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Choosing A Portrait Lens

Lesson 52 from: Canon Lenses: The Complete Guide

John Greengo

Choosing A Portrait Lens

Lesson 52 from: Canon Lenses: The Complete Guide

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

52. Choosing A Portrait Lens


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Canon Lens Basics


Focal Length: Angle of View


Focal Length: Normal Lenses


Focal Length: Wide Angle Lenses


Focal Length: Telephoto Lens


Focal Length Rule of Thumb


Field of View


Aperture Basics


Aperture: Maximum Aperture


Aperture: Equivalent Focal Length


Aperture: Depth of Field


Aperture: Maximum Sharpness


Aperture: Starburst Effect


Aperture: Flare


Aperture: Hyperfocal Distance


Camera Mount System


Canon Lens Compatibility


Canon Lens Design


Canon Lens Composition


Canon Lens Shape


Canon Lens Coating


Canon Lens Focusing


Lens Autofocus


Canon Lens Image Stabilization


Canon L Lenses


Image Quality


Canon Zoom Lenses: Standard


Canon Super Zooms


Canon Wide Zooms


Canon Telephoto Zooms


Prime Lens: Normal Lenses


Prime Lens: Moderate Wide


Prime Lens: Wide Angle


Prime Lens: Ultra-Wide


Prime Lens: Short Telephoto


Prime Lens: Medium Telephoto


Prime Lens: Super Telephoto


3rd Party Lenses Overview


3rd Party Prime Lenses


3rd Party Zoom Lenses


Lens Accessories: Filters


Lens Accessories: Lens Hoods


Lens Accessories: Tripod Mount


Lens Accessories: Extension Tubes


Lens Accessories: Extenders


Macro Lens: Reproduction Ratio


Macro Lens: Technique and Choices


Fisheye: Technique and Choices


Tilt Shift: Techniques and Choices


Make a Lens System Choice


Choosing A Portrait Lens


Choosing A Sports Lens


Choosing A Landscape Lens


Best Lenses for You


Lens Maintenance


Buying and Selling Lens


What is John Greengo's Favorite Lens?


Lesson Info

Choosing A Portrait Lens

if we're looking at portrait lenses. One of the things that concepts I want toe put in your mind is that lenses do not have perspective. Okay? Lenses do not determine perspective on their own perspective is determined by your point of view. Now you will end up choosing a lands by the framing. It has your particular distance. And so framing is determined by the lens choice. And so if I like the looks of the way a portrait looks from right here, Okay. Well, then this is where I want to shoot. Now we need to choose a lands with the right angle of view. This is gonna make more sense. Is I give you some visuals as we go into this. So I wanted to shoot an object that showed perspective. Now, what I'm photographing is a cylinder wrapped in this grid paper so that we can see how it changes with different lenses at different distances. So what I am going to do is I'm gonna photograph with everything from a 24 millimeter lands to a millimeter lens, our first images at 24 we're gonna run through...

