Seeking suggestions for a portrait lens

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by perkeleellinen, May 10, 2010.

  1. perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Member

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    Next year my Grandfather will celebrate his 90th birthday, the year after my grandmother will celebrate the same. In between these two parties they will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. I want to produce a collection of portraits of every immediate family member (~55) to give to them hopefully at their anniversary. The project could take the best part of a year, I'll like to start this summer.

    My idea is to produce sort of semi-formal portraits, heads and shoulders, using natural light or maybe a weak flash to bring out the eyes, with the subject at home. I want this to be relaxed and I won't be using studio flash, backgrounds or reflectors. I'll probably shoot indoors with light coming from a window, rooms will probably be small, so I won't be able to stand very far away from the subject. Film will probably be ASA400 optically printed to 10x8. What lens to use?

    I have two bodies:

    Nikon FM2
    Leica M4-P

    I'll probably sell the lens after the project as I rarely do this sort of thing.

    Please let me know your suggestions. One word - I cannot afford four figure Leica lenses even if I will sell them on with minimal loss.

    Thanks!
     
  2. fschifano

    fschifano Member

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    Find yourself an 85 f/2 lens for the FM2 and have at it. Nice and sharp. Should be inexpensive enough so that you might want to keep it. Fast enough for what you want to do. I would suggest at least a reflector to fill in some of the shadows. Doesn't need to be anything elaborate. A big sheet of white cardboard will do nicely. Cover it with aluminum foil (shiny side out) for a bit more sparkle.
     
  3. MFstooges

    MFstooges Member

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    a must have

    My pick would be Nikkor 105mm F2.5
     
  4. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    I'd second the suggestion for the 85mm f/2 on the Nikon... and they can be had for very little at KEH. I have a 90mm on a Leica M-P, and it's a sweet lens for portraits, but I do have to back up a bit with it, so the longer lenses on the Leica might be a bit harder to use in smaller spaces, so maybe there's a Canadian built (less expensive, work very well) 50mm you can use with the Leica?? Good luck, sounds like a wonderful project.
     
  5. lns

    lns Member

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    Nikon 85mm f1.4 ais or 105mm f2.5 ais. In my experience, each is a good as a Leica lens, and as good a lens as anyone has made. The 105mm is much cheaper if you can work with the focal length. I like the 85 f1.4 better than the 85 f2, but of course the 85mm f2 would be fine too.

    -Laura
     
  6. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    A Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 or a 90mm Summicron for your Leica (they equal each other pretty much, with a continuous one-stop advantage for the Leica).
    Other 90mm Leica lenses, such as the Elmarit or Tele-Elmarit are probably less suited for portraiture and can be harsh and unforgiving (= definitely unflattering to your grandparents, unless you want that look).

    Though, for such a project, I'd rather use an SLR...

    The Nikkor 105 is a lovely lens (as I said, its signature is just one stop behind the mythical Leica Summicron).
    I've heard very varying opinions on the 85mm f/2.0, I'd say that the 105 is really a safer bet.
     
  7. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    For a traditional "portrait" lens, also consider the Zeiss Ikon 85mm f4. It sounds like, though, what you're aiming for is environmental portraiture, at which point I'd look for a 35mm f2 or f2.8 of some kind - again, the Zeiss Ikon 35 f2.8 comes to mind as an option. It might be nice to include some setting and background in each portrait since you're making a gift for your grandparents, who may not get to see some of your subjects very often, and would be curious about their environments.
     
  8. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    For available light window portraiture in my experience the perfect focal length is 85 or 90mm because longer lenses in small spaces can be a a problem and 85mm ones tend to focus closer, rather than using flash to fill the shadows I suggest you use a reflector like a Lastolite or a mirror, or some cooking foil scrunched up and stuck onto a big lump of cardboard, or a space blanket because they are cheap and portable, do the job and don't destroy the atmosphere. A tripod is a must and someone to hold the reflector is useful. I find that carrying some Tracing Paper to stick to the window to diffuse the light is very useful with Blu Tack if the Sun is harsh. For a personal project like this that is so important I recommend that you read as much as you can about the subject and practice with a member of your family. until you perfect the technique.
     
  9. perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Member

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    A 35mm is a choice I hadn't considered, but I can see the appeal for making portraits within a context. I already have a 35mm lens, so my budget would warm to that idea also.

    I should also add, I'll be making colour photographs.

    I had originally thought of shooting family groups, but a recent messy separation involving an affair with kids involved made that idea a bit delicate. I'll have some challenging subjects, I think, a few toddlers and one or two moody teenagers.
     
  10. Pumal

    Pumal Member

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    Nikkor 85mm f/2 is softer. Nicer for portraits and plenty luminous for available light.
     
  11. Smudger

    Smudger Member

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    Opinions obviously vary, but IMHO the 105 Nikkor gives a more pleasing perspective for head and shoulders work. Any of the 2.5's will do, they are all gorgeous.
     
  12. Eric Rose

    Eric Rose Subscriber

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    If it were me I would us a combination of a 90mm f2 Summicron pre asph and a 50mm f2 Summicron again pre asph.

    The Nikkor's are great, I have them and used them for model shoots but for what you are doing I think the look of the Leitz glass will be more pleasing.
     
