Useful Photography Tip #111: Why You Need at Least an 85mm Lens for Portraits

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Samsung 85mm f1.4 review images (1 of 2)ISO 1001-800 sec at f - 2.0

Want more Useful Photography Tips? Check them out right here.

Before you even get into reading this piece, know that we’re talking about an actual lens focal length, not equivalent to field of view. Look at it this way: you like taking photos with a 50mm lens, right? Let’s say you’re working with Micro Four Thirds camera options. In order to get a 50mm field of view, you need to slap a 25mm lens on your camera. But guess what? That 25mm lens will still act like a 25mm lens. It will be just as distorted and even though you’re still using the center area of the lens more or less you’ll still get all the problems that a lens like that faces. To get rid of that distortion, you’ll need a longer focal length. I found this out the hard way when working with a subject of larger stature. Though I felt the images looked great, she didn’t–and the only thing that really could have helped would have been a longer lens.

To eliminate that distortion to begin with, you’ll need to work with longer focal lengths. The generally accepted portrait focal length is an 85mm or longer. Now again, I’m not talking about an 85mm equivalent field of view on Micro Four Thirds. I’m saying that I need at least an 85mm focal length. Yes, the M43 coalition does a great job with making sure that their lenses are superb, but if you’re going to do portraits then you should eliminate any sort of distortion problems from the start.

Moving up to larger formats like APS-C or Full Frame, we think that the 85mm to the 135mm range is a great area to start working. Remember, the main thing that you’ll need to do is keep the distortion down to begin with.