Most budding photographers face the challenge of choosing the ideal portrait lens. However, there is no simple and universal answer to this question as your choice of the best lenses for shooting portraits will depend on how much money you are going to spend, personal preferences and the make of camera. Plus, you should take into account sensor size and focal length to make it right. So in this article we will focus on key things you should consider when choosing the ideal portrait lens.
1. Use The Lens You Already Have
The chances are that you may have a lens that can work very well but you haven't used it to take portraits. Consider trying a 50mm prime, a 100mm macro lens or a 70-300mm zoom, which are really good for taking portraits. You can also make quite decent portraits even with your kit lens.
2. Decide Whether You Need a Zoom Lens or a Prime
Many photographers who specialize in shooting portraits opt for prime lenses because they have wider maximum aperture compared to a zoom lens featuring the same focal length. This feature enables the photographers to create images with shallow depth-of-field, which is a popular technique widely used in portraits. Plus it performs great in low light, and allows for faster shutter speeds or lower ISO compared to a zoom with a smaller maximum aperture. In addition, prime lenses ensure superior image quality. Since prime lenses typically feature fewer elements than zooms, they are capable of producing sharper images that are characterized by more contrast and less lens flare. If staying on a budget is important to you opt for an affordable prime that will ensure better image quality instead of a more affordable zoom.
3. Set The Budget
Of course, good quality lenses are not cheap. For example, there are four models of Canon's 50mm lens with the prices that range from around $110 to $1600. So your budget is going to impact your shopping decision anyway.
If you decide to purchase more costly lenses you can expect to get sharper images with less flare. Not only is their construction quality better, but they might feature better or quieter autofocus mechanisms and can even be weatherproofed. It should be noted that the difference in image quality produced by expensive and affordable zoom lenses is typically much bigger than it is between high cost and cheap prime lenses.
Keep in mind that high quality lenses are quite heavy as they are normally made of metal rather than plastic. However, good camera lenses make a sound investment as they are going to last for decades.
4. Figure Out What Focal Lengths You Need
The size of your camera's sensor will determine this. There are four categories of lenses, so first of all you need to figure out what category of lens you prefer, and whether you want a prime lens or a zoom.
These are the best choice if you are going to take environmental portraits that will require you to keep some distance from the subject and include the surroundings. Such lenses are not suitable for close-up portraits because the subject becomes distorted.
A normal lens has a focal length of about 50mm on a full-frame camera (and about 35mm on an APS-C camera, or 25mm on a Micro four-thirds camera). These lenses are known to give a perspective which is very close to that of the human eye. Normal lenses are not bad for shooting close-up portraits, though the images produced are not free of some distortion.
Short Telephoto Lenses
Often referred to as portrait lenses short telephoto lenses are the perfect focal length for taking portraits. They are just ideal for both close ups and environmental photos. The prime short telephoto lens offers the additional benefit of wide apertures, plus they are rather affordable. An 85mm prime lens is great for taking portraits and for an APS-C camera a 50mm prime lens is the best choice.
Many professional fashion and portrait photographers prefer these lenses because of the compressed perspective. Plus telephoto lenses can isolate the model from the background. The disadvantage of such lenses is their high cost, especially those that come with a wide maximum aperture. They are also much heavier.
Selecting a Focal Length
If you can't make up your mind which focal lengths you like most consider searching for portraits you like most. Then examine these portraits carefully and try to figure out why you found them really special. Think whether they have some common themes and determine which focal lengths have been used to take them. Other things to consider include whether they are black and white or color photos, close-ups or environmental portraits, whether the photographer used natural light or flash. You will also need to know whether the photographers used wide apertures for shallow depth-of-field. The answers to these questions will help you choose the right lens.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 prime lens is definitely the best pick for taking portraits. Canon EF 40mm f2.8 pancake lens ( a moderate wide-angle) is a good lens for a full-frame camera, as well as Canon EF 50mm f1.4 or EF 17-40mm f/4L zoom. Still many photographers prefer primes over zooms because of the better image quality and the wider maximum apertures.
"Buying Nikon doesn't make you a photographer. It makes you the owner of a Nikon"
— Unknown Author