135 f2 L lens: the "right" portrait lens?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by bfmelton, Mar 30, 2010.

  1. Hi,
    I'm considering buying the Canon 135 f2 L series lens as a portrait lens. It will usually be on a 5D Mk II and perhaps occasionally on a crop frame such as a 7D or 40D. Lighting conditions will vary from studio to fill flash to existing (often existing church indoor). I'm currently shooting mainly with a Canon 70-200 2.8 L and a Canon 24-105 4.0 L but the sharpness of the 135 prime pictures I've seen really has me wanting it.
    I know that 85mm FF is considered the "correct" focal length for portraiture. But the last prime I owned (decades ago, before I got away from photography for a while) was a 135, and I left it on my camera most of the time--it was my favorite go-to lens.
    I know there's no "right" answer here; I'm just looking for input from people who use 135 for portraits or from anyone who has a good basis for 85/135 prime comparison.
    TIA.
     
  2. Can you rent the lens and try it out?
     
  3. Many photographers are switching to longer focal lengths 135mm and up, because the tend to flatter their subjects by making them appear slimer. The also blur the background a little better than the shorter 85mm. I tend to stick to the 85mm not only because this is the lens I learned how to shoot portraits with years ago, but because you start losing intimacy if you constantly have to move back due the long focal length. I have a small cramped studio, so the longer lenses just don't cut it for me.
     
  4. With the lenses that you currently have you should be able to try out the various focal lengths to see what works best for your style of shooting for portraits. To me the 135mm 2.0 lens seems a bit expensive, redundant and less versatile than the 70-200mm 2.8. For my take the 100mm 2.0 lens is a great portrait lens on full frame. I assume that the 135mm L lens is excellent and certainly hyped as a 'magic' lens but it is a pretty narrow view that may tend to flatten perspective and isn't very useful in close quarters. Portrait lenses are whatever you choose to use to make a portrait. Good luck!
     
  5. Simple experiment: Tape your 70-200 to 135mm and see if you like the field of view.
     
  6. I think it's largely a matter of your working distance. I tend to use my 85/1.2 L on my 5D II for indoor portraiture because my house is relatively small. I find even 100mm to be a bit long. I certainly would use my 135/2 L more for this purpose if my working distance were greater.
    If a 135mm was previously your "go-to lens," and you're working mainly in studios and churches (with their relatively large working distances), I think you would be very well served by the outstanding 135/2 L. And it's half the price of the 85/1.2 L!
     
  7. I use the 135mm exclusively for portraits(outdoor) on a 5DII and find it to be outstanding in every way.
     
  8. The "right" lens is subjective- depends entirely on what "look" you want, there's really no right lens for portrait work since many people have different opinions.
    I don't find much flatness with the 135-even on a film body. When you get to 200mm and 300mm, then there's noticeable flatness. I've never used the 85mm 1.2-only the 1.8 version which is fine but the 135mm f/2 is incredible and the background blur is better than many of Canon's L lenses.
     
  9. Lots of people do take portraits with lenses outside the "traditional" portrait focal lengths of roughly 75-105mm on a 35mm-sensor. As people say, try it with your zoom lens and see if you like the results before putting out the bucks for the prime. I personally prefer 85-105mm for "full-frame" sensors, and 55-75mm or so on APS-C bodies.
    I admittedly don't do a lot of portraiture, being more into scenery and architecture, but I bought a lovely Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5 non-AI lens for very little - a lens that is widely considered to be really superior, one of Nikon's best. I use it with a converter on both APS-C and 35mm-sensor bodies, but only for portraiture on the latter.
    My point is that there are lots of super lenses out there at quite reasonable prices that will work well for portraiture, and manual focus and stop-down metering is not very hard to put up with in a situation like portraiture or macro work where AF often doesn't quite do all it anyway.
    If you are determined about going for 135mm focal length, you might also want to consider the very reasonably priced EF 135mm f/2.8 Soft Focus lens which is a nice lens with the SF turned off, and the soft focus can be very helpful for pimply teenagers, surely resulting in a better end product than the Digital Botox programs.
    00W7qX-233233784.jpg
     
  10. BF,
    Just to drive home the “there is no right answer” point, there are fashion shooters who use a 400 f/2.8. They’re so far from their subjects that they need to use a walkie-talkie to give directions to the assistant to relay to the model.
    And there’s also lots of classic portraiture done with 35mm lenses — though, to be sure, those are full-body pictures, not head shots.
    Cheers,
    b&
     
  11. it

    it

    Absolutely no such thing as "the right" portrait lens. It's a myth that seems to get a lot of play in these online forums. Check out the great portrait shooters and see how many images they make with a 135mm or 85mm. (Yes, the OTHER perfect portrait lens.) Not very many.
    These lenses are great, but for a very particular type of shot. I would argue that more great portraits are shot at 50mm or wider. 24mm is an awesome portrait focal length if you are capturing surroundings.
     
