Lens

Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8 DC Macro Lens

 

Sony 16-50mm f/2.8 Lens

I got a chance to use this lens recently on the Sony A77 and it’s pretty solid all around. The f/2.8 constant aperture makes this a great choice for those low light situations often found in wedding receptions and around the house indoors.

Check out this sample portrait of my good friend Butch from work. He’s one of the good guys, and I think this lens did a fantastic job capturing him with his work truck in the background.

My Biddy Butch from work. Sony A77 and 16-50mm f/2.8 lens.

My Biddy Butch from work. Sony A77 and 16-50mm f/2.8 lens.

 

Sony 16mm f/2.8 E-Mount Pancake lens

This lens is sharp in the center and very slim. It also has a super fast f/2.8 aperture which is nice. I really enjoy using this lens because I can also fit the camera in my pocket when using it!! This lens takes some heat for the soft corners, but in reality they are really not that bad. Check out my full review over Here >>

Sony 16mm E-Mount Lens

Sony 16mm E-Mount Lens

Sadie - Sony E-Mount 16mm f/2.8 Wide Angle Lens

Sadie – Sony E-Mount 16mm f/2.8 Wide Angle Lens

 

Tamron SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical (IF)

This lens was fun to use on the Sony A57, but for video it’s not the greatest as the AF motor is a tad noisy ;) Great for a wide angle affordable portrait zoom lens though, and Landscapes for the matter!!

Sony A57 and Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Lens

Sony A57 and Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Lens

 

More Excellent Wide Angle Lenses for Portraits:

 

Best Medium Telephoto lenses for Portraits:

Primes are the way to go for this range of lenses in my opinion as the wide angle zooms usually cover the focal lengths below!! Here’s a few great lenses and sample pics to show what they can do for you and your portraits.

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG Lens

I had a blast using this lens on the Sony A57 and man does it produce some killer frames!!

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX Lens

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG Lens

Sony A57 and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DC Lens

Sony A57 and the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG Lens

Sony A57 w/ Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG Lens @ f/2, 1/3200sec, ISO 100, Handheld, Jpeg Fine

Sony A57 w/ Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG Lens @ f/2, 1/3200sec, ISO 100, Handheld, Jpeg Fine

Sony A57 w/ Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG Lens @ f/2, 1/2000sec, ISO 100, Handheld, Jpeg Fine

Sony A57 w/ Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG Lens @ f/2, 1/2000sec, ISO 100, Handheld, Jpeg Fine

Sony A57 w/ Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens @ f/1.4, 1/640sec, ISO 200, Handheld, Jpeg Fine

Sony A57 w/ Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens @ f/1.4, 1/640sec, ISO 200, Handheld, Jpeg Fine

 

Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens

This lens is nothing short of amazing! Best on a Full Frame in my opinion and it’s only short coming is not having the option for Image Stabilization. The Canon EF 135mm f/2 L USM Lens  is designed to meet the needs of a wide range of advanced amateurs and professionals. A ten element optical formula with two UD-glass elements serves to correct residual aberrations, resulting in superb sharpness and high image quality. It is also able to obtain superior background blur with the f/2 wide aperture.

I love using this lens on the Sony Nex cameras as well!! This photo below of my good friend Mark was taken with the Canon 135mm f/2 L lens, and the Sony Nex-5n!! More sample pics Here>>

Sony Nex-5n w/ Canon 135mm f/2 L Lens using Fotodiox lens adapter

Sony Nex-5n w/ Canon 135mm f/2 L Lens using Fotodiox lens adapter

Here it is on the Nex-7, and as you can see, it really doesn’t matter what brand lens your using anymore. With the Sony Nex system you can simply by an adapter and use all of your other glass!! Yet another reason why I kept all my Canon lenses ;)

Nex-7 w/ Canon 135mm f/2 Lens

Nex-7 w/ Canon 135mm f/2 Lens

Here’s a few more sample portraits with this incredible lens!!

Canon 135mm f/2 on the Canon 5d mark II

Layla – Canon 135mm f/2 on the Canon 5d mark II

Canon 135mm f/2 on the Canon 5d mark II

Canon 135mm f/2 on the Canon 5d mark II

Canon 135mm f/2 on the Canon 5d mark II

Jim – Canon 135mm f/2 on the Canon 5d mark II

 

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM

Another amazing lens that is incredible sharp all the way through and has a killer range! Sony, Nikon, Sigma, and Tamron all make a high quality version of this lens, because it’s recognized as a great combination of zoom range, aperture, weight, and price. It’s pretty much the easiest lens to use when taking portraits of individuals as the range meets all the critical portrait frames without moving usually. Full body, 3/4, shoulders up, head shots!!

This particular lens from Canon is constructed of 23 elements in 19 groups (including 1 Fluorite and 5 UD elements) which help deliver the sharpness and reduced aberration which professional photographers rely upon from Canon. The IS II Optical Image Stabilizer provides up to 4 stops of correction at all focal lengths. This lens has a minimum focusing distance of 3.9′ (1.2 m) at all zoom settings so you can get the shot when shooting close to your subject even in smaller spaces. Like all Canon L-series lenses, this telephoto zoom is dust- and moisture-resistant and designed to keep on going even in the most challenging of environments.

Check it out mounted to my Sony Nex-7!!

Nex-7 w/ Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS Lens

Nex-7 w/ Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS Lens

Here’s a few shots that I just took our girl Layla and an image of Michele from last year taken with the 70-200mm lens.

