Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Quest for the Perfect Portrait Lens

I'm seeking a perfect prime in the 85-105mm range. I want it for portraits (FF), both outdoors and studio.

I have ruled out the 105 and 135 DC primes, I do not like that complication. Some alternatives that I have explored:
  • Nikon 85mm f/1.4, very nice on DX, but does not focus close enough in FF, and sharpness and purple fringing/CA wide open leaves lots of room for improvement.
  • Carl Zeiss ZF 85mm f/1.4. Much better that the Nikon, but neither focuses close enough.
  • Carl Zeiss ZF 100mm f/2. What a nice lens this is. Lovely in so many aspects. Two problems though. CA wide open is easily observable, and focusing is quite a challenge for medium distances. As a macro lens, it is optimized for close focus, and the focus scale has a lot of range for short distances. The focus throw needs however micro adjustments for medium-long focus distances, and it is not always easy to nail it.
  • Nikon 105mm f/1.8 AIs. I´m waiting for one to test, I´m expecting similarities with the Nikon 85mm, AF aside.
  • Leica R APO 90 f/2, converted to F-Mount using the bayonet. Sharpness can't be better wide open, colours and contrast are fantastic, and it really focuses very close (0.7m). The perfect lens? Yep, if it wasn't that the conversion turns it into a dumb lens. No diaphragm control means that you have to really close it and focus and meter stopped down. Nice for wide apertures, but useless for studio and where you may need f/8 or smaller, depending on the ambient light.
As of today, I´m using the CZ ZF 85mm for studio, where I need/want f/9 or f/11, and the Leica 90mm for outdoors wide open, or stopped down to f/4. It would be so nice if the Leica 90 could be fully converted to AI-s ...


  1. Hi, bro. Si me apunto a un curso de fotografía CCC intensivo de 1 mes, me dejarás participar activamente?? Anyway, I'll be following this blog. Love your photos. Cheers, Margarita.

  2. Hi Miguel, I think it's not easy to find a portrait lens that goes well indoor and outdoor. But if there are a lens with acceptable balance, nice colours, sharpness, contrast, bokeh... it's the Zeiss ZF 100mm f/2. I miss the AF, but it's not a problem.
    Good luck with your new blog!!

  3. Oscar, encima que lo echo de menos, ¡no me lo restriegues! Un abrazo.