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04-13-2011, 01:09 PM   #1
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Looking for Portrait Lens Advice

Hello all. I'm a relatively new camera owner (k-x in January) and have fallen recently fallen in love with photography. The camera came with 2 lenses, the standard 18-55 and a 50-200. However, I'm looking to try my hand at some portrait work (the Mrs. and I have a little one on the way and I have to prepare). I would greatly appreciate any advice regarding lenses for portrait work. I'm on a smaller budget. So, please no lenses above $200 (maybe someday haha).

After doing a little research over the past few days, I've kind of been leaning towards trying to find a SMC Pentax-M 50mm F1.7 for around $50. At the higher end of my budget (actually, well over budget in most cases), I have been eying the SMC Pentax-FA 50mm F1.4. Most of the FA's I have seen are going for $300 or higher, but I have seen a couple in good shape that are around $240 that keep tempting me.

Save near $200 and learn to manually focus, or go big (well...big for my budget).

I'm open to all lens suggestions within, or maybe just slightly over, my $200 budget. If you have pics of shots with suggested lenses, that's even better. Seen some great shots on here since I just recently started lurking.

Thanks so much.

04-13-2011, 01:30 PM - 1 Like   #2
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A 50mm 1.4 is approximately equivalent to a 75mm in full frame; this makes it very close to the classic close-work portrait lens for 35mm, the 85mm. I use a 50mm 1.4 frequently for portraits, when they're head-and-shoulders. For full-length stuff, you'll switch back to your kit lens. If you're ok with pushing the green button to get your metering, the M series lenses are excellent "deals". Great lenses, and the DOF makes images POP.
04-13-2011, 02:09 PM   #3
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I was in the same boat as you when I picked up my K-x back in Feb. I ended up getting the Pentax DA 35mm f/2.4 AL lens for $199. It is great for indoor photos as well. I stopped touching the 18-55mm kit lens after acquiring this lens.
04-13-2011, 03:47 PM - 1 Like   #4
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Being relatively new with photography, as you say you are, I'd suggest that you do the most that you can with the kit 18-55 and 50-200 mm lenses that came with your camera. Reason being, the on board flash or any flash dedicated to the Pentax system will work well with the automatic lenses. I have a couple of fast f 2.8 lenses in the ranges of my kit lenses, but for various reasons, I'll go back to my kit lenses at times, particularly if I'm concerned with weight.

The manual lenses will require you to not only manually focus, but also to manually set the flash output. The lenses that came with your camera can do a surprisingly good job for portraiture. They aren't real fast, but you have a high degree of high ISO capability with your new camera, so that will compensate for the lack of speed of your lenses. Also, if you need to use the on-board flash, the kit lenses will work with you pretty well.

That said, I've had good luck with the FA-50 1.4 lens for available light portraiture. The M-50 1.7 would be a good choice if you plan to do a lot of available light photography, manually focused, although I wouldn't recommend it for flash work, unless you like to deal with manual flash. Not to say it won't work with flash, but it will take more fiddling when you might want to be taking pictures of the upcoming youngun.

04-13-2011, 03:58 PM - 1 Like   #5
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You can do some practicing now with your current lenses - 50mm is going to give you the same image size on either one. The traditional portrait lenses for 35mm film were from 85mm to 135mm, which kind of means 55mm to 90mm on your camera. [From now on, forget about film.] The range was chosen because it flatters facial features and fits the traditional framing of studio shots. That doesn't mean you are stuck with using only that range. Below 35mm or so, you might notice more prominent noses from the fromt or ears from the side. Above 100mm and you can't communicate that well with the subject. Experiment a little in your home with setups you might use.

Another thing you can test is light available in potential portrait locations, like by a window or in a certain chair. Even if the test photo is not usable, you can see if it would have been better with a lens that lets in more light. Say you can take a reasonable exposure at 50mm, 1/100 sec., f5.6, and ISO 3200, but the noise is annoying. If you had the Pentax-M 50mm f1.7, you could use f2 and ISO 400 instead.

Without the actual lens, you can't see the effects of depth of field or practice focusing. Those may be issues with the fast prime lenses. You can use an online depth of field calculator and estimate distances. It's possible to get just one eye in focus and have the nose be soft (not a good look). At larger distances or wider focal lengths, it's less of a problem. In a darker room, focusing can be tricky. Portraits tend to look better when the eyes are exactly in focus and the face is within the depth of field. If the foreground and background are outside that area, the viewer sees the face in 3D and responds positively. Executing this well needs some practice but is worth the effort.
04-13-2011, 04:01 PM - 1 Like   #6
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I would hold out for a 2nd hand FA 50mm f1.4, they go for low $200s. I bet if you put a "wanted FA50" message on the market place you'd land one.
04-13-2011, 04:08 PM - 1 Like   #7
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The classic fast fifties are great, but I'd suggest if you like manual focus getting an A 50 f/1.4 or f/1.7 (if you can find one), or for auto-focus (highly recommended for photographing children, especially as they become more mobile) get a used FA 50/1.4 or F 50/1.7 or 1.4

Any of these will suffice for your purposes.
The DA 35 already mentioned is also an excellent lens, though the focal length may be a little wide.
04-13-2011, 04:14 PM - 1 Like   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by radium22 Quote
I was in the same boat as you when I picked up my K-x back in Feb. I ended up getting the Pentax DA 35mm f/2.4 AL lens for $199. It is great for indoor photos as well. I stopped touching the 18-55mm kit lens after acquiring this lens.
I was in the same boat as the original poster and had both kit lenses. I acquired the M 50mm f/1.7 but it isn't that great for taking snapshots of my kids because I can't focus it quickly enough. All of my problems were solved when I acquired the 35mm f/2.4 mentioned by radium22. It's a great all-around lens and works great for pics of my kids and everything else really. Since acquiring it I have only mounted my kit lens one time to take a single 18mm wide angle picture before I immediately remounted the 35mm. Great lens and just within your price range too.


