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01-22-2011, 08:38 PM   #1
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What fast lens would you choose for portraits (if you were me)?

Ok, so I've been using an SMC M 50mm f1.7 for a few weeks now, and I really like the lens; when I can get the focus right the pictures are to die for. Unfortunately I am coming to the conclusion that manual focus is pretty challenging for me to use consistently and get results. Far more often than not pictures are out of focus when I was certain they were in focus and I am wanting to upgrade to something with Auto-focus.

My birthday is coming up next month and I expect I will be able to part with a money in exchange for a really nice quality prime lens for portraits and concerts with low, both of which I have been shooting tons of lately.

I've been searching the forums here, reading every review I can find and considering my options.

Here is what I can considering now:

(1) - Pentax DA (L) 35mm f/2.4 - By all account I've heard this is a fantastic lens, it's well priced and a nice FOV. My only real hesitation is that I would prefer something faster.

(2) - Pentax SMCP-FA 50mm f/1.4 - This lens I've seen mostly glowing reviews, but the fact that it's doubled in price and approaches the price of what seem to be significantly better lenses has me skeptical. I've read a lot that it's maybe too soft wide open, but one reviewer said a lens hood cures this. Anyone else try a hood?

(3) - Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM - I've I could just make a wish and get any lens it would be this one, based entirely off the reviews I've read of it. This thing has been praised pretty highly for being a quick focusing, super fast, super sharp, class leading lens. It is however a bit more expensive than the other two lens, but I would be willing to pay a little extra for a really nice lens.

(4) - Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM - Another very nice lens, not sure if it's a little wider than I might want for portraits, or if it's perfect for them. This lens is a not too much cheaper than the Sigma 50mm, which I think would prefer.

Not sure if there are any other good candidates, the DA 55mm 1.4 is bit too pricey for me, and from what I've seen and read the cheaper sigma outperforms it in both IQ and focus speed (both of which matter a great deal to me.)

I want a lens that would be ideal for portraits and shooting metal concerts in low light.

I love shallow DoF and I am a bit of a bokeh whore, and a lens that focuses fast and has nice IQ are both important to me. I plan to shoot more often than now wide open with what ever lens I end up with.

What lens would you choose if you were me? I would love to hear peoples experiences with these different lenses. Thanks.

01-22-2011, 08:52 PM   #2
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I would go with the FA 50 1.4, it is a great lens.

*Other options I thought of:

-You could get a split prism focus screen to use with your 50mm (I have that lens and think the IQ is second to none (almost)).

-Consider the F 28mm 2.8. I know it's a little short for portraits but would be good for concerts plus the IQ is just as good as the 50mm 1.7.
01-22-2011, 08:54 PM   #3
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Get something longer than 50mm IMHO.

For slightly more money, the DA 70 2.4 is a way better lens with better autofocus IMHO.
01-22-2011, 09:23 PM   #4
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You don't want anything shorter than 50mm for portraiture on an APS-C size sensor. There is the DA* 55mm f/1.4 as well as the Sigmalux. What are you focusing on when you are taking your portraits and what is the f stop? The focus should be on the eyes but are often hard to focus the lens on. You can focus on the chest below the chin which is on the same plane as the eyes. At f/1.7 the DOF can be measured in just a few inches. You could try stopping down some more to deepen the DOF. Just my .

01-22-2011, 09:37 PM   #5
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I would suggest two more lenses to consider among your alternatives:

- Pentax FA31mm f1.8

- Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f1.4.

The FA31mm f1.8 is AF, has superb IQ, and is highly regarded by many. I have used mine nicely at a number of evening events at our local school.

The Nokton 58mm is MF with superb IQ, excellent bokeh. Since Voigtlander discontinued the fabrication of K-mount, this lens is becoming a collector's lens.

I tend to shoot mainly outdoor, sometimes in low light (dusk and dawn). Both the FA31mm and Nokton 58mm gave excellent photographs, although MF tends to be more reliable than AF in very low lights. If AF is a 'must', then consider the FA31mm as an alternative.

Food for thoughts....
01-22-2011, 09:43 PM   #6
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Yes, don't get anything shorter than 50mm for portraits.

A hood for the FA50/1.4 helps a tiny bit but it won't remove the softness. If you want a fifty that's sharp at f/1.4, get the Sigma. The FA 50/1.4 is great starting from f/2.8, but I agree today's price is too high.
01-22-2011, 10:47 PM   #7
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It depends on what you mean by 'portrait'. Formal sittings, head-and-shoulders shots, facials, full-body-in-context shots, impromptu/informal snaps, what? The traditional 'portrait' lens for 6x6cm, 135/FF, and APS-C is ~75-85mm for a good reason -- in whatever format, that focal length gives good roundness. Shorter than 45mm starts introducing perspective distortion; longer than 120mm flattens the features. Some portraits demand sharpness and thick DOF, others demand softness and razor-thin DOF. What glass you use depends on what you want to do, and where, and how.

