It seems that every photographer is on the quest for the sharpest lens, and most of the time I get this. Arguably, the sharpest lenses out there are macro lenses and if you want the ultimate in sharpness this is what you need. Out of all the Canon L series lenses I own my Canon 100mm f2.8L IS macro lens is the sharpest of the lot, and when I use it I have to watch I don’t cut my fingers. Okay, so I won’t slice my hand open when I use it, but I am sure you get the point I am trying to make.
There seems to be a recent trend in using macro lenses for portrait photography, which I have to say kind of surprises me. Okay, a lens with a 100mm focal length is nice for a full body portrait, so a macro lens ticks the box in this respect but macro lenses are just too sharp to take photos of people.
A macro lens is designed to show minute details, and when applied to portrait photography this means a macro lens will record every spot, every pimple, every blemish and every variation in skin tone and skin colour. If the model has slightly flaky skin anywhere a macro lens will pick it up. If the model has any areas of greasy skin a macro lens will pick it up. A macro lens will pick up absolutely everything. Portrait shots are meant to show the subject at its best, portrait shots are meant to be flattering and portrait shots are meant to enhance and highlight the subject’s best features.
I’m sure you can see the conflict here, i.e. a macro lens will highlight and draw attention to all subject’s imperfections where as a portrait photographer you want to highlight the best bits. Hmmmm……………………… Considering this it seems pretty clear that macro lenses are not suitable for portrait photography.
Even if the subject’s face and features are flawless I would still never dream of using a macro lens for portrait photography. The most pleasing portraits, whilst still sharp, have areas that are ever so slightly soft and a little softness enhances the photo no end. In particular, portraits of women and children are better with a little softness although many portrait photographers do the same when photographing men. If you use a macro lens for portrait photography achieving areas of softness is almost impossible.
The bottom line is macro lenses are too sharp for portrait shots, and whilst a sharp lens is required to ensure the eyes (the gateway to the soul) are sharp you don’t need the extreme sharpness you get with a macro lens.
The lenses I use for portrait photography
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.