these fairly quickly cause we're gonna look it, uh, frame cuts from each of these 35 just notice what happens to the grid pattern As we move through the Siri's. It is flattening out. By choosing a longer lands and moving the camera further away. We're flattening out our subject. So let's take a little square from all of these being very close upto are subject with a 24 millimeter lands. Notice what happens with the grid pattern here. Notice how it's angle by moving further away with the 400 millimeter lands. Remember that compression effect or that flattening effect of using that telephoto lens? This grid has not changed. I have moved my position back further in order to flatten this out. To illustrate this further cause there's gonna be three examples of this. Let's now do it with an 11 to 800 millimeter lands on a globe. Right now, I'm using 11 millimeter. I am inches away from the globe. And as we move back, look at what happens to the globe. Were flattening this globe out, and I'm gonna see if I could go back to 11 and I want you toe identify and pay attention to India. India is very important. Okay, You see where India's is that kind of at the top, right of the frame. You can't see it very well because we're up close with wide angle lands and we're shooting this straight on, but we're moving further back, and this really flattens the globe out shooting with these longer lenses. And so if we were to look at a cut of India, you can see how India changes with the different lenses that we're using by moving further back. So where we stand and shooting are subject is gonna have a big role in, since all leading into shooting people's faces. And so this is gonna be a fun serious, I think for some of you, because we're photographing Jen and we're gonna do so with everything from 11 to 800 millimeter lands. And you saw this before in the university Washington. But here we're doing a close up face shot with the 50 millimeter Lance. So what happens if we go to the next lens 35? We've moved the camera a little bit closer. As we move in closer, you can see that we've now lost her ears because we're so close to her. Noi her knows that we can't see around her, her ear to her ears. And this is a 16. And trust me, you do not want to have your portrait taken with an 11 millimeter lands. I was I was just inches away from the front of her nose while doing this. OK, so let's move back out So clearly and 11 millimeter lands is not our ideal portrait lens. Can we all agree on that? Can I get a Yes? Okay, so let's get ourselves back to at least a normal lands. And at this point, the normal lenses looking pretty good. All right. So let's dive in to this portrait range in the portrait range. Traditionally has been in this 85 to 1 35 range and so 50 even. I put in here because a lot of lenses go 24 to 70. So how good is a 70 compared to 85 now, As we go back, notice her cheeks, notice her ears as we move to longer and longer telephoto lenses notice. We can see the earrings more clearly because we're a little bit further back. We've changed our perspective all the way up to you can tell like the facial muscles look a little bit differently as to how much skin and how much you can see. So what we're gonna do now is kind of look at these side by side. So ah, 35 millimeter lands has a bit of distortion to it because it's that wide angle lens, and this is why they prefer most photographers prefer something around that 100 millimeters. So I think the 100 definitely looks better than the 35. And so comparing it back to the 50 and so looking at the shape of the cheeks is a lot of times what I'm looking at here. Can you see the eyes and the nose? How does the nose look? So the 800 is a really long lens, and sometimes using that long lens is almost adding a little bit of weight to the face. And so using too long lands isn't necessarily a good thing. So 70 is the top in on a lot of basic zooms like you're 24 28 to seventies, and so I think you can get very nice portrait's with that, The longer end of most portrait ranges is a 1 35 so that remember that 1 35 to that can. It has very nice portrait lands. The 85 is kind of the classic go to standards, so something between 85 1 35 so in one end we have distortion on the other end. We have compression, and it's just kind of a matter of where we want to draw the line in between for taking a tight portrait shot. So for portrait lenses, the characteristics that we should be thinking about and asking questions on when we're going to choose one his first and foremost what's the angle of view? And what sort of working distance is that going to give me? Because that's going to determine the perspective of the final picture, and you might prefer a 70 or you might prefer 100 or 35 or whatever the number. But that's the first thing that you want to figure out to get right, cause that's the most important thing to figure out. The next is to figure out the depth of field, which is the aperture on the lens. How wide and fast of lens, a 14 a two point Poland's. There's a variety of options in there. The bouquet is the quality, the out of focus. And this actually goes beyond just whether it's 142 or 1.8 lands. The actual look of that OK, that out of focus theory, is it a smooth, out of focus? Or is it kind of a jittery that doesn't really look clean? And even another factor would be the overall sharpness. Elin's you know, in some ways too sharp a lens is not good in portrait photography. You can always blur something down, but if it's if it's not sharp, is you would like. You can't see individual hairs that you would want to see. That would be a problem, but most of these lenses are quite sharp. The size and weight of the lens. I told you that the 85 12 is a beautiful lens, but that is a chunk heavy lens. And if you're working in a studio all day raising that up and down, you might as well just put a bar bell in your hand. That thing is so heavy. And so for some people, that's gonna be hard on their arms on their backs. And it might be better to shoot with an 85 18 even though they like the other characteristics on that lens. And then, of course, you're all gonna have to consider the price according to what your own needs are. So the portrait range that most people are going to be thinking about would start at 50 and they would go up to the 200 millimeter range. And so it's, Ah, normal to a telephoto lands. And I can't tell you what you should buy. I would have to know so many factors about it. It would be a very long phone call. All right, so can you shoot Portrait Sat 24. Well, what do you mean by a portrait? Is it is it a tight head shot is a picture of a person. I have no problem. This is one of my favorite people pictures, and it's with a 24 wide angle lens. Technically, it has distortion, but I've kept the faces towards the center of the frame. So the distortion effect is happening more over here, where it's not as noticeable and so shooting people in their environments. Yeah, you can shoot with the 24. That's not a problem at all. In my opinion. How about a 35 millimeter lands up fairly close? Yeah, you could do that. Sometimes it's just the lens you have on the camera. Sometimes you want to show the environment around, gives you that feeling that you are right there next to John. Yeah, we can have portions of animals as well. Alright, what about a 50 millimeter lance shooting portrait's with 50 millimeter lens clip? Very close. Yes, we can't. Would this look better with in 85? Maybe I didn't have the chance. I didn't have in with me. I didn't have the opportunity to switch, move back and change it. It was a quick opportunity, and you take it when you can get it. And so, yes, you can get good porch. It's with a 50 millimeter lens, as I mentioned, it's very nice for head to toe portrait's full length portrait, but you can get reasonably close up portrait and have them look very good. 70 millimeters. The top into that 24 to 70 is a great place for getting portrait it. So if you have that zoom lens, I would zoom in all the way out to 70. Pretty close to that classic 85. And that's a great place for shooting people photos. So our classic focal length is 85. That's generally the go to. This is the 85 1.2 shot at 1.2. So when you want to blur that background, this does it better than anything else. And so, if that okay, if that out of focus, that shallow depth of field is a paramount importance to you than the 85 12 might very bill might very well be worth it's money, but the 85 18 It does a great job for many other circumstances. 