Seeking my ultimate portrait lens

Discussion in 'Canon Lenses' started by andrewdoeshair, Feb 28, 2017.

  1. andrewdoeshair

    andrewdoeshair No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Okay, I've done loads of research and the reason I bring this to you guys is that I have a lot of specific concerns, and you all have a lot of specific experiences. I hope your experiences and my concerns coincide and I can get some advice. I also hope I'm not annoying with these questions. I'm about to write a lot.

    While consider myself a complete amateur for life, photography has become a source of income for me in various ways and I'm trying like hell to get good at it. The photos that pay me are essentially portraits. Haircuts, to be exact (see attached images to get an idea of what I do). I'm shooting on a 5D mark iii and I've always used a Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art lens or a Canon 24-70 2.8L (the first version) but I recently borrowed a friend's Canon 100mm F2.8L macro lens to shoot some jars of pomade and I only briefly fiddled with it for portraits. Then when I was on vacation in Tahoe I brought my tamron 150-600mm, hoping to get bird pictures, but while jokingly taking photos of my wife at the long end of the lens the truth about longer lenses being better for portraits, which I had read repeatedly, finally clicked. My portraits at 50mm looked great until I saw one at 100mm+

    So I borrowed the 100mm F2.8 again and found that it's almost everything I've wanted (it was used for both of the attached images). The down side, is that there are what seems like a billion options for other portrait-capable lenses over 70mm, so I start running all the "what if" scenarios in my head and I start to doubt the lens that seems like it would do the job perfectly. Plus (and this is a big negative for me buying the 100mm) I can borrow this lens any time I want, so I'm reluctant to buy one.

    Is the older canon 100mm F2 (the short little one that looks just like their 85mm) for portraits going to get nowhere near the IQ that I'm getting with the L macro? Is the focus going to be painfully slower (this is why after renting the 85mm F1.2L I decided I didn't need it) than the macro? How about the non L version of the 100mm macro? They're so close in price, am I paying for the red ring with the L version or is it actually worth more for what I'm doing?

    I've looked at the tamron 85mm F1.8 several times, especially because I've grown to really trust my Tamron 150-600, but then I wonder if 85mm is going to look and feel different enough from the 70mm side of my 24-70 to make it worth the buy. 100mm is way different. I've also drooled over the sigma 85 (and upcoming 135) but in all honesty I don't trust sigma anymore, since my 50mm is the most temperamental lens I've ever owned and I've had such bad experiences (front focusing, even after repeatedly "correcting" it on the USB dock) with their 30mm Art and their 24-105mm Art lenses. The only reason I haven't sold the 50mm is that it works realllly well for me when it is in a good mood, every time I'm ready to throw it at a wall it starts behaving.

    I should also note that my studio is small, I can't get away with a 135mm for portraits in there unless I stand outside the door and shoot from a hallway. But in looking for a good 70mm+ lens the other biggest hardest decision comes up, because a 70-200 will likely handle this need and THEN some, but then it's like, 4 or 2.8? IS or non IS? And that's before even thinking about third party lenses. If I wait for that new tamron I'm going to pay FULLLL price (I'm usually only interested in used or discounted, but if something is amazing and perfect for me I'll pay full price) then if the lens is a flop I've lost money (not the worst thing, but it's a small concern) oh yeah, my budget is around $1,000. So by now, thinking used 70-200 or waiting a few months for the budget to grow, I remember that they're big and heavy, harder to take on the road (I travel a LOT for hair events) and the 100mm F2 becomes attractive again. Except that it's an old design that's been out since like 1991, so I worry it'll be obsolete very soon (if not yesterday), so then the macro L lens sounds right for me again, until I remember that I can borrow it when I need it, so then I think about a 70-200 again. See what I mean?

    So what do you think? Hopefully some of you have owned or extensively used some of those lenses and can guide me. What would you do, having more experience with this than me? Thanks for reading.

    3G7A8935-2.jpg
    3G7A3721.jpg


     
  2. Designer

    Designer Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Im not conversant in Canon-speak, so I think you could ask this same question in the Canon forum, (just not a duplicate of this post) and skip all the extra stuff. Just ask: "What is your recommendation for a portrait lens for my Canon 5D mark iii to be used in a space of only about ten feet or so?" (Head shots only, no full length.)

