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The photographers who debate and care about this idea don’t really wonder about image quality. Indeed, if you’re wondering about 85mm vs. 135mm for portrait photography, they’re both very good. But they’re very different focal lengths. Luckily, we’ve reviewed loads of 85mm lenses over the years. And we’ve reviewed pretty much every 135mm lens made in the past decade. So we’re pooling information that we’ve written along with some selections.
The Best 85mm Lenses for Portraits
Here are some of our favorite 85mm lenses for portraits. And if you’re interested, there’s a breakdown here:
“Another great feature of 85mm primes is the bokeh that you can create. When it comes to portraits, many people like the look of having the subject sharp and in focus while the background melts away. Image separation is easy to achieve with 85mm lenses because they have fast apertures (usually from f1.8 to f1.2). Just know that playing with telephoto lenses when wide open can be difficult, so be sure to use your cameras eye autofocus if it has it or make sure you have a steady hand; otherwise, you will find that your keeper rate is low. You can, of course, stop the aperture down so that you can keep more of the background in focus too; it all depends on your creative vision.”
The Best 135mm Lenses for Portraits
Some of our favorite 135mm lenses we’ve used for portraits. And if you’re interested, there’s more of a breakdown here.:
“There’s simply no getting around the size difference of 135mm primes compared to 85mm primes, and you’re also going to find that 135mm primes usually come with a premium price tag too. There are some exceptions to this rule, though, but just make sure you want to drop a lot of money on a lens that really has one use case.”
85mm vs 135mm Is a Huge Matter of Space
A while back, we did an infographic about the 85mm vs. 135mm lenses. And here’s what we said in that post:
“If you’re photographing portraits outdoors, either options will be fine because you don’t have to deal with space restrictions. If you’re working indoors (a studio or a client’s office), space becomes more of a concern. 135mm lenses require you to be quite a distance away from your subject. Your framing will be tighter due to the space restrictions that come with photographing indoors. 85mm lens offer more flexibility here because you don’t need to be as far away from your subject.”
Indeed, a 135mm lens needs a whole lot more space to make it effective.
But Which Is Better?
Well, this is tough to answer. YouTuber Jessica Whitaker did a video a while back, testing the differences between the two. We noted that she found a way to separate her subject from the background more with the 135mm lens. We summarized her thoughts:
“In conclusion, the 85mm will be a good choice for you if you tend to do a lot of close-up portrait photography. But if you’re planning to do more senior portraits or bridal portraits in the long run, the 135mm will be your best bet.”
We’ve also done our own 85mm vs 135mm comparisons over the years. A while back, we compared Sigma variants. And again, it’s apples to oranges here.
Why Not Just Buy a 70-200mm Lens Instead?
This is an important question in the 85mm vs 135mm debate. And we answered it pretty thoroughly here:
“Generally speaking, 70-200mm f2.8 lenses aren’t fast enough when it comes to an aperture setting for lots of photographers. But truthfully, I honestly think that many photographers will be just fine off with a 70-200mm f4 lens of some sort. F4 ensures that your subject’s entire face is in focus and you can choose to go wider or tighter. Plus you’ve got a variety of other focal lengths you can work with. If you want something right in between, you can opt for 100mm if you wish.
But one of the best reasons why photographers go for the prime lenses has to do with their shallower aperture and typically their ability to be sharper and have better bokeh. If that doesn’t matter to you and your clients aren’t going to sit there demanding better bokeh, then read on.
Otherwise, I’ve truthfully solved your problem and you can probably close the article at this point.
Still confused? We’ve love to hear from you in the comments. Please check out the resources we’ve provided.