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06-11-2015, 02:46 PM   #1
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Is 35mm comsidered an unusual focal length for portraits?

Would you use a 35mm lens for portrait shots (above waist portraits, couple shots, maternity portraits, family photos etc.,)? When ever I read about portrait photography, the lenses mentioned generally have a focal length of 85 to 200mm. Is it usual to do portrait photography with a 35 mm lens? I wont be shooting and head tight shots.

I am looking to buy a 35mm lens to use it as a general purpose walk around lens and I was wondering if I can use that to do some non-professional photo shoots for friends and family. The other lens I have is a 50mm f1.4 manual focus lens. It has great sharpness but it is hard to properly focus every time a subject moves or I move.

Thank you.

06-11-2015, 02:52 PM   #2
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50 - 70mm are considered portrait focal lengths on APS-C, to cover the range of 85-200 you would need 55-135. 35 mm is considered a normal lens on APS-C. So if it's a portrait that you would have used 50mm for on FF 35mm should be fine on APS-C.
06-11-2015, 03:16 PM - 2 Likes   #3
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There are various things to consider. First of all, the classical portrait focal lengths are 85-135mm, but that was back in the film days. These focal lengths have a different field of view on your APSC camera.
35mm is wide angle on film (full frame), but not that wide on APSC. This is why it was not generally used for portraits - you have to be relatively close to the person (makes them uncomfortable), the lens has some wide angle distortion (makes them look rounder, fatter), and the space compression is different.
The other part to consider is the genre of portraiture. There are many ways in which you can take a photo of a human being. You can use a fisheye! You can use a 1000mm lens! And maybe you can pull it off. But generally we hold on to conventions, because those already show us the easiest way to consistently make "good" photos. Fisheye portraits can be fun, but they get old, and people can be unrecognizable. 1000mm is not practical. On APSC, 35mm is a fine choice if you take photos of a group of people, or a photo with the whole person in frame. But if you want to take a photo of only shoulders and face? Then I would advise against 35mm. Go with at least 50mm, but aim for 55-85.

Why? Because 35mm will make you come really close, will make the subject seem round, will emphasize their nose, the background will seem sharper, and so on. The Pentax DA* 55mm is a great lens made for portraits, but its not cheap. DA 50mm f1.8 can be good and is much more affordable. DA 35mm can be used in a pinch, it is a nice sharp lens and I have seen good portraits taken with it. And if you enable the Distortion correction feature (or apply a lens profile if you shoot raw), then this won't be a big issue either. The question is, how close to perfect do you want to get.

Oh, and one more to consider is, how much your subject is moving. If a person stands still, in good light, your manual lens can be great. But if you want to photograph a kid running around the yard, a 35mm with AF would be a better choice. Better to get some photo than blurred, out of focus photos. DA 35mm and DA 50mm are both good, affordable choices. Great image quality. Sometimes we take photography gear too serious and forget the context, the moment

Tl;dr: Yes, 35mm can be used for photographing people. But for face portraits, it is a compromise, not the best choice. It can still deliver good enough photos. Many people use 35mm for casual hobby portraiture, but I doubt many professional portraiture photographers do. 50mm is better than 35mm, but 55mm-85mm is better still. f2.8 or lower f-number for perfection

Last edited by Na Horuk; 06-11-2015 at 03:24 PM.
06-11-2015, 03:17 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by uday029 Quote
Would you use a 35mm lens for portrait shots (above waist portraits, couple shots, maternity portraits, family photos etc.,)? When ever I read about portrait photography, the lenses mentioned generally have a focal length of 85 to 200mm. Is it usual to do portrait photography with a 35 mm lens? I wont be shooting and head tight shots.

I am looking to buy a 35mm lens to use it as a general purpose walk around lens and I was wondering if I can use that to do some non-professional photo shoots for friends and family. The other lens I have is a 50mm f1.4 manual focus lens. It has great sharpness but it is hard to properly focus every time a subject moves or I move.

Thank you.
On APS-C, 35mm is not as common as longer focal lengths but it's certainly not unusual. Sometimes the wider field of view or a bit of perspective distortion can be desirable. I can highly recommend the Sigma 35mm F1.4 if you're looking for a normal lens that doubles as a great portrait lens. The bokeh is to die for!


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06-11-2015, 03:51 PM   #5
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It (always) depends. Whilst getting in close can be a bit odd, it might also be good for showing someone performing a task. A bit further away it could be used to open up the environment as well.
06-11-2015, 04:44 PM   #6
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For above waist, fine. for a head shot, maybe not, though there really is no hard rule.
06-11-2015, 04:44 PM   #7
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The DA40, 40XS, and maybe the 43 are useful choices for full length portraits too. I have a 40XS and I think it would be excellent for candid/street portraits, even though I don't use it for street work as I am too nervous to get close, and prefer to use my DA21 and include lots of context.

Last edited by Bagga_Txips; 06-11-2015 at 04:59 PM.
06-11-2015, 05:05 PM   #8
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For classic head and shoulders portraits on 35mm film an 85-105mm lens is typically used.
The longer focal length distorts facial features less, facilitates a pleasing blurred background
and provides a more comfortable working distance.