100 millimeter lands slightly longer gives you a little bit more working distance with your subjects, the more you want to shoot. Tight head portrait's tighter the frame that you want. Probably the longer the lens that you want, 100 135 would be really good for those tighter portrait's, because to get full length, you need to get much further back from your subject, but that this is the 1 35 F two and I'm able to blow that background tests. Miller reads completely out of focus because it's 1 35 to another factor just in the set up of the shot. He is very far away from that background. The further that background is from him, the more I'm going to be able to get it out of focus. And so, rather than having him lay down on the grass right next to the fence or to the bushes behind him, I got him very far away from those bushes. 1 35 gonna put you a little bit further back, but nice for those tight headshots. Look at that background. This is with an F four lands. Look at how blurry that background is, even though we're only at F four. Be nice to have a 1 35 F, too, but I was traveling and I couldn't take all the lenses, had a trim down travel lightweight 200 millimeter lands great for those tighter, isolating details type shots, and those two hundreds were really going to be able to blow that background out of focus. Very very easily so you can shoot portrait at many, many different focal wings. Don't let anyone tell you it has to be one focal length. So if you were a pro and you said I want to shoot professional quality portrait and I need a top of the line lens, what would you recommend? Well, the 85 12 is pretty obvious choice. Very expensive lands. But it gives you that super shallow depth of field. The 51 too. If you want something a little bit wider, angle more for full length portrait s'more, More lifestyle. If you're gonna be working outside, you want a little bit longer distance. The 1 35 works really well. If you're gonna be shooting the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, the 200 millimeter lands working out on the beach where you have a lot of room to back up outdoor photographer there. But probably more part Portrait's are shot with the 72 200 because of its versatility so they could shoot 70 and 85. 100 Really nice. You know, if you were going to take someone's portrait, go down to the park and you want to photograph them. You know, sometimes there's walkways and there's places you can't back up into it. So having that versatility of the zoom is just really nice to have. Yeah, you don't get that fast aperture. But that versatility allows you to shoot with so many different positions, and by shooting at a longer focal length and backing up a little bit, you can get that very shallow depth of field. And so that would be the choice that is used by most professionals because of its versatility. So that's gonna cost you anywhere between 1000 and almost $6000. Next level is the mid level anywhere from 330 bucks, which is very affordable, in my opinion, to $1200 we have a 50 millimeter and the 85 18 85 1 It's probably gonna be the best value. Good go to choice in here. Another good option in here would be the 100 millimeter, which is the near sibling to the 85. Just a little bit more working distance. The 72 204 is what I've shot a lot of my portrait's with because That's my favorite. Go to lens for travel photography, and it's what's available. It's the best portrait lens that I have when I'm traveling, and so all of these could do good. Portrait's. The 50 is going to be a little bit wider angle, probably not suitable for head tight head shots. If you were doing tight head shots, I would think more than 100 general Purpose 85. But the 72 200 is an all purpose lens if you said I need an all purpose lands. That's also pretty good at Portrait's as well, like that one. Okay, so let's move down to the next level. Just basic. What do you have? That's a basic portrait lands now 40 millimeters. Now this kind of depends on what camera you are basing this on. Is it a full frame camera? And I'm kind of thinking at the basic level you're working off of a crop frame camera, so the 40 millimeter translates somewhere to a 60 millimeter lens or so, which is getting into that portrait range. Very small, very lightweight, very cheap in price. The 50 millimeter 18 That's going to be the logical choice in most cases because that's gonna translate to about an 80 millimeter lands. And that's a pretty fast aperture so you can get that shallow depth of field. A couple of other options that may work is the 85 18 Yeah, we saw that over here. I I can put it in two places if I want to, and it's just relatively cheap, so it is also a very good option there. Now it is a little bit longer lens. If you are using a crop fame pyramid, so you are going to need a little bit more distance. But that 60 micro we talked about that in the micro section that would also make a nice portrait focal length as faras the angle of view. But it also gives you the ability to get up really close. It's not as fast in the aperture cause it's just a 2.8 aperture, but that gives you a versatility in a different manner. So I could see using any one of these. I would be perfectly happy using any one of these to get a portrait. Now, if I had something specific in mind, I'd like to take my choice of which one of these to use. But I think you could get great portrait with any one of these lenses. So hopefully that will stem the tide of what lens should I use for portrait photography? Now I want to talk about something in particular, and that is group shots. I want to get a shot of a group of people. How do I get a shot of a group of people and make everyone look right? And so I was asked to do a group shot, and I said, If you guys don't mind, can I shoot this with a bunch of different lenses? And so I shot it with the 50 millimeter lands all the way down to an 11 millimeter lands. And so let's look at the 50. Okay. Things look pretty good here. I'm I'm pretty happy with this, but let's try. Ah, 35 moving in a 28 24. And okay, with 20 were starting to get distortion. Notice the people on the ends guy on the left, girl on the right. Especially as we get down to 18. 16. I'm standing very close to them right now at 11 millimeters. I'm almost standing on their toes. Is 11 millimeters the best place to get our group shots? Probably not. We're starting to were starting to stretch body parts. Here, folks doesn't look good. And so let's go back up. And in my opinion, I think this looks better, the longer the focal ing. And so if you can shoot this at 50 I think it looks good at 50. And so I think, for group shots, I would want to be in the 35 millimeter to 50 millimeter range, assuming that you can back up and get the whole group in it. I know there situations where you end up with extremely large groups and you're limited and you have to shoot with 28 24 there it's more of a location issue. Do you have a location? Can you angle it yourself so that you need a less wide angle lands? And so in this case, a normal ends 24 to 70 is a great lens tohave because you'll have that 50 if you can get it. But if you need wider, you can get a whiter and closer if necessary. And so 35 to 54 year group shots

