Sean Molin captured the bride with a Nikon D700, at 1/125 sec, f/1.4, ISO 220.
PORTRAITS-The one lens for portrait photographer
"I've always been known for my near-obsession with the 85mm focal length,” says Sean Molin, the Indiana pro who shot the radiant bridal portrait at right. “I even have a Flickr set of 85 images made with an 85mm that show off its versatility.” (See them at flickr.com/photos/seanmolin.)
His image at right illustrates why portraitists flock to this lens. On a full-frame camera, the tele 85mm focal length offers the perfect blend of imaging characteristics for the human face. Technically, as a short tele lens, it offers only mild levels of image compression compared with longer focal lengths, which tend to flatten faces, robbing them of dimension. The 85mm is just wide enough that it doesn’t suffer this problem.
Conversely, because the 85mm is indeed a tele lens, it provides enough compression that in a straight-on portrait the nose will not seem objectionably larger than the eyes or ears, as happens with slightly wider-angle glass.
And because 85mm lenses are generally free of linear distortion, they create a true and accurate reproduction of a human face, even at the farthest frame edges.
The sense of dimension also helps with backgrounds in environmental portraits. “Though the 85mm has trouble with large groups and small interiors,” says Molin, “it offers a flattering, natural compression, which can render three-dimensional backgrounds in a visually pleasing way.”
With its fast maximum aperture, the high-speed 85mm is also great for candid pictures of people. You can shoot in public spaces without a flash or tripod calling attention to yourself. To be sure, high-speed super teles also let you capture subjects unawares, but all the other advantages of a 85mm lens makes it a better choice—and it gives you a greater sense of intimacy than you can get with a stalkerish 300mm or longer lens.
Other advantages? As prime lenses, 85mms are smaller than zooms of comparable speeds, making them less intimating to self-conscious subjects. This manageable size makes for an easy wielding tool that requires no tripod and rarely gets in the way as portraitists attempt to engage with their subjects.
Made, and priced, for serious enthusiast and professional users, these lenses also offer numerous features that can help in the portrait studio, including fast and quiet autofocus, precise manual focus, and solid builds that will last a career.