Portrait Lens

Occasionally (actually, frequently), on iStockphoto, or various other photography forums, people will ask “What’s the best lens for ______”.  Fill in the blank with your choice of “weddings”, “landscapes”, “portraits”, etc.  Most of the time, I don’t think these questions are easily answered as it depends on all kinds of other things – what kind of lighting we are dealing with, or the body/face type of the person, etc.  However, I thought I would throw out one suggestion for a portrait lens which is sold/marketed as a “macro” lens.

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I’ve had the Canon Telephoto EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Autofocus Lens for 5 years now.  I bought it for $469, and it looks like it has gone up $100 or so now.  At the time, I purchased it for its macro capabilities.  You can use it to get inches from your subject.   It’s a prime lens ( it doesn’t have the ability to zoom in and out ), which makes it great for achieving “sameness” across a series.  Here’s an image (not that close) shot with the lens.  This series was actually quite a pain.  The macro lens tends to have a very thin plane of focus when shooting close, and the ornament kept swinging on it’s string, in and out, ever so slightly.

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For portraits, I like using this lens, because when it locks focus, it is razor sharp.  I normally don’t shoot all the way open, as the focal area is so thin, if the person moves/breathes, you might miss.  I normally go around 3.5 or so.  Below is an unsharpened crop of an eye from a headshot session I did last week.  You can see all the detail you would want to.

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The other nice thing about this lens, is at 100mm, it gives a pretty nice depth compression to the face, flattening it just enough.  A wide angle lens, like a 35mm for example, would tend to exaggerate close features, like the nose, whereas a longer lens tends to keep everything at the same “size” if you will.  It’s the magic of perspective.  Here’s a page with some good examples.

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With this “macro” lens, you get a dual purpose lens.  Good for bugs on a leaf, and good for people shots!

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2 thoughts on Portrait Lens

  1. Sometimes, photographic taste changes faster than technology.
    A few decades ago, a “good portrait lens” was almost the exact opposite as the one you describe: soft, not too detailed, so that wrinkles and spots would easily disappear…

  2. nothing really new if you’ve been traditionally trained, as the 100/105mm is considered to be THE portrait lens. What is odd is the macro combo, as the glass is supposed to be formed differently to allow the lens to focus at v close distances. I was formally trained that macros are not good for portrait use and for a few years stuck to that, apart from make up shoots or anything requiring good detail, but lately i’ve been applying that “break the rules” philosophy and had lovely results with my 105mm macro (Nikon) and have started carrying it on all jobs. The tricky part is getting the aperture right, as it’s way different to how other lenses behave.

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