Lens choice for portrait work crop sensor camera

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by eric_eisenstein|2, Dec 28, 2008.

  1. First, let me apologize in advance, I'm not 100% sure if this is the correct forum in which to post this question. Second, I apologize if I'm violating a community norm by repeating information that I posted under "comparison shopping" as background there for choosing a camera body. If this is out of line, please let me know, and I hope that a moderator can correct the situation. Third, I have read the other forum threads on choosing initial lenses for a dslr, but I haven't found a post that is fully germane to my issues, and so I would be very appreciative of your advice.

    I am not aspiring to be the world's best photographer. I take pictures of family, friends, and vacations (which include landscapes, architecture, and people, etc in the areas I visit). The majority of my pictures are of people, including my young children. These pictures are never taken in studio conditions, so no formal portrait work, but people are frequently posing in front of something in standard tourist/birthday/event manner. Sometimes people are "doing" something when pictures are taken, but only rarely is that something a sport. I suppose that the best comparison would be to a wedding photographer - many pictures at happy occasions, parties... though much of the time, there is more ambient light. I almost never shoot sports, I am not a birder, etc.

    Right now, I use a P&S. I occasionally take choice pictures or crops and blow them up to 8x10. I haven't ever made a print larger than that, though I do frequently crop out a significant portion of the image before blowing it up.

    In the next week, I will be purchasing a Canon crop-sensor dslr, because: 1) I want to be able to shoot pictures of people and get a good background blur; 2) I want faster lenses that allow me to stop blasting the flash; 3) I want better IQ to allow for more significant crop and enlargement; 4) I am not willing to spend more on a full-frame.
    My current P&S has a 35mm equivalent range of 36-108 mm. I have found this range to be very useful, and it seems to encompass the vast majority of the shots that I would want to take. Today, I went through a random sample of the best pictures that I have taken with my P&S (and many of the mediocre ones as well), to examine what focal lengths I had used. The distribution of focal lengths had 2 modes - probably not surprising to photo.net readers: first, the majority of the pictures were taken between 36 and 60 mm (35 mm equivalent). A second mode occurred at the at the maximum focal length, 108 mm. ther were a reasonable number of portrait type pictures in the 70-90 mm range. These are a minority of pictures, but in some ways they are the most important, as they tend to be of people.
    So, I need to buy lenses for a Canon crop sensor camera that are capable of shooting low light (so that I can satisfy my desires #1 and 2 = no flash and selective focus). I do not think it likely that I'll be switching lenses all the time - I'd miss too many shots of the kids, so almost certainly a zoom.
    I am going to buy the 50mm f/1.8 (again, cost prevents me from getting the 1.4).
    The question is what to do in the way of zooms...I would very much appreciate some advice on how to choose between a 17-50 f/2.8 and a 28-75 f/2.8 (almost certainly both Tamron lenses, due to cost).
    I am reasonably likely to also get a Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 either now or at some point.
    What I am worried about is that the long end if the 17-50 is only 80 mm (35mm equivalent). I shoot a lot of pictures at the 110 mm end of my current camera's range, and I could probably shoot tighter shots (or back up) for many pictures. If I get a max equivalent of 80 mm of focal length (with the 17-50), will I be constantly changing lenses because I want something longer? Are other people who shoot portraits/people happy with 17-50? What about background blur at 50mm/2.8? Sufficient? How close do you need to stand to get reasonable blur? (my average shooting distance is 10 ft right now)
    Given that I've been pretty happy with the 36 mm equivalent length on the short end of my P&S, will the 45 mm equivalent of the short end of the 28-75 seem "too long" for shooting scenery? The advantage of the 28-75 is, of course, that it covers the whole range between 50 and 120 equivalent... which seems ideal for shooting portraits to me.
    Any recommendations on lens combinations for would be appreciated.
    Thank you all in advance.
  2. I use my 50mm f1.8 most of the time for family snap shots...thinking about adding the 35mm f2.0 to the mix for a little looser shooting. But at 80 bucks for a fantastic optic...hell, you've got to get it for the bang for the buck factor. Very decent for snapshots. For the most part...zoom with your feet. and when you think you are close enough, take one step closer.
    The other lens I love is the 85mm f1.8, in part because it doesn't hunt in low light like the 50mm (which is 1/3 the cost of the 85mm)
  3. I love my 85mm f/1.8! I use it for portrait work, and it worked well for taking marathon photos of my mom.
  4. It is a good idea to not try to buy all the right lenses right at first. The more you shoot with a DSLR the more you'll figure out about what is right for you. Your P&S experience is of some help, but shooting with a DSLR is different from shooting with a P&S in a number of ways.
    There are single lenses that cover the full focal length range the you might be interested in, but they give up something in terms of largest apertures and/or cost a ton. The lenses with very large focal length ranges compromise on other elements of image quality and generally do not have very large maximum apertures.
    Are you getting the body with the stock 18-55mm IS kit lens? If so, shoot with that for at least a month or two before you start investing in expensive lenses. At the beginning, so shooting experience with your DSLR goes a long ways towards making your needs clearer and pointing you towards lenses (and other gear) that is optimized for how and what you shoot. The kit lens is going to produce better IQ than your point and shoot and it will produce good portrait results in lower light. It also covers the core of the focal lengths that you tend to favor, with the exception of the longer shots.
    After you shoot the kit lens a bit you may start to understand aspects of your approach suggest any of a number of other lenses that might meet your needs. Some that may become interesting to you include the 24-70mm f/2.8 L, the EFS 17-55mm f/2.8 IS, the 24-105mm f4 L IS, the 85mm f/1.8, and so forth. But it would be unwise to select any of them at this point unless you are absolutely certain that the distinctions make complete sense to you and are adapted for your photography.
  5. The 85mm is a bit long on a crop camera (135mm equiv) if you're working in a typical home studio. I had to be back in the closet to get a head & shoulders portrait in my space. For a small space, maybe the 60mm EF-S f2.8 Macro might be a good choice for portraits. It's certainly sharp enough.
  6. it


