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07-25-2010, 02:58 AM   #1
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what lens for portrait

I have been doing some successful portraits with strobes, and would now like to try a natural light pic of a mother and baby. Trouble is the only lens that lets me stop down to 2.8 or 4.00 is my ancient prime lens, which means I will be just about sitting on their heads. I have tried using 5.6 @ 125 with my 70 to 300 lens but the moment I zoom in I lose the setting. I have tried with the shorter 70ml lens but again if I zoom in I lose the apertature. I tried (all this with toys at moment)using the available winddow light, then bringing in the soft box (umbrella) and putting a continuous light on the object and an ISO of 800 but that was still too dark. Sooo any idea on what lens I should be looking for, or should I invest in one of those continuous light setups?
My strobes are pretty ancient and only have high and low settings. I don't want to use them as strobes for this shot unless I really have to.
cheers Trish

07-25-2010, 04:48 AM   #2
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If you know how to get the lights right, the best investment IMO is the lens.
Hard to know what to suggest without knowing what focal length you're really after but it sounds like you want a fast telephoto like around 90-100mm. Would this be right?

If so, there are macro options such as the Tamron 90 f/2.8 or Pentax FA 100 f/2.8 that do very well with portraits. If you had the funds, I'd even go all out for the FA 77 ltd. There's just enough working distance with that lens to feel comfortable shooting single/couple portraits.

If not, there are a number of 135mm f/2.8 options, both MF and AF, which you could explore for a reasonably cheap cost, even less than the above suggestions. But any more focal length than that and you'd be looking at the fast 70-200 options from Sigma or Tamron or the Pentax DA 200.

Hope this helps.
07-25-2010, 05:22 AM   #3
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of all my lenses in my lineup. I used the 50-135mm the most shooting in the studios. It has the perfect focal length for portraits and plus it's tack sharp.
07-25-2010, 07:20 AM   #4
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Have you thought about going outside?

07-25-2010, 08:08 AM   #5
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Have you thought about going manual? I've never found AF necessary to portraiture.

And is tack-sharpness something you want in portraits? Or is softer better for you?

For softness, a fast longish lens -- 85/1.5 to 135/2. For sharpness, a 90-105/2.8 macro.

What I use: Helios 58/2, Nikkor or Jupiter 85/2, Vivitar 90/2.8 macro, Meyer Trioplan 100/2.8, Pentax 135/2.5. All are manual and pretty fast and rather-to-very cheap. Sometimes I use an enlarger lens on tubes or bellows -- 75/3.5 or 90/4.5 or 105/3.5 or 110/4. Possibilities abound.
07-25-2010, 08:38 AM   #6
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For sharpness or softness, it depends on if it's a male or female portrait your taking.
07-25-2010, 08:48 AM   #7
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If your ancient prime lens puts you right on top of them - you don't mention the focal length, but I assume it is a 50mm - go up 50-100% in focal length and find a prime or zoom with a fast enough aperture. This means 70-105 or so, but then you go on to say how you want to zoom even closer?! Just how far do you need to be - 200mm?? If so you're looking at a very expensive piece of pro glass.

Cheaper to use your feet to get a couple of feet closer in the 70-125 mm range. Or use the zoom to see if working distance is good for you at 135mm - and there are plenty of cheap and good 135/2.8's out there.
07-25-2010, 09:29 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by kerrowdown Quote
For sharpness or softness, it depends on if it's a male or female portrait your taking.
And now I'll retell the tale of shooting portraits whilst in the US Army. Much of that was standard new-guy-in-unit stuff, the well-dressed troop standing stiffly in front of a flag as I held a flash up with one hand and worked a Yashica 35 GSN (loaded with Kodacolor) with the other hand. But on my own time, I shot personal stuff, portraits. And almost always with an 80mm lens. Whether Nikon F (FF SLR), or Olympus Pen-FT (HF SLR), or Yashicamat 124G (MF TLR), 80/3.5 was the glass to use.

And those shots were of two types -- one or more troops, or a troop and their wife / GF / SO. Those shots with a dependent female were ALWAYS soft and romantic, shot wide-open with natural north light. Shots without females were sometimes soft, especially for younger, smoother troops. But they were more likely harsh, sharp, relentless -- stop down, use a Red or Green filter, use sharp side lights, do EVERYTHING to bring out every scar, pore, hair, crease, and other memorable detail. Blood and sweat and mud were sometimes evident. It's a macho thang, eh?

Of course, it's good to go against type, too. Shoot that he-man softly; shoot that sweating gal sharp and harsh; shoot that family in high-contrast; give that dog an aura; etc. Or maybe shoot ortho or copy film and/or use a violet or blue filter, for chroma renditions similar to the earliest B&W photo emulsions. The standards of portraiture are easily evaded.


Last edited by RioRico; 07-25-2010 at 10:53 PM.
07-25-2010, 10:10 AM   #9
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I don't think a lens can ever be "too sharp" for the task. It is better to start with as much detail as possible, and then go from there in PP.

