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03-06-2008, 08:10 PM   #1
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Portraits: Zooms vs. Primes

I know a thing or two about portraiture, but nevertheless I'm sure there are a lot of you who know a whole lot more than me. In two different situations - on location and in the studio - do you think a fast zoom would be best? Or do you think a prime or possibly two would be best?

If you were to suggest less than 3 lenses, what would they be? (And no, I do not have $1500 sitting around ) I have 2 50's: Sigma AF 50/2.8 and Pentax SMC (MF) 55/2. If I were to do senior-photo-style shooting, what would you reccomend? Maybe a 135?

03-06-2008, 08:36 PM   #2
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135 is too long for anything but headshots on digital. you need something a little more wide angle than 50mm for full-body shots in my limited experience. When you're in the studio and can control the surroundings primes work great and give you the advantage of (relatively speaking) cheaper fast lenses. on location the flexible nature of the zoom is golden.
03-06-2008, 08:53 PM   #3
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Well I would get the 77mm and 43mm LTD, but on the less expensive side, the 70mm and 35 F2 to go along with your 50's
03-07-2008, 10:10 AM   #4
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DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 and Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. You're covered from 28mm to 135mm @f/2.8. Should give you lots of options and probably cost you just under $1K

03-07-2008, 11:28 AM   #5
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For the best characteristic, "portraiture"-style/look (i.e. sharpness, bokeh, colour), no zoom i've used has been better than a prime (in the same price/class range, of course). Even though i'm an "full-time zoom" user, i still think a prime produces a better portrait photo than a zoom. I would recommend the 70mm Limited (if you're going to be realy particular about getting exceptional portraits.) But, the Tamron 28-75 2.8 is also great (as an all-round zoom).
03-07-2008, 11:42 AM   #6
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I'll toss a couple more curves at you, just to get people going a little.

what about a 100mm F2 or 85 mm f1.8?

I have a 135 f2.5 which is a little long for digital so I was thinking of the 100's

I have a 105 F2.8 which seems to be a very capable lens also, and good for head and shoulders.

I like the longer focal lengths for portraits because they are more flattering.

I have medium wide to medium tele covered with a tamron 28-75 f2.8

I also use my 50mm F1.4 which on a DSLR is very flattering and you can really control depth of field at f1.4
03-07-2008, 12:03 PM   #7
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Just picked up the Tamron 28-75 and it is a extremely sharp lens for the money. After reading about it here I went ahead two weeks ago and it has not left my camera yet. Next one will be the Bigma 50-500mm then the Tarmon 90 Macro. I have a couple of friends using this for portraits and they are happy with the results. When I purchased my K10 [working great] went with the Tamron 18-250mm to start. Being new I rely on forums like this on where to spend my money on lenses. Have not been disappointed yet! JIMBO
03-07-2008, 12:22 PM   #8
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OK, I'll throw my 2 cents (or pence if you prefer) in the discussion. From my experience in my modestly sized studio, I use 3 primes. The 77 limited for H&S shots, FA50 1.4 for 1/2 body or couples, and FA35 f2.0 for anything else. As I mentioned, my studio is not all that large, and I am finding the 50 and the 35 just a bit to long for their purpose. I think I would rather have the 43 lmted and the 31 lmted (or the new DA*30) in their stead.

In the field, I'll use a good quality zoom. In my case the Tamron 28-75 f2.8. There is just to much happening in a field shoot, and conditions may not be ideal for a lot of lens swapping. The Tammy is plenty sharp, has good color rendition and contrast. The bokeh very good for a zoom also, but not as good as a good prime.

03-07-2008, 02:01 PM   #9
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50-135 is great for portrait, i would recommend it as a user.
but for full body portrait you need even a 16 mm imho.
i did not use it but 17-50 2.8 is fine for full-body port.
03-08-2008, 08:18 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by FastPhotography Quote
I know a thing or two about portraiture, but nevertheless I'm sure there are a lot of you who know a whole lot more than me. In two different situations - on location and in the studio - do you think a fast zoom would be best? Or do you think a prime or possibly two would be best?
I have used only primes for the past 20 years shooting film, mainly because I couldn't find a zoom with a 1.8 max aperture like my Canon 85 1.8.

I almost always use a tripod, and after doing this so many times, setting up the camera at the right distance became automatic. I would usually divide a roll of 36 exposure film like this:

1.) 9 shots full-length
2.) 9 shots 3/4
2.) 9 shots roughly 1/2 body
3.) 9 shots head to mid chest (I don't like close head & shoulders)

As I've stated in other threads, I prefer dreamy, soft-focus portraits most of the time. I have also learned over the years that the full and 3/4 shots looked better not diffused, while the closer ones are when the soft-focus filter should be used, unless you want the entire frame soft-focus.

The 2 zooms I have right now are more than sharp enough for my needs, but I plan on getting either a DA70mm or 50-135 soon more for the bokeh of their wide maximum apertures, than the sharpness they offer.

This now raises another question: If a photographer shoots mostly soft-focus-type images, does he/she really need an expensive, top-notch lens if they're only going to put a filter on the end defeating the lens' sharpness?

I like my zooms now, but when I get a DA70mm, I'll probably use that most of the time.

I also prefer primes, because they make you think a little more when setting up/composing the image.

Good thread.


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