Recommendation for a good portrait lens

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by kristin_kruspe, Dec 3, 2010.

  1. I have a Nikon D5000 and am so confused wtih all the lenses out there. I am thinking about getting the 18-200 lens for just everyday shooting. But, I really need a recommendation on a good portrait lens. Thanks!
  2. You can certainly start with a very worthwhile and yet affordable investment on a Nikon 50mm f1.8 lens (at about $110 US) - but this lens won't autofocus with your camera. Alternatively, you can also consider the 35mm f1.8 DX which will autofocus with your D5000 but this lens may be too wide for great looking portraits. The 18-200 lens is very versatile and can make a decent portrait lens but it will not give you the sharpness of the other two. So it really depends on how serious you are in taking portraits as there are other great but rather costly lenses like the 85mm primarily used for portraits.
  3. The Nikon 50mm 1.4 AF-S is $440'ish.
  4. How tight do you want the Portraits? What kind of a working distance would you like. Anything from 50 - 85mm work well. Not sure about the D5000 but my likes are:
    nikon 50 1.8 Ai
    Voightlander 58 1.4
    Nikon 60 micro
    Nikon 85 1.8
  5. Kristin, first, for your portrait lens, given the sub-set of lenses that autofocus on the D5000, the clear choice is the 50/1.4 AF-S. It's a really good lens and will serve many purposes for you, not least how to walk around with one focal length, a prime lens, and see the world and your own body positioning in a way that allows you to get the pictures you want. Having a 50mm even with the 1.5 crop camera teaches you an enormous amount.
    Second if you want a walk around super zoom I'd look very carefully at the Tamron (for Nikon) AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di-II VC LD Asph (IF) Macro. Whew. I kid you not that's the name of it. It ahs the built-in motor that is required for auto focus on your camera. There's a $150 rebate on it at B&H til 12/31 which means it's like $469 or something. I've used it for extended periods twice (via a friend) and been really impressed. It has a longer reach than the Nikkor but is CONSIDERABLY smaller and lighter, which will mean a lot to you if it's your walk around lens; the image quality looks superior to me but let's call it even (DXO Mark hasn't tested this lens but I noticed that the Sigma 18-250 tested better than the Nikkor 18-200 so I assume this would too, since I think it's quite a bit superior to the Sigma, based on just a hint of real knowledge.... and it has vibration control or whatever Tamron calls their VR lenses.
    Good luck. And really, check out the Tamron. You'll save mucho money and mucho fatigue over the Nikon.
  6. I agree with Vince that Tamron 18-270 is a great alternative to Nikon 18-200... I have it and even I do not like all-around superzooms I must admit that this lens deserves every penny. What I do not agree is that Tamron is CONSIDERABLY smaller and lighter... than Nikon... That's simply not true.
    On portrait issue, there are many lenses to pick. Make sure to choose one with AF-S or equivalent in order to have autofocus on your camera. While 50/1.4 is a good lens I'd rather advice for something in 60-90mm range. Here do you have mostly macro(micro) lenses but this is not a bad thing, you get two things for your money: portrait and macro! Each one from this list could be a good option, you have to decide according your budget:
    • Nikon 60mm f2.8 AF-S micro
    • Tamron 60mm f2 macro
    • Nikon 85mm f1.4 AF-S G (this is very expensive)
    • Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro
    For less money you can get a stellar zoom that's really a steal for the money, with great applications on portraits for DX cameras: Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 (just make sure to buy the version with focus motor). While is not the most recommended lens for DX, it offers the most generous focal range for portraits, the equivalent of 42-112.5mm. This would be my first option.
  7. But, I really need a recommendation on a good portrait lens​
    The word "portrait" covers a lot of ground.
    Do you primarily want to shoot head & shoulders, full length, 1/4, groups?
    I second the opinion for the 50mm. If money is not a problem, get the f/1.4, otherwise the f/1.8 is fine at around $100 U.S.
    If you desire to shoot mostly portraits, I would steer clear of the long excursion zooms due to their slow speed. As you zoom in, this type of lens slows to about f/5.6...In my opinion, 5.6 is very limiting when DOF control is important, not to mention available low light shooting.
    Regardless of what you eventually choose, you will find no greater disappointment if you purchase a low quality lens.
    As we gain experience in photography, we find one truth is unavoidable; great lenses are not cheap.
    When I shoot with my DSLR, the following is in my bag,
    17-35mm f/2.8-4
    50mm prime
    85mm prime
    80-200 AF-D f/2.8
    I use them all for portraits and all produce wonderful results.
  8. I'd second looking at the 60mm macro lenses; the Tamron has advantage of being f/2, the Nikkor has a great reputation and in many cases, you will be shooting at f/2.8 anyway for sufficient depth of field.
    And, just discontinued but still available in places: Sigma 50-150 f/2.8 HSM. It's a bit more expensive too, but versatile and users seem to be happy with this lens. Tamron 90mm macro, Sigma 105mm macro or Nikon 105mm macro lenses all are nice options too, if you do not mind a bigger working distance.
    In my experience, a 50mm is just a tad short of being a great portrait lens on DX cameras, and none of the 50mm excels in nice, smooth out-of-focus rendering. They're affordable for fast lenses, though, but that does not automatically make them the best choice. Do keep in mind, as already stated, the cheap 50mm f/1.8 will not autofocus on your camera. Does not need to be a horrible problem, the price of this lens makes up for some inconveniences :)
  9. Nikon D5000 doesn't have built in AF motor, so you can use only AF-S or AF-I lenses if you want to have AF functionality. For portraits it's usefull to have at least an f/2.8 lens (prime or zoom) in the range from 50 to 85mm. I would recommend the AF-S 50/1.4 Nikkor.
  10. none of the 50mm excels in nice, smooth out-of-focus rendering​
    Bite your tongue, Wouter! Sigma's 50/1.4 HSM, which is priced very similarly to Nikon's, will auto focus on Kristin's D5000, and has absolutely beautiful OoF rendering. It's all about the bokeh, and is really engineered around shooting at wide apertures (Nikon's 50mm lenses are built as more all-around tools, but sure don't make pretty OoF backgrounds - if that stuff really matters, and to each their own on that front). While I understand some people's worries that 50mm is a little short for some portrait work, I've never found it to be a problem.

