Great Portrait Lenses

You really like to make portraits, but you don’t know what is the best lens for you?

The first thing to consider is the focal length. If you use a camera with an APS-C format sensor, your focal length will be different from full frame sensor camera’s. For example, a 50mm lens will give an effective focal length around 75mm to 80mm at your APS-C sensor camera.

In general, prime lenses offer superior image quality to zoom lenses. This is also because they will have a wide maximum aperture that’s usually between f/1.2 and f/1.8. This enables a tight depth of field, so you can blur the backgrounds and make the person in your picture really stand out. And I’m quite sure this is where you were looking for. Besides the aperture, also the lens’s bokeh is all-important. This is the quality of defocused areas, and the aim is to produce a smooth blur effect. When your lens features a well rounded diaphragm, the bokeh will be good. The use of a maximum aperture is great for portraits and fashion works, because this makes the focus of the viewer at the model and her clothes and not somewhere in the background.

Personally, I’m using the 24-70mm f/2.8 L very often for editorials. But when I need to focus on portraits or close-ups I like to use my 50mm f/1.4 or my newest lens the 100mm f/2.8 L. (All Canon, but almost every brand will have the same focal length and aperture.)

50mm f/1.4

The 50mm is an all time favorite for every photographer. The focal length, when used with a full-frame sensor, has been widely considered to match the perspective seen by the human eye.  There are 3 different types of the 50mm available, you can buy this lens with an aperture of f/1.2 or f/1.4 or f/1.8. The last one is a cheaper, but still a good option. A few years ago I started to work with the 50mm f/1.8 and fell in love. Last year I worked with the f/1.2 and f/1.4 and didn’t noticed a big difference between the results, so I decided to buy the Canon 50mm f/1.4 and I’m using it every photo shoot again. 

100mm f/2.8 L

This lens is great on location, because of the focal length of 100mm you need some space between you and the model otherwise you are making a macro shot of her eyes. ;) Or if you are working in a big studio where you have the space to take a step backwards, it’s also a good option to work with this lens. I use the 100mm when I would like to have a very sharp focus and a perfect soft feeling in the picture. Actually this is called a macro lens, so it’s great when you would like to make a beauty shot or a close-up of a product or the clothes.

24-70mm f/2.8 L

The 24-70mm is also a populair lens for every kind of photography because you can use it always and everywhere. The 24mm is great for total shots and to give an overview of the location/set where you are working. With this lens you can also use the 50mm and when you would like to go closer, you just zoom in till the 70mm. I always use the 70mm for half-total or close-up shots. So when you think it’s better to have a zoom function and when you don’t have the time to switch between prime lenses, this lens will be a perfection option for you.

 85mm f/1.2 L and 70-200mm f/2.8 L

The Canon 85mm f/1.2 L and the 70-200mm f/2.8 L are my currently cravings. Last summer I worked with the 85mm and I was really impressed by this lens. The focal length of 85mm is considered ideal for portraiture. But of course everyone will have their own favorite focal length to work with. I can choose to use 70mm or 100mm so that is already very close to the 85mm. But I’m sure, one day, this lens will be mine :) The 70-200mm telephoto zoom lens is also used for portraiture because you can decide to zoom between the 70 and 200mm. With this lens you can capture your model from a long distance and create the famous soft background. I saw a lot of professional photographers who made great shots with this lens and I think I also need to give it a try. Still not enough options? You can also have a look at the 135mm f/2.0 lens.

It’s also about personal preferences and of course about money. Some lenses can be really expensive, but in the end they are worth it. Just find out if you like to work with prime lenses or if you prefer to have the ability to zoom.

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UPDATE AUGUSTUS 2014

I sold my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 zoomlens and bought a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 prime lens. I prefer prime lenses because it will change the way you look at your subject and composition. I think it’s better to move more around the model or take a stap back, then to zoom in and stay lazy :) The quality of the Sigma 35mm ART  f/1.4 is amazing! I’m using this lens at every photo shoot now. Actually I’m waiting for the Sigma 85mm ART to arrive.. I Hope this lens will be announced in soon because the Sigma ART series are very good in price and quality. But, this is already a lovely kit for a fashion/portrait photographer!

portrait lenses

Which lens(es) are you using for your portraits and fashion pictures?