Which portrait lens would you recommend for DX?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by purplealien, Aug 25, 2013.

  1. I love portraits with shallow depth of field and beautiful bokeh.
    My next purchase is likely to be a portrait lens. At the moment I'm thinking about the 85mm f/1.8G. Unfortunately I am unlikely to be able to afford an FX system in the foreseeable future, and I'm uncertain of how effective this lens will be on DX. Are there better alternatives?
    I currently use a D90, and my most likely upgrade path is the D7100 (or a successor to it).
    My current lenses:
    Sigma 10-20mm
    18-105mm kit lens
    70-210 f/4-5.6 AF (old push-pull relic from my film days)
    35mm f/1.8G
    50mm f/1.8D
    So those of you who use DX, what is your favourite portrait lens? I would love to see some example images.
  2. I have an 85 1.8D that I shoot on a D7000 and I absolutely love it! 85 is a great focal length for portraits on DX.
  3. Try using your 70-210 at the short end for a few portraits, and a few with the 18-105 at the long end. If those ranges work for you in terms of length and distance for shooting, the 85 should too. (The 105 might have more distortion there so it's not the results so much as how comfortable you are with it).
    I also use the 85 on DX and like it. May be a bit long for portraits in tight spaces though.
  4. Thanks Nathan & Greg
    How does the 85mm do at achieving shallow DOF and losing the background at normal portrait distances/framing?
    Are you happy with the bokeh?
  5. Ow, that's very depending on the type of "portrait" i guess

    A character portrait is often 3 quarters, or a full body portrait showing the sitter in a typical for the sitter environment or with attributes , so that would require a 35 - 50mm lens , i like to use my 50mm f/1.2 for that so that i can get the sitter sharp and the environment just a little less sharp,and add a 'glow'if appropriate ( that is what this lens gives me at fully open aperture..).
    A quarter ( shoulders and head) portrait for me mostly asks for my 60mm micro.
    For a "head"or "partial head" ( face and some hair mostly) i like my 85mm 1.4D a lot, but not fully open.

    In some more distant, situations, mainly outdoors, i switch to my 135mm F/2.0 AF DC , allowing me to gain a bit of control over DOF rendering in front or behind the sitter.
    So no single answer here...sorry...
  6. Either the 50mm f1.2 ai-s or 105 f2 dc af on D7100, depending on whether a single sitter, group or the required crop.
  7. I'm an FX shooter, but I'll apply a conversion factor and try to help...

    Given that you've already got a 50mm, I think you're very wise to consider the 85mm f/1.8 AF-S. It's very sharp (as is the AF-D), but has much better bokeh than its predecessor. Before this lens came out, I got a Samyang 85mm f/1.4 manual focus lens - it's very good, but these days I'd take the f/1.8 AF-S for the convenience. (I don't consider either Sigma or Nikon's 85mm f/1.4 lenses to be worth the premium.) On DX, an 85mm lens is good for an upper body/head shot, similar to 135mm on FX. I used to use a 135 f/2 DC for this on my camera, but LoCA problems mean I now tend to use a 200 f/2 or a 150 f/2.8 Sigma, both of which are arguably a little longer than I'd really like - though if I win a lottery then I'll look at the Zeiss 135 f/2.

    Another option is to see whether you can kill two birds with one stone and get a macro in the 90-105mm range. f/2.8 won't give you the subject separation of an f/1.8 or f/1.4 lens, but if you want the whole head in focus anyway you may not care. The older Tamron 90mm is very close to 85mm focal length (its replacement is a better lens but much more expensive); the 100mm Sigma or 105mm Nikkor are also good portrait lenses, and if you want an extreme close-up, they'll perform where the more dedicated portrait lenses don't. You might also consider the Nikkor 105mm f/2 DC, since not every user of a DC lens seems to have had my colour fringing issues.

    There are a few manual focus classics to consider in the 100mm+ range as well. Or you could encompass the whole lot and, if f/2.8 is enough for you at the short end, get a 70-200 VR (or an 80-200 f/2.8 AF-S). Though not very cheaply.

    But your first choice of an 85 f/1.8 makes a lot of sense. I may get one myself at some point.