    As to the third-party lenses, I'd recommend not. Stick with a Canon lens. Better, IMO. I know what I'd get for a Nikon, but not your Canon.
     
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  3. tirediron

    tirediron Watch the Birdy! Staff Member Supporting Member

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    I would shoot these with either an 85 or 105 myself... A 70-200 will definitely do the job, but I find it a rather unwieldy studio lens and prefer physically shorter, lighter glass. I've heard lots of good about the third party lenses, but also a lot of bad. Their main issue, IMO, is poor QA. If you get a good one, you're fine, if you get a bad one, you've got to futz around and sort that out. To me, it's worth the small price penalty to get first-party glass.
     
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  4. beagle100

    beagle100 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    yeah, the ultimate portrait lens is the 200mm f2 - - a little pricey but totally worth it if you're rich and want good portraits
    e.g. www.flickr.com/photos/desertrose76
     
  5. dasmith232

    dasmith232 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    I have the (all Canon's) 50/1.4, 85/1.8, 100/2.8, 135/2 and 70-200/2.8 that I would consider for portraits.

    Of this set, I prefer either the 85mm (very lightweight) or the 70-200mm for flexibility in distance and zooming.

    The 135/2 is a sharp and beautiful lens. When the situation is right, I'll definitely prefer it. The only thing that I don't like about it is getting too far away from the person. I think there needs to be a connection between me and the person. Otherwise, s/he just becomes "a subject". Even when I use the 70-200, I'll generally stay at the shorter end.

    I don't like (my copy of) the 50mm. There's just simply nothing special about that lens. And it has soft spots. I borrowed a friend's Sigma 50mm and the pictures were sharper than with my Canon. But that gets into the 3rd party thing, and I have very few non-Canon autofocus lenses. (I've had great luck with manual focus lenses, but that's a different story.)

    The 100mm (macro) is a great lens also. It's just a tiny bit longer and puts some distance between me and the person I'm working with, more than I tend to prefer. The red-ring version has IS, and that's the key difference to consider.

    And this is all on a full frame camera, which you have. On a crop-sensor, I'd go with different choices, including starting to consider the 50mm.
     
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  6. KmH

    KmH Helping photographers learn to fish Supporting Member

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    I wound up with 19 Ultimate Portrait Lenses.

    But my fav & go to was my 200 mm, f/2 prime lens.
     
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  7. OGsPhotography

    OGsPhotography No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I love the 70-200. Cant go wrong with it besides having to wait a bit to buy as its expensive.

    Your doing this for business with constraints, I think it meets your needs.

    Awesome @ 200mm and also at 70. Anywhere in between= awesome. Gst them headshots from 6?feet at 70mm and 20 at 200.

    You can frame and crop in camera for your very specific need. You could get a used f4 in budget but for me I would only want to upgrade so it's up to you really what can you handle.

    Go big or go home!
     
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  8. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    70-200 or the old 100/2
     
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  9. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    SO much to take in,. A few comments: YES, the difference between 70mm and 85mm is substantial in multiple ways. ANGLE of view ***behind*** the subject is where 70mm is not good in a small space, and where 85mm is better, and 100mm is narrower, and 135mm is narrower still, AND where the focal length is long enough to start giving 1) a sense of depth compression 2)a physically MAGNIFIED background size to objects that are behind the focus distance 3)a fairly narrow angle of acceptance (view) that makes background control easier for the shooter. 4) a RAPID and noticeable OOF-In Focus-OOF effect. From 135mm to 600mm, the focus distance "separates" very rapidly from the foreground, the focus plkane, and the background plane: this is where 70mm fairly well sucks as a 'tele' effect lens, and where 85 has a hint,m 105 a hint more, and 135mm, 180mm,200, 300, and 400 all are increasingly more "tele effect"lenses.

    The above reasons and explanations are the reaosn the 70-200 is SUCH a common pro lens: it can do more than any other common lens, as far as lens impressions. Quality at traditional professional f/.stops of f/5.6 to f/16 is very good to excellent depending on the needs of the shot.