Canon 5d Mark II, Canon 70-20mm f/2.8 L IS Lens, Studio light w/ huge softbox camera right

Canon 5d Mark II, Canon 70-20mm f/2.8 L IS Lens, Studio light w/ huge softbox camera right

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS @ 153mm, 1/125sec, f/5.6, ISO 100, Hand Held, 1 Studio Light

Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS @ 153mm, 1/125sec, f/5.6, ISO 100, Hand Held, 1 Studio Light

My Michele - Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS @ 200mm, 1/1250sec, f/3.2, ISO 200, Hand Held, All Natural Light

My Michele – Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS @ 200mm, 1/1250sec, f/3.2, ISO 200, Hand Held, All Natural Light

Canon 5d Mark II, Canon 70-20mm f/2.8 L IS Lens, natural Light

Canon 5d Mark II, Canon 70-20mm f/2.8 L IS Lens, natural Light

 

Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 APO G(D) SSM Lens

The Sony is another excellent 70-200mm lens that I’ve used and it can produce the same quality shots as the canon images above!!

 

Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* Autofocus LensSAL-85F14Z

Another excellent lens with a killer bokeh and image sharpness wide open all the way through.

SAL-85F14Z

SAL-85F14Z

Sony Alpha 77 and the Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Lens

Sony Alpha 77 and the Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Lens

 

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Autofocus Lens

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Autofocus Lens is a fast lens that delivers superb optical performance.I had an oppertunity to use this lens when my buddy Kelly came over from Chicago area. It’s really heavy as the glass elements are gigantic. The pictures that come off this lens are magical, just like the 135mm f/2 mentioned earlier.

A maximum aperture of f/1.2 makes it the professional’s choice for shooting without flash in low light conditions. The large aperture also provides fine control over depth of field for compelling portrait photography. Retaining the impressive optical performance and large aperture of its predecessor, this medium telephoto lens has been improved with a Ring-type USM, high-speed CPU and optimized algorithms to achieve an autofocus speed approximately 1.8x faster than the original. The high-speed AF and circular aperture create a shallow depth-of-field that brings attention to the subject and blurs the background, which is ideal for portraits and weddings.

This photo of Michele and I was taken with the 85mm f/1.2 L Lens!! Magical to say the least, all natural light.

This was taken by Kelly Lyle using the Canon 5d mark II and the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L Lens

This was taken by Kelly Lyle using the Canon 5d mark II and the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L Lens

Kelly -  Canon 5d mark II and the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L Lens

Kelly – Canon 5d mark II and the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L Lens

 

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens

This lens comes standard on the Canon 5D Mark II for a reason! It’s incredible sharp and the range is as good as it gets for an all around lens on a full frame camera in my opinion. I have used this lens for everything imaginable including tons of Portraits, Landscapes, Macro, Video, and more.. I was tempted to put this lens with the wide-angle zooms, but the 105mm focal length is pretty much perfect for Portraits and puts it into this category ;) The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens is an easy-to-use standard zoom lens that can cover a large zoom area ranging from 24mm wide-angle to 105mm portrait-length telephoto. The EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM incorporates Canon’s highest standards of precision optics. The L-series is Canon’s flagship professional lens range, combining outstanding image performance and ultimate durability with dust and moisture resistant construction. Canon’s ring-type USM gives silent but quick AF, along with full-time manual focus. Moreover, with dust- and moisture-resistant construction, this is a durable yet sophisticated lens that meets the demands of advanced amateur photographers and professional photographers alike.

Take a look below for a range of samples from the past 2 years or so using the Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS.

Michele - Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/4.5, 1/30sec, 40mm, ISO 100, Studio Light

Michele – Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/4.5, 1/30sec, 40mm, ISO 100, Studio Light

Doug - Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/5.6, 1/200sec, 90mm, ISO 100, Studio Lights

Doug – Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/5.6, 1/200sec, 90mm, ISO 100, Studio Lights

Doug - Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/5.6, 1/200sec, 40mm, ISO 100, Studio Lights

Doug – Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/5.6, 1/200sec, 40mm, ISO 100, Studio Lights

Garren - Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/5.6, 1/160sec, 105mm, ISO 100, Studio Lights

Garren – Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/5.6, 1/160sec, 105mm, ISO 100, Studio Lights

Using the wide angle end to our advantage, we help create an exaggerated perspective of Michele.

Michele - Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/8, 1/200sec, 35mm, ISO 100, Studio Lights

Michele – Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/8, 1/200sec, 35mm, ISO 100, Studio Lights

Michele - Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/8, 1/200sec, 24mm, ISO 100, Studio Lights

Michele – Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM @ f/8, 1/200sec, 24mm, ISO 100, Studio Lights

 

Nikon Telephoto AF Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR

The Nikon AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED brings the benefits of vibration reduction (VR) to the domain of Macro photography. It offers high-resolution, high-optical performance for both digital and 35mm film format SLR cameras. When used with digital cameras, equivalent focal length in 35mm terms is 157.5mm. This lens incorporates Nikon’s second-generation vibration reduction system (VR II) that allows flexible hand-held shooting by stabilizing the image to the equivalent stability of a shutter speed that is 4 stops faster when compared with a conventional lens. This in effect eliminates image blur caused by camera shake, particularly when shooting in low-light conditions.

Note: G-type lenses are fully compatible with all current camera models (as of 01/04). The older camera models F4, N90/s, N70, N8008/s, N6000 will only work in Program and Shutter Priority modes. Note: VR feature will only work with Nikon’s F6, F5, F100, N80, N75, N65, D100 & D1 and D2-series (or any newer model) cameras.
Note: AF-S feature is not supported by certain camera models. Please click here for a list of compatible models.

Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 II EX APO Macro HSM

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 II EX APO Macro HSM telephoto zoom lens has a large maximum aperture of f/2.8 which remains constant throughout the zoom range, an improved optical performance, macro capabilities, and is optimized for digital SLR cameras. It also features super multi-layer coating, which reduces flare and ghosting. All zooming and focus movement is achieved internally, allowing for a constant length and great resistance to dust and moisture. It comes rendered in a hard coated, baked black EX crinkle finish. The Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) ensures a silent, high-speed AF function as well as full-time manual focusing capability for Sigma, Canon, and Nikon mount lenses. This lens can also be used with the 1.4x EX or 2.0x EX APO Tele Converters (optional), becoming a 98-280mm f/4 autofocus telephoto zoom lens or a 140-400mm f/5.6 autofocus telephoto zoom lens respectively.

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro Lens

The Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro Lens is a telephoto zoom lens that has a large maximum aperture of f/2.8 which remains constant throughout the zoom range. It also offers an excellent “close-focusing-distance” minimum of just 3.1′ (0.95 m) throughout its entire zoom range which is awesome for wedding detail work! When mounted on an APS-C sensor size digital SLR camera, it provides a focal length equivalent of 112-320mm. Di (Digitally Integrated Design) is a designation Tamron puts on lenses featuring optical systems designed to meet the performance characteristics of digital SLR cameras. Features like LD glass elements and Internal Focusing put this lens in the same category as the much bigger and more expensive professional Tamron lenses.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens

The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens features an innovative Vibration Reduction (VR) system that allows handheld telephoto zoom shooting even in poorly lit conditions. The VR system minimizes image blur caused by camera shake, and offers the equivalent of shooting at a shutter speed 4 stops faster than what the camera is set for. This is the perfect lens for low-light, sports, fashion, portraits and other images that require distance between the photographer and subject.

More lenses certainly worth considering in this range:

 

Best High Focal Length Lenses for Portraits:

Now if you want a portrait like what you see in the sports sections of the newspaper, your going to need a serious focal length fast aperture lens. The most affordable fast versions are the 100-400mm style zooms, but other than that it’s primes all the way.

Canon EF 100–400 f/4-5.6 L IS lens

Another killer lens for portraits, sports, and wildlife!! The first EF lens with a zoom range from 100mm to 400mm, the EF 100-400mm f/4.5- 5.6L IS USM lens offers high resolution, superb contrast, neutral color balance, and Canon’s original built-in Image Stabilizer function. High zoom magnification is achieved by means of a 6-group configuration with 5 movable groups. Fluorite and Super UD glass completely eliminate secondary spectrum for superb color rendition. Autofocusing is fast and silent with Canon’s ring USM, and AF speed is further enhanced through an advanced, lightweight rear focusing design that incorporates a floating element for consistent image quality at all focusing distances from 5.9′ to infinity. This lens is also equipped with a dual-mode Image Stabilizer suitable for panning as well as stationary subjects. With full-time manual focus, one-touch zooming with a wide grip, and a special ring that permits adjustment of zooming friction, this is a lens that’s extremely easy to use, and ideal for a wide variety of applications including nature, wildlife, sports, and documentary photography.

Here’s a few shots I’ve taken with this lens that really show off it’s character in my opinion ;)

Canon 100-400mm Lens

Shane – Canon 100-400mm Lens

Canon 100-400mm Lens

Canon 100-400mm Lens

Canon 100-400mm Lens

Canon 100-400mm Lens

 

Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC LD II Aspherical IF Macro Lens

This was my first high focal length lens purchase a few years back. It didn’t have VR at the time, but the new model does which I linked. This is a great all around lens for the money. It’s relatively inexpensive, yet produces a killer focal range, and pretty sharp images at f/8!! The Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC LD II Aspherical IF Macro Lens is now equipped with a Vibration Compensation (VC) mechanism. This lens is ultra-compact and light-weight, with a constant minimum focus distance of 1.6′ (0.5 m) and a high maximum magnification of 1:3. The remarkable achievements are brought about through XR (extra refractive index) glass and efficient use of aspherical lenses. The ideal “all-in-one” zoom lens, for indoor and outdoor use. The VC mechanism, developed by Tamron, features a triaxial configuration using three pairs of driving coils and slide balls around the compensator group of the lens’ optical system. Since the compensator lenses are supported with rolling friction of the balls, the response performance is enhanced and the construction is simple, which results in the compactness of the lens. As a result, dimensional increases are confined to a mere 0.7″ (17.8mm) in overall length and about 5mm in diameter. Di (Digitally Integrated) design is the designation that Tamron uses for lenses that feature the improved optical design that meets the performance characteristics of digital SLR cameras, as well as film cameras. When used with APS-C size (standard) digital Nikon SLR cameras, the lens provides an angle of view equivalent to approximately 42-450mm, covering the standard to ultra telephoto range with no sacrifice of quality or aperture range.

Here’s a few portraits I took with my lens a while ago when I first got it.

Snapshot - Canon Rebel XTI, Tamron 28-300mm @ f/3.5, 1/800sec, 28mm, ISO 400

Snapshot – Canon Rebel XTI, Tamron 28-300mm @ f/3.5, 1/800sec, 28mm, ISO 400

Snapshot - Canon Rebel XTI, Tamron 28-300mm @ f/8, 1/100sec, 300mm, ISO 400, tripod

Snapshot – Canon Rebel XTI, Tamron 28-300mm @ f/8, 1/100sec, 300mm, ISO 400, tripod

My Buddy Jim at Pocono - Canon Rebel XTI, Tamron 28-300mm @ f/8, 1/1000sec, 300mm, ISO 400, handheld

My Buddy Jim at Pocono – Canon Rebel XTI, Tamron 28-300mm @ f/8, 1/1000sec, 300mm, ISO 400, handheld

 

What the guys on the side lines use!!