    Just play with the 50mm for awhile before buying anything else. It's a great portrait lens on a crop camera.
  7. Crap, I didn't read your question close enough. I was trying to sell you on a lens you already said you were going to get...good choice btw. I'm on a tight budget too, and will be saving for the 10-22, though not the fastest glass, that is a fantastic lens from all accounts I've seen.
    I'm not keen on Sigma stuff after some personal experiences with two of their lenses I got in the early 90's. I don't know if things have improved, but I'm sticking with Canon...except my great 100mm Vivitar chincy a$$ macro lens that has wonderful optics for such a rickety piece of plastic.
  8. "except my great 100mm Vivitar chincy a$$ macro lens that has wonderful optics for such a rickety piece of plastic."

    I cannot tell you how much I agree with you. That lens is one of the best value lenses ever made. The optics are utterly sensational and the build quality is so bad it actually makes you laugh when the AF motor is whirring and rattling away. I love my Vivitar 100mm f3.5 lens!
  9. portrait the 85mm 1.8, however if backgrounds are desired (tourists) then the 28-70 Tamron would be the better choice especially since you have the 50mm which is a very nice portrait lens. If you take a lot of photos inside, however, the 17-50 is a better choice then the 28-70. Choices, dang, that is why over time I have bought lens for the occassion.
  10. Eric, I shoot roughly the same as you (family, friends, travel etc), and I have found the 50mm f/1.8 + Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 to cover most of my needs. The Tamron is a great walking around lens, and my choice when it comes to travel photography. It is also fast enough to shoot indoors without a flash, if the rooms are well lit. However, I have not managed to get a more than OK background blur from it. When that is what I want, I put on the 50mm and shoot at max aperture.
    Whether or not you want to go straight for a fixed aperture zoom, or if you want to play around with a kit zoom first is up to you. I started with the kit zoom, but wished that I had gotten the Tamron straight away.
    For the long end, I would suggest that you wait a while, and find out how much you really need. Sometimes you can get a kit offer which includes a tele zoom (e.g. 55-200), but they are not very good. I have the 55-200 II USM, and it will be replaced by a 70-200 f/4 as soon as I have saved up enough money to buy it.
    A cheap alternative to cover the (semi) long end is to get a manual focus 135mm f/2.8 + a M42 adaptor on Ebay. They are reasonably cheap, and of good quality. Quite a few of my favorite shots have been taken with a Yashica 135mm f/2.8.
  11. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    I use the 17-40 or a 50 for my portraits. This includes environmental portraits, where the wide end is really useful, through studio portaits. This is with the zoom on a 1.6 camera.

