The Best Portrait Lens

This seems to be an on-going discussion and debate when I meet with other photographers or lead a workshop. We all have our favourite lenses and I generally take the line that there is no right or wrong lens with which to create a portrait.

Recently I have seen some stunning portraits created with wide angle lenses by David Hobby (aka Strobist) and National Geographic shooter and Kelby Training instructor Joe McNally.

David have no choice but to use a wide angle lens when shooting Xavier, a safety officer with the Atlas Experiment, LHC, CERN. If you scroll down the page you'll see why David chose wide glass - he was working on a walkway about two feet wide!

Conversely, Joe McNally created a stunning portrait of Ybor on a street where there was plenty more room with a Nikkor 24 mm f1.4 wide open - just look at the control of the depth of field. You must know your kit and be confident in your skills to turn in shot like that.

A lot of photographers I talk with lust after the Canon 85 mm f1.2 L Series lens for portraits - yep, it's a great lens and those that show me images created with  the 85 mm f1.2 don't seem to get the point, use it wide open. Just about every shot I see they have stopped down to f4 or even f5.6. What's the point? Use that shallow DoF!

Personally, my favourite lens for general day-to-day portraiture is the Canon 50 mm f1.4 on 50D body. It's light, it's fast and most important, doesn't cost £1,800 for a lens! And, I've a great lens for use on my 5D Mk II.

So it's a no brainer - if you're a Canon shooter and want a versatile general purpose day-to-day and portrait lens, go for the Canon 50 mm f1.4 on a body with an APS-C sensor and save your money for other kit, especially lighting kit. And, if you need a another reason to justify your purchase, the Canon 50 mm f1.4 is stunning performer in low-light, and a lot lighter and smaller than the f1.2!


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