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Thread: Nikon Lens for portraits

  1. #1
    epmi314's Avatar
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    Nikon Lens for portraits

    I have found myself in a total rut lately so I have decided to embark on a themed project. Some of the shots will be portraits hence the questions today. I would love to spend a small fortune on lighting but will attempt some of the DIY options first. I currently have the 18-55 mm kit lens along with the AF-S DX Micro-NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G (1:1 max reproduction). I'm looking to pick up a new lens for my endeavor and have narrowed it to the four options listed below. Shooting in low light is an important consideration but not necessarily my first priority. I have the Nikon D5000 which is a DX body.

    AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G $485 US
    Fastest but most expensive. Great reviews.

    AF-S DX Micro-NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G (1:1 max reproduction) $280 US
    Not as good in low light but having another Micro lens would be nice.
    Could it serve a nice dual purpose for Macro shots and portraits?


    AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G $219 US
    This new introduction from Nikon has received great reviews for portraits.

    AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G $200 US
    Again great reviews. 35mm DX v. 50mm FX???

    Any Nikoneers have experience with these lenses for portraiture?
    No need to get into scientific discussion on crop factor or FOV with an FX lens vs. a DX lens on a DX body per se, but your general thoughts on the matter are most welcomed.

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    Re: Nikon Lens for portraits

    Hi Ann

    I don't know about the FX 50mm 1.8, but the DX 50mm 1.8 is a great lens and it got better reviews than the DX 1.4.

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    Re: Nikon Lens for portraits

    I am not a Nikon guy but, a lens, is a lens, is a lens.....

    If I were in your position I would shoot portraits with your 85mm Micro Nikkor. None of the other lenses you mention are, IMO, long enough for head and shoulders portraits.

    If 85mm is too long for the area in which you shoot your portraits, I would choose another area. IMO, 50mm, although a lot of folks use it, is a bit too short for head and shoulders portraiture and the other focal lengths you mentioned are far too short.

    In actuality, my favorite focal length for portrait work is 70-200mm which Nikon supplies along with Canon.

    Additionally, I don't think you need a super-wide aperture providing razor thin DOF for portraiture. It bothers me when the tip of the nose is OOF and the eyes in focus. I also absolutely hate one eye in focus and the other OOF in a 3/4 view.
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 4th November 2011 at 12:22 AM.

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    Re: Nikon Lens for portraits

    Quote Originally Posted by rpcrowe View Post
    In actuality, my favorite focal length for portrait work is 70-200mm which Nikon supplies along with Canon.
    My favourite length portrait lens as well.

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    epmi314's Avatar
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    Re: Nikon Lens for portraits

    Thank you Natalie, Richard and Colin! I also have a 55-200mm Nikkor lens but it only gets down to 4.5f. Originally, I purchased the 85mm as a lens that could serve for macro and portraits. Perhaps I shoud run with what I have, save the money on a lens and spend gads on lighting!

  6. #6
    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: Nikon Lens for portraits

    One seldom mentioned attribute of a portrait lens is the quality of its bokeh (the subjective quality of the out of focus areas of an image). IMO "busy" or "ragged" bokeh can often attract intrest away from the subject and concentrate it on the background. The winner of the "BAD BOKEH" contest is a mirror lens which produces donut shaped highlights all over the OOF areas of the image.

    The Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS and new 70-200mm f/2.8L IS ii lenses have rounded aperture blades which provide a very smooth bokeh. I have just learned that your Micro Nikkor also has a diaphram with 9-rounded blades. Although I have not seen the bokeh produced by this lens, I would guess that it is probably quite smooth which is a plus for portraiture...

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    epmi314's Avatar
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    Re: Nikon Lens for portraits

    Richard, you are correct in that the bokeh of the 85mm lens is buttery. I've included an image. While not the best of photos, the cattails in the background were only a matter of inches away and they came out pretty good IMHO.

    Nikon Lens for portraits

    Thanks again for your input. Frankly, it has probably saved me a few bucks... or reallocated it to lighting.

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    Re: Nikon Lens for portraits

    Quote Originally Posted by epmi314 View Post
    Thank you Natalie, Richard and Colin! I also have a 55-200mm Nikkor lens but it only gets down to 4.5f. Originally, I purchased the 85mm as a lens that could serve for macro and portraits. Perhaps I shoud run with what I have, save the money on a lens and spend gads on lighting!
    F4.5 will be just fine. I often shoot at F2.8, but it bites me in the bum a lot of the time (eg one eye in focus, one out of focus etc) - so F4 is probably far more sensible anyway, and F4.5 is "close enough".