  13. Joe Brugger

    Joe Brugger Member

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    People are suggesting the "traditional' head and shoulders portrait length, ignoring that the pictures will involve showing two people and their life together. I agree with Flying Camera that a wider approach is more productive, and would suggest starting the project with a 35 or 50 before putting out money for a lens you may not need -- particularly if you are very comfortable already with shorter lengths. The lenses everyone mentions are good ones but are possibly not necessary.
     
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  15. Nicholas Lindan

    Nicholas Lindan Advertiser Advertiser

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    I second the recommendation for using a reflector. Reflectors are not intrusive. Carry a couple lighting stands and spring clamps to hold the reflector. Don't use a flash of any sort with old folks, their eyes don't take kindly to it and it shows up cataracts. Shoot with a tripod and a cable release. Engage your subject as you take their picture - something that is hard to do when your face is hidden behind a camera.

    The 85mm f2 Nikkor is an excellent lens and available at sane prices. Buying an expensive lens for this purpose is a waste of money. I find a 100 or longer lens a problem in most interiors. Don't be surprised if you need to revert to a 50mm to get enough 'space' in the picture. Try a few shoots with a 50 - you may find it is all the lens you need. Shoot at f2.0 - f4.0, the limited depth of field will help hide wrinkles. It is a good idea to check your camera's focusing accuracy - if you are an inch or so off the portraits won't look good with fuzzy eyes and perfectly focused double chins.
     
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  16. Anscojohn

    Anscojohn Subscriber

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    What everyone has said, thus far, is true. Here are my two cents: an overly sharp lens is not necessary. Longer than 90mm is too long for window portraits. High speed is important.

    My set-up for such-as-your-project is an 85mm f/2.0 USSR Jupiter-8 lens with an M42 to Nikon adapter.
     
  17. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I'd get a 90mm f2 Summicron for the Leica as Eric suggests, a great camera for portraits, but a 50mm is also excellent for portraits and 35mm whereyou want moreof the environment in shot.

    With people the Leica is easier than an SLR, you have constant view, can see whats just out of frame, work in lower light levels hand held, etc.

    Ian
     
  18. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    The Nikon line has wonderful options for available light.

    Consider the fabulous Nikon 105/1.8 for tight, flattering, short-tele shots, with a comfortable, nonintrusive standoff from the subject(s). If you want wider/environmental, consider the 50/1.2. I like the dreamy out of focus elements and softer contrast, and the normal field of view works well for shots including just enough environment to frame the subject while not becoming a distraction.

    I understand the favourable opinions on the 85s... for me that field of view is usually neither wide nor tight enough to catch my eye, but that's all very individual of course. It might work perfectly for you and your subject(s).

    Anyone with a lot of, uh, character on their faces, you probably don't want to go with any of the superduper high contrast modern lenses. There's no hard rule, of course, and you should do what you want... and it's almost impossible for us to give good advice without knowing the character of your subject. You have to decide how best to bring that out... and maybe you need a holga, whatever!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 12, 2010
  19. perkeleellinen

    perkeleellinen Member

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    Thanks for all the tips so far. This project will be a challenge, indeed. I'll be photographing from people from 2 years old up to 90! I don't think I can use the same style for every subject.
     
  20. stillsilver

    stillsilver Member

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    I have a slight bias as I have an 85/f2. I kept a Nikon body so I could keep using this lens.

    Reflectors and try to use a north facing window. If the weather permits, try shooting outdoors against a north wall.

    This sounds like a great project. Good luck.

    Mike
     
  21. Leighgion

    Leighgion Member

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    Another vote here for the 85mm f2 AIS. It's quite inexpensive and a good performer. Maybe not "the best" but I've never had cause to complain about mine.

    You can always have a second, wider lens along to adapt to circumstances. No reason you need to settle on one lens to do the whole long project.
     
  22. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    At least in Europe, I've lately seen the 105 f/2.5 and the 85 f/2.0 going for pretty simmilar prices.
    Yes, you can get a lens which might not be too awful, or go for one which is a superb lens.
    If you're looking for a lens "not to complain about", maybe a 20-300mm zoom is the right thing...

    Sorry, rant over.

    The suggestion to (also) get wider lenses for is good. A wide (or even a very wide) for environmental shots is an excellent idea.

    A visit to a library or a good bookshop where you can see how great photographers have handled various kinds of portraits could be very useful.
     
  23. Pumal

    Pumal Member

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    I've lots of portraits with my Nikkor-SC Auto f/1.2 55mm. I use it mostly at 5.6
     
  24. dynachrome

    dynachrome Member

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    I have an 85/2 AI and a number of 105/2.5s. If I wanted to shoot head and shoulder portraits I might use the 85. if I wanted to do more tightly cropped portraits I think I would use the 105. For me, the 105 at f/5.6 is just right for a tight portrait. At f/5.6 I don't have to worry about sharp eyes and a fuzzy nose. Some people prefer the earlier 85/1.8 Nikkor. My 85/2 seems sharp so this might be an issue of sample variation. A 35mm wide angle goes well with either an 85 or a 105. One of the 35/2.8 Nikkors should be fine. To get people at varying distances al in focus you will need to stop down so a faster lens like a 35/2 might help with focusing but would still have to be stopped down for shooting.
     
  25. Pumal

    Pumal Member

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    Not all portraits are 'tight crop'
     
  26. pinstern

    pinstern Inactive

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    I suggest 75/1.4 and 50/1 for the Leica