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

What's in the Frame? HD
What's in the Frame? LOW
Field of View HD
Field of View LOW
Lens Keynote Parts 1-4
Lens Keynote Parts 5-8
Canon® Lens Data

Ratings and Reviews


I so appreciate what a good teacher John is. I wish I would have known this much about lenses when I first started out buying my lenses. It was hard finding information about lenses. I didn't want to spend money on a lens I wouldn't use. The better understanding we have about our gear the better photographers we will be. I have never seen a class like this. Invaluable...yes I bought the class! I am really impressed with the high quality photography classes available on Creative Live!


This was a great class not just about the lenses that Canon offers but also how each lens works. As usual, John's slides are alway informative and entertaining. There is a phrase: John has a slide for that! I am not even a Canon user and found this class to have great information for the use of each specific lens. Great work John! Thank you Creative Live for another great class!

Tami Miller

Have loved the other John Greengo classes I've watched & purchased - and this is another winner! Having been a high school/college science teacher, it is refreshing to take a course with someone who not only is extremely experienced, seems to be a computer having stored so much knowledge, but is equally concerned about making the information truly understandable to different levels. And he shares the information using every tool he can: slides, video, interactive presentations, and great quizzes. I learned so much about my Canon lenses - and lenses in general with their many components. I am excited about testing each of mine to see what macro ratio they handle, and especially appreciated the tutorial on testing each for their specific quirk that affects super sharpness. This class is great whether you own Canon lenses or not. Thanks John Greengo!

Student Work