Choosing the Best 35mm Portrait Lens

There are better portrait lenses than this. But this was the only lens I had with me at the time. A 70-200mm f/2 lens would have been a better choice.

Selina - Nikon 50mm f/1.8 - aperture f/2.8 - 1/30 - focal length 50mm - natural light - no flash
Selina - Nikon 50mm f/1.8 - aperture f/2.8 - 1/30 - focal length 50mm - natural light - no flash


Annie - Nikon 50mm f/1.8 and Kenko 1.5 TC - aperture f/2.8 - 1/30 - focal length 75mm with TC - Natural Light

Annie - Nikon 50mm f/1.8 and Kenko 1.5 TC - aperture f/2.8 - 1/30 - focal length 75mm with TC - Natural Light

Miranda - Sigma 18-50 f/2.8 DC EX HSM - aperture f/4 - 1/60 - focal length 50mm - bounce flash

Miranda - Sigma 18-50 f/2.8 DC EX HSM - aperture f/4 - 1/60 - focal length 50mm - bounce flash

Perspective, the size relationship of near/far objects, is a function of camera-to-subject distance not focal length. Thus the question you should be asking is, "What is the ideal distance for portraits?" Try this simple test. Put your nose against a mirror. Note how much bigger your nose looks relative to your ears. Now walk backwards until you think you look "normal". That will probably be at a distance of 3-1/2 to 4 feet. Now double that (to take the reflected path into account) and that's your ideal portrait distance.

5 eye lensStill not convinced? Try this test. Take a 50mm lens (or anything in that range) and shoot frames of a person from 4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11, and 12 feet (at the same focal length if using zoom lens). Then in Photoshop crop so all the heads are the same size. Display them side-by-side and compare how the appearance of the face changes as the distance increases. The same test can be done with a 24mm or 35mm with the same results. Perspective even looks "normal" with a 10mm if the camera is level and about 8ft from the face.

Shooting from less than about 8ft is usually less flattering than from 8ft or further away. If a face is extremely thin and deep or thin and angular it may be necessary to shoot from 15-20 ft away to capture the most flattering perspective. Shooting from way far away with a long lens is a commonly used fashion / glamor technique, especially for full body shots where the legs are forward of the torso.

Better Photography Articles and TipsSo there is no "one size fits all" perfect portrait lens any more than all faces are the same.The only way you find out what flatters a face the most is studying it from all angles - full-face, oblique x 2, and profile x 2 - and various distances. Find the angle and distance that flatters the person the most, then and only then pick the focal length which will produce the desired in-camera cropping.

If we don't have the ideal lens for that most flattering distance it is better to sacrifice a few pixels to shoot from further away and crop in post than to capture the image from closer less flattering distance. We can improve resolution with Unsharp Masking (USM) in post processing, but we can't change perspective.

Portrait photography is all about capturing the mood of a person with an emphasis on the face and expression of a person. This style of photography need not only be about professional models, it can encompass any kind of a person. Family portrait photographs are very much in demand but this does not mean itís all about a basic snapshot. There are many creative ways a photographer can use to make a portrait photograph look equally stunning!

Portrait photography  can also be a small group of people, in which faces and  expressions are predominant. The objective is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood and art. Like other types of portraiture, the focus of the photograph is the face, although the entire body and the background may be included. A portrait is generally not a snapshot, but a composed image of a person in a still position. A portrait often shows a person looking directly at the camera.

Unlike many other styles of photography, the subjects of portrait photography are non-professional models. Many family portraits and photographs that commemorate special occasions, such as graduations or weddings, are professionally produced and hang in private homes. Most portraits are not intended for public exhibition.

For a portrait lens, you are free to choose any focal length your heart desires. While there are no hard and fast rules, there are compelling reasons to choose within a range, for your camera itís 65mm ~ 80mm.

Allow me to explain:
The focal length mounted establishes perspective. It is widely viewed that if one mounts a lens equal to the diagonal measure of the format, the perspective obtained is a close match to the human experience.

The Canon APS-C has an imaging sensor that measures 14.8mm by 22.2mm. We can calculate the diagonal, it is 26.9mm. You donít need to be exactly on this value so we can say if you set your lens to anywhere around the 27mm mark, you will match the human experience.

The Nikon APS-C has an imaging sensor that measures 15.7mm by 23.7mm. When we can calculate the diagonal, it is 28.4mm. You donít need to be exactly on this value so we can say if you set your lens to anywhere around the 28mm mark, you will match the human experience.

How about portraits? Experienced portrait photographers will gravitate to a lens 2.5 times the diagonal. Hollywood uses 3x for close-upís. These values are based on the typical viewing distance associated with a finished print or display screen.

That being true, the Canon camera the ideal portrait lens range is 65mm ~ 80mm and 71 to 85mm for the Nikon Camera

Why this range? If the focal length you select is too short, the subjectís nose reproduces microscopically too large and the ears slightly too small. In other words, the view seen on the finished work will not match the mental picture people have of themselves. This self image is derived from the familiar view as seen in the make-up/shaving mirror. While the distortions I am talking about are tiny, they are enough to cause the subject to say, "I donít photograph well".

Little harm from using a too long lens, however long lenses compress facial features likely destroying the illusion of depth. After all we work in a 2 dimensional media, We want to convey the feeling that our images have depth.

Nikon 85mm f/1.8 non-d Lens

My favorite portrait Lens on an APS-C Camera - The Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 Prime Lens
(I bought it used for $235.00)

The best 35mm portrait lenses are prime lenses with fast f/2.8 apertures or faster and are in the 60-200mm range range

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