    The old 100/2 is a beautiful imnager; do not be so presumtuous to expevt that sine the lens has been in the Canon lineup since 1991 that is is crap. The lens creates beautiful images outdoors. Canon users, most enamored of the "L" designation have falklen for the lure of the red ring for decades now. If it had a red ring, it would be a legend. That is my feeling about it.

    85/1.2-L: old one focused like a glacier: it had too, to handle all the noobs who want to shoot at f/1.2 or f/1.4. Newer verison 11, a bit better, but still slow.

    In my last garage studio, I USUALLY stood inside the house, and shot with a 70-200, from an extra 12 feet back: this is a BIG DEAL in 9-foot-wide seamless shooting! You WANT to be able to ***control the photo's look***, through lenswork. This is why the modern pro relies on the 70-200/2.8 lens so often.

    I owned the Nikkor 200/2 VR from 2004 to 2016. It's a gorgeous imager, and so is the Canon, but the the type of supoer-fast prime tele is way too large and heavy for a lot of shoots. The quality of the image is great, but the lens is NOT versatile, therefore it is not the ultimate portrait lens. The quality of $4-$7K lenses is astounding, but versatility counts too.
     
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  10. andrewdoeshair

    andrewdoeshair No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    The more I've been thinking about this, the more I'm realizing I need to rearrange my lens priorities. I take portraits for a living, even though it happened by accident (I'm a hairdresser who fell into photo because of instagram, now my photos pay me, in various ways, more than cutting hair ever did) so I need to get serious about my portrait gear. I've been dabbling in photo for fun but not taking the work aspect of it any more seriously than the fun aspect. I have a 16-35mm F2.8L ii, which is my priciest lens, that I bought just for fun last year, and I've never needed it for a haircut photo, but I don't even own an 85mm lens. That's a little embarrassing, now that I think about it. I wrote the original post here thinking I needed a good portrait lens, but what I think I want now is an amazing portrait lens. I'm going to sell my 16-35 and bump my portrait lens budget up to Zeiss territory. Not Otus, (I'd have to sell my car for that) but maybe Milvus. I'm going to rent something tomorrow and see how it goes. Thanks for all the advice so far, it's much appreciated. I'll check back in soon and often.
     
  11. dasmith232

    dasmith232 TPF Supporters Supporting Member

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    Flash!

    One flash unit (or two) used with skill will let you create fantastic portraits with even "average" lenses. Also, many other photographers do not know how to use flash (and it really isn't that hard). Effective use of lighting will differentiate you from the others.
     
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  12. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Whoa,whoa,whoa...."Amazing portrait lens" means.... Canon 135/2-L. Canon 85mm-f/1.2-L-Mark II. Nikon 85/1.4 AF-D. Nikon 105mm f/2 AF-D Defocus Control. Nikon 200/2 VR. Nikon 135/2 AF-D Defocus Control. Sony 100mm f/2soft bokeh lens (their brand-new APD element model). Minolta's old APD soft-bokeh lens.

    Amazing portrait lens does not mean a slow, manual focusing lens on a modern d-slr, unless you like throwing away 20 to 80 percent ofg your shots due to missed focus. "Zeiss" is a brand-name, and is buolt by Cosina, in Japan.Not lkike Canon or Nikon lenses or Leica lenses. Zeiss just cut the price on its 135/2 by $643 last week, because SIGMA has announced new ART telephotos, an 85mm and a 135mm, both very fast, and uber-sharp.

    You want to rent an AMAZING lens--one that will NAIL focus, and create gorgeous bokeh? Rent a Canon legend: the EF-135/2-L. ANd save yourself $1200 or more over the Milvus price when you buy a clean used copy.

    The deal is this though: UBER-sharp lenses often have all their spherical aberration corrected out, so the lenses TEST-CHART shoot really,really high>>>Sigma ART, Zeiss by Cosina manual focus,etc., The truly awesome portrait lenses have better **rendering** character, not test chart scores. This is why the lenses I listed above are considered awesome portrait lenses: they were buyiolt in the era when Japoanese lens designers buiolt their OWN lenses,m one man, one lens, and his team. Today? It's mostly all about how minute the detail can be shown in a hard, cold, sterile way. Great for landscapes, great for sales to internet shoppers.

    Manual focus on a high-performance lens makes no sense to me.
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2017
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