What is really the best focal length for portraits in M43?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by silver92b, Jan 24, 2014.

  1. silver92b

    silver92b Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 7, 2013
    Atlanta, GA
    As usual, surfing around the web and youtube gets me into more questions that it answers. I saw a number of videos by different people, presumably pro photographers and they all say different things. Some say that no lens of less than 100mm makes good portraits, while others sing the praises of the 50mm with FF cameras. What gives?

    One particularly interesting argument against shorter focal lengths was that even with M43 and other smaller than FF sensors, the focal length is the same as the 35mm equivalent because all we have a crop factor and the barrel distortion still exists... Anyway, the subject isolation (DOF?), excellent bokeh and no distortion that one can get with FF cameras seems to be out of the reach of M43 cameras because of these factors... To make matters worse, since we are using an effectively cropped area, we cannot even get the whole picture without having to stand twice as far from our subject as with the FF format cameras.

    Anyway, I don't pretend to know about these things and I don't mean to start some sort of polemic. But I would like to hear what the cognoscenti have to say on the subject. And of course, I want to know what lens to have for best results of head shots and portraits.

  2. tosvus

    tosvus Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 4, 2014
    85mm on FF is probably considered the best focal length (it seems to have very minimal distortion). For all intents and purposes on m43, that means you go with 42.5 (Nocticron or Voigtlander), or 45mm (Olympus 1.8 or Panasonic 2.8).

    The ONLY difference in using say a 42.5mm F1.2 Nocticron vs a 85mm 1.2 is DoF. Everything else is equal (light gathering, distortion, distance to subject etc). Note that m43 lenses tend to be sharper wide open than FF equivalents (unless you compare to VERY expensive glass). If you need razor-thin DoF, m43 may not be for you, but I suggest you take a look at how a properly composed picture taken with for instance the Olympus 45mm 1.8 looks before passing judgement. Depending on distance and focal lengths, you may find that FF DoF is TOO shallow, and you end up stopping down either to get more in focus, or to get a sharper picture (as they tend to be sharper stopped down a couple of f-stops).

    If you have the money for the nocticron, my bet is you would be in an extremely small minority if that is not shallow enough DoF for you...
  3. gotak

    gotak Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 28, 2012
    Who makes the best sausages? Is there a definite answer?

    You are looking for black and white where there's only grey.
    • Like Like x 4
  4. Jay86

    Jay86 Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 26, 2012
    Like gotak above said this is very much a grey area and likely a personal matter for every single person. I likely fall in the majority of people, that is to say I like the 85-100mm FL the best for portraits which equals 42-50mm on M43. If you translate that into native M43 lenses you get... Oly 45mm, P42.5mm and a few of the zooms that hit that FL.
  5. mister_roboto

    mister_roboto Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 14, 2011
    Seattle, WA, USA
    Longer the better. Although I like big noses, so I do 12mm.
    • Like Like x 4
  6. rpatodia

    rpatodia Mu-43 Regular

    Nov 3, 2013
    Traditionally 85mm & 135mm were used for Portraits. On M4/3, roughly 35mm-75mm will give decent Portraits. I have found Russian lens like Helios 44 58mm/f2 or Mir 1 37mm/f2.8 , which are Zeiss clones, are great for Portraits. Fantastic Color, soft wide open & sharp from 2.8/3.5
  7. nickthetasmaniac

    nickthetasmaniac Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 11, 2011
    Mmmmk I'll go through this part by part because I think you've been a bit misled...

    What gives is that they are both right. I'd add that if you're a war photographer shooting environmental portraiture you would prefer much wider than 50mm and if you're paparazzi sneaking photos of Paris Hilton you could go much longer than 100mm. There is no best focal length for portraiture. Shooting context and personal preference through everything into a shambles... Explore your own photographic style and find what you like. This is the 'right' answer.

    This is not an interesting argument - this is an ill-informed and categorically untrue argument. A good 17mm on Micro Four Thirds will give no more and no less distortion than a good 35mm on full-frame.

    Full-frame sensors are smaller than medium-format sensors, that does not mean that full-frame lenses have more distortion. Full frame is not a magical, sent from above format where All is Right.

    Subject isolation is the only part of this that is true, and then only to a degree. There are excellent native lenses available for Micro Four Thirds with very fast apertures, which in turn allow good subject isolation.

    The only area where full-frame is flat-out 'better' in this respect is narrow DoF with wide-angle lenses, but then look at how expensive a 24/f1.4 or 35/f1.4 lens is for full-frame and ask if you really want to go there.