Sony SAL 500mm f/4.0 G Lens

Sony SAL 500mm f/4.0 G Lens

Sony SAL 500mm f/4.0 G Lens

Sony SAL 500mm f/4.0 G Lens

Sony SAL 500mm f/4.0 G Lens – Mounted to the Sony A77

Canon Telephoto EF 600mm f/4.0L IS Image Stabilizer USM Autofocus Lens

Canon Telephoto EF 600mm f/4.0L IS Image Stabilizer USM Autofocus Lens

Canon Telephoto EF 600mm f/4.0L IS Image Stabilizer USM Autofocus Lens

Sigma APO 300mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM

The Sigma APO 300mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM lens is an ultra compact Apochromatic telephoto lens with a fast f/2.8 maximum aperture, and incorporates two Extraordinary Low Dispersion glass elements to reduce chromatic aberration to a minimum. It incorporates internal focusing which enables responsive and fast autofocus speed. A detachable tripod socket and rotatable drop in filter holder are also included. The improved DG lens design corrects for various aberrations. This lens is specially coated to get the best color balance whilst cutting down on ghosting caused by reflections from the digital image sensor. The lens provides the utmost correction against lateral chromatic aberration, which is a serious problem for digital SLR cameras. With the use of the optional Sigma APO teleconverters, this lens can be used as a 420mm f/4 AF ultra-telephoto lens with a 1.4X EX teleconverter, or a 600mm f/5.6 AF ultra-telephoto lens with a 2X teleconverter.

Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM APO Lens

This Sigma 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM APO Lens is an ultra telephoto zoom lens ideal for nature/outdoor or sports photography. It has a minimum focusing distance of 59.1″ (150cm) throughout the entire zoom range and has a maximum magnification of 1:4.2 making it useful for close-up photography. The OS (Optical Stabilizer) system minimizes image blur caused by camera shake, and offers the equivalent of shooting at a shutter speed 3-4 stops faster. This allows handheld telephoto zoom shooting even in poorly lit conditions. The use of the OS (Optical Stabilizer) system, HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor), APO apochromatic design, three elements of SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass, and multicoated optics all enable this lens to provide a high level of performance throughout its entire zoom range, as well as versatility. A rear focus system insures quick, convenient manual focus and a non-rotating front barrel. The improved DG lens design corrects for various aberrations. This lens is specially coated to get the best color balance, while cutting down on ghosting caused by reflections from the digital image sensor. The lens provides the utmost correction against lateral chromatic aberration, which is a serious problem for digital SLR cameras. By adding the optional Sigma APO teleconverter, you can use this lens as a 168-560mm f/6.3-8 manual focus ultra-telephoto zoom lens with a 1.4X EX teleconverter, or as a 240-800mm f/9-11 manual focus ultra-telephoto zoom lens with a 2X teleconverter.

AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens

The AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens delivers superior professional performance with speed and incredibly sharp images which photographers have come to expect from Nikon. This fast lens is perfect for sports photojournalism, wild life photography and a wide range of subjects that require super telephoto focal lengths. Nikon’s VR II (Vibration Reduction) image stabilization allows handheld shooting at up to 4 shutter speeds slower than would otherwise be possible, and Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) provides users with fast and quiet autofocusing. This NIKKOR is built with 11 elements in 8 groups which include 3 ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements that help to produce images with superior sharpness and color correction with minimal chromatic aberration even at f/2.8. Lens elements are double-coated with Nikon’s Super Integrated Coating (SIC) and the advanced Nano Crystal Coat that provides amazing color consistency and reduced flair.

AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II Lens

The incredibly powerful AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II Lens from Nikon is a super telephoto zoom that delivers images with superior image quality. The lens features the innovative Vibration Reduction (VRII) system that allows handheld telephoto zoom shooting even in poorly lit conditions. The VRII system minimizes image blur caused by camera shake, and offers the equivalent of shooting at a shutter speed approximately four shutter speeds slower than would otherwise be possible. The lens is built with Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) which provides swift autofocusing with superior accuracy and ultra-quiet operation. And the lens can be switched quickly from AF to manual focus. There are four switches conveniently positioned on the rear of the lens barrel used to engage different focusing modes. While autofocusing, the focus can be locked by engaging the AF-L switch; the AF-ON switch allows quick autofocusing on and off. When you engage the Memory Set switch you can focus on a subject and store the focused distance in the lens’ memory; it stores the information even if the camera is turned off. By switching to Memory Recall the lens will automatically return to the stored focal length. For example, if you are shooting a baseball game you can pre-set the focus from the camera to second base, shoot action at another area of the field, then engage Memory Recall to quickly capture the action at second base without having to refocus

 

What can be done with the Sony Nex Gear you might wonder?

Check out these Florida vacation articles with tons of sample photos showing off what can be done in the real world with just the 18-55mm kit lens and the 55-210mm zoom lens and my Nex-6. I have tons of portrait samples of family, animals and more! I’m sharing these articles with you to help drive home the point that it’s not necessary the lens your using, but how you take advantage of the tools you have at your disposal. ;)

Conclusion

Well that is it for this article on which is the best portrait lens. Hopefully, if you were not sure before what type of lens you needed for a specific type of portrait, you now have a better idea!! Also, the point of this article was to drive home the fact that it’s more about using the right equipment for the job as apposed to a specific lens ;)

Also worth noting is with the advancement of focus peaking on the Sony Nex camera system, using manual focus is now easy!! So, any lens can be used with adapters and the focus peaking tool to get killer results. Here’s a Guide to all the lens a adapters available for the Sony Nex camera system if your curious, or in the market ;) Nex Lens Adapter Guide >>

I hope you all got something out of this article, and if there are lenses you would like to recommend or ask me about, please just fire away in the comment box! Also, I’m more than happy to offer advice if you have a specific budget, and or camera/ lens in particular your looking for ;)

Jay

A few more recent pics of Layla:

Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 UMC Lens @ f/1.4, 1/60sec, handheld

Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 UMC Lens @ f/1.4, 1/60sec, handheld

Layla - Nex-6 and 18-55mm kit lens

Layla – Nex-6 and 18-55mm kit lens @ 55mm, f/5.6, 1/100sec, ISO 800

Layla - Just over 2 years old.