    If you're using it for portraits and the bokeh matters to you, you might also look into replacing your AF-D 50mm with the AF-S version.
  8. Very pleased with the bokeh, and it is very good at achieving shallow depth of field for subject separation. I see no issues at all with the D other than no af-s, and I imagine the G to be even better.
  9. i'd consider the tamron 60/2 macro as a portrait shooter for DX. 85 might be a bit long.
  10. I only shoot DX, and of course portraits can really be taken with any length lens, but we've discussed that at depth here.
    My personal favorite for such stuff like you're alluding to is my 85mm 1.8 AF which I've had and used for years. I think the
    60mm is interesting too, but different and I don't own one to add further.
  11. Re. the bokeh of the AF-D, I recommend a look at Photozone.de's review of the lenses, which include some examples that show bokeh. Their conclusion is that foreground bokeh is smooth, but background bokeh is nervous, and their sample images seem to back this up; I've generally heard the same of the f/1.8 AF-D. Of course, with the right subject you may not see this, and it gets better on stopping down. I tend to use wide apertures mostly to get rid of an unfavourable background, so I'd find the AF-S, which appears to be better behaved on background bokeh, to be more tempting. There's no doubt that the distinction is subtle.

    Eric: My experience of discussions of portrait lenses is that the ranges which tend to be discussed are around 85mm (in FX terms) for including most of the subject; around 135mm for covering head-and-shoulders, and around 105mm for the middle ground. While an 85mm lens used on DX (128mm equivalent) is at the longer end of "portrait", it's not unreasonably so. It's true that the first choice for a portrait lens is typically the 85mm equivalent, which would tally with the 60mm Tamron suggestion. However, since Chris already has a 50mm f/1.8, I'm not sure that the difference between 50mm and 60mm is enough that it would be my first choice here - an 85mm is a better complement. It's a perfectly good alternative to upgrading to the AF-S version of the 50mm f/1.8, though, especially since a 50mm is a bit short of the 85mm FX "ideal" for portraits. Canon users with a 1.6x crop have less of a problem here (50mm -> 80mm, 85mm -> 135mm); I'm not sure whether that was design by Canon or luck.
  12. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I have never used the Tamron lens, but as Eric points out, a 60mm/f2 should make a good portrait lens for DX. I still
    wonder why Nikon makes no dedicated portrait lens for DX.
  13. Chris, how much have you used your 50mm at wide f stops. I've been using DX for a number of years now and I really like the 50 at f 2.5 or so for head and shoulders. Bokeh is dependent on background features and I have no problem with the lowly 50mm 1.8 AF lens. I don't have an 85 but I do have a beautiful version of the 105 Sonnar f 2.5, which I can use if I want the longer lens effect. Truly, the 50 for me is handy because it is light and fast and easy to use with kids or candid situations. I just got a D7100 with the 18-105, which I have been using for candid portraits. I have enjoyed this lens a lot. It is fast, and sharp even at 105mm, which does give some nice out of focus backgrounds. I highly recommend the D7100! 6000x4000 pixel image size is great to work with. Closest thing to film I've used so far in digital. Please peruse my people folders for examples of what I'm talking about.
  14. Here's an example using the 50mm 1.8 AF lens at f2.5. The background was pretty far away, so it is nicely out of focus. Pretty much a straight shot in late evening light with the D80.
  15. Another example with the same lens and settings. Bokeh is a little more harsh here, but OK IMO.
  16. Here's your 18-105 on the D7100, at 105mm, f 5.6. I think the bokeh here is smooth, even though in this shot it is more distracting (candid shot). I would play around more with the lenses you have before purchasing another lens!
  17. The Nikon or Tamron 60mm f2.8 lenses are a solid choice. If I were going for an 85mm, it would definitely be the Sigma 85mm f1.4. I think the 60mm would be more versatile though.
    Kent in SD
  18. it