    Keri Taylor, Copyright 2007 Jeff Spirer
  12. Hi Eric,
    For maximum control of background, you will need to go to prime lenses for your portrait shooting. I use 28/1.8, 50/1.4 and 85/1.8. The latter two, in particular, work well for me on crop sensor cameras, but lack some of the speed and convenience of a zoom. I use the 28mm (and a 20/2.8) for full length and 'environmental' portraits. You do have to use care with any wide angle lens like these, when doing portraiture. Too close to the subject or positioning them too near the edges can result in distortions. Some good alternative choices are Sigma 30/1.4 and 50/1.4.
    f2.8 is the fastest you can get with a zoom. And even that will mean a more expensive, larger/heavier and more obtrusive lens. I also use 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 in my kit, but not so much for portrait shooting except when necessary (kids and animals).
    Some Canon lenses use a curved-blade aperture design, to form a more perfect circle and give nicer background blur.
    The 50/1.8 is a good little starter lens, but build quality is 'entry level' and there is some compromise on image quality. The out of focus highlights for any aperture other than wide open exhibit a hexagon, produced by the 5-bladed aperture. It doesn't control flare as well, and the colors aren't as rich as they can be with the 50/1.4 which also features an 8-blade aperture. Still, at the price the f1.8 lens is pretty hard to beat.
    I go back and forth about using macro lenses for portraiture. On the one hand, they are often in the right focal length range and it's always great to have a lens that serves dual purpose. On the other hand, a super sharp lens is not always all that desirable for portraiture! Still, you can add various softening filters and/or do post processing work to deal with that. You have a lot to choose: Canon 50/2.5, EF-S 50/2.8, 100/2.8, Tokina 35/2.8 and 100/2.8, Tamron 90/2.8, Sigma 50/2.8, 70/2.8 and 105/2.8.
    Canon also offers non-macro 100/2, 135/2.8 Soft Focus and 135/2 primes.
    But, anything over 90mm, macro-capable or not, is getting pretty long for portraits on crop sensor cameras.
    I don't think you indicated exactly which crop sensor camera you are planning to get. That will decide in part which kit lenses might be available to you. The Rebel series come with 18-55 I believe, while the 40/50D are often in kit with either 17-85 or 28-135.
    The kit lens might be your best value to start, and you might be wise to just bite the bullet and shoot with it for a while, then decide what you are lacking, before making your next lens purchase.
  13. IMO, the better bargains Canon offers are:
    • 18-55 IS (not the kit lens). Optics are quite good, and this is very cheap for an IS lens.
    • 50mm f/1.8 (which you're already considering)
    • 70-300 IS
    • 17-40 f/4L (really shines on full frame, but also great on a crop -- see Jeff's excellent portrait!)
    • 70-200 f/4L non-IS (a superior lens for $600-ish)
    A few thoughts:
    The fact that your two "nodes" of focal length preferences put you at the maximum and minimum extent of the zoom range you currently have suggests to me that you would shoot both wider and longer if you had the capability.
    I would definitely not recommend limiting yourself to a smaller focal length range than you already have. The reason is that you will miss the range that you can no longer shoot, and you will eventually replace that range anyway. You might as well make plans now. You don't need to purchase all of your optics now, but you should at least have a tentative and realistic strategy for future expansion.
    You will get shallower depth of field with a larger format (as you already know). It might be cheaper in the long run for you to get a used 5D (full frame) and f/4 optics than a new crop frame and f/2.8 optics, and the shallowest DoF should be similar. There are also a lot more f/4 selections than f/2.8. Besides lower cost and more choices, there are also benefits with regard to image quality.
  14. Sarah wrote: "18-55 IS (not the kit lens). Optics are quite good, and this is very cheap for an IS lens."
    Sarah, did you mean "not the original non-IS kit lens" perhaps? Or perhaps you meant the "EFS 17 -55mm f/2.8 IS?" The latter is a great lens on cropped sensor Canon bodies.
  15. I guess I meant "not the crummy non-IS lens." I didn't realize the IS version was also a kit. My bad. ;-)
    The 17-55 would also be good, but I don't really consider it much of a bargain. (I'd far rather throw less money at a 17-40 f/4L.) The 18-55 IS can be sinfully cheap, depending on the source. I just ordered a factory-refurb 18-55 IS for my 40D for only $100 (Ebay). Now THAT is a cheap lens! I bought the lens as a cheap, small, lightweight knock-around lens to be carried wherever there's some risk of damage or theft. The weakest characteristic of the lens would be CA -- same as for the 17-55. Here's hoping the CA isn't as bad as the data on slrgear show it to be. ;-)
  16. Eric,
    I can only add that I bought one of the lenses you are considering, the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8, several months ago, and I could not be happier. I use it on an XTi. I put it through quite a number of tests, and it shines. It is extremely sharp if you close it down a few stops and pretty sharp even wide open. Some people complain that it is soft in the corners on a full-frame camera, but on a crop-sensor camera, I did not detect any noticeable problem in the corners, even under extreme enlargement. I tested for back- and front focus, and it is right on the mark. Colors are good. The consistent fast speed is great, and it has the right focal length range for portraits--equivalent to 45-120mm on a full-frame camera, which ought to be plenty long. (The old rule of thumb was that 90mm is a good default). The build quality is pretty good. The only drawback is the flip side of the constant f/2.8: it is big and a little heavy. And the price is certainly right.
