articles for photographers

Choosing a lens for portrait photography

Lens selection - a delicate and individual matter. Before, many years ago, I used to go to photoshoot с Canon 24-70 f2.8L USM и Canon 70-200 f4L USM with you in your bag. These are two quality lenses. They are very good. But for creative photo shoots it is better to use fixes. Now I mainly shoot with Canon 85mm f1.8 USM... It gives a better picture than those two L-series lenses. It is more compact and cheaper. But Canon 85 1.8 is not the final version either. There are also cheaper lenses that give decent results. And there are more expensive ones that also have their own advantages.

К portrait lens certain requirements are imposed, depending on the specifics and style of the photographer's work. In addition to the price and quality of the image, I consider the convenience of use and transportation important for myself. Some may not be embarrassed to use the Canon 70-200 f2.8L II. I don’t want to deal with such a lens in principle. And, first of all, not even because of its price, but because of its weight and dimensions. This is a hefty white tube that attracts unnecessary attention of strangers, weighing 1,5 kg and standing like a complete set of fixes for all occasions (giving the best picture). I have been quite similar with its younger sibling 70-200 f4L and am now happy to use more compact and lighter lenses.

Regarding the choice of focal length for a portrait lens, I find the ideal range from 70 to 200mm (50mm is a stretch, not for all situations). Portraits can also be shot on high-aperture lens 35mm, and even on 14mm... But these are not classic portrait lenses and their use is limited.

I made a comparison plate of portrait lenses that I had experience with, according to the parameters PRICE - QUALITY - CONVENIENCE.

portrait lens comparison table


Helios 81Has a portrait lens, I would give a solid four. The picture quality is pleasing, the bokeh is very pleasant, there are only two "buts": lame color rendition and fear of backlight.

Cons: manual focus, 50mm not ideal for portraits.

Pros: price, bokeh, sizes. Nikon camera owners will appreciate the fact that they do not need to buy an adapter for it.

Canon EF 85mm f1.8 USM Is my workhorse. In this lens I am 100% confident. The price / quality / convenience ratio is the best of all portrait lenses I have tested. Rating: 5.

Minus: it is more expensive than Soviet manual lenses, which also give a good picture

Pros: It is inexpensive compared to other Canon portrait cameras (Canon 50 1.2L, Canon 85 f1.2L, Canon 135 f2L). It is comfortable and lightweight. It focuses quickly and accurately.

MC Jupiter 37a this is the second lens from this review that I would recommend buying. Mandatory MS version, tk. backlit work is important. Rating 4+, because it's still a manual lens.

Minus: Manual focusing complicates the shooting process, and such lenses always have a higher defect rate.

Pros: Pleases - image quality, size and price.

Canon EF 135mm f2L USM - cool lens. The red L-series ring alone is worth something! The image quality is beyond praise. There is nothing to find fault with. For fans of comparative tests and tablets, it is definitely recommended. In practice, the picture is difficult to distinguish from the Canon 85 1.8. In some specific conditions, it is better, but again for test lovers. Due to the high price, I give him 4+.

Cons: High price, not lightweight, not compact.

Pros: Image quality, fast autofocus, L series show-off.

Special mention is worth Sigma 50 1.4, I wrote about her in this article.


Other lenses from Canon for portrait photography

Canon EF 50mm f1.8... The cheapest fix from Canon is the reason they get it. Aperture 1.8 is not working. High-quality image from 2.8. Only a portrait lens is purchased for use at open apertures. 50mm with the aperture closed will slightly blur the background. The construct is terrible. I usually ignore this parameter. But taking this lens in your hands, you get the feeling that you are holding cheap plastic in your hands, which, in general, is true. One of my acquaintances' wife unsuccessfully took a camera (not by the body, but by the lens) and this Canon 50 1.8 crumbled in her hands. In general, I would not take it at all. Better to take a Soviet fix or save up for a good Canon fix.

Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM... This is a good fix. You can shoot portraits at f1.4. But 50mm isn't exactly a portrait focal length. Better to pay a little more and buy 85 1.8, which has f1.8 quite working. And the difference between a photo at 50mm and 85mm is significant. This lens can be taken as a multifunctional prime for all occasions. But for portraits, I recommend longer focal lengths.

Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM... Gorgeous lens. Everything is fine, if not for the price.

Canon EF 85mm f1.2L USM... Pros: ideal focal length, high aperture, excellent color rendering. Cons: Price $ 2000, weight 1 kg, slow autofocus. This lens is a case when big sacrifices have to be made for the sake of the picture.

Canon EF 200mm f2.8 USM... Everything is the same as 135mm, only an even less convenient focal length. In this focal length there is a plus in the form of more compression of the background. Who needs it - I advise. After all, it is also slightly cheaper than the 135 f2L.

From the Canon line, I also paid attention to fixes under mount FD... But with them there are difficulties with buying an adapter while maintaining the focus to infinity. And they are not as cheap as for old manual techniques.


Soviet portrait lenses.

Helios 40-2 85mm f1.5  - the legendary Soviet portrait painter. It is based on the German Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm f / 1.5 lens (1938). Its feature is super swirling bokeh and soft colors. Because of the bokeh, in general, all the excitement that raised the price of this Helios on average to 350 dollars... The price, in my opinion, is clearly overpriced (3 times). Why? The lens is very heavy (over 800 grams). Sharp only in the center of the frame. It is very difficult to focus on it (due to the high aperture ratio). He has poor enlightenment, he is afraid of backlight. Now I will formulate the whole thing: at the price of Canon 85 1.8, a heavy Helios 40-2 with difficult manual focusing, afraid of side light and not sharp at the edges, is sold. I would only justify such a purchase with an extra 350 dollars. This Helios gives a unique and interesting drawing, but it takes a lot of effort to make a good shot. Recommended for those who are ready to do anything for a distinctive brand image.

Helios 44-2 58mm f2... Has a softer pattern compared to Helios 81H. I chose a lens from various Soviet fifty rubles. I chose 81H for myself, because it gives a very high contrast and sharp picture. Helios 44-2 is cheaper and gives a more blurry pattern. What to choose is a matter of taste.

Jupiter 9 85mm f2... The optical design is once again borrowed from the German lens - Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 85mm f2.0. This, however, makes Soviet lenses attractive. Gives a nice drawing. It costs a little more than Jupiter 37A. Average sharpness. For a portrait photographer, this is not the most important thing, but it's worth keeping in mind. I didn't pay attention to it, because I already have a Canon lens with the same focal and aperture lens.

Tair 11A 135mm f2.8... Good lens. Only now it costs 2 times more than a similar Jupiter 37A. This is the main argument against him. The second argument: it weighs one and a half times more (600 grams versus 400).

Kaleinar 5M 100mm f2.8... Nicely blurs the background, gives a sharp picture and rich colors. It has only 6 aperture blades - I don't think it's important because on such lenses, the diaphragm does not need to be covered in principle. Becomes Nikon without adapters. It costs the same as Tair 11a.

The very fact that ancient Soviet lenses can be compared with modern lenses from renowned manufacturers speaks volumes. They are quite suitable for leisurely creative shooting. But before buying, you need to consider some of the nuances. In particular, I advise you to always take only the MC version with multi-coating and buy a hood (if not included). The fear of side light is the scourge of Soviet optics. This should be dealt with whenever possible. Prices for Soviet lenses fluctuate depending on demand. Some models can be overestimated, some underestimated. Most of them are no longer produced, so the market is left to itself.

A useful site for virtually touching different focal lengths:

Finally, a video about the ever-relevant and inexpensive portrait lens:

For any lenses, I recommend using Hoya protective filters... I personally don't carry caps with me, but I always wear a filter and a hood.

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