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Photography Question 
Rick Clark
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/26/2005

Portrait/Macro Lens Recommendations

I have a Nikon D70S and am interested in purchasing a better/faster prime lens for protraits and potentially macro. Currently the only lenses I have are a Nikon 24-120D AF and a Nikon 70-210D AF which are both relatively slow. Budget constraints limit my spending to about $500.

Currently, I'm considering the following lenses:

Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG AF Macro
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di AF Macro

Both of these seem to have gotten many good reviews but the reviews tend towards evaluating the macro capabilities and don't say much about using them for portraits.

- Does anyone have any experience with using the Sigma/Tamron lenses for portraits that they could share (How do they compare to a Nikon 85mm 1.8D AF for instance).

Thanks for any comments/feedback.

Rick Clark

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1/19/2007 8:31:12 PM

Alan N. Marcus   Hi Rick,

It is my opinion that most modern lenses far exceed the demands most photographers require. That’s true unless you are making big over-mantel prints. That being said, when looking for a lens to do a specific task, pick a lens with that the capability you desire.

What do we want from a portrait lens? Once upon a time we wanted a soft lens. Particularly those who specialized in portraits of women favored soft because these lenses produced a dream-like view and most of all they minimized retouching. Next best are diffusers mounted over the lens. Many variants continue to be marketed. One of the best is silk stocking material over the lens or shooting through ordinary glass with swirls of Vaseline at the margins. All are circumvented by the digital approach and graphic software.

Now you need to know the most important aspect of lens selection for portraiture is focal length. I have seen commits on this site that pfoo-phoo the importance of this. Let me try and enlighten again: Objects close to the lens are reproduced large as compared to objects that are far. With regard to the human face, the nose is closer to the camera than the ears. If the camera is too close, the nose will be rendered too large and the ears too small. This always happens if the vantage point of the camera is actually very close as the nose will be reproduce seriously out of proportion. If the camera is only moderately too close, the nose will only be microscopically out of size. Since human faces only have tiny variants from one to another, any tiny distortion is magnified by the observer. Most often the subject of the portrait just says “I don’t photograph well”. The countermeasure is to not let this happen by stepping back as you compose. If you do this, any focal length lens will do nicely.

Why? As you get further away the ratio of the distance from nose-camera distance vs. ears-camera distance becomes insignificant. The trick is to reproduce an image familiar to the subject. The most familiar and comfortable is the prospective they see when at the make-up-mirror or shaving-mirror. Note: There are no norms in art so you are free to do as you like. What I am actuating talking about is how best to make “bread-and-butter” images i.e. those that sell to clients.

How do you make yourself step back as you compose? Answer; just do it or better yet, use a longer lens. With any camera it is universally accepted that using a lens 2.5 times the diagonal measure of the film or chip causes you to step back the required distance. Hollywood uses 3 times for their close-up shots. For a 35mm film camera the diagonal is about 42mm and 2.5 x that = 105mm. Your digital has a chip that is 15.6mm x 23.7mm. The diagonal is 28.37mm. Multiply that by 2.5 and the answerer is 70mm. That’s the minimum focal length you should select. Longer is OK as longer causes you to step back even more. Too long makes you back away and you run out of room in the studio. Zoom lenses are the most versatile. With them you can pick and choose your camera to subject distance.

OK guys and girls go for the pfoo-phooing.

Luck to all,

Alan Marcus

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1/20/2007 9:41:22 AM

Rick Clark
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/26/2005
  Alan -

Thanks for the detailed response, it's really helpful.

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1/21/2007 4:51:08 AM

Scott H.   I just bought a Tamron 90mm from for less than $300. A lot of the reviews I read (prior to buying) said they also used them for portraits and were very pleased. It is a very highly-rated lens (as is the Nikon 85mm). IMO, it you want something to do both, go with the Tamron. If not, I would buy the faster Nikon.

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1/24/2007 8:34:50 PM

Rick Clark
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/26/2005
  Scott - Thanks for taking the time to respond to my question, I appreciate your feedback. Based on budget, it sounds like the tamron and may be the way to go.

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1/25/2007 4:44:02 AM

Debby A. Tabb
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/4/2004
I find it best to work with my 200mm
when doing portraits 100-300 is recommended, you do not want to be switching lens alot in a portrait sitting and you are working with a space that allows you little control of your background.
Typical "portrait" lenses are therefore between 90 and 135 MM long.
most professionals use 70-200/2.8 or 80-200/2.8 zooms as portrait lenses,
or better yet 100 or 105 macro.
A lot depends on where you want to start and you pocket book.
I hope this helps,
Debby Tabb

* In my reg portrait sitting camera bag I have:
Nikon D200 and Fugi S2
Nikon 24-120mm 1:3.5 Vr Lens
Tamron 28-300 AF 1:3.5 macro lens
Tamron 28-200 AF 1:3.5 macro lens
on site extras:
Polorizers, soft focus and Centre Soft and asst. other filters depending on the job.

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1/25/2007 6:31:08 AM

Rick Clark
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/26/2005
  Debby - Thanks for the excellent information. I was concerned about a 90mm lens being too long with the 1.5 conversion factor of my D70s. Now I know I don't need to worry about it. Have a great day!

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1/25/2007 9:49:45 AM

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