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