Nikon D800, Nikkor 105 mm F 2.8 lens.
We are told that the key to making a good composition is to pick the “right” lens and decide where to place it and the camera in relation to the subject.
It quite true that you can fill the frame with a portrait and make the head size the same dimension in the frame regardless of the lens focal length used. Even though this is true, there may be a better choice for selecting one focal length over another. Let’s evaluate a few images all made at the same spot:
This image on the left is made with a 20mm Wide Angle lens. It is quite obvious the face is distorted by the wide angle. In addition, the lens was just over one foot from this lady’s nose- quite uncomfortable for the subject.
This image on the right is made with a “portrait” lens, a fast 60mm F2.8 prime. It still is a bit wide and the lens to subject distance is still quite uncomfortable. With these two lenses the background is more defined that desirable.
The left image (above) is made with a fast 85 mm, F1.8 prime. It is beginning to look better. There is more comfort with the subject. Yet, the background is still somewhat more defined than desired.
The image on the right is a prime 105 mm F 2.8 lens. The working distance is very comfortable, the background becoming soft and there is little distortion of the subject’s face.
The next pair of images (below) are made with focal lengths in the telephoto range. They look much better than those above.
Camera: Nikon D800. Nikkor lenses: 20mm F2.8, 60mm F2.8, 85mm F1.8, 135mm F2.8, and 70-200 F2.8 zoom.
The left image is a 135mm F2.8 prime and the right, a 200mm F2.8 zoom . Both of these lenses produced good frame-filling head shots with pleasing facial features and nicely softened backgrounds. All images are made on a full frame Nikon D800 digital SLR at an aperture of F3.5.
So, in my book you can’t beat the image quality and feeling with the two telephoto lenses. For years and years, the choice for portraits on full frame cameras has been the 105 mm lens, regardless of whether shooting on film or in digital. We can now understand why.
So, the concept of a “portrait” lens for digital is a little misleading. The 50mm F1.4 is and always has been a great choice for editorial portraiture. This is because of the ability to better manage the Depth of Field and to tell a story, not for its focal length. For many this lens is simply just too short to use for pleasing head shots.
However, with a full frame 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera, the 50mm acts much more like a 75mm in its angle of view and because you may be a bit further back.
Still it’s hard to beat the longer lenses. The advantages are many. You may fill the frame further from the subject, reducing distortion and improving a soft bokeh and shallow Depth of Field in the background. The narrow angle of view allows a small “slice of life” to be made, eliminating many background distractions. Additionally, if you are shooting with lights or lighting modifiers, you have more working room if further back.
Copyright © 2016 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.