You might already know that an 85mm lens is just about the ideal focal length for shooting portraits—if you’re using a full-frame camera. The 105mm is also a good focal length to shoot portraits with, as is the 135mm. The longer the focal length, the more compressed and therefore realistic your portraits appear to be. On the other hand, the shorter the focal length the more distorted and therefore weirder your portrait images tend to look. Radhakrishanan Chakyat elaborates:
To make the comparison, Radhakrishanan shot all the images in a controlled studio environment. A parabolic softbox fired the required amount of light from camera right. He used a remote trigger to fire the light.
Here are his results:
As you can see the distortion speaks for itself. This is definitely not a lens any portrait photographer will want to shoot with. At least not standing three feet from a model.
With the 18mm lens, things improve a bit. But you still can’t use this lens for portraiture. No way.
With the 20mm again there is a slight improvement in the quality of the image, in terms of suppression of distortion. But the results are still nowhere near the mark. As a portrait photographer, you wouldn’t want to shoot with this lens either.
This is the 24mm. Still not quiet there.
Things are looking a little better now. But still not the best portrait length.
Yes! Finally, with the 50mm prime we start looking at realistic results.
Anything longer than 50mm makes things look even better. The 85mm, for example, produces pretty flattering results.
Anything above 85mm is considered as a telephoto lens. These lenses essentially compress a subject rather than distort, as wide angle (and ultra-wide angle) lenses tend to do. So, when you move from 85mm to 105mm and beyond, the image gets really compressed.
Notice there isn’t much of a difference between the results at 135mm and 200mm.
It is safe to say that anything from 85mm and beyond is a great lens for shooting portraits. What’s your choice?
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