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03-21-2009, 05:00 AM   #1
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Portrait Lens

OK, so now I am going to ask a really fundamental question which will make some of you say "it's obvious" and others will say "Hmmm?".

Here's a couple of quotes from another thread.

QuoteOriginally posted by Igilligan Quote
For me, on the digital bodies the 135 is just a bit too long for most of my snap portraits. The Jupiter 9 is even a little long but I use it a lot for head and shoulder shots. ... Since you are looking at those two lenses, also consider a Helios 44M, the version with the A/M switch on it. It is a 58MM f2, so the length is good for portraits and it is sharper at F2 than the Jupiter 9 is.
and

QuoteOriginally posted by kuuan Quote
For portraits I'd also recommend a 50 or 55 mm lens as they make roughly 75-80mm lenses on a Pentax dSLR.
I have often heard the "around 80mm for full frame" quoted for the perfect portrait lens. And it seems that the consensus is that focal length is the main criteria, with a minor criteria of the lens being not so sharp as to show up skin imperfections. Softness can be done in post processing, or if you really insist, you can use a softon filter or take a picture slightly out of focus. So using a lens that is purposely soft seems a little unecessary.

Surely the behaviour of the lens to skin tones is more important, and two lenses of the same focal length will not necessarily be the same in this respect. For example, my M50/1.4 gives a much warmer colour rendition than my Pentacon 50/1.8 where the images are quite cool.

But why the emphasis on focal length? I mean, in simple terms, if you fill your frame with head and shoulders, the focal length is just a matter of how close you are to your subject, right? If you have a short focal length (and rectilinear) you have to get closer, if you have a tele then you have to get further away.

The other difference between focal lengths is, of course, the effect of perspective, and this is really where my question lies. A long focal length will give a flatter rendition, so there is less apparent depth to the image. I can imagine that you don't want a portrait to be "flat", but going on that, why consider anything longer than "normal" focal length for the frame size (so for APS-C why consider anything longer than 40mm)? The classic "about 80mm" for full frame is certainly longer than the "normal" length for the format, so a certain "flattening" is considered good, but what determines how much is good? I have seen images of outdoor fashion shoots where the photographer is 15m away using a long tele because that was considered the right focal length (and the curious sight of the photographer's assistant with the reflective board next to model taking instruction over a walkie-talkie) and it certainly made me wonder why.

For the record, on film (full frame) the best portraits I took were with a CZJ 135/3.5 wide open: the depth of field was just right, but what made the images was the colour rendition. On digital (APS-C) the best portraits I have taken have been with my SMC Takumar 55/1.8 (stopped down a bit), for the same reasons as the Sonnar: the skin colours looked exactly right. Incidentally both are sharp lenses and if the images are sightly soft, it is my fault and nothing to do with the lens.

Richard

03-21-2009, 05:38 AM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by richard64 Quote
OK, so now I am going to ask a really fundamental question which will make some of you say "it's obvious" and others will say "Hmmm?".

Here's a couple of quotes from another thread.



and



I have often heard the "around 80mm for full frame" quoted for the perfect portrait lens. And it seems that the consensus is that focal length is the main criteria, with a minor criteria of the lens being not so sharp as to show up skin imperfections. Softness can be done in post processing, or if you really insist, you can use a softon filter or take a picture slightly out of focus. So using a lens that is purposely soft seems a little unecessary.

Surely the behaviour of the lens to skin tones is more important, and two lenses of the same focal length will not necessarily be the same in this respect. For example, my M50/1.4 gives a much warmer colour rendition than my Pentacon 50/1.8 where the images are quite cool.

But why the emphasis on focal length? I mean, in simple terms, if you fill your frame with head and shoulders, the focal length is just a matter of how close you are to your subject, right? If you have a short focal length (and rectilinear) you have to get closer, if you have a tele then you have to get further away.

The other difference between focal lengths is, of course, the effect of perspective, and this is really where my question lies. A long focal length will give a flatter rendition, so there is less apparent depth to the image. I can imagine that you don't want a portrait to be "flat", but going on that, why consider anything longer than "normal" focal length for the frame size (so for APS-C why consider anything longer than 40mm)? The classic "about 80mm" for full frame is certainly longer than the "normal" length for the format, so a certain "flattening" is considered good, but what determines how much is good? I have seen images of outdoor fashion shoots where the photographer is 15m away using a long tele because that was considered the right focal length (and the curious sight of the photographer's assistant with the reflective board next to model taking instruction over a walkie-talkie) and it certainly made me wonder why.

