Portrait lens for Nikon F4

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by john_horvath|1, Feb 11, 2017.

  1. I've been using a Nikkor 50mm f1,8 lens with my F4 for a year now, but now I'm looking for a good portrait lens that lets me take close cropped portraits of people. I was looking at this one: http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/85AF.htm but would love to receive some suggestions from people who've been using Nikon equipment longer than me.
  2. The Nikon 105mm f/2.5 is a manual focus lens, but a classic portrait lens. For the film era, it is perhaps one of the finest portrait lenses Nikon made.
  3. This is an easy one. Get a 105mm f2.5. One of the best lenses Nikon made. You won't be disappointed.
  4. The 105/2.5AI would be a great choice, but is manual focus. Good AF choices would be 85mm 1.4 or 1.8D lenses, 105 f/2 DC, 180/2.8 AF, or a 70/80-200 not G Nikon zoom. The F4 has limited functionality with the recent crop of "G" lenses so the excellent 85/1.8G AF that I would recommend highly won't function fully with an F4. I had the 85/1.8D AF a while back. It's a sharp lens but can render portraits a little harshly, the 1.4 version is better for portraits.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2017
  5. I would second the 105 - my late pre-AI version is superb, and remains a favorite. However, if you're wanting a bit less length, for indoor portraits for example, I'd also recommend the 85/1.8. I have a pre-AI one of those, and it gives lovely portraits indoors. There are various iterations of that lens, and I don't think any are worse than that original, and probably better. In terms of quality, I think it's a pretty close competitor, and mostly depends on what you prefer for field of view. Of course the best solution to this, obviously, is to have both.

    e.t.a. I sort of hate to have to agree with KR, but we do what we must, and that 85 remains a long time favorite.
  6. First you need to define what kind of portrait you shoot; group, couple, full length, 3/4, waist up, head and shoulders, head, tight face.
    "Close cropped portraits" tells me single subject, head or tight face. Is this correct?

    Then what is your working distance; camera to the subject?
    What amount of depth of field do you need?

    Because the answer could range from 85mm to 200+mm

    If you want to expand to full length and groups, your lens choice will necessarily change.
  7. If you're used to an f/1.8 aperture and comfortable with manual focus, then you should consider the AI-s 105mm f/1.8 Nikkor. It's a big and beautiful lens offering slightly easier viewing and focussing than the f/2.5 version. With the added advantage of being able to throw backgrounds further out of focus than either the 85mm f/1.8 or the 105mm f/2.5.
    The only other lens Nikon makes that comes close is the expensive 105mm f/2 DC.
  8. Yes, that's exactly what I'm going for. So I guess the 105mm is the one for me?

    Thanks for all the replies!
  9. delete
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2017
  10. For years I've used an 85mm f1.4 and a 180mm f2.8 for portraits. The 85mm for upper body and face, the 180mm for headshots.
  11. Sorry for repeating the question, but I didn't get a straight answer: should I get the 105mm or 180mm for shoulders/head/tight face?
  12. John: Firstly, congratulations, you've shown that the new site lets us post a reference to hypnoken on this forum!

    As for the other question, "it depends". Ken himself claims that the perspective from which we think of people is as though they're 15' away (I believe); if you're closer than that features start to look distorted (how much depends how much closer you are), and if you're father away the features look a bit flat. Arguably the same discussions as are relevant for wide-angle "distortion" also apply - if you're viewing from the same perspective as the lens, you won't see distortion.

    Having said all that, what do you want from a "portrait lens"? Longer than normal is one thing; the ability to blur the background (at moderate apertures) is another. A 135mm f/2 can blur the background more than an 85mm f/1.4 if the background is far enough away from the subject, but the depth of field of the 85mm f/1.4 is (at the same subject magnification) shallower.

    I'm sure all the above are decent choices; the rest comes down a little to how much you want to spend and what aspects of image quality are critical to you.

    On a budget, the 85mm f/1.4 Samyang/Rokinon manual focus is decent. I got rid of mine because manual focus and wide aperture was driving me nuts with a moving subject. The 135 f/2 DC produces beautifully blurred backgrounds, although it does tend to make the focal plane light up like a christmas tree due to LoCA (the 105mm version is allegedly a little less objectionable). I still have my 135mm f/2.8 AI, on the grounds that by the time I'd stopped the 135mm DC lens down to control its LoCA, the AI lens was just as good. I currently have the 85mm f/1.8 AF-S, but it too is a bit prone to LoCA, making the background green. I'll probably swap it for the Sigma Art at some point.

    The 105mm f/1.4 Nikkor is supposed to be exceptional, but it's an "E" lens, so you'll be stuck at maximum aperture on an F4. I don't believe the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 "Art" has the same issue, although both these lenses have significant mechanical vignetting wide open (but both are exceptionally sharp). They both cost a lot, although not as much as the 200mm f/2, which is probably the "money no object" option for making an ugly background disappear. The 150mm Sigma macro also makes a good portrait lens (being f/2.8) and is a bit more reasonable. The 85mm Sigma "Art" is still cheaper than the Nikon AF-S lens, and optically appreciably better. Some prefer the older Nikon AF-D, which is very soft off-centre at wider apertures but has quite nice background rendering.

    Or you could be indecisive, assume that at anything faster than f/2.8 you're going to have out-of-focus noses, and just go with a zoom. The 80-200 f/2.8 AF-D has some focus accuracy issues (on a demanding digital sensor) and arguably isn't perfectly sharp at short range, but is good at a distance; you may not notice on film. The 70-200 AF-S versions (the mk1 will go a bit funny in the corners at 200mm) are better, but more expensive.

