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05-27-2009, 11:39 AM   #1
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Need guidance for a portrait lens


I'll start this thread with my usual disclaimer: I'm NOT a pro. But I dream about it.
The more I get into photography, the more I realize how much I still need to learn. I like photography in general, but I never really took portraits seriously. Now, as I get more experience, I'm getting more and more requests for portrait shots, initially from family and friends and now I did the portraits of my daughter's Kindergarden class. I have a basic strobes/umbrella set that is a great help.
I have made a few extra dollars which is not a bad thing either.
So far I've done it with my K100DS and the kit's lens (DA 18-55). Up to about 2 years ago it was my K1000/Takumar 28-80 combo, Still in service.

I dream of having Limited super primes like the DA 35 ltd and super lenses like the DA* 50-135 and such but those are way out of reach now.
Using a manual focus for over 20 years, I'm willing to sacrifice AF. A lens for portraits will most likely be used indoors most of the time, so weather resistance is not critical.
I have a SMCP A 50mm f2 I sent for servicing. I also have the A70-210 f4 in my bag.
I've always (well, 99.9%) been using zooms. Is a prime better suited for portraits? If so, is any focal lenght better suited? Any guidelines on things to consider? Finally, any suggestions on lenses?


05-27-2009, 12:11 PM   #2
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Well, I was recently looking at portrait lenses and I find the new Vivitar series 1 85mm f1.4 to be pretty intriguing. It's not too expensive, about $350 or so and it has a few fans here on the forum. It also comes branded as a Samyang or Polar 85mm f1.4 but they are all the same lens. I would check those out for portrait lenses.
05-27-2009, 12:39 PM   #3
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here are a couple of links to other portrait lens threads

I have the vivitar 85mm f1.4 (made by samyang)

I also have a SMC 50mm F1.4, and SMC 105mm F2.8 I find the 105mm a little soft wide open but a nice and flattering focal length if you can get the subject distance. The 50mm is very sharp and is an excellent performer, and is roughly the "correct" field of view on a DSLR, when considering the sensor size, and comparing 85mm on film
05-27-2009, 02:21 PM   #4
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The main advantage of primes is that they can provide an easier/cheaper way to large apertures, which are useful to get shallow DOF, That can be an important part of portrait photography for many, both for the effects it can have on an individual face (one eye in focus, rest of face not, etc) but also to help blur backgrounds so the subject stands out more. Of course, larger apertures can also get you faster shutter speeds with less light and lower ISO, which never hurt anyone either.

But of course, before getting a prime, you'd want to know what focal length(s) you'd find most useful, and zooms can be a wonderful way to figure that out. Portrait photography is largely about finding the *distance* you want to be first (in order to get the perspective you desire) then choosing the focal length you want second (in order to get the field of view you want while at that distance).

The typical range on a DSLR that people like is 50-100mm, which is why so many people like the DA*50-135. As for primes, some prefer lenses more to the shorter side of that 50-100 range, others prefer more to the longer side. If you're getting one, soemthing smack dab in the middle could make the most sense. But I'd play around using the 28-80 and the 70-210 to figure out for yourself what focal lengths interest you most.

Most options in this range cost several hundreds dollars, though. The only truly inexpensive options are the various 50's and a couple of the 100's (like the M100/2.8) that can be had for $100 or less, but they are at the extremes of the range. The DA70, FA77, and most of the 85's will set you back several times that. The M85/2 and the Jupiter 9 (also an 85/2) get a fair amount of recommendation because they can be had for less than the others.

05-27-2009, 02:39 PM   #5
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You have a good, affordable portrait in the 50mm/2.0 A, on the 1.5 APS-C crop it makes a great short telephoto portrait. Your 70-210/4 also has a very good reputation, it's not as fast so it can't give quite the level of shallow DOF/selective focus, but should be good optically and cover a great range for portraits. So you already do have 2 good lenses for portraits. I'd also suggest looking at the Jupiter 9 85mm/F2.0, It is a preset aperture lens that you can buy in M42 screw mount and use with an adapter. I find that preset lenses work well on DSLRs, it's a little soft wide open which is ok for portraits generally, and stopped down to 2.8 it already gets quite a bit sharper. With 'M' and older lenses, you can't use the built-in or dedicated P-TTL flash, so if you want to use flash you'll want to get a cheap older auto thyristor flash with its own sensor. The 85mm + 1.5 crop creates about the same view as the traditional 135mm, a common 'long' portrait. You may also like to try a 135mm 2.8, you can buy them for dirt cheap & they are almost always good optically. For some it may be too long for portraits with the 1.5 crop, but sometimes a long lens works well for portraits. I would try setting your 70-210 to the 85mm, 100mm, and 135mm settings and see if one of those really fits your style, if one of those settings does then maybe go for a prime in one of those settings. Nothing wrong with a zoom, though primes are nice as you'll get a faster aperture and a more compact, easier to handle setup.

Last edited by F16; 05-27-2009 at 02:55 PM.
05-27-2009, 11:52 PM   #6
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All of the above comments are excellent advice.

I own both the Jupiter 9 and the FA 77 Ltd. I can only add that he Jupiter 9 really is a very fine (portrait) lens. I prefer the FA 77 because of it's ease of use (AF, coupled aperture), but optically the Jupiter 9 can be seen as the 'Russian limited'.

Good luck with your choice!
05-28-2009, 03:25 PM   #7
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some good advices here and nice pointers on useful threads.
From my personal experience, I really like F50/1.7 for portraits, but my Sigma 105/2.8 is too long for my liking. I was looking at 85mm lenses but I don't know for know. I think I'll stay with my 50 for now... (DA*55 looks interesting option here but at the moment I don't have the now)


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