Layla – Just over 2 years old.

Layla - Nex-5r, sel35f18 @ f/1.8, ISO 200, 1/160sec

Layla – Nex-5r, sel35f18 @ f/1.8, ISO 200, 1/160sec

Layla - Just over 2 years old.

Layla – Just over 2 years old.

Layla outside on Easter Morning - Sony DSC-HX300

Layla outside on Easter Morning – Sony DSC-HX300

 

Our Wedding Photo

Our Wedding Photo


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Thanks,
Jay

 

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About the Author

Jay
Hello, I'm the owner and operator of SonyAlphaLab.com. Please check out the About page for a full background on myself and the Lab ;) Google+ | Twitter | RSS-feed | Email Updates!!




25 Comments


  1. Mike

    Great article Jay. I can tell this one took some time to put together.
    … I will take one of lens each please. :o)


    • Jay

      Mike,

      Thank you so much!! It did while to write this article ;) One of those work in progress type Articles that takes a few weeks!

      Best,
      Jay


  2. Do you prefer the 135 f2.0 or the 85 f1.2? Love the photos you took using the 135. Is that because of the larger focal length? Undecided between one of these or the 70-200. I would like the widest aperture lens. Thanks so much :)


    • Jay

      Hello Breahna,

      I really like the 135 f/2 lens on my Full Frame camera best outside. The larger focal lenght and distance to the subject in relation to the background is what gives that killer bokeh. It’s easier to do with a higher focal length lens. That being said, it’s much harder to use the 135mm than the 85mm in my opinion due to the focal length and distance to the model required. The model is totally subjective though depending on the situation. If space is limiting, the 135mm is often not even usable and a 50mm or 85mm would be a much better choice.

      If your using a crop factor sensor camera, like the Sony Alpha A57 for example, the focal length will be multiplied and significantly longer than the actual lens focal length. (135mm = ~216mm on a 1.6x crop factor camera) In that case the 85mm would be a much better choice for most portrait work in my opinion. Practicality wise, and value for dollar in particular. Both lenses are expensive, as they should be considering the technology ect.. Best off going for the focal length that you are more comfortable with. I personally did not know what focal length I would like to use most, so I opted for the versatile 70-200mm f/2.8 lens first. I quickly found out I love the 135mm range for head shots, and 3/4 body shots outside. I then purchased the 135mm prime having a know purpose for it. It’s to expensive and specific to buy otherwise in my opinion. Full body shots, and family photos outside I try and use the 70-200mm if I can get far enough away. If not, the 24-105mm comes out and does the job very well.

      You will find the depth of field extremely narrow on the 135mm f/2 lens, and often times it may be to bright outside to shoot wide open at f/2, ISO 100. A ND filter will do the trick though in those situations, and would needed even more on the 85mm f/1.2 lens.

      I would honestly go with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for the versatility and killer quality through out. It is also fairly bright and constant f/2.8 which is enough for most Portrait work.

      Extreme low light shooting in my experience usually comes with tighter quarters, like at wedding receptions, family home gatherings, ect.. In these situations a fast prime is really the best way to go. The focal length choice is really dependent on your personal needs. Inside I would go with the 50mm or 85mm personally. Outdoor the longer focal length is the way to go in my opinion ;)

      I hope that helps and makes some sense. It is a hard decision, so I tried to give you some real world perspective on what you may need focal length wise, but it also is a lot of rambling info you may not want or need!

      Best of luck and thanks for the question and kind words on the photos,
      Jay


  3. Tony

    Hey Jay, you have awesome content. Really admire your hard work documenting these cameras and lenses, but I can’t help but notice the numerous spelling and grammatical errors in your writing. Why aren’t you getting someone to proofread before publishing?


    • Jay

      Hi Tony,

      I really appreciate your kind words about the website content ect.. You are also absolutely correct in the spelling and grammar department. I suck.

      Here is the deal. I have a full-time 9-5pm job as does my wife and I do this website on the side in my spare time. I do everything myself including the website, forum, you-tube channel, ect.. Now you would think that with such a highly content rich website I would be rolling in the cash, and be able to higher an editor?? Nope. Not even close to the case. The website does not make money like you might think. The obnoxious ads every ware barley pay for the server costs, and as soon as as it start to become decent, the server needs to be upgraded to handle the increase in traffic. Right now I am on the Pro website plan which isn’t to bad, but it only allows for x-amount of simultaneous connections. Basically what this means is you will get time-outs when waiting for a page to load. The site just sites there and says “Waiting for sonyalphalab” ect.. What this means is I need to upgrade the website again to a dedicated server. As soon as I do that, I’m back to square one earning zero money do to the server costs canceling out the ad revenue.

      Needless to say, If I payed an editor it might help the creditability of the content for sure, but then it becomes a situation where it may cost me money to do this in my spare time? It’s seems crazy I know, but talk to anybody for real that does this type of stuff. I do it more for the love of photography and getting to play with the latest gear ect.. I do make a few bucks here and there, but it alwyas goes to website upgrades, purchasing the forum software ect.. Never towards an editor.

