Want to know WHY you NEED an 85mm Lens?!

It’s no big secret that many photographers initially reach for their 85mm lens! I know adding an 85mm lens to my arsenal was a BIG deal! I researched my different lens options for months and came to love the idea of what the 85mm could do for my portfolio. The best part about the 85mm is what you see, is what you get. Literally.  Many times, lenses can distort an image, or don’t have that compressed look you may want to achieve in your photography. This lens combines both incredible image quality, artistic blur and very little distortion.  Read on for more great features of the 85mm lens and why you should potentially consider it as your next prime lens!

85mm Lens

85mm Focal Length

The focal length of the 85mm is really popular with portrait photographers! In fact, for many, it’s their go-to lens on a session! The minimum focusing distance with the 85mm is approximately 2.8 feet from your intended focal point. This means that while you’ll have to stand further back than when you use a 35mm, for example, the depth of field has the potential for that bokeh and creamy background that many photographers desire. If you want your subject to be bigger in your frame, the 85mm is a great choice!

The great thing about using a fixed lens like the 85mm allows you to really get creative and use your feet! You can grab those close-ups while keeping your distance and also get those wider shots (if you take a few steps back)!

85mm Lens Photography

Distortion with the 85mm

The great thing about 85mm lenses is that they accurately photograph the human face, meaning there is very little distortion. What IS distortion exactly? It’s basically when lines start bending. These lines could start bending in ALL different ways, much like they do with a fisheye lens.  In the case of faces, wide angle lenses sometimes distort facial features, making them uncharacteristically large or…distorted. The 85mm is a very straightforward option if you like consistency and accuracy.

Bokeh/Compression with the 85mm Lens

The 85mm is WELL known to be great for compression and bokeh.  To make it short and sweet, the 85mm tends to make the background appear closer than it is while allowing the subject to really stand out.  This allows your eye to go directly to where you want it to! The more “open” your aperture, the more blur you’ll get in the background! So if you’re going for the full effect, try and set your f-stop to 1.2 to 2.0!

Take a closer look at the leaves in this photo.  It shows the compression that can be achieved while shooting at a wide aperture. The leaves show the different depths that can be achieved with one lens!

Does the 85mm work in low light?

The 85mm lens is great in low light situations. Why? It tends to “allow” more light than other lenses. I’ll save you all of the specific math, but the focal length, divided by the aperture, gives you an “area” of light.  So the lower the aperture, the more light the lens will allow into the camera.  So for example, an 85mm 1.4 is going to give you a better result than a 50mm 1.4. Lighting results are also partially determined by our cameras as well, but the 85mm definitely adds an extra lighting boost!

Prime lenses, in general, tend to be more able to handle low light situations. Read this great tutorial to learn more about prime lenses and what they are capable of!

This friendly piranha portrait was taken at an aquarium with virtually no light, other than the light shining into the tank. It was shot with an 85mm SigmaArt at ISO 3200, f/3.5 and a shutter speed of 1/125s.

Universal options with a 85mm

The 85mm is known as a great portrait lens, but what many don’t know is that the 85mm is also considered a short telephoto lens! Many landscape nature photographers use it when photographing wildlife!

85mm Focal Length

It can be easily used for headshot photography, portraits, in same cases macro photography, landscapes, weddings, and events. Basically, it’s just a solid lens all around!

Varying Makes, Models and Prices (USD)

  • Canon f/1.2, Price: $1,900
  • Canon f/1.4, Price: $1600
  • Canon f/1.8, Price: $349
  • Nikon f/1.8, Price: $476
  • Sony f/1.4, Price $1,7998
  • SigmaArt f/1.4, Price: $1,200 (The SigmaArt can be used with Canon or Nikon, but remember to get the CORRECT version!)
  • Rikinon f/1.4 for Canon, $290

*Prices are all based on the listings from the United States Amazon.com

What is better for portraits, a 50mm or 85mm?

Now, this is probably the hardest question to answer, as both lenses are supremely popular among portrait and wedding photographers around the world. Here’s the thing, they both have amazing qualities, and you can’t go wrong with either!

The 50mm is cheaper overall when it comes to the 1.8 version. The 85mm is also a bit heavier with every version, so it depends on how much time you’ve been spending at the gym! The main thing you have to consider is distance! With the 50mm lens, you can be much closer to your subject, making it easier to communicate. With the 85mm, you’ll have to be roughly 4 meters away from your client.

The 85mm overall makes the face look truer to form (which I’m sure some people will disagree with). Overall, like I mentioned, you can’t go wrong, but I still reach for my 85mm before my 50mm based on the higher compression I get out of the two lenses.

Which lens is best for portraits?

Yep, you guessed it!

As many of us know, buying lenses during our photography journey can be a bit daunting.  Overall, the 85mm, no matter the make, can be a really solid addition to any photographers arsenal! Due to its overwhelming universality and clarity, you can grab it in ANY situation. The great part is, it’s also a great go-to if you’re on a budget! The 85mm prime lens is such a great universal option if you are looking to add dimension to your portfolio.

Check out this video if you want to see how the 85mm really delivers!