Portrait Lens Battle(85mm L 1.2 vs 70-200mm L IS 2.8)

Discussion in 'General Shop Talk' started by camz, Jul 29, 2009.

  1. camz

    camz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    So me and a buddy(also a fellow portrait photographer) had an argument which lens is better for portraits on a full frame. He says that the canon 70-200mm L IS 2.8 is the best because it covers a very flexible focal length of 85-135mm which is the standard focal length when it comes to portraiture(according to him..hehe). He says it also gives the best bokeh at 200mm.

    I on the other hand completely disagree. I love using the 85 because it is just way faster(1.2 vs 2.8). I rather have the flexibility in light control rather then the focal length. I haven't had issues with zooming with my legs before but I've definitely had issues with slower lenses. And my main counter argument on his focal length point is that digitally cropping the image can always solve the issue of zooming that the 85 prime does not have. And in regards to bokeh...I told him common nothing beats the 85 cream machine. Also the weight factor of the 70-200mm at >3lbs.

    So I was wondering what you guys used for your portrait work. Feel free to comment if there are other lenses besides the two I mentioned for portraiture. Nikon shooters are also welcome to discuss which is the best focal length or lens you use for portraits :D. I want to see what's out there.
     
  2. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Given the choice, I'd probably go for the 85mm L...for portraits. You called it the 'cream machine' and I totally agree. (never heard that one before, I'll have to remember it).

    That being said, it's one heck of an expensive lens. I own the 70-200mm F2.8 L IS because it's more versatile. Which really comes in handy for weddings, events, even wildlife or landscape shooting...and it still does a great job for portraits, just maybe not as good as the 85mm L...but it would be hard to shoot a wedding with the 85mm instead of my 70-200mm.
     
  3. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Well, I think the bokeh of the 85 f/1.2 Mark II is overrated. It throws things quite out of focus when shot at wide apertures, but there's also a pretty fair bit of greenish color fringing present in the out of focus areas, and even worse, there's a fairly high degree of double-lining, which is a bad bokeh characteristic. See this URL for a pretty good example of the type of double-lining Lloyd Chambers has found in two,different 85-L-Mark II samples.
    diglloyd.com blog: July/August 2006

    As little as I like pet names for lenses, the name Cream Machine is the name for Nikon's 85mm 1.4 AF-D,which has been on the market quite a while longer than the new Mark II Canon...until today I've never heard the name Cream Machine applied to a Canon lens,only the Nikkor 85mm 1.4 AFD. And I've only heard the name on the web, never in real life.

    I've seen quite a few 85-Mark II images shot at wide apertures on another forum. One of the biggest knocks against the 85 is how glacially slow its autofocusing is,and the manual focusing is that weird, disconnected-felling focus by wire technology. I don't own the 85 1.2L Mark II, but I do own a 70-200 2.8 L-IS model,and it has pretty good bokeh, but it loses out to other truly aknowledged bokeh "kings", like the Nikkor 85mm 1.4 AF-D, and the Nikkor 105mm f/2 AF-D Defocus Control, the Nikkor 70-200 VR, and the undisputed bokeh king the 200mm f/2 VR Nikkor, which has almost perfect bokeh, both theoretically and in "the real world."

    Bokeh is more than just "the degree of out of focus" a lens can make a backdrop appear; the way the lens "draws" is also a consideration. The problem I see on 85 Mark II images is the high degree of green chromatic aberration and the tendency to double-line, which makes images shot with the 85 seem very "jittery", with a tendency especially on foliage to make the backgrounds sort of "vibrate" or "shimmer". The 70-200 2.8L does not have that same tendency. And there's no real substitute for actual focal length in-camera, and no amount of cropping can compensate for different focal lengths. A zoom will allow one to properly frame portraits without needing to change one's shooting position, which leads to better,more-varied framing and better angular background control, in my experience.

    I shoot both Nikon and Canon cameras and am pretty interested in good bokeh,and I think the 85 1.2L-Mark II has bokeh that is often overrated,compared with some lenses that have nearly perfect bokeh, like the 70-200 VR Nikkor or the 200mm f/2 VR Nikkor, which is a lens with the best bokeh,with no tendency toward double-lining,and virtually perfectly-illuminated circles of confusion on point light sources--coming as close to a "perfect" bokeh as is possible. The 200 VR is also about 7 pounds in weight.

    Overall, for a working portrait lens, I would go with the faster-focusing 70-200 f/2.8 L IS lens over a heavy,slow-focusing 85 1.2 L, mainly because the zoom focuses faster, has less of that green chromatic aberration, and a smoother bokeh,without the double-line tendency the 85 has, and the zoom offers framing options that the prime lacks. Like I said, bokeh is not just "how significantly" out of focus the background is, there's more to it than just setting the lens to f/1.4 to f/2 and letting it rip. I actually think the 85 1.2L's bokeh is not nearly as good as several other lenses, and I think the 135 f/2 L actually has bokeh that's a bit better than the 85, but not quite as good as the 70-200 2.8 L-IS. My problem with the 85 1.2-Mark II's bokeh is that when there's a background with,say, backlighted trees or foliage, the background develops a "vibrating" look due to the double-lining present in the out of focus regions, so on close-range portraits with foliage backgrounds, the foliage is rendered out of focus, but with a high degree of distracting "nervousness". I see it also in floral closeups shot with the 85 Mark II, which is a subfield many people try and press the lens into use on, with results that show out of focus stems and stalks as if they were two stalks,like on the tulip closeups so many people shoot during tulip season; I was on another forum where there were many 85 Mark II floral closeups, and the double lining in the out of focus areas was noticeably inferior to that of say, the new 105mm VR Nikkor macro lens.

    If you want really good bokeh, you can adapt the 85 1.4 AF-D and the 105 AF-D Defocus Control Nikkor lenses to Canon full-frame with a $17 adapter ring...I've shot those two lenses on the 5D,and they are spectacular bokeh lenses.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2009
  4. camz

    camz No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Big Mike - Thanks and I agree with you completely I just love the 85mm prime and maybe I've just grown acustomed to using it for portraiture. For a wedding lens I sometimes use the 70-200 for the cermony(when I don't want to be intruding and be in their face) but the 85 has done me wonders for the couple shoot, cermony and receptions during a wedding.

    Derrel - Man you never seem to stop and amaze me with your responses. Great response I must say you've opened my eyes to alot I didn't know(especially about the nikon compatible lenses). I think the bokeh point you brought up I agree with because bokeh is so subjective and really it's something I don't really factor to be the main reason as to why I consider the 85 as my go to lens. What you didn't address is the flexibility of light control the 85 has which is more of an advantage, 1.2 vs the 2.8. I consider this as the number 1 reason as to why the 85 is my go to lens. Given that flexiblity towards the #1 issue of a photographer(light in my opinion), the fact that the 85 prime lens has this this over the 70-200 everything else becomes secondary. I've also shot events with both lenses and I didn't really see an issue with the autofocusing feature of the 85, however I've had issues with the 70-200 where there wasn't enough light because of the smaller aperature and had pictures I wasn't happy with(yikes it was during a cermony). There are alot of events where flash photography isn't aloud so I still can't see how a zoom factor and the so called faster autofocusing trumps the light control flexibility of the 85mm. I brought the point with big mike that I've used the 70-200 to avoid being intrusive to clients but I find those occassions occurs less compared to situations where the 1.2 Aperature came in handy. Thanks for commenting again! :thumbup:
     

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