Portrait lens – revisited; what’s a portrait lens

Portraits; its easy, studio setting, an 85mm lens, not too sharp, wide open at f/1.2 to give that dreamy look.

The view of what is a portrait lens has changed over the years, in fact the view of what is a portrait has changed.


This first shot at the top is a more environmental portrait, taken with a 35mm lens (well a 24-70mm zoom at 34mm). Not a focal length people generally think of for a portrait but I like 35mm for enclosed places and street / environmental use. I look forward to seeing what Nikon’s new Z35mm f/1.2 is going to be like, that is currently on their roadmap. I often use a 35mm f/2 Leica lens or a 35mm f/1.8 Nikon Z lens for portraits and street photography.

The look of a shot does change over the years. With the advent of mobile phones and selfies, a more wide angle look has become more common and people are getting more used to that look. Most phones are around 28mm equivalent; also head shots in the movies are often wider than is traditional in still photography.

I have seen some stunning portraits taken with 24mm an 28mm lens.

This second head shot is more often a classic 85mm, in this case I used a 50mm. I often use a 35mm or 50mm for full length shots, but often get quite close with a 50mm like in this example which is a Nikon Z50mm f/1.2.

Here below we have the classic studio shot, I was shooting some very tight head shots with a 105mm lens, but here I stepped back to get a little more in the shot.

If you are going to go much tighter you are looking at 135mm / 200mm as the classic lens to use. I have an old 180mm f/2.8 but am looking forward to the new Z135mm f/1.8.

So here we have practical examples using 35mm, 50mm and 105mm.

Used carefully a wide angle lens does not distort too much and can be essential in a tight situation. I have shot portraits from 24mm up to 200mm, I don’t think there is a right or wrong, its what works and what is needed to fulfil your needs.

I suppose I am somewhat spoilt as I have Nikon F and Z glass from 12mm to 300mm, Leica glass from 24mm to 50mm, but if you wanted to go for just two high end primes, 35mm and a 85/105mm would cope with most portrait requirements.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.