    Below is an out-take from a session with a young subject and her beagle. I had a bag full of lenses along for the morning, and did use the 70-200 for a bunch, but used the Sigma 50/1.4 HSM for a lot of these, including this one. You're seeing almost the full frame, and I was working from perhaps seven or eight feet back for this particular shot. The lens is stopped down a bit to provide more than paper-thin depth of field.
  11. I do agree with Kevin that you need to define first, what type of portrait you want to shoot and then decide what lens to buy. I do personally use 50 f/1.8 but the one I using most, from the waist up, is my 70-300 VR and I am happy so far. If I want to shoot only head / shoulder, then I move to my 50. Once I do get the 70-200 f/2.8 and the 85 f/1.8, then I will be set. I also have the 35 f/1.8 but I only use it for groups. You will be happy with a zoom lens for portraits and if you can afford the 70-200 f/2.8, that will in my opinion, your best option. Here is a picture taken with my 70-300 VR which is not the best lens for portrait but again, for now, is doing the job.
  12. What standard kit lens do you have now? Depending on what it is and how you shoot, you might not see much difference if you upgraded it.
    The 18-200 is a very good walk-around lens. the 16-85 is even better for less money, and you can crop in to a 200mm view and still have enough resolution to print 8 x 10. The third party lenses are too slow at the long end to allow for accurate auto-focusing on Nikon (according to Nikon, who recommends no slower than f5.6 for their AF system). I would never buy a lens that slow at the long end myself.
  13. Here is another picture taken with the 50 f/1.8
  14. Peter, Tamron 18-270 is f5.6 at 200mm and is faster at 270mm than Nikon 18-200 :) so the range between 200 ad 270mm is a free bonus. I used this zoom on D5000 and I can tell you that is focusing right at the long end in daylight. It works even better on D300. In the dark is a different situation. But as I said, consider 200-270 range as a free bonus.
  15. Thank you so much everyone!! To answer someone's question about what type of portraits. I want a lens that I can do portraits of one person up several people. I honestly don't want to be changing lenses a lot when I am out doing shoots. Also, I will be shooting my first wedding next summer and want a lens that I can pretty much keep on my camera for the whole wedding, but get better pics than my standard 15-55 mm kit lens.
  16. Since you don't want to change lenses, Nikons 18-200mm is an excellent one lens solution.
    Many prefer portraits to have a blurred background. Fast aperture lenses make it easier to do this, especially when the background is close to the subject. Shooting with a zoom lens like the 18-200mm on the long end will give you a similar effect but you need to distance yourself from your subject, which is not always possible.
    Perhaps more important than the lens is lighting and composition, as just about any lens can be used to produce a nice portrait.
    What is your budget?
  17. I wound like to stay around a grand for a good portrait lens including the 18-200 nikon lens or the 18-270 tramron lens.
  18. I honestly don't want to be changing lenses a lot when I am out doing shoots. Also, I will be shooting my first wedding next summer and want a lens that I can pretty much keep on my camera for the whole wedding, but get better pics than my standard 15-55 mm kit lens.
    You got my vote Kristin on "don't want to be changing lenses" statement but if you are planning to shoot a wedding, have you talk to the church / priest if they will allow you to use flash or not? If their answer is not, then you must use a fast lens like the 50 f/1.8 for those pictures that you must take without a flash and unless you have two cameras available, you will be obligated to change lenses. Most wedding shooters use at least 3 lenses : 17-55 f/2.8 ( or 24-70 f/2.8 on FX ), 70-200 f/2.8 and a prime, like the 50 f/1.8 or 85 f/1.8 ( f/1.4 ).
    It would be nice to have a Nikon lens from 12 - 200 f/2.8 to do it all but that lens does not exist and this is a fact that we need to face, that sometimes, we are obligated to change lenses. As Elliot is pointing, any lens can be use to produce a nice portrait and I totally agree with him because ultimately, the picture is good or not depending on who is behind the camera and the type of lens you are using may be the best of the world but if you do not know how to use it, then the result might not be the best.
    I am going to shoot a wedding next year and still do not have the lens that I need : Nikon 17-55 mm f/2.8 but I am going to rent it, if I can not buy it before. So with that lens and the 50 f/1.8 and my tele for some shots, I will be ok, but I only have one camera Kristin and I know it is a pain to be changing lenses but unless I do get another camera or rent it, I have not other option, have I ?
  19. Matt, I stand thoroughly corrected! (and with a great photo to boot).
    So, rephrasing that bit too late: I am not particularly impressed with the out of focus rendering of Nikon's 50mm AF lenses.
    Kristin, for weddings, Maurice makes very valid points. Another one, as light levels get low, slow (f/5.6) lenses get slow to autofocus. The D5000 is not great help with having a fairly basic AF system. As you lens starts hunting, you may loose shots. And as weddings go, you cannot really afford to loose shots.
  20. I'll have to agree with Mihai on this, so another vote for Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. That is one of my most used lenses for portraits on DX (and doubles as great walk around lens on my film bodies).
  21. MM I'd say the 85mm 3.5 would do fine for portraits, although its not a realy fast lens, its got a good review for that on Photozone :