For the record, on film (full frame) the best portraits I took were with a CZJ 135/3.5 wide open: the depth of field was just right, but what made the images was the colour rendition. On digital (APS-C) the best portraits I have taken have been with my SMC Takumar 55/1.8 (stopped down a bit), for the same reasons as the Sonnar: the skin colours looked exactly right. Incidentally both are sharp lenses and if the images are sightly soft, it is my fault and nothing to do with the lens.

Richard
I agree with you.

Al of us know that use 85 or 135 mm lens is, as you said, a matter of distance to the subject. The DOF not problem, because at 75 cm (head portrait) with 85 mm we will have the same DOF than with a 135 mm focus at the equivalent 120 cm, using the same aperture in both cases.

The long lenses flatness, is relative to the aperture used, the most closed aperture, the most flatness. The little DOF at wide aperture help to reduce the flatness.

My difference with your opinion is the pp for soft portraits.
I have the CZJ 3,5/135 and the J-9. The sharp and color correct portrait that I obtain with the CZJ, I can't have with the J-9, but it has a particular IQ in F/ 4 to 11 that don't know if I can obtain with a filter o pp.

For the pic that you prevusualized, the correct lens. I don't like the pp in this way. If I imagine determinated pic and put the light, the model, etc., with pp I can modificate some little details but not do other pic, I didn't look for this way!!

Taste questions!!
03-21-2009, 05:48 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by richard64 Quote
I mean, in simple terms, if you fill your frame with head and shoulders, the focal length is just a matter of how close you are to your subject, right? If you have a short focal length (and rectilinear) you have to get closer, if you have a tele then you have to get further away.
And that means if you're using a very short focal length that you'd have to be very close to the subject. That makes for distorted features—noses protruding, massive foreheads or chins, etc. Perspective is a function of the ratio of foreground distance to background. Standing too close gives distorted features and too far away gives flattened features. An optimal distance from the subject might be, say, 10 feet. So the camera, if set up 10 feet from the subject, would need a lens that would include the subject. For 35mm full frame that focal length might be 85 to 105mm. Using an APS-C format might need a focal length of 55 to 70mm. However, if only a shorter focal length lens were available, the urge to move closer to fill the frame should be resisted. The subject distance should be left the same and the image cropped.
03-21-2009, 06:06 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by G_Money Quote
And that means if you're using a very short focal length that you'd have to be very close to the subject. That makes for distorted features—noses protruding, massive foreheads or chins, etc. Perspective is a function of the ratio of foreground distance to background. Standing too close gives distorted features and too far away gives flattened features. An optimal distance from the subject might be, say, 10 feet. So the camera, if set up 10 feet from the subject, would need a lens that would include the subject. For 35mm full frame that focal length might be 85 to 105mm. Using an APS-C format might need a focal length of 55 to 70mm. However, if only a shorter focal length lens were available, the urge to move closer to fill the frame should be resisted. The subject distance should be left the same and the image cropped.
That's the million dollar answer.

It has more to do with distortion of facial features than any sharpness/depth of field issues.

Have the same subject sitting in a chair using a 50mm (35mm) at 5 feet away, and then use a 105mm at 10 feet away. The 105 will always make the person look "better."

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but if you were doing portraits for a living, your 50 would never leave your camera bag.

03-21-2009, 06:15 AM   #5
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Well like I said, you could use the 50mm, but from the 10 ft distance. Better to crop than to move forward.
03-21-2009, 06:17 AM   #6
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All the above makes perfect sense, however one area has been missed - 50-80mm (APS-C) is a comfortable working distance for the photographer, and for the person being photographed.

Any closer and you begin to feel too intimate and awkward. Any further and you begin to feel disjointed from the shot.

For me 50-80mm is about perfect for taking pics of people.

c[_]
03-21-2009, 06:20 AM   #7
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Part of what is often not expressed is just what sort of "portrait" is being considered. Head-and-shoulders? Just a facial closeup? Upper torso? Or, a group portrait? Almost any lens can be more-or-less suitable as a portrait lens, depending on what the "portrait" is actually going to be.

Personally, for most close portraits (from upper torso to facial), I consider anything longer than about 75mm (in a 35mm FF context) to potentially work well.

(Of course, especially for indoor portraits, there has to be enough distance from subject to camera to allow longer lenses, so that, obviously, is sometimes a factor.)

I myself don't have a problem with longer than "usual" lenses for portraits (due to a "flattening" of perspective) - rather, I am bothered much more by portraits taken at too short focal lengths, that tend to exaggerate facial proportions (i.e., too big a nose, ears "hidden" behind the sides of the head, etc.).

In addition, an advantage of using long lenses for portraits (especially candid portraits) is the "detachment" of the otherwise imposing photographer and camera from the subject's "space".

