What Makes an 85mm Lens So Special, And Why You Should Use It!

The 85mm focal length is what most would likely consider THE portrait photographer’s lens of choice, at least historically. So today, as we continue our look into various popular focal lengths, describing their unique characteristics, what better topic to explore than the popular 85mm lens.

Let’s get into it.

What Makes The 85mm Focal Length Special?

Unlike the 50mm lens, which we also note as a very popular portrait photography focal length, the 85mm is a true telephoto lens. Basically, what this means is that the lens offers a tighter field of view, and some level of magnification, as well as compression. So where a wide-angle lens will make everything feel distant and spaced out, a telephoto lens has the opposite effect, making everything seem closer and less spaced out – while at the same time (at lower apertures) providing greater subject-background separation.

This greater subject-background separation plays heavily into the look of bokeh on fast 85mm prime lenses, which is often something portrait photographers are looking for. But also, thanks to its field of view and magnification, an 85mm lens doesn’t compress the image to an unholy degree like some other telephoto options. This makes it a great option for a variety of subjects from portraits, to sports (where you will be at an intermediate distance from your subjects), and even sometimes landscapes or architecture depending on the look the photographer is going for.

Why You Should Use An 85mm Lens!

So, thanks to the points mentioned above, regarding compression, separation, and bokeh. The 85mm focal length is often a go to choice for photographers who have the room to work with it, and who don’t want to be super close to their subjects while shooting.

As well, the compression can have a slimming effect on how your subject is perceived in a given image – which, as you likely are thinking, is usually a good thing. No one wants to look bigger than they are in a photo, so a lens that naturally gives a slimming appearance to a subject in a photo is great for photographers photographing people.

Speaking to portrait photographers again, many are bokeh whores, to put it lightly. So the compression provided by the 85mm focal length, combined with the depth of field of fast F1.4 or F1.2 85mm lenses produced a much lusted-after creamiest of creamy bokeh renditions.

For sports though too, like basketball for example, an 85mm is a great intermediate length that can get you closer to the action on the sideline without limiting your ability to shoot the game. As well, basketball arenas are notoriously dark, from a photographers standpoint (thanks to needing fast shutter speeds to capture the action).

As well, compared to other telephoto lenses that are popular, like 135mm or 200mm, an 85mm lens is a much less expensive, much more compact and portable option (generally). So you can get that telephoto look without needing to huff a huge bag around.

Some Of Our Favorite 85mm Lenses

Now that you know more about the 85mm focal length and why you may want to use it, you may be interested in checking some out for your camera. If that is the case you should definitely check out our recommendations below. These are some of our favorite options currently out on the market.

  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B01M0UO0HX’ text=’Sigma 85mm F1.4 Art’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’f685fa04-8900-11e7-ba50-49768c2cef77′] (Our Review)
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B003ZSHNE0′ text=’Nikon 85mm F1.4G’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’fce0b712-8900-11e7-bdb5-5383f1e8c468′]
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B006TAP096′ text=’Nikon 85mm F1.8G’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’038a302e-8901-11e7-b9b5-21cc944697bf’] (Our Review)
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B06WLGFWGX’ text=’Sony FE 85mm F1.8′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’136a1068-8901-11e7-b3f9-dd3caf8a2c5f’] (Our Review)
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B0723CVGVT’ text=’Lensbaby Velvet 85mm’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’3f2134af-8902-11e7-86cf-972ab3cdee4b’] (Our Review)

Anthony Thurston

Anthony is a Portland, Oregon based Boudoir Photographer specializing in a dark, moody style that promotes female body positivity, empowerment, and sexuality. Besides The Phoblographer, he also reviews gear and produces his own educational content on his website.