What type of lens for portraits?


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Oct 26, 2007
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Most of the time I'm shooting portraits or candid shots at parties (like a wedding photographer during dance hour :lol:), I've been using the 50mm 1.8, but I need some range within the lens becuase i'm not always at a perfect distance either to close or to far away.

Does anyone have a lens recomendation?

I feel like i need guidence cause i don't know. ;)

What is your budget and what is your need or expectation of quality? Also, what brand of camera do you have?
Quality - Best I can get for the money
Budget - Under 1k
Camera - Canon XTI

Thanks Mike!
I got some great portraits with the Sigma 18-50 HSM F/2.8 lens. VERY sharp and very reasonable for the quality. It also comes with a very nice 3:1 macro feature!
Thanks Jerry, Do you have any samples I can check out?
Best you can get for under 1k in a zoom lens I would say is the 24-70mm f/2.8 L. It's going to give you a little more range, plus it still has a large enough aperture to be able to be effective in low light situations. You can usually find this lens for just under 1k at different places. For this range I'd say this is the best lens. There is also the 24-105mm f/4 L IS lens. It's ok, but that f/4 will kill you in low light. If you know you're shooting with flash most of the time, then I'd get it for the extra length. If you like ambient light, I'd stay away. Especially with the XTi, it doesn't have the best noise in higher ISO settings. I own both. The only reason I own the 24-105 is because it came with my 5D, and I think I may sell it for another 24-70mm f/2.8 L for my wife to use for candids at weddings that we shoot.
I should also have asked whether or not you are using flash. So are you?

Your 50mm F1.8 is great because the large max aperture allows you to shoot without flash in less than perfect lighting. A zoom lens will have a smaller aperture which will make shooting without a flash, harder to accomplish.

The better zoom lenses have a max aperture of F2.8. These are usually the best quality zoom lenses as well.
I would suggest:
the Canon 24-70 F2.8 L, it's one the the best lenses Canon has but it's a bit more than your budget and it's as heavy as a brick.
Sigma also makes a similar lens that is almost as good but quite a bit less expensive.
You could also consider a wider lens...something in the 17-50mm range. Canon has a great one, the 17-55 F2.8 IS, but it is also very expensive. Tamron has the 17-50mm F2.8 and Sigma has the 18-50mm F2.8.

If you don't necessarily need an aperture as wide as F2.8, which is OK, especially if you are using flash...then there are plenty of options.

Canon EF-S 17-85 F4-5.6 IS
Canon EF 24-105 F4 L IS
Canon EF 28-135 F3.5-5.6 IS
Canon EF 17-40 F4 L

There are a bunch of lower quality lenses as well but these are some of the best.
well, can't feel too bad if I'm suggesting the same stuff as Mike. If you're willing to spend up to 1k, I'd honestly get the 24-70mm. However, you also will want to figure in the price of a decent filter. If you have to, save up another paycheck or two...it's worth it. And you'll probably get the L fever after that :)
I typically use the built in flash on the camera. (upgrading soon)

The lens doesn't have to be canon I just want to get the best value and the most versitle for the money.

Any feedback on this, Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-4.5 DC Macro HSM. IT seems to be comparable to the two that Mike mentioned (Tamron has the 17-50mm F2.8 and Sigma has the 18-50mm F2.8) but a little longer in length.
I typically use the built in flash on the camera.
In that case, scale back your lens bedget and get a flash. I'd suggest the Canon 430EX.

The lens doesn't have to be canon I just want to get the best value and the most versitle for the money.
I believe that the best value for the money may be the choices from Sigma or Tamron. The Canon lenses are the best, but the other ones may be 80-90% as good, for only 50% of the cost.
Well if 50mm is either too close or too far away, I'd suggest a 24/28mm to 70/75mm f/2.8 zoom. I know the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 has gotten a lot of rave reviews, so long as you get a good copy, and it's about $500 USD. A friend of mine has this for his Canon and loves it, but he ends up doing a lot of group photos where 28mm isn't wide enough so he traded it for the 17-50mm. I personally have a 28-70mm f/2.8 Tokina (old, used, discontinued) that cost me a whole $250 USD. At bit soft at f/2.8 at the long end, pretty sharp at f/4 but still a bit soft in the corners, and then sharp all over by f/5.6. f/2.8 is sharp at 50mm and less. The more you pay, the better image quality you get to the point where you're in the $1000+ range and the lens will deliver corner to corner sharpness at all focal lengths at f/2.8. The new Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 is supposed to be incredible (I realize you shoot Canon) and it's also $1800. :lol: I'm sure the Canon equivalent is about as good, and about as pricey too.
OK, I'm pricing the flash now. If I buy the flash, do i need to go with a fast aperature or will I be able to add more length?

Why would the tamron 28 - 75 be cheaper then the tamron 17 - 50?

Tamron Autofocus 28-75mm f2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical (IF) - $350

Tamron SP AF17-50mm F/2.8 Di II LD Aspherical (IF) Lens with hood for Canon DSLR Cameras - $450
28-75 is a more traditional film focal length range and not as popular today. And it's probably an older lens where the design and tooling costs have already paid for themselves, thus it's a lot cheaper.
Thanks Mav!

Would you think having 17 - 50 would be better for shooting portraits?
OK, I'm pricing the flash now. If I buy the flash, do i need to go with a fast aperature or will I be able to add more length?
That's sort of a loaded question. A lens with a wider aperture is almost always better than one with a smaller max aperture because it gives you the option of using that wide aperture. Lenses with smaller max apertures are a compromise and the benefits are usually a lower price and a smaller, lighter lens.

When using flash, you typically light up your subject with the flash and the background is illuminated by the ambient light (unless you are in a small room, in which case the flash may light it all up). For many photographers, it's important to find a nice balance between the flash and ambient parts of the image...and in this case, it may be a great benefit to use a wider aperture.

If however, you are not critically worried about the ambient exposure and getting a perfect balance...then you will be fine with a lens that doesn't have an F2.8 aperture. You can shoot at F5.6 or F8 and let the flash do it's thing.

So, if you can afford an F2.8 lens, go for it, you won't regret it....however, a slower lens might have a longer range (the 17-85 or 28-135 or 24-105), which may be more of a benefit to you. It's up to you.

As for the price difference...who knows? The 2nd one is newer and probably in more demand because it's for digital...so maybe that's why it's more expensive.

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