Furthermore, while long lenses tend to be slower, they nonetheless still have the ability to isolate a subject due to narrow DOF even at narrower apertures.

And, while bokeh is, to me, very important in portraits, and even though many long lenses sometimes can be a bit harsh for objects only a bit OOF, oftentimes the narrow DOF of a long lens puts OOF objects so far OOF that bokeh is not a problem at all.

So, for me, almost any longer than "normal" lens is a potential candidate for being a good portrait lens, and the "ideal" is not "75mm or 85 mm or so", but is "almost any tele FL" (although, obviously, some long lenses are better than others).

Just my 2 f-stops worth...
03-21-2009, 07:09 AM   #8
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Really, lens of any focal length could really do portrait. Same goes for landscape shots.

I have seen people using 14mm to do portrait while some use 600mm instead. So there is no right or wrong. Use the focal length you like and know its strength and weakness.

03-21-2009, 07:18 AM   #9
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Oh. I forgot another adventage fot my 85 mm over the 135.

It's more easy to handhold to me. Although mine 135 CZJ is light, the focal lenght of 85 mm let me support the lens without move it.

And, as a personal taste, the 85 mm is very comfortable to me. This is the difference for me more than a photographic yield.
03-21-2009, 07:19 AM   #10
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I'm totally down with Fred on this. I love the 77mm as a portrait lens in terms of IQ but I find it a bit short in terms of working distance and end up doing a fair amount of cropping. 135 & 200mm are more comfortable FLs for me and my subjects. In terms of facial features, the FA 135mm f2.8 is a good compromise in terms of handling the range of facial types in my family.

Last edited by dadipentak; 12-28-2009 at 03:02 PM.
03-24-2009, 09:47 AM   #11
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I use my 50mm since I don't have a better tool for the job, but IMO a bit tighter would be best, so I'm guessing a 77mm would be just perfect...
03-24-2009, 10:54 AM   #12
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Perspective of the lens is one thing.

But most people forget the communication between the photographer (you) and the client (I use the term "client" even when the photographer doesn't get paid).

There is an optimum distance between you and the client. Too close and it becomes "too close for comfort." Too far and you need to yell for the client to hear.

Too me, 50mm (focal length of course, not physical distance) is too close, and 135mm is too far. The optimum distance is somewhere between 70 and 100mm.

I'm still looking for a lens from 70 to 85mm that does not cost an arm and a leg. Until then, I'm using my old 105mm, or a 50mm + 1.4 TC.
03-24-2009, 11:10 AM   #13
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Oh no... I knew this could happen some day

Somebody actually quoted me and referenced my words like I knew what I was talking about... My apologies to Richard. I was talking out of my asssss

My comments really were more about comfort more than perspective... and as far as skintones... I would not use a lens If I did not like how it did colors... some are a tad warmer, some cooler, but if I have one that is too much in either direction... it is probably on the shelf.

As to perspective... I have a shot I took of our bass player that I really like, but I was close to him with a wider lens and he hates his nose in the shot... a bit longer looking than he sees in in the mirror... Now I probably like it because he was always the "hot" one in our band, so anything I can do to even things out... is fairplay IMO.

And I do love my 135's, but for the little snaportraits I attempt of the kids it just feels a bit too far away for me.

As you can tell... it is all about me!

My fave little face shooter is the tamron 28-75, and most of my shots with it are at 75mm Nuff said.

Again sorry for the impression that I might really know anything... I am just a lonely snapper who likes to look at his own words...
03-24-2009, 12:53 PM   #14
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I think the 50mm range is perfect for head and shoulder shots, but I like to get closer than that for the majority of portraits. My portrait style is more "in your face". For that reason the 70-100mm range or longer works for me because I can fill the frame at much better working distance and not have to worry about cropping. I can get closer with a short zoom (24-60mm) or even use the DA35 for close-up portraits, but I find the 50-135 works much better for my style of shooting. However when I don't have the space, the shorter lenses work well without fear of distortion.

There no single right answer, just what's right for you.
03-24-2009, 02:15 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by SOldBear Quote
Perspective of the lens is one thing.

But most people forget the communication between the photographer (you) and the client (I use the term "client" even when the photographer doesn't get paid).

There is an optimum distance between you and the client. Too close and it becomes "too close for comfort." Too far and you need to yell for the client to hear.
But, of course, paid or unpaid, you are describing a "formal" portrait (even if for an informal purpose). These constraints, however, would not apply for a ~candid~ portrait, one where the photographer does ~not~ want the subject to be affected by the photographer or his/her equipment.

So, I am agreeing with you about perspective being just one aspect to consider. But, I am also pointing out that different types of portraits tend to create different sets of ideal conditions (including altering what may be "ideal" for FL).
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