    Good luck.
  17. I would like to thank all of you for the advice. I remain undecided, but less so than before.
    Some thoughts:
    1. Regarding suggestions to shoot with the kit lens that several people made. I am curious what it is that I am likely to learn from shooting with the kit lens. I know what I want, which is largely (but not exclusively) pictures of people with blurred backgrounds. This seems unlikely to be possible with the kit lens, and I'm not 100% sure that the IQ will be better than with my wife's new P&S (digital Elph). I am, of course, sensitive to the issue of trying to get everything at once before practicing/trying the camera, etc. At the same time, Hendrik's post seems quite relevant to my situation.
    2. A number of posters have mentioned using the 50 mm/1.8 on a crop sensor as a good portrait lens. Can anyone tell me how close they need to stand to their subjects to get a good picture with good background blur? Jeff, in particular, you mention the 17-40. But you posted a studio portrait. As I understand it, even at 40 mm & f/4 you cannot get more than a slight background blur -- am I wrong?
    3. What is an "environmental" portrait? Does this mean, a picture of someone not in a studio? If so, that would be all that I am going to ever shoot, as I don't have anything resembling a studio. (unless you count a relatively monochromatic wall in my house)
    4. Alan's comment: "I also use 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 in my kit, but not so much for portrait shooting except when necessary (kids and animals)." - my issue is that my daughters are 3 & 5 years old -- and all of my nieces and nephews are under the age of 10. My wife is also a veterinarian, and we do tend to shoot more than our share of animals.
    5. Several people have mentioned the 17-40 f/4L. Is the quality on that lens worth it compared to the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS, which adds IS, length, and the 2.8?
    6. Sarah, thank you again for the excellent point about the two nodes. I suspect that you are correct (I could use both longer and shorter). But, I do need to decide what to buy first... see final comments below.
    7. Sarah made a very interesting suggestion, and one that I had never considered (buying a used 5D or similar full-frame, and then using slower/cheaper lenses to achieve similar background blur). That is a fascinating idea, and one that I'll consider after my first dSLR. At this point, I'm not willing to go that route, I don't think. First, I am still trying (in spite of the physics) to reduce the total weight that I need to lug around. The 5D and similar cameras are all very big, but in addition, the full-frame lenses are also heavier than dedicated crop-sensor lenses. But I think that the biggest problem is that I'm not sure that f/4 is sufficient for just shooting without flash in many of the circumstances in which I shoot. I do want a fast lens for control of DoF, but I also want a fast lens to stop blasting the flash.
    Here is what I am currently considering:
    Canon Xsi body with the kit lens 18-55 IS ($80 extra for the lens, it is IS, gives me the wide end, and is cheap)
    Tamron 28-75 f/2.8
    Canon 50mm/ 1.8
    Later, get a faster/better wide lens in the 10-28-ish range.
    At some point (possibly now) the Sigma 50-150 f/2.8. Has anyone used this lens? I tried it out in a local store attached to an Xsi. Seems to hunt a little bit on focus (which could be the Xsi for all I know, their 40D didn't have a battery in it for comparison), but it has full time manual focus, it was quiet, it's fast, the lens gets good reviews, and it is over 1 pound lighter and 1/2 the price of a full frame 70-200.
    If I purchased all of the above at once, cost would = $1700 or so. Without the 50-150, it would be right around $1050. Gear weight of the above (sans 50-150) is just under 3 pounds (no flash, tripod or bag included...). The 50-150 weighs 27 oz.
    I would love to know what the community would think of this. Photo.net is an amazing community! Happy New Year!
  18. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    Jeff, in particular, you mention the 17-40. But you posted a studio portrait.​
    Yes, my mistake, posted a photo that didn't meet your criteria. Maybe this one, taken with the same lens, comes closer:
    I don't know if that is sufficient background blur for you, but it is blurred.
  19. Just to update everyone, I decided on buying an Xsi rather than a 40D. I also found out that Tamron has an educational rebate program, which discounts lenses to those in education (I'm a professor). So I took the savings from not buying the 40D and put it into an extra lens. I got a Tamron 17-50/2.8, Tamron 28-75/2.8, Sigma 50-150/2.8, and the Canon 50/1.8.
    Overall, I've been incredibly happy with this set. After shooting about 1000 pictures, I have concluded that 28-75 is my walkaround lens. I don't seem to miss the short end much, and I can take very natural pictures of my kids and relatives from reasonable distances with it. The longer end also allows for selective focus if I want it. The 17-50 has proven very nice when I know that I'll be indoors, and for shooting a few shots of landscapes (which are generally not my thing). The 50-150 is fantastic. We were on vacation two weeks ago, and it allowed me to get many, many shots that I would not have been able to get without it. Beautiful portrait lens, and acceptable for some wildlife as well. I like the prime, but I have to say that it doesn't work nearly as well for children.

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