  12. I've owned a MF Nikkor 135/2.8 and a AF Nikkor 85/1.8. I preferred the 85/1.8. Now that I've embraced Canon. My Nikon ways have taught me to enjoy the 85/1.2 II. If working distance is an issue, I rely on the 300/2.8. Two of the very best portrait lenses for close and far in my opinion. But, if I had to choose one, it is the 85/1.2.
     
  13. The 135 F2 will work fine assuming you either have the space or take tightly cropped (head / head and shoulders) shots. I have the 135 F2 and a pair of 85 F1.2s in the Canon FD range and I primarily shot portraits with the 85s although the 135 (and even the 300 f2.8) were used. With MF I tend to use a similar 85mm Focal length. The portrait lens for the Fuji GX 680 is the 180 F3.2 (equivalent to 83mm on a 35mm body). I have the Fuji 300 F6.3 but never use it for portraits (it is the 35mm equivalent of 138mm) part of the reason is that as an F6.3 lens it does not have the shallow DOF that I like.
    For shallow DOF the 85 F1.2 (at F1.2) at 2m gives a 1 m image diagonal and a 4cm DOF while the 135 F2 at 3.2 meters and F2 gives the same 1m diagonal view but a DOF that is slightly larger at 7cm. In terms of image quality either the 85 F1.2 or the 135 F2 will produce outstanding results and you need to be careful not too show up too many imperfections in the model. I have the EF 85 F1.8 and while it is a good value buy it lacks the magic of the F1.2 lens. The 70-200 F2.8 zoom is good but not in the same league as the primes.
    My advice is - if you can afford it either the 85 F1.2 or the 135 F2 is the best option - your choice depends upon how much you want to spend, the space you shoot in and how tight you want the pictures. If you are not certain you want to spend this much then the 85 F1.8 (possibly the 100 F2 although I do not own this lens) and the 100 F2.8 IS Macro would all be other good options. While the 100 F2.8 IS Macro sounds like a strange suggestion it has amazing sharpness and the L series colour / contrast. Of course it is close in price to the 135 F2 so it is only a reasonable alternative if you also need a macro lens.
    For myself when I can afford it the 85 F1.8 is gone and an 85 F1.2 will arrive. Of all the SLR lenses I have owned over the years the FD 85 F1.2s are still my favourites (and the Fuji 180 F3.2 - effectively and 83mm lens with a similar sub 4cm DOF at 2m would be my other favourite)
     
  14. The issue of portrait focal length is just a matter of style and situation. I've used everything from my ancient EF 15 to my old non-IS EF 300 2.8L for shooting portraits. But for straight single portraits the EF 135 2L is generally going to be too long unless you are only shooting single heads. For shoulders you need to back up too much for my taste and you tend to loose touch with the subject which I prefer not to have happen. So a I have an EF 100 2USM and EF 85 1.8USM to suit the situation.
    I love the EF135 2L! Over the many years I've been an EOS system user starting with the EOS 1 (pre-N) I've shot and owned several examples of this fantastic optic. The 135 2L is one of the purest most amazing lenses I've ever used. Fantastic blur when used wide open and incredibly detailed and brutally honest for most 17 year old women's tastes. The ES 135 2L requires the best digital bodies to get the most out of it but if you are shooting RAW with a 1Ds or equivalent pixel count EOS full frame sensor body yoiu will be pretty happyu with the image quality.
    Cheers!
     
  15. For indoor portraits using available light inside churches, I recommend the EF 85L, EF 85 f1.8, and the new Sigma 85 f1.4 for their better low light capability. (larger apertures and if the 1/FL rule of thumb for FF is followed, slower shutter speed is needed for sharp pictures) However if you want a flatter perspective or a longer reach, then I recommend the longer FL, the EF 135L.
    I have an 85 f1.8 and I plan to sell it and buy the Sigma 85mm f1.4 if it gets good reviews. I do not have a 135L because I am happy with my EF 70-200L f2.8 IS I. The resolution advantage of the 135L over the zoom at 135L, f2.8 and smaller is not much (see The-Digital-Picture.com)and the IS, for portrait use compensates, for the 1 f stop smaller maximum aperture.
    As for bokeh, or out of focus background blur, I can not compare because I do not have the 135L, but many seem to prefer the ones produced by the 135L
     
  16. A 7D and 135mm L makes for a real closeup with the 1.6 crop factor. I think the distance allows for the subject to be more relaxed--at least it works that way with the granddaughter. I'll try posting this and two other samples with different lenses. Frankly I think any of them work, although it is harder to give direction with a 400.
    00W836-233371584.jpg
     
  17. 400mm on a 40D. Compare that with the next shot.
    00W83O-233373684.jpg
     
  18. And the highly regarded, but still slow-focusing 85mm L f1.2 II.
    00W83U-233375584.jpg
     
  19. What's 'wrong' with the 70-200 f/2.8 you have now? Is there something that you constantly need to do but, can't with that lens?
     
