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09-23-2014, 07:35 PM   #1
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Shooting portraits with 35mm prime or kit lens?

Hiya guys, I'm looking for advice for shooting portraits. I have to shoot photos for the officer board of my club, and I was wondering which lens I should use. The types of portraits are the general head+shoulders+torso shots. As of now, I only have the f2.4 35mm prime and the 18-55 kit lens. I like the prime since it has excellent IQ, but I heard 35mm isn't a good focal length because of distortion?
I can use my kit lens at 55mm the IQ wouldn't be as great. Any help would appreciated. Also if you guys can give me any tips or resources in taking good portraits, that would be great too, since this is the first time I'm taking them, thanks!

ALSO would it be beneficial for me to buy a 50mm prime (I can't buy it in time for this shoot however)? It's kinda close to 35mm so I'm not sure if the investment is worth it. Ok thanks!!

09-23-2014, 07:41 PM - 1 Like   #2
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How big will the portrait be printed? Who is the audience? I'm betting the 18-55 will be fine.

Try to get a hot-shoe flash (even a cheap one) to bounce the light off a white ceiling or foam-core (cardboard like sheet) clamped to a stand.
09-23-2014, 08:12 PM - 1 Like   #3
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Lighting will be more important than the lens, Either should work, but if it was me I would use the 18-55 and try to spend time getting the light right.

Primes are wonderful, but sometimes it is just better to get the job done. IQ of the 18-55 will be just fine, I'm guessing those pics are not going to NG anyway
09-23-2014, 08:36 PM - 1 Like   #4
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I've had good success taking portraits of my kids with the DA 35mm f/2.4 but my working distance was closer than what people may feel comfortable with. IQ is very, very good from that lens. stop it down to f/4 or f/5.6 and you're golden. The kit lens at 55mm will put you further away which may make people feel more comfortable. You're not getting in their face as you would with a 35mm focal length.

As jatrax said, get your lighting right and all should be well no matter which lens you use.

09-23-2014, 09:17 PM - 1 Like   #5
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I agree that the 18-55 at the telephoto end is a better choice. Test charts show that the 18-55 isn't great at 55mm but that's OK. Most of the not great stuff isn't critical in portraits - expression, focus, lighting and separation from the background are more important. Expression is tough. I like to surprise people but whatever works for your subject. The eyes should be in focus but eyes are not always easy to focus on because they are small. Look for something within the same plane as the eyes that is easier to focus on. Try having the subject sit in one place that you know for sure is in focus already. I know more about lighting mistakes than actual lighting. Direct flash (straight from the camera) is usually bad. Try not to mix color temperatures, like incandescent light on one side of the face with a north facing window on the other side. The face will be orange and blue, not usually the goal. The background separation adds a 3-D look to the image and reduces distractions from clutter. The lens is a little trouble here, because at 55mm it only opens to f5.6, so you can't expect to get a lot of out-of focus background. So make sure the background is uncluttered and pleasant.

You want to start at ~50mm and f5.6, then move the camera position until the subject is framed like you want. You want a shutter speed of 1/60, maybe 1/30 but that risks recording any subject movement as a blur. I would use a tripod and a fixed seat for the subject and set focus in advance. With a test person, you can set up the camera's position, exposure and focus, and get the lighting in place. Setting the lens to 50mm gives you room to adjust your framing a little by zooming.

Here is an example of getting some of the elements right and the effect you're aiming for. You can see the area that's in focus. The focus is just barely good enough to get the eyes. A little background blur keeps the viewer's interest on the subject so the clutter isn't that distracting:

09-23-2014, 09:24 PM - 1 Like   #6
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35mm is a bit wide for head and shoulders only portraits......full body the distortion is minimal....best option is to test with a family member and see how focal lengths will matter for your situation.

This gives an idea (Full Frame) Untitled Document
09-23-2014, 09:30 PM - 1 Like   #7
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If outside on a bright sunny day your kit lens stopped down at f9 will work good (but then make sure the background is pretty far behind). On a cloudy day or shade I would use the 35 at f4. Make sure your shutter is at least 1/60 with SR on. If your subject is in the shade, make sure the background is also. If you compose for head + torso , focus between the eyes. Anything wider, focus between the shoulders. Good luck.

Last edited by nicoprod; 09-23-2014 at 09:35 PM.
09-23-2014, 09:31 PM - 1 Like   #8
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35 is not necessarily going to produce a ton of distortion, although you may feel like you are close to your subject. These screen grabs were was shot with a 35mm Samyang (they've appeared in a couple other threads). At least I don't think these images have a lot of distortion...





09-24-2014, 12:50 AM   #9
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Thanks for the advice guys! I'll probably be using my kit lens then
09-25-2014, 05:36 AM   #10
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The kit lens will let you get an idea what the 35mm and 50mm ranges look like, then you can decide whether you want to get a prime.
09-25-2014, 04:40 PM   #11
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All valid points made, but I'd just like to point out that with the 1.5 crop factor, a 35mm lens behaves more like a 52.5mm lens in a 35mm film camera. Back when us old timers shot film, a 35mm lens was definitely too wide for portrait work, but a 50mm lens was considered acceptable (and 135mm optimal). Anyway, the point is that you won't have distortion due to the lens being too wide, but you will have to be a bit closer to the subject...perhaps 3-4 feet rather than 4-5 feet. If it were me, I'd use my 35mm f2.4 lens because it takes noticeably superior photos compared to my kit lens.
09-26-2014, 08:52 AM   #12
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Of course you can shoot portrait within the 30ish mm range. This is wide open with the 31.

09-26-2014, 09:02 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by TER-OR Quote
The kit lens will let you get an idea what the 35mm and 50mm ranges look like, then you can decide whether you want to get a prime.
To be honest this might be slightly misleading. Espeically the kit lens at 50mm+ with its 5.6 speed will never give the full impression - agree about the framing and perspective and background compression , but that's about it. The real sense can come really from a fast 50

My advice is this: Old manual primes are SOO affordable nowadays that it is really just as simple as ordering one of those beautiful 50mm f1.7 or 1.4 lenses and go for it. This will be superior to bot your kit and your 35mm - for portraits I cannot imagine going for a 35mm lens - unless the space is limited - that is the only justification for me. Other than that - 55-55mm on crop and 65 - 105 on film ( depends ) - 135 for head shots on DSLR would be best.
yeah.. just order one and see for yourself.. I guarantee you that you will love the results from a fast 50mm prime. And for portraits you really do not need to have AF - but even if so - then get SMC-F 50mm f1.7 - they are often available cheaply.
09-26-2014, 09:49 AM   #14
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+1 for the F 50 f1.7. A great portrait lense.
09-27-2014, 05:41 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by nicoprod Quote
Of course you can shoot portrait within the 30ish mm range. This is wide open with the 31.
My goodness, that's a beautiful photo. Yes, 30ish with a APS-C sensor works great. 50mm prime would be even better, although the OP is asking which of the two lenses he owns would be better for the upcoming shoot. If your subjects are willing and patient, perhaps shoot with both the 35mm and the kit at 50ish and see which one you prefer?

Last edited by Tombene; 09-27-2014 at 08:38 PM.
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