    When you want/need it faster, then a Sigma 85mm 1.4 HSM could also be valuable.. like this one

    For weddings, and not changing lenses often, it might also be an idea to get a second camera. like a D3100 with the 85mm 3.5g in a kit like this one :
    After all for weddingshoots and alike its invaluable to have a backup ...
  22. If I were forced to shoot an entire wedding with only one lens on a DX body, I would rely on the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8.
  23. I use my 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8 VRII for nearly 100% of my portrait work. And I would guess, for portraits of single individuals or in situations where I have lots of room to work, I will use the 70-200. If there are large groups or limited space, I will use the 24-70 f2.8. This is true on an FX sensor. You might find the 70-200 a bit long on a DX sensor, but the 24-70 would be excellent. If you want to see examples, stop by my website.
  24. The 18-200 is a great choice for general photography. I can't speak for third party glass; I wouldn't hang it if you paid me, but that's just a personal opinion. Maybe settle on your general lens first and later decide which, if any, portrait lens you need.
    I'm a huge fan of the 18-200 and even favour it for much of my portraiture. In it's pertinent range, the max aperture drops by a stop or two, which can be limiting if shallow DOF and/or minimal illumination is what you desire. Otherwise, it can produce very sharp images, though not so as to be unflattering. It's particularly good for animal portraits... but enough of my husband's friends!
    Someone suggested a 60mm Micro... great choice, very sharp. Not an expensive addition either if you can get a decent used item. I'm trying to talk myself into buying one, mainly for its macro applications, but also bearing in mind its suitability for portraits. Until then, I'm still using a 55mm Micro I bought eons ago.
  25. thank you so much everyone...I have some decisions to make and some homework to do!! Maureen...thanks for bringing up renting a lens. It didn't even occur to me to do that. I think I might do that for the church pictures if I haven't bought that type of lens yet by then.
  26. I suppose there is something wrong with the 'bokeh' on this one? (Nikkor 50mm f1.4--original AF version.)
  27. Not wrong. Different. Nobody ever says anything other than that it's a matter of taste, if it even matters at all.
  28. it


    Any lens is a "portrait lens".
  29. Les, to me there is something wrong with it, but as Matt rightly says, it is a matter of taste. In this example, I do find the background highlights kind of distracting (esp. upper right corner) and the shape of them does not help either (more circular usually works better for me).
    But, strictly a personal opinion and I expressed myself too strongly in my first posting in that sense. Matt already made me eat my words ;-)
  30. another vote for the tamron 28-75. it's a very good portrait lens on DX, and there's a version with a built-in-motor which will AF on D5000. i'd get that over a 50mm (though matt makes a good case for the sigma). i also like the sigma 50-150 for portraits on DX. and, if you're willing to manual focus, the voigtlander 58/1.4 is a very good dedicated portrait lens for the price.
    a 18-200 or 18-270 are not, by definition, portrait lenses. they are all-in-ones. would you prepare sushi with a swiss army knife? use a chainsaw in lieu of a surgical knife?
    geenrally speaking, the superzooms offer convenience, not sharpness. they're not great for portraits since you may not always be able to shoot at f/8 (which is where they need to be at, otherwise they tend to be too soft) and they can't isolate your subject like a 2.8 or faster lens can. at 200mm+ you might be able to get some decent backgrounds, but that means a much longer working distance.
  31. 80-200 AI N - got one on eBay for $18 and it is much sharper and has smoother bokeh than the 50mm 1.8. Manual focus though, but so what?
  32. Any lens is a "portrait lens".
    Absolutely right and the most sensible thing anyone has said so far in this thread. The one element that truly carries a good portrait is the subject; it's probably better to think about that rather than which glass to use.

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