However for environmental portraiture the 35mm focal length is fine.

Chris


Last edited by ChrisPlatt; 06-11-2015 at 06:13 PM.
06-11-2015, 05:57 PM   #9
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I shoot cosplay portraiture exclusively with the FA31. For head shots, I step back to reduce the distortion and just crop in post. Works great! I do shoot a lot of 3/4 and full body shots, of course, and even waist up work well with the FA31.

Check it out here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/madmathmind/sets/72157651902252720
06-11-2015, 06:25 PM   #10
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35mm on APS-C is wonderful for full length and waist-up portraits, Uday.

It's also great for group and environmental portraits.

It does what the full framers use 50mm for.
06-11-2015, 06:49 PM - 3 Likes   #11
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A few bullet points:
  • There is nothing magical about focal length in regards to portraits
  • A 35mm lens on APS-C has about the same perspective for a given composition as a 50mm or 55mm lens on 35mm film and many, many decent portraits have been taken with a 50mm or 55mm lens on 35mm film or FF digital sensor
  • Similar to the above point, 35mm on APS-C is not a wide angle
  • There is no such thing as "wide-angle distortion" of facial features. Any distortion of features when using a wide-angle lens is the result of the lens-to-subject distance. Things that are closer (a nose for example) will appear larger on a face-on head shot than features further away (ears for example) on the same subject. The "distortion" is simply perspective as simple as converging lines of a railroad track.
  • The above point is true regardless of focal length. This may be demonstrated by taking a head shot at 55mm on tripod with the 18-55 kit lens and without moving subject or camera, do the same shot at 18mm. Crop the wide-angle shot to only include the head and shoulders and be amazed that it has the same pleasing perspective as at the longer focal length.
Now that that is done with, what about portrait lenses? In the interest of avoiding big noses and such it is good to have some working distance from the subject. It is also good to be close enough to interact with the subject and to avoid backing into walls and such if shooting indoors. With that in mind here is the conventional wisdom as applied to APS-C:
  • Shorter than 24mm for special effects
  • 35mm (or even as short as 28mm) for full-length or environmental portraits
  • 35mm or 50mm for couples head-and-shoulders
  • 50mm, 70mm, 85mm, or 90mm for traditional head-and-shoulders, cameo, or full-face
  • 100mm or longer for special effect in environmental or head shots...may require a lot of working space
If you are unsure, try working with a zoom for awhile and take note of what focal lengths work for your particular style.

One other thing to consider is depth of field (DOF). Subject isolation through narrow DOF is often desirable and has traditionally been difficult to attain on APS-C for environmental or full-length portraits. Recently released fast lenses such as the Sigma 35/1.4 (Art) have been a godsend. FWIW, the Pentax Forums review of that lens promoted it for use in portraiture. Fortunately, fast primes are common in the 45mm to 85mm range where their limited DOF wide open may be used to good advantage.

Summary:
  • Your intended composition drives your choice of focal length for portraits
  • Conventional lengths for APS-C fall in the range of 50mm to 90mm
  • Use of longer lenses may be difficult where working space is tight
Have fun!


Steve

(...has done fairly creditable head-and-shoulders stuff at 35mm on APS-C...)

Last edited by stevebrot; 06-11-2015 at 07:00 PM.
06-11-2015, 06:57 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
100mm or longer for special effect in environmental or head shots...
A mental image of the Disney "Pocahontas look" came to mind as I typed the above. Think high-key monochrome straight on taken with a long lens...noses just simply disappear and are reduced to two nostrils located between eyes and lips.




Steve
06-11-2015, 06:58 PM - 1 Like   #13
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I will add on here my 2 cents

35mm or 31mm is fine depending on what kind of portrait you are talking about.

In my experience if you are wanting a head shot or something tighter in to isolate the subject... then maybe not 35mm.

But if you want to take what I call 'contextual shots' it would be great. IE you want to take shots of someone standing on the streets of Hong Kong or whatever.

There are several ways to go about it... but if you get too close to your subject with even a willing participant sometimes they can get 'weirded out' by you having a lens right in their face.

The following shot was taken with the 31mm and only has minimal cropping done to it... just so you can see as a size to people reference. A chute like that is about 8 1/2 feet long so that shot was taken from about 5 feet away from the bronc rider (maybe less). In other words it just depends on what kind of photo you want to take and how much space you have to work with.


Last edited by alamo5000; 06-11-2015 at 07:10 PM.
06-11-2015, 07:19 PM   #14
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Great "normal" FL portrait, Alamo!
06-11-2015, 07:25 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by clackers Quote
Great "normal" FL portrait, Alamo!
Thank you very much sir! I was right on top of the action at that rodeo. I shoved my K3 with the 31mm right inside the chute and hoped for the best.

It was taken at f1.8 in very bad light. ISO 1600.

If the horse would have reared up he might would have hit my camera or at least came within inches of it... with an average horse being about 8 feet long you can kind of guess how far away I was... I don't know... I didn't measure...LOL
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