  20. I can't speak for everyone else, but to me the 135/2L is *the* perfect portraiture lens. I use it nearly every shoot as my main lens. Yes, 85 is a the classic lens for portraits and I use mine 85 as well, but I find that my 135 is tack sharp at 2 and the bokeh is beautiful. This suits my style of shooting which is generally wider open than many shooters. Everyone has their own style and you should try to find the right lens to suit it. Try renting it for a week and see if it really covers what you want. I find it's perfect on my Mk2, but on a crop body, I vastly prefer the look of the 70-200/2.8L.
     
  21. bms

    bms

    I wonder myself - have an old Nikkor 135 f2, which is not the greatest lens ever, and always intend to use it but have not..... use he 105/2.5 insetad on FF. But I agree, if you a 70-200 what is wrong unless you need teh extra stop?
    Happy shooting
     
  22. "Matthias Meixner , Mar 30, 2010; 05:18 p.m.
    Simple experiment: Tape your 70-200 to 135mm and see if you like the field of view."
    Bingo.
    I find the working distance often required with a 135 too restricting. Certainly with a 1.6 camera.
     
  23. Beautiful portraits, Charles, and a beautiful subject, too!
     
  24. I've always considered 135 the upper end of "portrait" lenses even on a full frame camera and have always used either an 85 or 105 (Nikon), again on full frame. With a 135 on a crop sensor camera it "turns into" a 200. That's too long to be easy to use indoors most places, and outdoors you're far enough back from the subject you're almost going to have to yell to them with your directions. I think your 70-200 at 70 on a crop camera or 100 on a full frame camera is a better choice. As far as f-stop, some of the frames posted above show nice out of focus backgrounds (I hate the work bokeh but that's just me) at 2.8 so your 70-200 will work for that. Obivously the wider the aperture and longer the lens the more you can drop the background out of focus, but longer lenses also cut down the depth of field you have to keep both eyes or the eyes and nose in focus. As for added sharpness with a prime, I don't think that's an issue for portraits -- portrait photographers put softening filters on their Hasselblad lenses for years because they were too sharp to be flaterring.
     
  25. I found the 135L to be the perfect lens for H&S portraits.....inside or out. It allows enough distance between you and your subject so they don't feel crowded. The compression at 135mm is very flattering- more so than 85mm. The 135 is very sharp @ f2.0 but I usually shoot it at 2.5-2.8. The results are stunning. Don't be fooled into thinking the 70-200 2.8 can compete with this lens. The difference between f2.8 on the 135L and 70-200 2.8 is day and night. If you think your zoom is sharp wide open, wait until you see the 135 @ f2.0, or 2.5 or 2.8. Compared to the 135, the images from your zoom will look soft. I can only imagine that the 135L on a 5DMkII would be an outstanding combination.
     
  26. The 135mm 2.0 is one great portrait lens with a full frame. I'm always amazed at the results I see with this combination.
     
  27. 135mm F/2L is perfect lens for photographing children and infants. The photo was taken indoor, wide-open, with 580EX II, 5D Mark II.
    00W8DI-233455684.jpg
     
  28. Another one, all photos were straight JPG from the camera, no crop, no editing.
    00W8DV-233457684.jpg
     
  29. 135mm is a little long for a portrait lens, unless you have a large studio within which to work. That would go double if you are using a DX format camera. Personally I prefer to use 85mm and 105mm lenses on my film cameras and D700. The 105mm is great for headshots, and the 85mm for 1/2 and 3/4 shots and full length. And with 135mm being a longer lens, you also have to take into account the fact that your depth of field will be less for any given f/.
     
  30. For years I used a 135mm f3.5. The issue is not the maximum f-stop but the bokeh of the lens. You want the person image to lay on a beautiful out of focus area. The f stops that easiest to work with is 4 and 5.6. Chooose a high quality lens. With each system there are different lenses that are high quality. For females you want a soft lens. For males you want a sharp lens. Given my preferences I would choose a lens that is at its best at f4 & f5.6 with a excellent boken and soft focus. (Men are not a critical as women.) (A sharp lens will show all the skin characteristics that women HATE.)
     