      I Guess I just need help is the bottom line, but I can’t justify paying anybody when I barley brake even as it is considering the amount of work I do.

      Sorry for the long winded response Tony, but I’m in a tough spot as far as that goes. Perhaps it’s time I look into a per article edit type service or something? Might be worth while in the end??

      Thanks again,
      Jay


  4. Jack John

    Sorry, just as an extra to my last post, most of my shots are being taken a 2-3 feet away, so again this may need to change depending on what you say re my lenses etc.

    Thanks


  5. Jack John

    Oh the last post didn’t seem to display, so here it is again…

    Hi

    I looked up this article as I’ve recently had a baby and I am taking lots of portrait photos at the moment, but it suddenly occurred to me that in many shots the baby’s face looked fatter than it actually is, particularly if shot a couple of feet away when trying to fill the frame. I then wondered if it had anything to do with lens distortion as I’d heard 80 – 105mm was the ideal length for most scenarios, and I’m using the Sony DT 16mm – 50mm / 2.8 lens you mentioned above with an A57, and obviously that means 24mm to 75mm focal length. I do normally shoot fully zoomed i.e. at 75mm. I did just test standing further away, thinking I could crop later, and the fat face thing wasn’t present, but I’ve only tested with a few shots at the moment.

    I couldn’t find anything about distortion above (other than in the intro which said it would be covered), but I absolutely may have just overlooked it as I read through quickly given how comprehensive this article is. I also note you mentioning the Canon 50mm lens being a killer lens for baby portraits, but do you mean on a camera that means it really is 50mm or one that means it is actually 75mm equivalent?

    I also own a Sony SAL 70mm – 300mm G lens which I could use if that sounds better at the low end of the scale? Most of the shots I’m taking currently though are inside at relatively low light or at least lacking a lot of natural light, which is why I like the f2.8 16-50mm lens.

    Do you think these two lenses should be OK for my baby purposes currently or do you think I need something in the gap between them i.e. 50mm – 70mm (if so any recommendations for my camera given the price of the other two lenses)? Any tips for baby shots using either lens so I get a true reflection of the baby’s looks without any distortion. Can distortion even cause fattening of the face or have I just taken a few unflattering shots as some are excellent? I am currently shooting about 2-3 feet away from the baby, so it this too close given your 10-12 feet comment above? Although not sure I have that much room in my flat to always be that far back for every given angle.

    Thanks


    • Jay

      Hi Jack,

      Thanks for the questions and sharing your observations and questions on facial distortion and lens choice ;)

      A good rule of thumb is to get low, move back, and zoom in when possible. I know how hard that is with babies and you are doing the correct thing by zooming in to 50mm with your lens. The closer you are to your “subject” the less of the background you will see. This will give the illusion of the face being fatter, because the background gets eaten up, and the ears start to disappear if your head on. Distortion is the issue.

      I would recommend a fast 85mm prime or even longer. You already have 16-50mm @ f/2.8, so that is covered if you can’t move back any further. I personally love to use my 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 10-12 feet, but when the room is to tight I would put on my faster zoom or prime just as you are doing. If your outside I would use your 70-300mm G lens and move back/ zoom in to 300mm filling the frame with your baby, and or models. I would also have the background as far away as possible from your portrait party. You could also use this lens with window light possible?

      Lighting is also very critical with how flattering the face will look. Window light at an angle is often the best way to go when possible. The natural light is soft and the darker inside ambient light will add dimension to the face. Play with the angles until you find the most flattering light. We would put babies in a basket with a soft blanket and then spin the basket and/or move the light source around to get the best angle. Once we got the hang of it, you can usually spot it.

      Take another look at your excellent shots and see if it’s more to do with the lighting, background, angle, etc…

      I hope that helps,
      Jay


  6. Jack John

    Sorry if this posts twice, but my reply comment timed out when trying to post it, and then when I refreshed the page it hadn’t been added. I then tried to post again and it said I’d already said that and it was a duplicate comment despite not showing it, even when I deleted my cache and started again. Anyway here goes again…

    Hi Jay

    Thanks for your comprehensive reply, it’s really much appreciate it.

    I do have a few (but quite long!) queries just to clarify what you’ve said / my understanding…

    You recommended a fast 85mm prime, but can I ask why specifically 85mm i.e. around 127mm equivalent on my camera? I ask as I thought for portrait photography 80-105mm was usually ideal. I assume you suggested the fast characteristic as I mentioned taking a lot of baby shots inside currently, although window side shots are definitely an option, so I’m assuming in that circumstance my 70mm-300mm wouldn’t be too bad. It’s actually pretty good inside, but space is normally an issue living in a maisonette.

    I guess I’m also asking about the 85mm prime as like most I havent unlimited funds, so want to be sure after buying the 16-50mm to replace the standard A57 lens & the 70-300mm as well that there isn’t another lens that would also do a good job, but fill the 50-70mm (75-105mm) gap in my current lenses too, because I thought (given the ideal portrait range) that this may be an issue, but maybe it isn’t? Plus I think I might buy a wide angle lens at some point too. :-)

    I’m probably also confused about the lens types as you mentioned the 50mm lens in your article being a killer portrait lens (BTW did you mean ideally on a full frame or either?), and I have the 80-105mm ideal portrait range in my head, and you recommend using my G lens outside zoomed to 300mm (450mm equivalent) too, so there’s a big variance there. Perhaps there’s something about the ranges I’m not getting with my limited knowledge?

    Thanks again Jay. I hope you don’t mind the extra long questions!