    Again, categorically untrue. Micro Four Thirds has an extensive collection of native lenses (many of which are very, very good) designed specifically for the system. The field of view you see will be exactly the same as an equivalent lens on full-frame.

    For head only portraits I'd be looking at a short-medium telephoto. The relevant native options are:
    m.ZD 45/f1.8
    PL 43/f1.2
    Voigtlander 43/f0.95 (manual focus only)
    m.ZD 75/f1.8

    For a bit more context:
    PL 25/f1.4
    Voigtlander 25/f0.95

    For environmental portraiture:
    m.ZD 17/f1.8
    Voigtlander 17.5/f0.95
    Lumix 14/f2.5
    m.ZD 12/f2

    All are excellent and offer quite different ways of getting the job done. They will also appeal to very different budgets (the new Leica is three times the price of the m.ZD 45mm).
    • Like Like x 4
  8. PhilS

    PhilS Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 24, 2012
    Brisbane, Australia
    Phil Savory
    Some portrait work I did with the humble Oly 45mm f1.8. All natural lighting

    <iframe src="https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/9397033763/player/7a7a08220e" height="1024" width="768" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen></iframe>

    <iframe src="https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/9399801714/player/a195cdee68" height="1024" width="768" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen></iframe>
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  9. spatulaboy

    spatulaboy I'm not really here Subscribing Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    North Carolina
    You can get good portraits with any lens really, if you know what you are doing. But I find 50mm to 150mm to be generally the best, and that's a pretty wide range. I know lots of photographers that use their big 70-200mm f2.8s for portraiture.

    I call bs on that one.
  10. beanedsprout

    beanedsprout Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 13, 2013
    north central Ohio
    lol this thread
  11. quatchi

    quatchi Mu-43 Veteran

    May 17, 2012
    Munich, Germany
    We had a thread from spatulaboy about beautiful m43 portraits, which recently has been pinned to the front page. Besides showing very nice portraits, he also gives some background information on which native lens used, etc.

    This is the link to the thread.

    In my opinion, what hasn't been mentioned in this thread so far, is the "working distance". Depending on your environment/studio, you might not be as free in your lens choice. The Oly 75mm (or a FF 135mm) requires some distance between the model and your camera, which you might not have in a smaller studio.

    I also want to add the Olympus 60mm f2.8 to the very capable portrait lenses. In my opinion, it renders beautiful images and the macro capability might come in handy in case your are going for a close up shot of, let's say, the eyes or something.
  12. Jeff1:1

    Jeff1:1 Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 2, 2013
    Portrait isn't just head only shots. There's quarter length (head & shoulder), half length (head to waist), full length (head to toe), then add in groups of people to each one of those lengths. A telephoto lens works fine for one person quarter length, but you'd be much farther away shooting a group at full length, so a wide angle (35 or 50mm) works better.
    Background has a lot to do with how the whole picture looks irrespective of shallow or deep dof & lens bokeh. Portrait studios use a plain background so they don't have to deal with weird patterns.
    One way I work on it (for learning lighting setups) is a tall floor lamp with shirt and pants attached to it, some newspaper stuffed in for bulk. (Models get expensive and friends get bored & haven't found a mannequin in the Macy's dumpster at mall near me.)
    • Like Like x 1
  13. speedandstyle

    speedandstyle Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    In my old 135 film days, I knew guys who used anything from a 58mm to 250mm for portrait. 85mm to 135mm is a more common range however. I preferred my old 135mm{but that was because I didn't have an 85mm back then}. I then picked up a 100mm and it worked very well.

    I don't really enjoy doing portraiture but I have used the Olympus 45mm with good results. My favorite adapted lens would be my Nikkor 50mm f1.4, although my Nikon E 100mm also works well for tighter shots, heck I have even used my 135mm.
  14. Petrochemist

    Petrochemist Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 21, 2013
    N Essex, UK
    Of the portraits I've taken amoung my favorites are actually two using a fisheye. Huge distortion, but in these it works in the images favor emphasising features like a big grin.

    big grin by Analyst 1, on Flickr

    For formal type studio portraits, the usual recomendation is for a lens slightly longer than 'normal'. (Normal being where the focal length matches the diagonal of the sensor/film) This is to minimise distortions any moderately flatten the features (which is generally flattering) without having to have an excessive large studio. If a contextual background is required a wider view will likely be more useful