  31. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Ian:
    Absolutely no such thing as "the right" portrait lens. It's a myth that seems to get a lot of play in these online forums. Check out the great portrait shooters and see how many images they make with a 135mm or 85mm. (Yes, the OTHER perfect portrait lens.) Not very many.
    These lenses are great, but for a very particular type of shot. I would argue that more great portraits are shot at 50mm or wider. 24mm is an awesome portrait focal length if you are capturing surroundings.​
    Sorry to repeat this in its entirety, but it's something that seems to get overlooked by people eager to justify their equipment purchases. Many of the great portraits, truly great portraits, were shot with "standard" lenses on a variety of formats. The idea that there is an "ideal" focal length originated with camera company marketeers, not great portrait photographers. I generally use the 24-70, although I occasionally use the 17-40, and I get published, shows, etc. Here's a typical example with the 24-70.
    [​IMG]
    Samantha, Copyright 2010 Jeff Spirer
     
  32. if i already got 70-200 f2.8 IS, i wont think about 135 f2 any more. which i already have right now.
     
  33. Re the "myth" of portrait lenses.
    It's fine to say that you personally like to use a Reflex-Nikkor 1000mm f/8 for a portrait lens. Indeed, you can use anything to take a portrait, even bottle glass if it pleases you.
    It's not, however, a myth that 35mm photographers found lenses like the Zeiss Biotar 75mm f/1.5 and the Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5 to be useful most especially for portrait work. Nor is this something that the all-influential marketers at Zeiss Jena or Nikon dreamed up in their nefarious councils. These are simply focal lengths that produce a certain pleasing flatness to the faces of people with big noses (such as many Europeans) without producing an obvious compression. If it weren't April Fool's day, we could dispense with the "it's all a conspiracy" theory. It's not necessary to suggest that those of us who think that short teles are good portrait lenses are all dupes.
    I speak as one who is also published, but not as an artist, but a documentarian. Here is a portrait taken with my Reflex-Nikkor 1000mm on a Canon 20D. Look at the bokeh--it can only inspire awe!
    00W8dM-233683884.jpg
     
  34. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    “I know that 85mm FF is considered the "correct" focal length for portraiture.”
    On a 5D the best portrait lens is: the 15, 24, 35, 50, 85, 100, 135, 180, 200, 300, 400 and 500.
    I like the 24 to 135 range the best . . .
    ***
    "I'm just looking for input from people who use 135 for portraits or from anyone who has a good basis for 85/135 prime comparison."
    Addressing your 85 vs 135 question here:
    (85) http://www.photo.net/photo/9567764
    and (equiv 85) http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=925228
    (135) http://www.photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=948936
    ***
    “But the last prime I owned was a 135, and I left it on my camera most of the time--it was my favorite go-to lens.”
    The bottom line answer to your question is buy the lens, it is a great lens you will love it.
    WW
     
  35. it

    it

    JDM, that's not a portrait.
    It's a picture of a statue.
     
  36. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

  37. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    It's not, however, a myth that 35mm photographers found lenses like the Zeiss Biotar 75mm f/1.5 and the Nikkor-P 105mm f/2.5 to be useful most especially for portrait work.​
    I think you mean for statue work. I've never met anyone that used those for portrait work.
     
  38. [​IMG]
    Shot with a 10-22 (set a 10mm) on a crop body...
     
  39. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I suppose you could use a zoom lens, ocassionally, for Portrait work.
     
  40. I bought the 85 because, when I shot medium format, when I finally got a 120mm (instead of the usual 80) the world felt like it opened up for me. So, the 85 was my first Canon lens when I went digital. I bought the 135 on a whim, the 100 Macro IS on a whim. It turned out that I absolutely love the perspective and look of the 135 images. Point is, you don't know until you try it (though using a zoom set at 135 is a start). If you feel like getting it, do it. It's not wrong. There is no wrong. It's not even way outside the norm. Just do it. If money (and losing it on resale if you don't like it) is a real issue, buy it used. No risk, you'll get the money back.
     
  41. I've never met anyone that used those for portrait work​
    I've never met anybody who used them (the 85 Biotar and the 105 Nikkor) for anything else. And I do know people who actually own these lenses.
    As I said, over and over from the start, you can use anything for portraiture you please; but why this theme of "it's a conspiracy"? It somehow isn't enough to say that you personally prefer something else?
    I do have to acknowledge that a bust (not actually a statue) is so different to photograph from living people, somehow, I guess. You've certainly scored a significant point on that one.
    Just to prove that I can take pictures of living people too, here is a picture of our latest Governor, Pat Quinn, taken with a 90mm lens. It's hard to keep track of them as they go by (and bye). ;)
    00W98w-233905684.jpg
     

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