Candid Shooting-- portrait lens vs 18-105 ?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by john_watson, Nov 16, 2010.

  1. I have a D90 with 18-105, 50MM, Tokina 12-24 and 70-300.
    I enjoy shooting candids of people when we travel--most often using the 18-105. We are headed for Cambodia and Laos right after new year.
    Would a dedicated portrait lens (e.g. 105) lens give me obviously sharper and better results? Having a macro capability would be a plus. A faster lens would also be nice to have, but not critical.
    If you recommend this, are there specific recommendations? Cost is an issue, but not overwhelming, a used lens would be fine

    Thanks in advance
  2. For a crop body (D90), the 50mm lens is a good portrait length, and I'm guessing your 50 is pretty fast, either f1.8 or f1.4, in which case you can get really pleasing narrow depth-of-field. A longer lens could be useful as well, but the 50 is a pretty good tool.
    I have a D90 and use a 50mm f1.8 AF as my main portrait lens. I also have a 105 f2.8 AF micro. It's useful as a portrait lens, but sometimes a bit long, especially indoors.
    I also have a 70-200 f2.8 VR2, which is an awesome tool for outdoor portraits. Indoors, it's pretty long and kinda big. Before I got the 70-200, I often used a 300 f4 AF for outdoors portraints. I got some good results -- great background separation -- but it was difficult to use because you had to stand so far away from the subject that you cannot communicate!
    In more cases than not, f2.8 is a pretty good choice for narrow depth of field. It gives good subject to background separation. Narrower f stops take a bit more skill to use. Shooting at f1.8 or so requires that you pretty carefully focus on the eyes and even when the eyes are critically sharp, not all your shots will be aesthetically pleasing. f2.8 is a pretty good compromise.
    The ultimate tool, and my next big purchase, will be the 24-70 f2.8.
  3. The main design goal for the "portrait lenses", apart from being a reasonably flattering focal length, is to be fast enough (and have good enough bokeh) to make the background go away - certainly not to be sharp, which is an unflattering characteristic for a lot of people. You'll get nice images from a portrait lens if you don't want to be able to see where you are. If you're going somewhere with a lot of pretty backgrounds, do you want a large and heavy lens just so you can't see them?

    If you're travelling and might want macro, I'd consider one of the off-brand macro lenses like the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 or Tokina 100 f/2.8 - they're sharp, cheap and very light, and do okay as portrait lenses (especially on a crop sensor). I'd not want the weight or cost of a Nikkor 105 micro or one of the DC lenses if travelling. The Tamron is my medium portrait lens, between my 50mm and 135mm on full frame - although I tend to shoot candid portraits from further away. I should also say I'm no pro, so bear that in mind if you pay too much attention to what I'm saying!

    If you do want to lose a messy background and get a candid of the people you're with, a 105 f/2 DC (or a fast 85mm) will produce lovely and flattering photos, so long as you can zoom with your feet. I'd not feel bad mostly using your zooms in your situation, though. Yes, you'd get a little more image quality from a prime, but if you miss your photos because you're changing lenses you'll regret it - especially when you get dust on your sensor in the field. I say this as someone who does a lot of candid shooting with primes, but somewhere with an less aesthetically-pleasing background. I still find a slowish superzoom to be very useful.