    IMO there is never a single perfect lens for any type of creative photography.
    It's all about getting the right characteristics for the desided image balancing many properties against each other. Focal length, aperture, bokeh, colour rendering, sharpness, distortions, flare resistance, weight, price/availabilty... all have a part to play, (along with composition, lighting, DOF, background...)
    A great combination for one subject, will prove unsuitable for another, even if it's just down to bringing out the rugged character of a man, or softening the complexion in a lady.
    • Like Like x 1
  15. briloop

    briloop Mu-43 Regular

    May 23, 2012
    Mount Juliet, TN
    I have noticed the same thing. I've been to quite a few portrait shoots where there were usually 5-10 other photographers. They typically had FF Canon or Nikon. They tend to use the 70-200mm f2.8 for photography involving models. Photographers at these shoots who used primes were in the minority.

    Most of these shoots were in a studio, though I've been to quite a few outdoor shoots. Please keep in mind these shoots were Meetups and not purely professional work i.e. shoots involving $$$. The photographer who conducted the Meetups told me that 70-200 f2.8 is quite adequate for portrait work. He doesn't use primes.
  16. orfeo

    orfeo Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 27, 2013
    I prefer 85mm on FF, 50mm or 55mm on APS that is for 3/2 format ratio
    On m4/3 in 4/3 format I would go from 35mm to 50mm
    But in 16/9 ratio on m4/3 I prefer to stick to 25mm 1.4, horizontal portrait that is!
    With focal reducer, a 55mm f1.8 becomes a 40mm f1.2, pretty nice even with 16/9 ratio format on m4/3! And for dreamier results 50mm F1.4 with focal reducer becomes 36mm f1.0, pretty good for bokeh action...
    • Like Like x 2
  17. nardoleo

    nardoleo Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 2, 2013
    I find the 25mm ideal for portraits. But that's just me.

    Sent from my trusty Samsung Galaxy Note 2
  18. Ulfric M Douglas

    Ulfric M Douglas Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 6, 2010
    It has already been pointed out that this ;
    is just a lie.

    So decide. Trolling? or would you like to rephrase the question?
    • Like Like x 1
  19. dwig

    dwig Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 26, 2010
    Key West FL
    They are either oversimplifying their information or are ignorant of the true physics involved. What is important in portraits is the shooting distance. Focal length choice is the third thing to consider after making a decision about what framing and composition you want.

    1. Chose the shooting distance that yields the perspective you desire. For most "normal" facial rendering this needs to be between ~6'-12' (~2m-4m). Outside of that distance range you will get somewhat altered perspective (flattened features at greater distances and exagerated features at closer distances) which may or may not be desirable.
    2. Decide the framing and composition desired.
    3. Chose a focal length that accomplishes #2 at the distance chosen in #1.

    Most of those who state that good portraits require a particular focal length are ignorant of what is really involved and just state what works for them within the narrow bounds of what they consider to be "portrait composition" and what leads them to get adequate rendering with that composition.

    • Like Like x 2
  20. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Oct 1, 2010
    Lots of interesting discussion here. My 2 cents:

    First, perspective distortion has nothing to do with the lens used. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perspective_distortion_(photography) When people talk casually about "perspective distortion" they are usually thinking about the "big nose" effect that comes from having the camera very close to the subject. Since we tend to be closer with wide angle lenses, the lens get blamed for something that is not its fault. If you use a 100mm and a 28mm (equivalent) to shoot the same subject from the same distance, then crop the 28mm image to match the 100mm image you will not see any difference in perspective at all. Because there is none.

    I agree totally with others who have said that you can shoot portraits with any lens. The effects are just different. Petrochemist's fun portrait with the fish eye illustrates. That said, photographers have traditionally felt that the shooting distance usually used with 90-100mm lenses produced a pleasant perspective view of the subject. But a tight head shot with an 85 will have a different perspective than a 3/4 body shot with the same lens. I tend towards tight head shots, so I also tend towards longer lenses that allow me more distance from the subject. My favorite portrait lens in film was the 105mm Nikon 2.5. So where someone talked about a portrait range from 85mm to 135mm, I would look at that as a range from 3/4 body images to very tight head shots with the photographer maintaining a roughly constant distance from/perspective of the subject. YMMV, of course.

    The place, IMHO, that M43 is somewhat unique is in depth of field. This has never been a big deal for me though I should probably pay more attention to it. For shallower DOF, people are going to longer lenses (150mm equivalent) and bigger apertures. The downside to this, if there is one, is it produces a longer shooting distance and a flatter perspective.
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