    135mm is nice, but so is 35mm
    both 135
  19. @andrew, i dont know why, but i almost never use my 85 on DX. it just seems 'right' with FX. for DX portraits, i typically use the 70-200, 50-150 or 28-75, depending on what i'm shooting. each gives me a variety of perspective shots with excellent optical quality. for the OP, if you like a more environmental portrait, you might want to consider the sigma 18-35/1.8 as well.
  20. Eric: For environmental framing, 85mm equivalent (~60mm on DX) is very good. I shoot a lot of candids, so while I use the 85mm (possibly less than I would if I had an AF version) I'm quite often shooting much longer to isolate the subject - though 135mm was usually enough, it's my 150 and 200mm that get used now. I'm rarely in an environment as picturesque as Ian's shots, though! (When I am, that's why I got a 70-200: so I can choose my framing and keep some depth of field control.) If I engaged more with my subjects, or if I wanted more framing, I'd probably make more of the shorter length. Back to the old "there's no such thing as a portrait focal length" argument!
  21. I liked 85 on DX, and also frequently used a 105mm for more candid portraits (on FX I firmly prefer the 105mm lens). I find 50mm too short for headshots on DX, also giving a perspective that's just not as flattering as longer lenses.
    But as others noticed, there are many different types of portraits... Just commenting for head-only as the examples of Steve.
  22. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I am afraid that this sample from Steve Murray shows why the 50mm is not as desirable as a portrait lens on DX. 50mm is a little short so that you are forced to get closer to the subject than what I would considered to be "ideal." As a result, the face looks a bit distorted and the girl's cheeks look wide (although I have no idea how that girl really looks like).
    With a 50mm lens on DX, you need to stay farther away to get the "right" perspective, and you would be including a little more from the upper body. That is why I feel that a 60mm would be a better portrait lens on DX. Again, I am puzzled why Nikon does not provide a 60mm/f1.8, which does not need to be a DX lens itself, as a portrait lens for DX. People has been asking for portrait lenses for DX for years. Instead, people need to compromise with a 50mm/f1.8 or a 85mm, which is a bit long. Macro lenses tend to be too sharp for portrait and Nikon's own 60mm/f2.8 is on the slow side, although it is great for macro.
  23. I shoot 95% portraiture on DX, and my current kit is a 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8 G lenses. While the 85 can feel a touch long at times, I find the 50 too short for headshots. And while you can normally step back, the distortion from the 50 is not easily fixable. A fast 70 would probably work well.
    But to answer your question the 85mm f/1.8 G is a stunning lens, and well worth investing in.
  24. Thanks for your thoughts everyone. Lovely pictures Steve and Ian; thanks for sharing :)
    I have had some success with the 50mm f/1.8D; example here, but I'm not entirely comfortable with: the bokeh; performance wide open; and working distance. I tend to avoid using it and reach for the 35mm whenever I can (which obviously isn't best suited for head/shoulders). I guess I'm searching for something better than the 50mm on a limited budget.
    In my film days I loved "picking people off" at events with the long end of my 70-210 - background thrown acceptably out of focus even at f/5.6 (yummy!). Unfortunately this lens is very poor on my D90 and the long end of the 18-105 just isn't doing do it for me (bokeh & focus drop off).
    To replicate that look, I probably need to go be working at f/4 or below, but can't really stretch to an f/2.8 zoom at the moment. Besides, I do genuinely prefer primes.
    I'm pleased to see several of you are very happy with your 85mm, so I think I'll go with that; but not until I've also taken a close look at the portrait performance of the longer macro lenses (thanks Andrew). Macro is another big gap in my current lens line up.
    The DC lenses as well as older manual focus lenses usually come up in these threads. Are they really that good? I might look out for something in that vein on in the second hand market too.
    Once again, thanks for all the input. Much appreciated.
  25. If I'm outside, I like around 105 for a portrait (yes, on DX), if inside, the only thing that I've been amble to make work is a 50.
    There is a Voigtlander 58 out there, I hear good things about it.
  26. Sorry but I don't see distortion in the blonde girl's face as shot by Steve with the 50mm. Shorter working distance might be a drawback, though.
  27. Like C, I don't see distortion as such in that (charming) picture but rather the perspective of a viewer who is quite close to the child's face. That perspective works well for pictures of little kids since we often interact with them at close range.
  28. Most of my portraits are indoors; I use the 50 on DX. Love the shots posted above, especially Steve's first one (B&W). When I'd rather have a 60 instead of the 50, I just crop.
    I like the 50 f/1.8 G better than the 1.8 D.
    Chris, the equivalent of your 200mm shot at f/5.6 would be 135mm at f/4 on DX. That makes a 105 or 135 manual focus lens sound pretty interesting.
  29. Actually, I cannot see any distortion either. This is what she looks like! I think 60mm would be a great lens too, but honestly, I don't think you would be able to tell the difference in a lot of shots. My other shot of the red head girl was done exactly the same way. The OP could experiment with his 18-105 and shoot at different focal lengths to gain some idea of what he would like, then go after a lens with wider aperture if he so desires. I used a 50mm in many portraits with film on FF cameras with no problem back in the day. Here's a shot of a child using a 35mm lens for comparison, just to play Devil's Advocate.
  30. I really don't see any distortion here either, even though its a 35 mm lens. I think the thing you get from longer lenses is, of course, more out of focus backgrounds. I find that on DX the longer lenses you have to watch for the flattening and widening of faces, which I find more objectionable.
  31. Chris, I think your example is very nice! I guess I like closer working distances when possible, so that's another reason I like shorter focal length lenses for portraits. We each have our own preferences though!
  32. There's no way to see the "distortion" Shun speaks of unless you shoot the same face at both 35mm and, say, 85mm to compare.
    Then, I think you'd see it.
  33. There is a Voigtlander 58 out there, I hear good things about it.​
    i was going to recommend this, until i read that the OP has a d90. the CV 58/1.4 is a manual focus lens, and the D90 is not as capable at manual-focusing as higher-end Nikons. i'm not sure if the d7100's superior AF also has the focus-dot confirmation arrows as the D3/d700 series.