    At the more affordable end of the scale (ignoring the used lens selection, for which you have good recommendations above), the 105mm Laowa STF might be worth looking at - it has an apodisation filter that makes for very smooth backgrounds, although weirdly it's not quite as smooth at it as the Sony version, in the images I've seen. The lens itself seems optically very good, however. The 135mm f/2 Samyang/Rokinon is also supposed to be very good (as is the Zeiss, if you want to spend several times as much).

    Of course, a lot of these lenses don't have an aperture ring, which means you'll have a problem setting the aperture on the F4 - you'll be okay in shutter priority, but there's no way to set the aperture manually.

    Anyway... I tend to go 70-85mm for upper body and longer (135-200mm) for head-and-shoulders, but I generally prioritise based on where I can get to and how much background I want to cut out. And I'm an amateur and don't know what I'm doing, of course!

    TL;DR: There's no one good answer, and the best lenses optically will be a little compromised on the F4 for handling. On the other hand, this is 135 film - if you're not trying to print a poster, you'll be ok with 1990s optics. Pick something you like the handling of and can get a good deal on, and you'll probably be good. Good luck!
  13. The 105 will be fine for a tight face/shoulder picture.
  14. What is your working distance, from camera to subject?

    I could say the 180, but if your working distance is closer than mine, rather than a face, you might just get the nose and mouth.

    A tight face would call for a longer lens than a head and shoulders shot, at the same working distance. So you could be looking at TWO lenses.
  15. Exactly.
    As usual, I`d say it should depend on perspective; the look your subject have at different distances should "lock" the camera-to-subject distance.
    The focal length of a lens determines the magnification power, so for the very same framing, you have to play e.g., shooting closer with a shorter focal length, or shooting at a longer distance with a longer focal length.
    But most of the times, differences are negligible to the viewer, or even desiderable. As Gary says, there is a difference between head and shoulders and a tight head shot, so a longer lens (like the 180) is the one I`d also use (Nikkor 180/2.8). But as mentioned above, 105mm lenses are also widely used (cheaper, more versatile) although at a closer distance with a more "intimate" look (for a tight head shot) than with a 180.
    One lens almost double the focal length of the other, so the covered area is almost linearly halved, too. The coverage difference between 180 and 105 is similar to that between 50 and 28mm, one cannot replace the other for the same task.
    Anyway, in my opinion, I`d start buying a 105, just for versatility`s sake. As a start, on the F4 any "plain" AF version will work.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2017
  16. Thank you so much guys for all of your detailed and knowledgeable responses, they helped me a great deal to choose!
  17. One other contribution...

    There's an argument that people tend to like primes which are different by about a factor of 1.5 (the short edge of the frame vs the long edge of the frame), on the basis that a smaller difference than that is relatively hard to see. Hence some will tell you that their preferred prime set is (with some approximations):
    • 15mm
    • 24mm
    • 35mm
    • 58mm
    • 85mm
    • 135mm
    • 200mm

    ...and others will tell you it's:
    • 14mm
    • 21mm
    • 28-30mm
    • 45mm
    • 70mm
    • 105mm
    • 150mm-180mm

    That's in no way hard and fast. Personally I have 8mm (fish-eye), 14-24 zoom, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 200mm, and I used to have the 135mm f/2 but replaced it with the 150mm Sigma out of irritation with its performance (though I still have a 135mm f/2.8 AI, even if it's a bit mouldy, and I fill the gap with a 70-200). I'm in no rush to get a 28mm prime, because it's too close to the 24mm and 35mm I already have; I don't really urgently need a 105mm (lovely though the new one is) because an 85mm or 135mm would probably do as well. I am interested in any (AF) replacement 135mm f/2 - which would make my 150mm more redundant if it wasn't also a macro.

    What I'm getting at is: think about what other lenses you might want. A 105mm is a viable substitute for an 85mm and a 135mm some of the time, but the rest of the time you might want something substantially shorter or substantially longer. If you find yourself wanting an 85mm, I'm not sure the 105mm would be as good a choice as a 135mm. If you're not expecting to pick up any more lenses (and the 135mm f/2.8 AI is decent, cheap and tiny if you don't mind manual focus...) then the 105mm choice is probably a good compromise; to my mindset, but not to everyone's, the 105mm is still a compromise if you pick up lenses either side of it. Pick your poison. :)
  18. In addition to what Andrew said, there is also somehow a way how some focal lengths work for you, and some not. There are people who don't see much use in a 50mm, and rather use a 35mm as their 'standard' lens. Some say 35 and 50 are too close. Some prefer 28 over 35, some not.
    Many will say 85mm is the classic focal length for portraits, some find it still a tad short. Add me to the list of those who prefer 105mm. The mentioned 180mm f/2.8 is also a great choice, for slightly longer working distances. But it usually costs a good deal more. The 105mm f/2.5 is one of the best bargains you'll ever find.
  19. It's true that 105mm does tend to be significantly cheaper than longer options of the same aperture - above 85mm the size of the front element (and therefore aperture) really starts to get to be a predictor of lens cost, so a 135mm f/2 is quite a bit pricier than a 105mm f/2. And bigger and heavier, of course (the amount of glass goes up at least with the square of the physical aperture).<br />
    <br />
    I'd meant to say that I find the perspective difference on a full-frame subject when comparing anything much above 85mm to be quite minimal. You can see it if you compare 85mm with 200mm, but it's subtle, unlike (say) 35mm vs 24mm. The bigger difference for me is how much control you have over the background - a 200mm f/2 makes the background disappear much more than an 85mm f/1.8, for example. If you want some environment so you can locate the subject, the shorter lens is a good thing; if your background is ugly (I often shoot where there are a lot of stacked chairs) then the extra control of a big lens is more useful. But obviously a 200mm f/2 is really not cheap...

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