Which Lens Is Best for Portraits? 35mm vs 50mm vs 85mm

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Photo of 35mm 50mm 85mm lenses

Which lens should you buy for portrait photography? This is a frequent question for beginner photographers and one that portrait pro Julia Trotti tackles in the below video.

In the clip, Trotti compares three prime lenses of different focal lengths to see which one is best for portraits: 35mm vs 50mm vs 85mm. In particular, she shoots with a Sony Zeiss Distagon T FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA, a Sony Zeiss Planar T FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA, and a Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens while photographing model Charlotte Mullan.

“I have lots of photo examples to show you,” Trotti says. “And I want to share with you what I think each of these focal lengths excels at and what each of these focal lengths doesn’t do so well at.”

The first lens comparison test Trotti performs is photographing Charlotte standing in one outdoor spot using each of the three lenses. “For the rest of the comparisons in this video, I’m going to be moving around to frame each picture on every lens to look the same,” she adds. “So, this going to start giving us an idea of how a focal length affects a person and the background in a photo.”

She proceeds to then do a full body shot of Charlotte with each of the lenses. “The 35mm has the least compression and the background is more prominent in our photos,” Trotti says. “I personally really like this lens for my portraits because you can see more of the background.”

Next, she tries the 50mm while shooting Charlotte in the same full body scenario. “This is my go-to focal length for full body shots. The 35 can distort what someone’s body looks like by stretching it out but the 50 is more true to the eye. There is also some depth of field to help your subject stand out from the background but it’s not too much. I like that you can still make out what the location looks like in the background.”

Lastly, she tests the Sony 85mm f/1.4 lens. “This is a great lens for full body shots if you’re going for a magical feeling in your photos. The compression and background to foreground separation makes for some standout shots where the subject is the main focal point of the image, and the rest of the background just melts away.”

So, which of the three lenses does Trotti prefer? You need to watch the full video below and view all her test results to get her take on the three focal lengths for portrait photography. Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of preference, but Trotti’s comparison test should give you a good idea of which lens is right for your photography.

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