    interestingly, Fuji has announced a 58/1.4 for its X-mount cameras which will be AF. so shun's point about nikon not serving DX users with what would seem to be an essential focal length for DX portraits is spot-on, and somewhat puzzling. while there would be little use for a 60/1.8 FX lens, nikon could easily make a 60/1.8 DX lens at a lower cost for DX users.which brings me back to the tamron 60/2 recommendation -- this seems like a versatile piece o' kit, since its both a portrait and a macro lens, and has a fast aperture, making it more useful for blurred backgrounds on DX than a 60/2.8. incidentally, i almost never shoot DX portraits with my 50/1.4, which always feels a little too short. i much prefer 50 on FX.
  34. D90 has live view, making manual focus a snap for this kind of thing in my experience, unless you are shooting totally wide open, when you'll have issues with anything but the person who stands totally still.
    that said, that Fuji is one of the many reasons I am sorely tempted to switch to their system.
  35. Eric, the Voigtlander 58mm 1.4 is a manual focus lens with CPU, so it does work the meter on a D90. (I have the lens and have used the combination.)
    On DX the 58 is a great portrait lens, IF you're comfortable with manual focus on a DX camera. Personally I find it difficult. I like the lens on a mirrorless with focus peaking or a film or FX camera but haven't been able to get good results at large apertures on a DX SLR without resorting to live view and magnification, which isn't ergonomically so great if shooting handheld.
  36. Oh, also, the proposed Fuji lens is a 56/1.2 (which is a nice bump up from the initial announcement but probably brings the price up).
    Also, as others suggested, there's no one "portrait" focal length - it depends on what you're doing and what you want it to look like. Not all portraits are very traditional head-and-shoulders shots.
  37. D90 has live view, making manual focus a snap for this kind of thing​
    i dont really find live view practical for shooting things that aren't perfectly still, like static landscapes. wouldnt be my first choice for low-light candids, which is when you'd typically want a fast prime, but YMMV. and while the 58/1.4 will meter on a D90, the d90 doesnt have the focus-confirmation arrows which make precise MFing easier. i would tend to think that Andy's experience would be common. too bad, because the 58/1.4 makes more sense as a DX lens, but the implementation of manual focusing is much better on FX. for FX shooters, the CV 40/2 pancake makes more sense; 58mm is kind of an odd focal length for FX.
  38. Perspective distortion comes from the perspective, not the lens.
    The perspective depends on the camera to subject distance and nothing else. Nose will be look bigger because it's closer to the camera. How much bigger is relative to how close you are.
    It's the same thing without a camera except that our brain tricks us into not seeing it as obviously as we would when looking at a photo.
    Focal length is just magnification. A 50mm lens magnifies the image roughly twice as much as a 24mm lens does.
    I shot a lot of tight head and shoulders portraits with 105mm f2.5 on DX. That gives a decent subject distance (about 6 ft or so) so it looks good. Using the same lens shooting full length portraits would mean an much increased subject distance and the perspective would look totally different.
    If I wanted to keep the same 6ft subject distance and shoot a full length shot I'd have to go to a 20-24mm lens. Again a totally different look due to the change in perspective.
    I suggest having a look at flickr or somewhere else where the exif information is available. Most people who love creamy backgrounds shoot full frame, use f1.4 or f1.2 lenses and some use exotics stuff like 200mm f2. But browse through these to find images you like and then check what gear was used.
    I'll add that usually portraits in a studio using strobes is not shot wide open but rather stopped down to get enough DOF. Having large aperture lenses would not be so important in that situation.
  39. I use the CV 58mm f1.4 and most of the high end Nikons have focus confirmation, the lens
    is a type P lens, so its chipped. I also have the 105mm VR AFS macro between the two
    you can get what you want. Oh I forgot I have the 85mm f1.4 D its about 128mm efl
    on DX so you can do portaits 58 mm (87mm efl); 85mm (127mm efl;or 105mm about(165mm) efl
    something for everyone. I only carry the 58 and 105, the 85 is sometimes used for occasional
    film camera use. The 58 is a nicely made small lens and sharp with nice colors.
    Originally it was designed for the Topcon camera.
    Portrait many people like to use their AF cameras in MF especially on a posed subject.
    Using Leicas for many years and a Pentax 6x7 I never missed AF for portrait photos,
    AF is no big deal for that or landscapes.
  40. There are lots of different types of portraiture (I like close-ups with wides, personally, like the 35 example above). The OP has the 50 though and seems to be looking for something longer with narrow depth of field (somewhat large maximum aperture) and good bokeh.
    The 85 is a good choice if that focal length works. The simple way for him to figure that out is to practice taking portraits and see which FL range comes up most often. Tip: whatever program you're using should be able to show which focal length is used for each photo - so go back to the portraits you like and see which ones correspond (ignore the backgrounds for these purposes, just look at which get used most often for those that 'feel right' in normal working conditions). Try to get a lens that is closest.
  41. I use the CV 58mm f1.4 and most of the high end Nikons have focus confirmation​
    the d90 is not a high-end nikon, so the OP would have to upgrade the body to make the most of this lens. that's what i was getting at earlier.
  42. The D90 does have focus confirm. All the DSLRs - from the last several years at least - do. But on the lower models (D90 included) there is "play" in the AF confirm dot's tolerances that makes focus at large apertures difficult, and the small finder isn't much help.
  43. As an aside, some low end models (since, I believe the D60) do have the ability to set the exposure indicator to appear as a precise digital rangefinder (in the setup menu); the D3200 can still do this, though I've not checked the full range. This functionality seems to be missing from the D90, and it's certainly missing from the high-end models I own (D700, D800) even though I'd actually find it useful. The three-segment AF found in the high-end models (including the D7100 but not the D300 or D300s, interestingly) is helpful for speed, but not necessarily for everything - it won't tell you how far off you are. It's unfortunate that the D90 lacks either solution. But then I still have envy of Canon's A-DEP "light up all the sensors in MF mode" solution.

