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What is the Best Lens for Portraits?
First let's define what I mean by a portrait lens. A lens focal length that does make the image closer or farther away. It has 1x magnification. In other words, a lens that does not distort the subject. A portrait lens can also be called a product lens for the same reason.
APS sensor cameras that use Nikon DX or Canon EF-S lenses:
55mm (1x) is the portrait or product focal length
Less than 55mm is wide angle.
More than 55mm is telephoto.
Full Frame sensor cameras that use Nikon 35mm film and FX lenses or Canon 35mm and EF Lenses.:
85mm (1x) is the portrait or product focal length
Less than 85mm is wide angle.
More than 85mm is telephoto.
So what does all this say?
A 50mm Nikon FX or Canon EF lens is not the same as a 50mm Nikon DX or Canon 50mm EF-S lens. The same reason, driving 50 miles per hour is not the same as driving 50 kilometers per hour. Confusing? Yes.
If you want to photograph a portrait, flower, product, landscape or anything that you don't want to alter the shape, use a portrait focal length.
Can you use other focal lengths for portraits?
Yes! But I would not want to use a wide angle lens because of the distortion up close.
Here are two examples of portraits I shot using the Nikon 180mm full frame lens on a full frame camera. I like to call this lens my extended portrait lens. It gives me a smaller field of view, greater working distance and helps compress and blur the background. It also works great for flowers.
Both photos were shot at f11, yes f11 and not wide open as others suggest. More about that below.
What aperture should I use for portraits?
Using a portrait or extended portrait lens needs at least f8 or f11 to ensure you have enough depth of field to capture your entire subject in focus when at a distance of 6' to 10' subject distance. An aperture of f1.4 to f2.8 only has about 1/2" to 2" in focus. This is not enough depth of field to make a quality enlargement. The key to blurry backgrounds is using larger focal lengths not the opening the aperture. Use the aperture to control subject sharpness. Use the focal length to control the background.
Do some experimenting.
Shoot subjects at different focal lengths while keeping the subject the same size in the viewfinder.
You will find one the meets your needs.
Hope this helps.
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