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Photography Question 
Lisa C. Lloyd

Best Portrait Lens?

I've finally saved enough money to buy some really great glass. Now the question is what should I get? I'm looking for the top recommended portrait lenses for Nikon. Thank you!

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10/1/2009 11:07:46 AM

Jon Close
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/18/2000
  DX (eg. D90) or FX (eg. D700)? AF motor in the camera, which can use any Nikon AF lenses? Or D60/D40 and D5000/D3000 which can only autofocus with lenses having internal AF motors (AF-S)? Or are you willing to work with manual focus only (eg. the very fine Zeiss ZF primes)? Studio (primes) or photojournalist style (zoom)?

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10/1/2009 12:01:59 PM

Lisa C. Lloyd   I currently have a D90, but intend to upgrade to D300s within the next couple of months. I'm fine with manual focus. Photojournalism.

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10/1/2009 12:04:36 PM

Jon Close
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/18/2000
  Both are DX. Usual suspects are 35 f/1.4 (whole body, groups), 50 f/1.4, 85 f/1.4 (tight head shots), or one of either the 17-55 f/2.8 or 24-70 f/2.8 zooms. IMHO, YMMV.

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10/2/2009 12:29:27 PM

Lisa C. Lloyd   What is the difference between DX and FX?

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10/2/2009 2:06:10 PM

Alan N. Marcus   FX and DX difference:
Good question because these terms define the image dimensions of the digital chip. Knowing your chipís dimensions is a critical step when it comes to lens selection.
We select lenses for tasks like wide-angle, normal, portrait, and telephoto. Without knowledge of your chip dimension, you will not have a clue.
Normal: By tradition a camera is said to have an angle of view that is considered normal if the focal length approximately matches the diagonal measure of the chip or film. By normal, we are talking about a camera that matches the human experience as to angle-of-view. Suppose you are standing, peering out at a vista, through window glass. You could draw the outline of objects with a wax pencil on the glass. If you do, you have drawn the perspective of the human experience. Such a view and perspective is approximately duplicated when your camera is fitted with a lens with a focal length that about matches the diagonal measure of the film/chip format.
For the full-frame digital with a format of 24mm by 36mm, the diagonal dimension is 43mm. This being such an odd size, the architect, Oskar Barnack, inventor of the Leica 35mm camera, mounted a more practical 50mm lens. This format is known as "full frame" or FX.
For the FX format, 50mm is "normal".
Wide-angle is 70% of this value or shorter - thus, 35mm or shorter.
Telephoto is 200% of this value or longer thus 100mm or longer.
For technical reasons, portrait is approximately 250% of normal; however, this value is extracted from the actual diagonal measure. Thus it is 107mm. Since this is such an odd value, we traditionally round to 105mm.
DX was derived from a failed hybrid film format of the late 1990s introduced by Kodak and Fuji and others. The camera used 24mm film and the format dimensions were 16.7mm by 25.1mm. The film had a special magnetic coat so it could record both chemically and digitally. Although this idea was a failure, the format lives on in the DX models. Format dimensions are 16mm by 24mm diagonal 30mm.
As a result, wide-angle is 20mm or shorter.
Normal is 30mm.
Telephoto is 60mm or longer.
Portrait is 75mm.
Many might quarrel with the 70% - 200% - 250% values, however they are based on good science. Let me add that photography is both an art and a science, so you are free to choose lenses based on other parameters.
Alan Marcus (marginal technical gobbledygook)

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10/2/2009 3:21:30 PM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003

If you're not bothered by manual-focus, you may want to research some used MF Nikkor AI-S lenses. You can find great deals on these old tack-sharp film camera lenses. When you upgrade to that D300, AI-S lenses are compatable in Aperture-Priority and Manual metering modes.

Ken Rockwell has put together a fine tutoral on the subject of Nikon lens compatability.

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10/3/2009 1:00:58 AM

Lisa C. Lloyd   I can't thank you enough for your answers. What a great jumping off point!