As for what lens to choose, I have written about that enough already: Perspective Distortion, Sensor Size And Portraiture.
07-25-2010, 10:51 AM   #10
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if you dont mind shooting at 50mm, get a 50/1.2.

but if you are shooting at 70-135, there is a huge selection of great lenses at those focal lengths, both AF and MF lenses. macros in particular are great, so does some normal lenses. if you want to go for affordability, MF lenses such a Vivitar 85/1.4, Jupiter 9 (cheapest at this focal length), Pentax M85/2 would be great, and as mention some 100/2.8 manual lens, 135mm manual lens as well are great.

if you want AF, there is Sigma 70, DA70, FA77, Pentax FA* 85/1.4, 90/2.8, 100mm AF lenses, and the 135mm AF lenses.
07-25-2010, 04:07 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by trishytee Quote
Trouble is the only lens that lets me stop down to 2.8 or 4.00 is my ancient prime lens, which means I will be just about sitting on their heads.
I take it this is because the focal length is too short? In which case, a longer prime would still be a good option.

QuoteQuote:
I have tried using 5.6 @ 125 with my 70 to 300 lens but the moment I zoom in I lose the setting. I have tried with the shorter 70ml lens but again if I zoom in I lose the apertature.
Not sure what you mean by this. All 70-300's I know of can keep f/5.6 through the zoom range. I suspect there is something you are doing or understanding or explaining incorrectly.
07-25-2010, 04:25 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by trishytee Quote
I have been doing some successful portraits with strobes, and would now like to try a natural light pic of a mother and baby. Trouble is the only lens that lets me stop down to 2.8 or 4.00 is my ancient prime lens, which means I will be just about sitting on their heads. I have tried using 5.6 @ 125 with my 70 to 300 lens but the moment I zoom in I lose the setting. I have tried with the shorter 70ml lens but again if I zoom in I lose the apertature. I tried (all this with toys at moment)using the available winddow light, then bringing in the soft box (umbrella) and putting a continuous light on the object and an ISO of 800 but that was still too dark. Sooo any idea on what lens I should be looking for, or should I invest in one of those continuous light setups?
My strobes are pretty ancient and only have high and low settings. I don't want to use them as strobes for this shot unless I really have to.
cheers Trish
My wife and I do quite a bit of natural light portraits in our home and we mainly sit at/or around 90mm. Our favorite lenses are 68mm Helios, 85mm Jupiter, 135mm Jupiter and the infamous DA* 50-135mm. We usually keep two or three camera's equipped and ready during the shoot.

Our light consists of a few old style windows(props) setup in front of our living room picture window. And one very large reflector(white and gold reflector, 3.5' x 7') which we'll maneuver around our subjects. We typically shoot between f2 and f6,5 and ISO ranging from 100 to 1600 depending on the conditions.

We also use ND filters to help cope with wider apertures(sunlight too strong), as well as grey and color calibration cards to help keep things in check.

Last edited by JohnBee; 07-25-2010 at 06:51 PM.
07-25-2010, 10:14 PM   #13
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thanks for all the replies. I can't go outside as I want to set this up on my bed. I might try some reflectors to get more light perhaps. I was hoping to get far enough away to use a 200ml zoom, but will now try the 28-80mm sigma. And Marc, I still have the same prob. On M whatever I set the fstop, as soon as I zoom in it changes. Ie. I set the ap at 1/100 and the f @f35 on 28mm. As soon as I zoom to 75-80mm the f changes to f5.6. I assume it is because I don't have enough light once the zoom is used. I think I might have to strobe after all.
thanks, Trish
07-25-2010, 10:51 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by trishytee Quote
As soon as I zoom to 75-80mm the f changes to f5.6. I assume it is because I don't have enough light once the zoom is used. I think I might have to strobe after all.
thanks, Trish
What you're describing is normal of most entry level zoom lenses. What happens is the aperture values changes as you extend or adjust the zoom in and out. However.. not all lenses do this... some will remain at whatever aperture value you choose. This is partly why I prefer primes over zoom lens for portrait work as it doesn't have such limitations. However... [rimes have other limitations(such as) being fixed at a specific length

The Pentax DA* 50-135mm F2.8 can stay wide open at 2.8 regardless of the zoom position.
07-25-2010, 11:39 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by trishytee Quote
thanks for all the replies. I can't go outside as I want to set this up on my bed. I might try some reflectors to get more light perhaps. I was hoping to get far enough away to use a 200ml zoom, but will now try the 28-80mm sigma. And Marc, I still have the same prob. On M whatever I set the fstop, as soon as I zoom in it changes. Ie. I set the ap at 1/100 and the f @f35 on 28mm. As soon as I zoom to 75-80mm the f changes to f5.6. I assume it is because I don't have enough light once the zoom is used. I think I might have to strobe after all.
thanks, Trish
what you have is a zoom lens with a variable aperture. this means that the lens changes it aperture value automatically at a certain zoom length. this is a characteristic of the lens that you have. variable aperture lenses would have it's speed printed out something like f2.8-f4 or f5.6, others are like f3.5 to 5.6 or higher.
a zoom lens with a constant faster aperture would only have a single aperture speed written. like f2.8, f4 etc...
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