Using primes or zooms for portraits? Here are pros and cons of both

Dec 23, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Using primes or zooms for portraits? Here are pros and cons of both

Dec 23, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Choosing prime or zoom lenses is mainly a matter of preference. And what to choose when you’re shooting portraits? Many photographers would rather reach for primes, but modern zoom lenses can also give you sharp, high-quality images. In this video, Manny Ortiz discusses his choice when it comes to the lens for portrait photography. He tests an 85mm f/1.4 and a 70-200mm f/1.8. They are both great, but they have both advantages and disadvantages.

YouTube video

Manny shoots with Sony Alpha a7R II and the lenses are Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM and Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS. Although he leans more towards the 85mm, the 70-200mm also has its advantages. Of course, this is just a personal preference, but it could help you make a decision based on your personality and shooting style.

Prime lens

Let’s start with the advantages, as this is Manny’s preferred lens. For starters, the 85mm lens is a lot lighter than the 70-200mm. According to Manny, it’s also sharper. It has a wider aperture than the zoom lens, so you can get more light even when the lighting conditions aren’t ideal.

On the minus side, with a prime lens, you have to physically move to change composition. Depending on the location, it may not always be possible.

Zoom lens

When it comes to the advantages of a zoom lens, it’s apparently more versatile. It allows you to get more different shots in the same location. With a long lens such as 70-200, you can zoom in and get excellent compression and isolate your subject.

On the minus side, at 200mm, you can feel disconnected with the model. Manny prefers being close to his subjects so he can direct them, and also doesn’t. With the 85mm, he feels more engaged. Another disadvantage I’d add is: zoom lenses are generally less sharp, at least if they are within the same price category.  For example, you can buy a sharp prime for $200, but it’s not very likely you’d find an equally sharp zoom in that price category.

As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to portraits, I also rather choose primes. In my case, it’s a matter of budget: my cheap 50mm is certainly sharper and has a wider aperture than any zoom lens I can afford. But of course, this is also subjective, and I mainly take photos as a hobby. What’s your preferred lens for portraits?

[85mm vs 70-200 2.8 for portraits? WHICH IS BETTER? | Manny Ortiz via fstoppers]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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11 responses to “Using primes or zooms for portraits? Here are pros and cons of both”

  1. Pinto Sony Avatar
    Pinto Sony

    Manny Ortiz Also here :D

  2. Sergi Yavorski Avatar
    Sergi Yavorski

    Primes when there’s time, zoom on the go

  3. Basia Kowalska Avatar
    Basia Kowalska

    Does he only shoot women??? The opening sequence of his video has only photos of women. Does he also use his prime to feel engaged with models of other genders? Just wondering

    1. Andy Charles Avatar
      Andy Charles

      That women is his wife.

  4. David Ganz Avatar
    David Ganz

    Photographers often seek out the sharpest lenses possible as if that’s the holiest grail, only to filter them for clients who don’t want to acknowledge the “imperfections “that we all have.

  5. Jukka Jalkanen Avatar
    Jukka Jalkanen

    There arent many zooms for 4×5 cameras

  6. Guido Van Damme Avatar
    Guido Van Damme

    I really doesn’t matter, does it…

  7. RScicluna Avatar
    RScicluna

    As the article makes somewhat clear the advantages of both types of lenses are situational. In my experience both should be available just in case. Of course the aperture disadvantage of the zoom in low light situations can be managed by using a tripod. If, however, you are interested in a much reduced depth of field nothing beats a wide aperture lens. As for cost, one can purchase a really high quality prime lens from, for instance, eBay for pennies on the dollar that were used with 35mm cameras in days gone by. Yes you have to use your DSLR in manual mode. Another small price to pay.

  8. Ahmad Sami Avatar
    Ahmad Sami

    Don’t generalize the comparison between 70-200mm Vs. 85mm to all zoom and prime lenses, as many zoom lenses are way sharper than many prime lenses … the fact of prime lenses being lighter than zoom lenses is because each zoom lens is just a combination of tens of prime lenses, which obviously in favor of zoom lenses … (Focusing Speed) is a significant factor however is not mentioned above, and the fact to add to this comparison is that the 70-200mm focusing speed is much faster than the 85mm.

  9. nicubunu Avatar
    nicubunu

    From the lenses i own (in Canon), two can be considered good for portrait: 70-200 mm f/4 and 85 mm f/1.8. From those, my preference goes to the 85 mm for the sole reason of a laeger aperture. The rest is secondary.
    In an ideal world where budget does not matter, my ideal improvement would be to stay at 85 mm and increase the aperture or maybe increase the focal distance up to 135 mm.
    In the real world however, space may be an issue so it happens to find myself shooting with the 70-200 close to the wide end.

  10. Michele M. Ferrario Avatar
    Michele M. Ferrario

    If you change composition zooming you have a serious issue on photography competence