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10/5/2009 7:39:57 PM

Dennis Flanagan
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/31/2005
  One more thing to consider is how much room you have to work with. Are you shooting in a studio? If so, with the 1.5 magnification factor in focal length, if your room is too small, you could have a heck of a time shooting full body or multiple people.

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10/5/2009 10:27:16 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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  For Canon shooters, the 70-200mm f/2.8 is used by a great many pros as it is a beautiful, fast & versatile lens for portraits. I know Nikons 70-200mm is equivalent.

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10/6/2009 7:16:05 AM

Randy A. Myers
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2002
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  You may want to consider the 105 VR macro. You can kill two birds with one stone with this lens. Some say it's too sharp for portraits, but you can always soften the image. The 105 gives you a good working distance unless you are in real cramped quarters. On top of that, you get a macro lens as a bonus.

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10/6/2009 7:16:58 AM

Ellen L. Zaslaw
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/30/2003
  The 105 prime is the best portrait lens Nikon ever made.

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10/6/2009 7:11:53 PM

Alan N. Marcus   The 105mm is a great portrait focal length when mounted on a full frame FX format camera. However itís a bit long for the DX. Gray haired photographers (me included I am 71) tend to think in terms of how lenses perform on the venerable 35mm full frame format.

Now the use of the 105mm for portrait is just a rule-of-thumb and not an engraved in stone value. This focal length takes into account the typical viewing distance of an 8x10 or 16x20 portrait print. The 105mm, when used on the full frame, forces the photographer to work at an increased distance from the subject. Such a lash-up delivers a print with a perspective that duplicates what the client sees in his/her make-up mirror. This perspective sells best and often wins contests. The downside, the distance dictated by the 105mm is likely too far if the studio is small. Anyway nobody is twisting your arm forcibly and making you use a 105mm.

As to the 105mm on a DX: The DX chip is 66% of the size of the FX chips. That means the DX is smaller. Smaller means if the 105mm is used, the top, bottom and both sizes of the image projected by the 105mm will be cropped off by the baffles and chip mask. How will the 105mm perform on the DX format? Answer: 105 x 1.5 = about 160 so the 105mm mounted on a DX performs like a 160mm would if mounted on a FX.

Such a lash-up will force you to step back too far and likely your shooting area canít tolerate the increased distance.

The 1.5 multiplier or crop factor is derived the diagonal of the FX is 43mm. The Diagonal measure of the DX is 28mm. Now 43 ų 28 = 1.5 (the crop factor).

The best portrait lens for DX formats is about 75mm.

More gobbledygook from Alan Marcus

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10/8/2009 10:22:27 PM

Usman M. Bajwa
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/11/2006
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  Alan.... your 'gobbledygook' stuff is always very informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing the same. And keep gobbledygooking..!!


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10/9/2009 4:31:01 AM

Lisa C. Lloyd   Thank you, everyone. Amazing how much I've learned. I intended to get the 70-200mm...delimma solved, right? Not so much. My birthday is next week and my husband asked where he could go to buy me a present, and then blurted out "Well, what I mean is where could I go exactly to get you a D700 since I know that's what you're hankering for?" Crazy man-gotta love him! With the economy like it is, and knowing that there are so many unemployed, I simply can't justify spending that type of money on anything. My brother, who has three little girls, just lost his job so I imagine that's where my savings will go. The idea of my nieces going without makes me crazy!
Thanks again for all of your help.

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10/29/2009 4:33:31 PM

Lisa C. Lloyd   Oops. That's supposed to be "dilemma". :)

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10/29/2009 4:36:24 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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  Hi Lisa,
Sorry to hear about your brother and kudos for being a good sister and making the decision of helping your family out. I hear the Sigma 70-200 lenses are pretty darn good and much cheaper if you have any $$ left.
Sometimes we have to become a little more creative in making do with what we got.

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10/30/2009 11:07:36 PM

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