    It's been observed as part of attempts to calibrate lenses that the AF confirmation light on at least some Nikons is appreciably more sloppy in manual focus mode than if you use AF mode with focus-on-AF button. Not that this will help much with a manual focus lens (except an after-market chipped one, the only kind that will trap focus on a D800, not that I'm bitter) but I mention it in case it helps out.
  44. the whole point of shooting portraits with a fast prime is to be able to get subject isolation and shallow DoF/bokeh. at wide apertures, focus accuracy is critical. if you aim for the eyes but get the nose instead, your composition might not be as good. that's why AF is useful to have on those lenses, and also why i initially recommended the Tamron 60/2 over the CV 58/1.4. the tamron isnt as sexy, nor well-built, but i'd rather have a sexy model in perfect focus than a sexy lens which has focus accuracy issues. YMMV.
    ideally, nikon would adopt focus peaking as Sony does on the NEX, but then that's probably a feature which requires a full-time live view or an EVF, which makes more sense for mirrorless cameras. if you have a lot of MF lenses, the Sony NEX makes a lot of sense for that reason.
  45. I almost bought an 85mm lens for DX but when I tried it out, it seemed so similar to my 105 I chose not to buy it. Like the 85, the 105 is a nice portrait focal length as well. My example here is an older manual focus Sonnar f2.5 version (AI'd).

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