Five Portrait Lenses That Complement Skin Well

Model: Erica Lourde

Model: Erica Lourde

Portrait lenses are an interesting topic due to the balance that’s needed with them. They need to be sharp, but if they’re too sharp, they can make skin look too detailed and not soft. Sure, this can be fixed in post-production but it’s often long and arduous work, and needs to be very exacting so that the images don’t look overdone or unnatural.

For that reason, we aren’t at all saying that sharp lenses aren’t good. In fact, they’re great! Many of them have won our Editor’s Choice awards. Instead, we’re saying that these lenses find a good balance between being very detailed with great image quality but not so detailed to the point where you’ll see way too much of the pores. When used in conjunction with modern image sensors, these lenses will make portrait shooting much easier.

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f1.6

Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f1.6

Recently released, the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f1.6 lens is so far shaping up to be one of our favorites that the system offers. Available for Canon, Nikon and Sony DSLR cameras, this lens doesn’t need a composer attachment but it can surely use one to get the tilt-shift effect that Lensbaby’s products are well known for.

At the moment, we’re testing one with a Sony A-to-E-mount attachment on the Sony A7. It isn’t that crazy sharp of a lens, but its image quality is still quite nice in the right situations–or at least that’s what we’re finding.

The lens also has a full metal build and working aperture ring in addition to a close focusing distance of five inches. When coupled with the buttery smooth manual focusing gear, you’ll have very little to complain about.

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Rokinon 85mm f1.4

Rokinon 85mm f1.4

Rokinon came out with the 85mm f1.4 lens a while back, and at the time, it was extremely sharp. But the years have gone on and the technology has advanced–and folks have created even sharper lenses.

That’s not at all to say that Rokinon’s isn’t sharp, but to be honest it has to have the best skin tone rendition of any lens on this list. Certain colors are very vibrant but those associated with skin tones are a bit muted and therefore hide blemishes quite well.

Like the Lensbaby and other Rokinon products, it’s an all manual focus lens with a manual aperture, too.

 

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Pro Tip: Part of the reason why fashion photographers love Instagram-like filters is because they tend to soften the skin. Everyone looks better with softer skin especially with such high res displays being available on the market now.

Pro Tip: Part of the reason why fashion photographers love Instagram-like filters is because they tend to soften the skin. Everyone looks better with softer skin especially with such high res displays being available on the market now.

Sigma 85mm f1.4

Sigma 85mm f1.4

One of my personal favorite lenses is the Sigma 85mm f1.4. Yes, it’s sharp, but I often don’t need to do excessive skin softening work when I shoot with it except when using artificial lighting.

Released a couple of years ago, this isn’t in Sigma’s Art lineup, but it should be. Even then, it would be softer than the new 50mm f1.4 and 35mm f1.4. However, it’s still much sharper than many other 85mm lenses out there, though just enough.

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Fujifilm 56mm f1.2

FujiFilm, 56mm F1.2 Lens, Lenses, Portrait Lenses, Micro Four Thirds

When shot wide open, the Fujifilm 56mm f1.2 is a beautiful lens with gorgeous bokeh in the background. But to get the best skin softening effects, we strongly recommend not only shooting with it wide open but also not adding any sort of artificial light that will bring out specular highlights in the scene. Further, switch your camera to the Astia film mode–which was designed to work with skin tones very well.

The Fujifilm 56mm f1.2 has to be the company’s biggest and heaviest prime lens–let alone their most expensive. But the image quality is every bit there.

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Canon 85mm f1.2 L II USM

canon 85mm f1.2 L

What would this list be without the big daddy of lenses?

Canon’s 85mm f1.2 L II USM has a lot going for it in this list. It was developed during the film days and so is designed to work best with film, not necessarily digital. But digital has made many advancements since then and the lens hasn’t exactly caught up to the latest sensor technology. While it’s still sharp, it isn’t going to make that bride at a wedding stare at her pores in the image that you shoot.

With an f1.2 aperture, this lens focuses very slowly and is extremely heavy. If you want something sharper, you’ll need to look to Zeiss.

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