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FORUMS Canon Cameras, Lenses & Accessories Canon EF and EF-S Lenses 
Thread started 21 Sep 2014 (Sunday) 05:02
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50mm lenses for portraits

 
marcheseg
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Sep 21, 2014 05:02 |  #1

How come the consensus of portrait photography(from what I read from professionals) is to use anything from 85mm out to 200mm for portrait photography(and most agree that 85mm to 135mm is the best). Everyone says that there is less distortion on facial features. But on the other end, I read that a lot of professionals love the 50mm 1.4 for that shallow depth of field and they love that for portrait photography. So if everything under 70mm causes distortion, even if its a little, why use the 50mm 1.4.

Thanks in advance


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Bonpu
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Sep 21, 2014 05:19 |  #2

It's not the lens that determines perspective (AKA "distortion"), it"s solely the working distance. A generic flattering look is usually achieved from 2 meters onwards. This can go with a broad variety of focal lengths, depending on intended framing:
135 to 200 mm for tight faces
85 to 135 for heads
50 to 85 mm for upper body
35 to 50 mm for full body

Also you can always go closer with a shorter focal length if you want a more "interesting" or "intimate" feel. Or you can use it for a wider framing if you want to include some background for context.

Long story short: There is no such thing as THE portrait focal length.




  
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CanonYouCan
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Sep 21, 2014 06:17 as a reply to  @ Bonpu's post |  #3

On fullframe :

- The 24mm has indeed distortion, so close portraits = definitely nose/face distortion.
Wedding photographers use it for environmental shots for people with a lot of background (wedding car, etc... with 1.4 bokeh), legs look longer shot from below, some like the distortion.

-The 35mm is a normal focal length, meant to use as a "model+environment" lens if you use it for portraits.
Also fine for example a doctor in front of his practice, a shopkeeper in front of his shop,...
It's not meant to come close & take a head/shoulders portraits, this is more a general lens, also great for storytelling city photography.

-The 50mm is made for half/body shots, most say there is some distortion if you take a head/shoulders portrait with it like the 85mm, but it's less noticeable.
This is a compromise between the 35 & 85 for people who find the 35 too wide and the 85 to narrow, often used in fashion photography to show clothes on half body shots.

-The 85mm focal length is known as distortion free, most flatering, superb for head/shouldershots.

-The 135-200mm range is perfect, from a far distance the model really pops up due to the focal length, some call it the "3D effect".

From 85mm on faces/bodies start to look normal or skinnier than wider lenses.

So you have to decide for yourself how much background you want in your primes and how much distance you have.
You can also move your feet offcourse, a lot of photographers say the 85L & 135L really shine on full body shots when you have a lot of space.


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InfiniteDivide
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Sep 21, 2014 07:10 |  #4

As others have said.
It is more about the distance to subject rather than the FL chosen.
Assuming the camera to subject distance is fixed, and cropping is not desired.
Having the ability to only vary the FL will create undesirable effects.

See this link (external link)

Because the majority of "portraits" and head and shoulders, then the desired FL is between 85mm and 135mm
Because of how the FL 'shapes' the human face and head.
24mm at a close subject distance accentuates the eyes and nose too much.
I would alway take a portrait with my 100mm lens, and my 50mm only if I could not back up enough.
50mm would be the widest angle I would want to take of a head and shoulders shot.
I would prefer to back up, take the shot, and crop out the excess background.


The subject to lens distance is not something that can be 'fixed' in post processing.


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SkipD
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Sep 21, 2014 08:18 |  #5

Somehow, this thread is only about focal lengths for so-called "full-frame" format DSLR cameras. Newbies should realize that the focal lengths referred to so far should be divided by 1.6 for use on APS-C format cameras for the same purposes.

I will also reinforce what Bonpu mentioned about perspective (and perspective distortion). Very few lenses impart an intentional distortion ("fisheye" lenses being the biggest exception). Perspective is purely a function of distances of the various elements in the scene from the camera (or a human eye). Focal length, in itself, does absolutely nothing to control perspective.


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Nonnit
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Sep 21, 2014 09:02 as a reply to  @ SkipD's post |  #6

It is all about distance to subject.

Take a headshot with very wide focal length and lets say the nose is 10cm from the camera and the ears are the 20cm away.

The nose is much closer to the camera and it will be huge and the ears are twice as far and will be tiny.

Take the headshot with longer focal length from 2 meters. The nose is 2 meters away and the ears are 2 meters and 10cm away.

Everything will look normal.

I like the 50mm for body shots but don´t like the look I get for headshots or head & shoulders. (on FF)

I have seen some good closeups with the 50mm on FF but how would it look with longer focal length?

When I experiment with it I take some shots with 50mm and then some at 85mm, the 85mm always looks better.


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JeffreyG
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Sep 21, 2014 09:11 |  #7

There are two very good reasons to use longer focal lengths. The first was already discussed, that the photographer should not stand too close to the subject in order to avoid perspective distortion. When you stand further back, you need a longer focal length to get the framing desired.

The second reason is that a longer focal length will create better subject isolation and 'pop'. This is because, if all else is equal (same subject framing, same aperture), a longer lens will generate stronger background blur.

As a matter of fact, when you have the space for it, a longer and slower lens does a better job at 'popping' a subject from the background. A great example would be to compare a 50/1.4 and a 200/2.8. If you use the 200/2.8 at the same subject framing, it will provide more DOF on the subject and yet it will make for a blurrier background. The total effect is that the subject really pops out.

When you use super fast lenses (like the 50/1.4) wide open on tighter shots, often the subect themselves will not be entirely in the DOF, so they kind of melt into the blurry background. That is not 'pop'!

Here is an example I shot a couple years ago to show just this effect. The first shot is 50mm and f/1.2 and the second shot is 200mm and f/2.8. See how I melt into the background with the faster lens? See how the longer, slower lens can blur the background just as well for portraits?


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bobbyz
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Sep 21, 2014 10:57 |  #8

Why use it, to get different look, simple.


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2ndviolinman
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Sep 21, 2014 11:48 |  #9

As well as showing background blur, the two pictures posted by JeffreyG show very well what others are talking about regarding distance. The subject is framed similarly in both, but look at the way the size of the nose and width of the cheeks are exaggerated, and the way the ears are wrapped behind the edge of the face in the 50mm shot as compared to the 200mm shot.


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davidfarina
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Sep 21, 2014 17:52 |  #10

I use the 50 1.2 because i cant afford the 50L and the 85L :-P


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InfiniteDivide
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Sep 22, 2014 00:42 |  #11

For desirable, natural subject- 'facial features' it is best to use the 50mm and step back, then crop in post process to avoid perspective distortion. Rather than framing and not cropping, if a longer FL lens is not available.


James Patrus
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zarray
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Sep 22, 2014 03:32 as a reply to  @ InfiniteDivide's post |  #12

another tip would be to lower your body and shoot at neck/chest height to keep things in perspective. You don't realize your mistakes when you're shooting but when you're reviewing the images the head and body disproportion becomes obvious.


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50mm lenses for portraits
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