    If you're very into the portraiture aspect, though, don't let me talk you out of it. Sometimes you do want an impressionistic version of even a pretty background, and there's no substitute for aperture. Good luck.
  4. A portrait lens is whatever lens you decide to use for portraits, but I love an 85mm on a crop sensor for candid portraits. My 85, a Nikon f/1.8 has limitations in bokeh, its representation of out of focus areas, as you can see in my image and in the discussion in this thread. However, the bokeh of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 is still better than that of any macro lens I've ever used. Macros don't seem to work for me for portraits.
    You'll get nice images from a portrait lens if you don't want to be able to see where you are. If you're going somewhere with a lot of pretty backgrounds, do you want a large and heavy lens just so you can't see them?​
    You can use a fast lens near maximum aperture to leave the background unfocused, or you can choose to close it down to include the background. It's your choice, which is not available with a slow lens. I was shooting in a beautiful area for the attached candid portrait, but decided to use composition and aperture to exclude as much of the background as I could. It was still terribly busy (happens sometimes with candids) but it would have been awful with a slower lens.
  5. You can use a fast lens near maximum aperture to leave the background unfocused, or you can choose to close it down to include the background. It's your choice, which is not available with a slow lens.​
    Hector - agreed, and my comment was a little tongue-in-cheek. Still, it seemed to me that the choice of lens when going somewhere pretty might be influenced by the probability of wanting to include the background in photos. If you want to lose the background, a 400 f/2.8 is your friend as much on the rim of the Grand Canyon as it is in a housing estate in London - but if you're making a point of travelling somewhere nice (and I've not been nice places very often, I'm afraid), I suspect more time is spent including the background than would otherwise be the case. Hence the story of a fashion photographer shipping a model, assistants and a big telephoto out to some spectacular scenery, then shooting wide-open to get an image which could have been achieved easily in a studio.

    A fast portrait lens is a good thing to have - if John wants one anyway, I'd say go for it, I love mine. But I'd not expect to use it any more on a trip somewhere pretty than I would at home. A good prime will be slightly sharper (as John asked) than most zooms and have less distortion, but what you're paying for (in weight and convenience as well as money) is aperture - and I'm not sure that's more useful when travelling than nearer to home. Don't get me wrong, it still is useful, but nobody recommends a Noct-Nikkor just for shooting Yosemite. I just don't want John to blow his budget on a lens he doesn't want.

    I'll bow to the expertise of others on the bokeh of the macro lenses. I know the 200 f/4 has bokeh that I wouldn't want to use generally; the 90mm Tamron has seemed fine to me (especially at macro range), but I've not owned it long enough to judge, and I don't own an 85mm for comparison. If you want it primarily as a portrait lens then I'd get a portrait lens; if you want a compromise and are thinking about macro as well, I'd not be too scared of taking portraits with a macro lens (although you might want to soften skin a little bit in post-processing if you wan't want to make people look old). I'd certainly think about trying a macro lens in a shop before spending more - but then I already have bigger lenses for portraits, so I wasn't relying on the macro's bokeh being perfect.
  6. john, it seems like your current kit is pretty well-suited for travel apps. the 18-105 has a nice range and VR, for one thing, and at f/8 it will be just as sharp as almost any other lens. as far as candids, the obvious question is what kind of results are you getting now with the 50mm?
    if you must add a lens, i dont think lack of length is the problem. i'd maybe think about a 35/1.8 which is great for candid shots when the 50 is too long. i use that for street shooting with a d90 all the time and the small size is great.
    the tokina 35 macro might also work here if you want close-up ability--it also has better bokeh than the 35/1.8 and the 85/1.8--as well as one of the nikon 60s or the tamron 60/2 macro. but i'm not sure i would expect better (sharper) results with a 60 than what you can achieve on a 50.
    i dont know that adding an 85 or 105 makes a whole lot of sense here, but an 85/1.8 would be my recommendation over a 105 on DX when traveling. i'd think a dedicated 105 would just take up room in the bag and be too long for candids much of the time. it's also basically useless indoors, whereas the 35 shines in that situation.
  7. Have you considered the new Nikon 85mm f/3.5 VR Micro? It would double as a macro and a portrait lens and it has VR. It's also pretty small and weighs only 12.5 oz.
  8. Responding to Eric and Mark
    The 85 F 1.8 could be an interesting choice--available used for not much, and good reviews. Gives up VR and micro, but a better portrait lens and lightweight, 13 oz. Probably better brokeh than 18-105 , if I do it all, this is my leaning. Since my primary desire is portraits, makes sense to buy a portrait lens I think. For several hundred $, does not cost much to be wrong
    Thanks to all for really helpful comments
  9. I think the 85mm 1.8 is a great choice and I would probably pick it over the Tamron 90 for the extra stop of aperture speed although the Tamron's smoother OOF rendition and close focus make the choice much harder.
    A 105 2.5 or 135 2.8 might also be a good option. As well as a 75-150E if manual focus is accepted.

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