Almost all of the portrait photography tutorials out there (in the library and online) state that if you want to capture the best portraits there is only one type of lens to use, and that is a prime lens. Prime lenses are excellent tools for portrait photography however you can easily achieve excellent portraits with a zoom lens too.
There is a common school of thought the image quality of prime lenses is superior to that of zoom lenses, and I have to say that I agree prime lenses do have superior image quality. That said, the difference in image quality between a top end zoom and a prime lens is so negligible you have to go pixel peeping or create very large prints to actually see it. The difference in image quality between a prime lens and a cheap/budget zoom lens is a lot more noticeable.
A cheap/budget zoom lens is not good for portrait photography, and rather than use one of these I would suggest spending the money on a good prime lens instead since there is not much difference in price between them. When it comes to choosing between a top end zoom and a prime lens, however I prefer to use the zoom lens more often than not.
In my experience a top end zoom lens is the best tool for portrait photography and it is my good to lens for taking snaps of people and the reasons for this? Zoom lenses are more versatile and allow more framing options than prime lenses. With a zoom lens there is no need to keep changing lenses which makes the shoot run smoother and quicker, which means the models don’t have to stand around. In my opinion a top end zoom lens is all you need for portrait photography, and the ones I use are:-
CANON EF 24 MM - 70MM F2.8L
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 24mm - 70mm/ 38.4mm - 112mm / Aperture:- 2.8 - 22/ Min focus:- 15"/ Dimensions:- 3.48" x 4.45"/ Weight:- 28.4oz/ Image stabilization:- No/ Price (approx.) $USD/£GBP:- $1,750.00/£1,000.00
Zoom lenses don’t have the same maximum wide apertures as the fast prime lenses so there is no chance of using a zoom lens and shooting at very wide apertures (i.e. f1.2, f1.4, f1.8 or f2) and using a very shallow depth of field to throw the background out of focus. I don’t find this a problem because using very wide apertures the depth of field is often too shallow to keep everything in focus and parts of the photo I want sharp end up being a little soft. For example I have used super wide apertures in the past and whilst the eyes were sharp the tip of the nose was a little soft. Similarly, the eyes have been sharp and the ears have been a little soft, or the hair has was soft. When I shoot portraits I never shoot wider than f2.8 and sometimes narrow the lens even more.
This lens has a maximum wide aperture of f2.8, which is ideal for my needs because I never shoot wider than f2.8 when taking portraits. One of the best thing about this lens is the sharpness, even when used wide open at f2.8. The sharpness of this lens is exceptional and there is centre to edge sharpness. In addition images are bright and vivid, colours are bright and accurate and distortions/fringing etc. are well controlled. I guarantee you will not be disappointed with the image quality of this lens.
Like all L series lenses the build quality of this lens is second to none. It is made using the best materials, which makes this lens tough and sturdy. Being such a “bombproof” lens also makes this lens a little on the heavy side, which is its only disadvantage.
Compared to other lenses this lens isn’t cheap and you are going to have dig deep to buy one. That said, it is worth every penny and is top value for money and well worth buying.
Buy the Canon 24mm – 70mm f2.8L lens from Amazon.com or buy from Amazon.co.uk
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.