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    Re: Nikon Lens for portraits

    I have shot quite a few portraits with my 85mm Micro Nikkor and the results are fantastic. I don't know all of the technical mumbo jumbo but I do know that I get a good degree of subject separation at f3.5 and when I get it right the results are sharp as a tack.

    The only other lens in my bag is the DX 35mm f1.8. Some people may say this is too short for portraits but when photographing my 2 yr old I get excellent results with it. The DOF is super shallow but again, when I nail it the results are tack sharp, and this is a very inexpensive lens.

  10. #10
    Black Pearl's Avatar
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    Re: Nikon Lens for portraits

    Firstly the older 50mm will not auto focus on your D5000, also while its good its not great (it certainly isn't better than the f1.4....not by a million miles) so for the longer option I'd go with the new AF-S 50mm f1.8 as the overall performance is significantly improved - plus you'll get AF.

    Personally I'd go with the AF-S 35mm f1.8 - I have both and rarely use the 50mm now preferring the shorter lens as it then gives you the traditional "nifty fifty" on your cropped DX sensor.

  11. #11
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    What is a portrait!

    There are many definitions of the word "portrait" but most of them include that a portrait is a recognizable representation of a person or animal.

    Portraits can be classified in different ways, environmantal portrait showing the subject(s) in relation to the surroundings, group portrait showing two or more people or animals, full length portrait, 3/4 length portrait, etc. However IMO when the term portrait is used without an adjective such as "environmental" to modify the term; I usually consider this as meaning a head and shoulders image. This seems (I may be wrong) to be the consensus among photographers.

    Different type portraits will be shot from varying distances and with varying focal lengths. I have seen "environmental" portraits shot with virtually any focal length lens but, they are usually shot with wider lenses; sometimes even fish eye lenses.

    However, IMO, head and shoulder portraits are better shot for a distance using a longer lens. I tend to use 100mm and longer on my 1.6x cameras because, again IMO, the greater distances using longer focal length lenses are more flattering. Before I obtained my 70-200mm lens which I dearly love for portraits, my favorite portrait lens was the 90mm f/2.8 Tamron AF SP Macro. However, the 70-200mm lens gives me greater flexibility in framing my subject. I am quite sensitive to the nuances of distortion when a head and shoulders image is shot from a relatively close distance with a wider lens. That is why I will always grab my 70-200mm f/4L IS lens for any head and shoulders portrait session.

  12. #12
    Mark von Kanel's Avatar
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    Re: What is a portrait!

    The nikon 70 - 200 2.8 is $2400!!! use your 85mm and buy some lighting!

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    epmi314's Avatar
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    Re: What is a portrait!

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark von Kanel View Post
    The nikon 70 - 200 2.8 is $2400!!! use your 85mm and buy some lighting!
    Agreed!

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    Re: What is a portrait!

    Don't use anything shorter than 50mm on a DX. You will suffer from distortion (big noses etc.) If you've got the 85mm I would favour that as long as you've got the room to get far enough back. Get some studio flash units. They're not as easy to control as 'hot lights' but they will allow you to work at f8 and f11, which is a good aperture for 3/4 portraits, plus you won't get the dilated pupils. Watch out for the catch-lights in the eyes though, you can get umbrella reflections which are not necessarily attractive.

  15. #15
    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: What is a portrait!

    I agree with Mark. "use your 85mm and buy some lighting!

    However, I am fortunate in that the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens is half the price of the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS ii or Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses and it is 2/3 the weight and a smaller physical size than the Canon f/2.8L (series lenses).

    I chose the f/4L IS because I can carry this lens and an extra 1.6x camera at the weight of the f/2.8L (series) lens alone. It is my favorite of all my lenses for image quality and it is matched up against some pretty good glass...

    Chris... I agree with your thoughts regarding getting studio strobes. However, IMO, studio strobes, by virtue of their modeling lights, are as easy to control as hot lights. It is only when you are shooting with jury-rigged hotshoe flashes that you are shooting virtually blind. Yes, I know that Canon touts their stroboscopic flash effect as a substitute for a modeling light but, it really isn't any nearly as good...
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 5th November 2011 at 11:29 PM.

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