Last edited by HEEGZ; 04-13-2011 at 05:55 PM.
04-13-2011, 04:15 PM   #9
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I ended buying a M50 1.7 for indoor use, but this is after over a year of using the kit lenses and finding out what the limitations were. As it was stated before in this thread, the kit lenses are versatile and it will help to use them as much as possible in as many situations as you can. I wanted something for low light situations were I did not want to bump the ISO.

Still working on the learning to focus a manual, went from 1 in 20 keepers to about 3 of 10 in about two weeks, but still a work in progress...but there have been a couple of really pictures that have made it worthwhile.
04-13-2011, 05:14 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Ash Quote
The classic fast fifties are great, but I'd suggest if you like manual focus getting an A 50 f/1.4 or f/1.7 (if you can find one), or for auto-focus (highly recommended for photographing children, especially as they become more mobile) get a used FA 50/1.4 or F 50/1.7 or 1.4

Any of these will suffice for your purposes.
The DA 35 already mentioned is also an excellent lens, though the focal length may be a little wide.
I'm with Ash on this one. I bought an M50 1.7 before I even had a Pentax. I knew that's where I wanted to start.
04-13-2011, 06:22 PM   #11
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I have an M 1:1.4 for over thirty years and am used to manually focusing all my life and have gotten used to focusing in fast moving situations.
This last Sunday I went hiking with my daughter and took a bunch of practice shots with this lens and I am impressed at the quality over my kit lens, although I have many uses for the kit lenses in different situations.
04-13-2011, 07:11 PM - 1 Like   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by jimH Quote
Being relatively new with photography, as you say you are, I'd suggest that you do the most that you can with the kit 18-55 and 50-200 mm lenses that came with your camera. Reason being, the on board flash or any flash dedicated to the Pentax system will work well with the automatic lenses. I have a couple of fast f 2.8 lenses in the ranges of my kit lenses, but for various reasons, I'll go back to my kit lenses at times, particularly if I'm concerned with weight..
I agree with jimH, there is absolutely nothing wrong with your current lenses and they should be able to produce very nice images...

I think you should use your 18-55 for an entire day taking images near the 50+mm end and don't move it from there, see how you like it, see how much you need to walk around your subject for composition, etc etc etc... it'll give you an idea what its like with a 50mm Prime lens.

FWIW, radium22 mentioned a 35mm, I think this is actually a great focal length for everyday use. Over time, I've found I use a 28 or 35mm more than my 50mm lenses.

Having a nice fast manual Prime lens does not guaranty great photos but it is fun trying

Good luck...
04-13-2011, 09:09 PM - 1 Like   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by jimH Quote
Being relatively new with photography, as you say you are, I'd suggest that you do the most that you can with the kit 18-55 and 50-200 mm lenses that came with your camera. Reason being, the on board flash or any flash dedicated to the Pentax system will work well with the automatic lenses. I have a couple of fast f 2.8 lenses in the ranges of my kit lenses, but for various reasons, I'll go back to my kit lenses at times, particularly if I'm concerned with weight.
I disagree with that. Yes - the prime lenses are ok for learning.

But, I would never ever use a flash for portrait photography in normal circumstances! Especially the on board flash or even the smaller system flashed won't give you a good result.

I prefer the fast portrait lenses. A used FA 50 1.7 will do the job and save some money.
04-13-2011, 09:18 PM - 1 Like   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by kheldour Quote
I disagree with that. Yes - the prime lenses are ok for learning.

But, I would never ever use a flash for portrait photography in normal circumstances! Especially the on board flash or even the smaller system flashed won't give you a good result.

I prefer the fast portrait lenses. A used FA 50 1.7 will do the job and save some money.
I'm with you. And nothing quite makes an image snap the way DOF does. When you get the subject tack-sharp with everything else fading into bokeh in both directions... Mmm.

I consider the 50mm 1.4 and the 35mm f2 indispensable, even though I have an 18-50mm F2.8 short zoom.
04-14-2011, 06:24 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by kheldour Quote
I disagree with that. Yes - the prime lenses are ok for learning.

But, I would never ever use a flash for portrait photography in normal circumstances! Especially the on board flash or even the smaller system flashed won't give you a good result.

I prefer the fast portrait lenses. A used FA 50 1.7 will do the job and save some money.
Perhaps you're using the term "portrait" a bit liberally here. A traditional portrait will, many times, have controlled lighting.

Are you more referring to semi-candid type of photographs?
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