Formally, I'm likely to use an Industar-58U 75/3.5 with 1m fixed focus, or a Zeiss 80/2.8 (from an Ikonta folder) on bellows, or a Nikkor 85/2 modded for PK mount, or an M42 Meyer Trioplan 100/2.8, or a Noflexar 105/3.5 on bellows. Less formally, it's my FA50/1.4 or an M42 Tomioka 55/1.4, or a a Helios-44 58/2. I like cheap old enlarger and MF lenses on bellows -- very sharp and flexible. And cheap. I like cheap.

You can shoot portraits with any focal length, from 10mm (get them in their total context) to 1000mm (for a mafiya funeral at a safe distance). The FL us use depends on you and your subjects' comfort zones, and what effects you want, and your budget. Anything goes.
01-22-2011, 11:27 PM   #8
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I hadn't considered the 70, but I suspect it might be a bit long for what I am mostly going to be doing. I am not formal portraits, but a mix of candid portraits of friends, and shots for local bands that more full body. I am also working with a friend who has an etsy site and sells skirts and different clothing, and I am doing vaguely pinup kind of work and full torso portrait shots to show off the shirts (and the models).

When I shoot bands live I am generally pretty close to them and having to move back will put me in the "mosh pit" so to speak making it difficult to shoot with out getting knocked over I do shots for a blog.

Also is 2.4 fast enough for low light stuff? Sometimes the metal shows I shoot are poorly lit and can't use a tripod. I kind of want a lens that does a little of everything, which is why the 50's were so attractive.

01-22-2011, 11:30 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by RioRico Quote
You can shoot portraits with any focal length, from 10mm (get them in their total context) to 1000mm (for a mafiya funeral at a safe distance). The FL us use depends on you and your subjects' comfort zones, and what effects you want, and your budget. Anything goes.
Very true... I mostly shoot portrait and street and I used almost all the lenses I have for portraits.
01-23-2011, 02:33 AM   #10
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In the days of 35mm film, the best FL for portraits was 75-80mm; this would give just the right perspective for a large head-and-shoulders print.

Translating this into APS-C, this would imply a 50-55mm lens. Any less than this would be counter-productive, because you'd be accentuating facial features such as big noses, and you'd need to be getting embarrassingly close to the subject. On the other hand, a slightly longer FL may be found to be desirable, simply because you don't have to get quite so close to the subject.

Regarding the FA50/1.4, this is a pretty darn' good lens from what I see and hear. It may be very soft wide open, but even at f2 it will outperform most of its rivals - just check this out:

Nifty 50 Shootout on Pentax K-7 (updated 1/22) ERPhotoReview

Anyway, you wouldn't want anything faster than f2, because even at this aperture your DOF will be only 3 inches (2 inches at f1.4). Here's a DOF calculator:

Understanding Depth of Field in Photography

Finally, no, a lens hood won't make the FA50/1.4 any sharper!
01-23-2011, 02:37 AM   #11
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I should have said that the DOFs were calculated for a subject distance of about 5 feet.
01-23-2011, 02:55 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Metalwizards Quote
Ok, so I've been using an SMC M 50mm f1.7 for a few weeks now, and I really like the lens; when I can get the focus right the pictures are to die for. Unfortunately I am coming to the conclusion that manual focus is pretty challenging for me to use consistently and get results. Far more often than not pictures are out of focus when I was certain they were in focus and I am wanting to upgrade to something with Auto-focus.
It sort of pains me to hear of switching to autofocus referred to as an "upgrade". The problem isn't your lens....it's your focusing screen. In this era where it is taken for granted that everybody uses autofocus lenses all the time the screens are optimized for autofocus lenses. If you have ever looked through the viewfinder of a camera from the period when manual focus was your only option (because autofocus hadn't been invented yet) you no doubt saw some sort of focusing aid. The most common was a split prism in the middle of the screen, typically surrounded by a circle of micro-prisms. The rest of the screen was also typically of a higher contrast than modern screens.

Attempting manual focus on modern focusing screens is an exercise in frustration, as you have already learned. Fortunately, as has already been mentioned in this thread, you do have an alternative. There are aftermarket screens you can install in your camera which make manual focusing a breeze. They range from low-priced models going for around $30 up to the top-of-the-line screens from Katz-Eye.

When I bought my K20D, the first thing I did when I got home from the store was to sit down and order a Katz-Eye screen, as I use manual focus lenses almost exclusively (almost 3,000 examples, if you're bored. I consider it such an absolutely essential item for manual focus that I actually ordered a screen for my K-5 three days before I bought the camera.

Last edited by Mike Cash; 01-23-2011 at 03:04 AM.
01-23-2011, 03:03 AM   #13
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Has anyone used the FA 50 1.4 extensively? I am curious how well it autofocuses, and how quickly?
01-23-2011, 03:22 AM - 1 Like   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Metalwizards Quote
Has anyone used the FA 50 1.4 extensively? I am curious how well it autofocuses, and how quickly?
It's certainly quicker compared to zooms I have and may be slightly slower than FA35 - overall pretty quick.
01-23-2011, 03:26 AM   #15
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I think it must be FA50/1.4 day today, because it does well here, too:

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-slr-lens-discussion/130307-out-foc...a77-fa*85.html
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