This is going to be a short article/rant, but I just had to get this off of my chest. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of photography blogs post articles with some variant of the title “The perfect portrait lens”. I completely understand why these articles are posted. it’ a catchy, click-bait title. Every photographer dreams of having one perfect utility lens they can use in any portrait situation. When I see titles like that, my first thought is: “I want to know what the perfect portrait lens is!” Inevitably, I’m let down after reading the article. Here’s why…
For those too lazy to read the whole article, I’ll give you the answer. The articles are bull because there is no perfect portrait lens. There are so many variables and styles of portrait photography, each dictating the requirements for the lens. It would be impossible to narrow it down to a specific lens.
In most of the articles, an 85mm prime lens is selected as the perfect portrait lens. For argument’s sake, I’m going to use this lens in my examples of why the “perfect” portrait lens doesn’t exist. However you could make the argument for any lens selected as the “perfect” portrait lens.
I personally do family photography, newborn photography, maternity photography, engagement photography, some studio work, photos of my own family, portraits while traveling, and a party here and there. Each of these types of session require a different “perfect” lens. For example, almost all of the newborn photography I do is in-home. In a perfect world, an 85mm would deliver wonderful photos of newborns and parents. I would love to use an 85mm lens on newborn shoots. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. In many cases, rooms are small, dark, and cramped and babies are fickle. For my style of photograpy, I need a lense with a shallow depth of field, so that rules out zoom lenses. In a newborn session, I don’t have time to constantly switch lenses, so that I need something that I can use in most situations. I usually don’t have the space to backup to frame a scene for an 85mm lens. For shots from above, I’d need to bring a 12 ft ladder with me (not to mention ceiling height) with an 85mm lens. My (long-winded) point here is that the 85mm lens might deliver wonderful photos, but it isn’t practical. There are other variables. For me personally, I choose to use a 35mm 1.4 lens on most of my shoots.
The same applies to other types of sessions. Kids are VERY impatient, so for family sessions, I like to use a zoom lens so that I can quickly reframe a shot around the kids, not the other way around. For parties, most are in close quarters and things change so quickly, I find there is no replacement for a 24-70mm. For maternity photography, it really depends on the location. I’d love to shoot with a longer lens to get nice depth and compression, but I don’t always have that option, especially in cities.
In any case, I think you get the point. There is no perfect portrait lens. It depends on so many variables. Each photographer will have to decide what the perfect portrait lens is for their specific needs, many of which do not directly involve the specs of the lens.