    PS Often with the baby I’m taking a shot from directly above as he lies on his back on a sofa, or bed, or moses basket facing up, so can this cause face fattening / distortion too? I assume so since I obviously can’t get that far back since we haven’t enormously high ceilings and I’m not spiderman :-) Would you not bother with these types of shot and instead perhaps turn the baby side on (if a sofa etc as in the basket you don’t have many options) and then go for an angle as low as possible to their eye line? I believe this is what you meant by get lower in the advice above.


    • Jay

      Jack,

      If you want an absolute killer all in one lens, go for the 16-80mm Carl Zeiss lens. It’s one of my favorite a-mount lenses and a great investment for somebody like you. It will also cover almost all your ranges and needs for now. You could always upgrade at some point to fast prime for really low light conditions, like the 50mm f/1.4 for example.

      The 85mm is a bit long for the crop factor camera, but will offer excellent separation from the backgrounds for head shots. Full body shots you will need a wider angle for sure depending on the size of the model. If your really close, a 35mm focal length could be required to get the whole body, but this will cause serious distortion.

      PS Often with the baby I’m taking a shot from directly above as he lies on his back on a sofa, or bed, or moses basket facing up, so can this cause face fattening / distortion too?

      Yes it can and does, but lighting makes a big difference. Flat lighting gives the face no dimension vs direction lighting like a window. Try standing on a ladder to get your camera closer to the ceiling. This will allow you to zoom in, or use a higher focal length prime lens, and get a less distorted portrait with your current set-up. I would use a chair or table though in order to place the basket or baby chair next to a window for more directional lighting ;) Your 70-300mm should do a pretty good job here.

      Would you not bother with these types of shot and instead perhaps turn the baby side on (if a sofa etc as in the basket you don’t have many options) and then go for an angle as low as possible to their eye line? I believe this is what you meant by get lower in the advice above.

      I would try everything Jack! In order to learn how to see the light and dimension on the face, your going to need to take many shots at different angles. I do like to aim downward slightly when shooting babies in baskets, but not quite eye line. If I was 8-10 feet away, I would have the camera about 2 feet higher than the baby for example. Something like these photos of Layla and Liam below. Note the soft direction lighting which is visible on the cheeks, nose and catch light in the eyes!
      Layla

      Layla

      Liam

      I hope that helps Jack, and have a great weekend :)

      Jay


  7. Jack John

    Thanks Jay. Really appreciate the time you take to reply, and they’re lovely shots. I’ll have a practice.

    I think I probably lost/hid the real killer question I had amongst the very long comments I made. Basically I bought the Sony 16-50mm/2.8 lens, and I have the Sony 70-300mm G lens, so for doing a lot of portraits as my kid grows will I really need to fill that 50-70mm (equiv 75mm-105mm) gap in the range those lenses offer i.e. is that too important a range to be missing? In hindsight perhaps I should have got the Carl Zeiss lens instead of the 16-50mm lens, but I wasn’t thinking things through, and the lens I got is great indoors. Now I’d feel a little like I wasted my cash on the 16-50mm lens if I instantly bought a 16-80mm lens which completely overlaps it.

    Thanks again

    PS That is the last question :-)


    • Jay

      Hi Jack,

      I would not worry about the 20mm gap in focal length, because you have everything else covered. You would be wasting your money to a large degree if you purchased the 16-80mm ziess lens, unless you sold the 16-50mm. But as you said, the 16-50mm is a better low light shooter overall with the constant f/2.8 aperture. It’s always a compromise Jack no matter what you purchase ;) A 16-80mm constant aperture f/2.8 lens would be gigantic in size and not practical to produce most likely. Hence the f/3.5 compromise on the Zeiss 18-80mm. It’s worth it though if you can afford the light loss. In your case, probably not it sounds like.

      No worries at all on the questions, but it might take me a few days to reply with a quality answer. Some questions are really easy to answer while others, not so much. They may require me to look up lenses or check a manual etc.. I will get to all of them though!

      Have a good day Jack,
      Jay


  8. Jack John

    Thanks again Jay that’s quite reassuring. Is there any reason 80-105mm is the recommended focal length for portraits? Maybe that will help me understand how important or not having it covered is. I assume it isn’t because things distort above and below that range. Are you able to post the focal length you used for each of the photos above?

    Lastly I was looking at the middle shot of the three above, and it’s so perfectly cropped that it made me wonder if you crop to fit the photo perfectly no matter the dimension i.e. a totally custom size, or do you stick to standard dimensions like variants of 6:4 or 7:5 or 1:1 and just reduce in proportion to those scales as appropriate?


    • Jay

      Hi Jack,

      Sorry I lost track of your comment somehow and just saw it now.

      Yes, the 80-105mm range is the ideal range for no distortion and being close enough to your model so it’s not awkward. If your really far away it can be hard to communicate effectively. although the results are awesome in my opinion. I don’t have the info on those photos handy at the moment, because they are on my back-up hard drives. I’m pretty sure I was using the 70-200mm though at around 150mm or so. I could be wrong though.

      I usually zoom in to make the crop I want. Sometimes I will crop in post to create a head and shoulders shot out of a full body shot. The camera is a native 4×6 but I do crop to 5×7 and 4×5 for 8×10 prints. If the prints are 11×14 or larger I will go into photoshop and really make sure the image is perfect and then re-sized properly with the correct sharpening for print etc..

      Catch up with you later, and sorry again for the delayed reply,
      Jay


  9. James

    Great info Jay! I have a canon 50D with the following lenses. I was wondering if you can recommend which one I should use for 1) homecoming (group of 15 and couple pictures) outside pictures and 2) marching band (usually at night with stadium lighting and sometimes during the day).

    - Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 Lens
    - Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Lens
    - Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.84L IS USM Lens
    - Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens

    Thanks,
    James


    • Jay

      Hi James,

      I would recommend the 24-70mm for the group shots and the 70-200mm whereever else you can use it. For the large group band shots, the 24-70mm would be a better choice, but for zoomed in close-ups of the action, the 70-200 and 100-400mm (depending on light and distance) are the way to go. The 85mm f/1.8 is a great lens, but a bit harder to use do to the lack of zoom. It’s perfect for really low light shots though, so depending on your lighting at night, it might be the best choice.

      The 24-70mm and 70-200mm offer the best bang. Super fast, killer quality, and versatility with the zoom. I use the 70-200mm for 90% of my portrait work, but that is usually 1 person, and at most 3-5 people. Larger groups I resort to my 24-105 f/4 lens on my Canon 5d Mark II. It works great and the zoom lets me dial in the group size with ease. The further back you can go the better the group shots will look, but often space is limiting in a homecoming situation. The 24-70mm should give you all the flexibility you need.

      I hope that helps and feel free to expand or ask more questions,
      Jay


      • James

        Do you think it’s worth renting the 24-105mm lense for the homecoming occasion? Also, I read your information regarding using the AV mode. I’ve never played around with that mode before and I was wondering if I should try that?

        Tks, James


      • James

        Sorry, didn’t mean to call you James :)


      • Jay

        Hi James,

        No worries about typos, I’m the worst ever! In regards to your lens question, no I don’t think it’s worth renting the 24-105mm lens. 24-105mm is not the same on your camera as it is on my full frame 5d mark II do to the crop factor/ sensor size.

        What would be worth consideration though is the new Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 lens. That will give you almost full frame like performance on an APS-C sized sensor camera like your 50d. That lens would probably be great for the group shots if you were really tight on space and could not move back. 24mm could be hard on your aps-c crop factor camera if your really tight on space. 24mm x 1.6x = ~38.4mm. To get a large group all in the frame indoors, that could be an issue. 18mm would give you much more room to work with in those specific conditions, and the f/1.8 is killer for low light.

        Av mode is great if you want to keep the camera locked on a specific aperture. I enjoy using it mostly, because I rarely use flash in my regular photography. For a wedding type event, I’m usually in manual mode with a flash unit on the camera doing most of the exposure. If I’m shooting with the 135mm f/2 lens I will turn the flash off and shoot wide open @ f/2 in Aperture priority mode. This way the ISO and/or shutter speed can adjust on it’s own and you can focus on getting the frame you want faster.

        I hope that helps, and sorry for the delayed reply. My website got hacked and I had to restore the whole thing, and re-build the forum from scratch!

        Take care,
        Jay


  10. Deidre

    Jason,
    Thanks so much for the lens article. Your explanations were super helpful. Also, thanks for not being “put off” by comments about grammar and spelling….as for myself, I don’t care if the info is spelled or punctuated correctly as long as it’s valid!
    Here is my situation: I’m just steps away from investing in a Canon 6D and I want a good lens for portraits. I will be shooting little kids for comp cards. I would like the lens to have:
    *Image stabilization——-I probably don’t have the most steady hand!
    *Wide aperture——-doesn’t have to be THE widest!
    *Doesn’t break the bank—— I would like to be under 1K (but even at that price point, it breaks the bank!)
    Questions
    1. Any opinion on the 6D?
    2. Will a lens that is f.4 give nice bokeh depending on where you stand in relation to the subject, and the subject in relation to the background? With this question a “yes or no” will suffice. I don’t want to take up to much of your time. I just need to know IF it can be achieved.
    Thank you so much for your time and insight!


    • Jay

      Hi Deidre and thanks for the kind words and questions ;)

      For portraits of kids I would recommend a zoom lens for quick versatility. I like the 70-200mm best, but you need a little distance with that lens and often kids are very difficult to capture that way unless they can’t walk yet. Yes, f/4 on a full frame will get you awesome separation if your zoomed in a bit and relativity close to your subject. The background distance will create a more buttery look the further away it is from you and your subject.

      The Canon 6D is a great camera for the money, but the auto focus system is the weak link in my opinion. It has the smaller module compared to the more expensive Canon 5d Mark II or III. The image quality looks good though and the full frame format will get the separation you are looking for.

      Depending on if your going to shoot in a studio, or outside might change the best lens option. I would go with the 24-105mm kit personally for the best versatility possible. The as you get some cash, go for a fast prime lens, like the 50mm or 85mm. The EF 50mm f/1.8 is really cheap and works very well actually!

      If you want to look at some Sony cameras, the full frame A7 is much smaller than the 6D and around the same price. The image quality is also significantly better, but the lenses are less to chose from and expensive. I thought you might like the much lighter and smaller camera though? The Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 lens has OSS and is a perfect match for the Sony A7 or A7r in my opinion. The price is a little high at $1200, but it’s very high quality and compact! Check out my latest reviews for more info on the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras if your curious…

      Aways feel free to ask more questions if you have them,

      I hope that helps you out Deidre
      Jay


  11. Saket

    very good article. I have sony A37 with kit lenses 18-55mm. I do portrait photography and generally shoot outdoor. which budget lens is most suitable?


    • Jay

      Hello Saket and great question ;)

      I would go for the 55-200mm lens or the 55-300mm lens, because they are both affordable, flexible, and great for portraits if you zoom in and move back a little ;) A prime lens would technically be better, but can be limiting if you have no zoom.

      I hope that helps,
      Jay


  12. ali

    Some nice pictures and great reviews! Thanks a lot for this, super helpful.



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