Portrait photography requires good equipment and a keen eye. But what is the best lens for portraits? This article is here to help you.
We’ll start with what’s available on the market, then lenses on a budget. And finally our pick for the best wide angle, standard and telephoto lenses for Canon and Nikon DSLRs.
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When it comes to portrait photography, the focal length is important when choosing the best lens for portraits. You need to take into account what you will be using the lens for.
For example, a small, cramped studio space isn’t big enough to warrant a 70-200mm lens.
In the reverse, a long distance shot of a couple at their wedding won’t go down well if you are using a wide angle lens. Horses for courses, the lenses you use will need to be versatile.
This is because as a portrait photographer, no doubt you will be capturing the many types available, such as events and studio sessions.
Your kit needs to reflect the wide range of styles. you can either go for two zoom lenses that cover all the lengths or have prime lenses for each one. Both have their good points, and of course, the bad.
More prime lenses take time to use and cost more than zoom lenses, which may not give you the best quality.
The best bet is to have a mixture. Leave the ones at home that you won’t use for that particular session.
Start small, work your way up in acquiring equipment and once you start getting a regular client base, upgrade what you have to the best quality.
They are generally lighter, faster, cheaper and produce better quality images. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is a great example.
A zoom lens has a variable focal length, so you can move from a wide angle, through a standard focal length to a telephoto in one lens.
These are very versatile, allowing you to keep your gear to a minimum. They are heavier and more expensive, due to extra mechanisms and glass inside the lens.
Their quality is surpassed by prime lenses, as these are very much a jack of all trades, master of none. The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is a great example.
Buying Lenses On a Budget
If you are just starting out, you’ll find you can’t afford the top portrait lenses. That’s ok, many photographers didn’t start by buying the most expensive pieces of equipment.
They bought what they could afford, and acquired more as they made more bookings.
For the photographer on a budget, don’t go straight for Canon or Nikon lenses. Look at Sigma, Pentax, Samyang, Rokinon, Tokina or even Yongou. They offer the same focal lengths, for a big difference in price.
For example, I bought a Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens as it was cheaper than the Canon alternative. I read reviews that said the glass was either just as good or superior to the Canon telephoto.
It was also 500 Euros cheaper, allowing me to put that toward another lens.
Start with a 35mm or 50mm, and grab a telephoto lens that goes from 24-70mm. This will cover most of what you need, making you move rather than rely on your lenses.
You might just learn something about framing, moving and placements while you do so
How Will the Lens Affect a Cropped Sensor Camera
A full frame DSLR or mirrorless camera has a sensor the same size as the 35mm format (36mm x 24mm). 35mm was always considered small format, compared to medium and large format cameras.
These sensors will give you the highest resolution and image quality unless you move to a larger format camera.
Cropped sensors are smaller than the 35mm format. They include APS-C (Nikon, Sony), APS-H (Canon) and four thirds (Olympus, Panasonic).
The APS-C has a sensor size of 23.6mm x 15.7mm, APS-H has 28.7mm x 19mm and the four-thirds system has 17.3mm x 13mm. These are generally cheaper to manufacture and buy.
These affect your lens’ abilities. A full frame-lens working with a cropped sensor will multiply the focal length by x1.6 (APS-C), x1.5 (APS-H) and x2.08 (four-thirds).
So, a 50mm full-frame lens will effectively become a 75mm lens on a Nikon DX camera, an 80mm on a Canon 7D and a 104mm on an Olympus camera.
This is great for getting closer to a subject without buying an extra lens. The 50mm turns into a telephoto lens on the Olympus, or a macro lens if you turn it around using adapters.
The only problem is that you are cropping into the image, so the resolution will never be the same as the full frame version.
Best Wide Angle Lens
Whether you are a Canon or Nikon user, here are the two best lenses for both systems. The 35mm is the popular focal length for portrait photography.
It is a great addition for environmental portraits, for those detail shots at weddings and other events.
On a crop sensor camera, the 35mm becomes a 50mm standard lens, making it perfect for both full frame and crop sensor cameras.
The f/1.4 makes it great for differential focus, giving you a very wide aperture for short depths of field.
There we have it. The best lens for portrait photography options are all laid out, from wide angle to telephoto.
Even the manufacturers you should look to for those portrait photographers on a budget. There is something for everyone, now get out there and shoot.
For more on what the best portrait lens is, check out this video.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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