Can lens filters be used to coax a so so lens into taking good portraits?

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by steve_mareno|1, Jun 27, 2018.

  1. I shoot only film, and sold my Leica R 90 2 Summicron. Now I need a budget priced manual focus lens for my Nikon SLR. The 105 2.5 is not to my liking, although a Nikon 85 2 is not too pricey and has delivered good results in the past, but you have to be careful what is in the background or you get a lot of little circular highlights. A lens need not be AI, pre AI, any of that as I can easily make any Nikon F mount work on my camera in AE mode.

    There aren't a lot of other lenses that will fit the Nikon cameras besides the Nikon lenses (my n8008s does not like the G lenses) or Leica R lenses w/ an adapter, so I'm looking for either third party lenses that are between 85 and 135 and have a Nikon mount, or lens filters that may improve a budget lens into a decent portrait taker.

    While thinking about this, I wondered whether a soft lens filter could be used to get good portraits with. My experience with soft filters is zero, so if someone can tell me if this is a possible route it would help a lot. Thanks.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2018
  2. Well there is this idea that a SHARP lens (like the Nikon 55 or 105) can be too sharp for portraits, showing any and all facial blemishes. Hence the various portrait filters to soften/kill the sharpness.
    So 3rd party lens with a Nikon mount; Soligor, Vivitar, Tamron, Tokina, etc.
  3. That's my beef w/ the Nikkor 105 2.5 lenses. Too sharp, and not exactly buttery bokeh either, like most Nikon lenses.

    If I remember correctly, some of the old 135 Vivitar/Sears/Soligor lenses had nice portrait capabilities. That may be my best way to get a good portrait lens for little money, and they can be found in Nikon mount. The soft filters interest me, but I suppose they soften everything, even the center, which may not be optimal. You want a portrait lens to be in the 85 to 135 range to avoid distortion, to have smooth bokeh, and just enough sharpness wide open, but still be able to get the eyes sharp.
  4. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Two or three ancient "free" (or nearly so) tricks - 1. stretch a piece of sheer stocking over the lens. 2. Clear filter with vaseline spread around the edges - experiment with coverage till satisfied. 3. Gauze fabric tent or scrim between model and camera. Personally never much cared for soft portraits, but using sharp mid range tele, a lot can also be done with aperture & distance e.g. eye in focus, cheek not quite. Good luck with it!
  5. SCL


    I used to use Sandy's ideas a lot in early years to achieve "soft" effects without throwing everything soft. Since you don't mention AF being a consideration, in the manual focus categories you might consider the Nikon Series E 100mm/2.8, or perhaps a Tamron Adaptall 90/2.5 which you could also use for macro work. The only issue I have with the Nikon is it only focuses down to just under 1 meter. The Tamron, with various adapters, can be used on almost every SLR/DSLR ever manufactured.
  6. I can't help with softening filters, but if you don't mind a longer focal length you could consider the Nikon 135mm AI or AIS f/2. It's sharp with far subjects and much softer with close subjects at larger apertures. It's available used for fairly low prices. Replaced mine with the later AF DC (defocus control) version, a very different design.
  7. Thanks everyone for the suggestions, and no, AF is not wanted. I finally decided that the idea of using less than desirable budget lenses and attempting to "fix" them with filters (it sounded dubious, impractical, and very time consuming doing lots of testing with a film camera). Ended up spending $70 tonight for two 135 2,8 lenses that might work. One was the venerable old Soligor 135 2,8, which should give soft shots wide open, and a somewhat unusual Makinon 136 2,8 lens. The Mackinon got rave reviews over at the Pentax forum site for sharpness and creamy bokeh. When they arrive I'll do a shootout to determine the winner and post some samples here afterwards. 135mm is a little long for some people, but it's a focal length that works well for me as long as I have enough distance to get a head shot.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2018
  8. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    When I got my first Nikon that was part of the deal. I used it till I could afford the Nikon version. The Soligor will certainly take good portraits IMO, and let you have a bit more working distance.
  9. To my understanding a softening filter will kill the sharpness on the subject in focus but it can't improve the bokeh characteristic of your lens. In theory it might add a faint hint of smoother edge to the disks generated by the highlights. I own some softeners but never found a rewarding field for their deployment. - If a not overly sharp look is desired I usually mount cheap older but already coated glass (even 1980s zooms). Someday I might get my Imagon going.
    I am not really happy with my copy of the Tamron 90mm; it produces an aperture shaped spot in the image center, when stopped down. That happened even on film.
    135mm is a nice focal length. Sometimes I feel intruding folks' privacy bubbles, when I attempt headshots with 90mm.
  10. I sold a Soligor 100mm f/2 in N/AI mount that was soft and fairly low contrast wide open.

    Here it is side-by-side with a pre-AI 105mm f/2.5 converted to AI.

    Old Lenses, and why you use Nikkors
  11. Thanks for the comparison shots Ben. The Soligor is certainly soft, but the bokeh is promising. The Nikon is sharp, but like many Nikon lenses I have owned, doesn't seem to HAVE any bokeh. The only Nikon lenses I have owned that had good bokeh were the 85 1.4. the 85 2, and the H 50 2 lens, which is too short for portraits but had beautiful IQ and smooth bokeh. My 85 1.8 gave annoying circular thingies in the background more often than not. Maybe some other Nikon lenses have good bokeh.....well, the 80 200 2.8 was fine but I am not inclined to carry another one of those. I tried the 105 2.5 too and didn't like the IQ or bokeh, although everyone else does.

    On a test I made between a Leica R 90 2.8 Elmarit and a Nikon 85 2, the Nikon was almost indistinguishable from the Leica, which surprised me. Small and light too, but people say there is a lot of sample variation on this lens, and it's a lot pricier than the Soligor and Makinon 135 2.8 lenses.

    You may have had a soft version on your Soligor. The samples I see online seem sharper, but who knows what people did with them in post.
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2018
  12. If the Soligor or Makinon don't work out, then it's back to the Nikon 85 2. More money than I wanted to pay, but after looking at some scans I remember what a good portrait lens it was. The first shot here is the Nikon at 2.8 or 4 (I forgot which), the second shot is a Leica R 90 2.8 Elmarit wide open, and the last shot is the Nikon 85 2 at 2.8.

    There really isn't much difference.



    Last edited: Jul 1, 2018
  13. I have all three of the Nikkors mentioned. The 105 is super sharp and I think that is the place to start. The 85/2 is too and the 1.8 is even better. I have the 135/2 and love it although you have to step back a bit. I start with sharp and then make what I call a hairspray filter. I get a simple UV or other clear filter and spray the cheapest available hairspray around the edges. It's easy and if you don't get it right you can wash it off and start over. It takes a few tries but once you get it right you can keep it. Making several is an inexpensive process. You can use Vaseline but don't put it on the lens, you'll never get it all off. You can make a set of larger square filters that are held in front of the lens by an assistant and treat them with gel or spray. You can buy excellent soft focus filters from Nikon but the price goes up. Lots of solutions but honestly I'd start with the sharpest lens you can get.

    Rick H.
    Sandy Vongries likes this.
  14. For the most part that is called "bokeh" and is normally thought of as a positive feature as opposed to angular highlights

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