Comparing 85mm to 135mm for Portrait Photography

Most portrait photographers have a preferred focal length that they tend to use for most shoots. Two of the most common focal lengths are 85mm and 135mm, and this great video compares the two to help you choose the right lens for you.

Coming to you from Julia Trotti, this helpful video will show you how shooting with an 85mm lens compares to the 135mm focal length. Both are classic portrait lenses, but they render subjects differently, and you may find you prefer one over the other. 135mm lenses tend to flatten the features more, but on the other hand, the increased working distance can make it more difficult to work with, particularly if you are shooting inside a studio. On the other hand, 85mm is generally regarded as the most classical focal length for portraits and is quite versatile in a lot of situations. For most photographers, though, it comes down to personal preference, and both generally make for a great option. Check out the video above to see how they compare to each other. 

If you would like to see an in-depth comparison of both 85mm and 135mm along with 100mm and 200mm, check out my article on the four of them here.

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17 Comments

Lee Stirling's picture

Why not split the difference and go with a 105mm???

Alex Cooke's picture

Personal preference. Although, my Sigma 105mm is my favorite portrait lens.

Lee Stirling's picture

I shoot mostly film these days and have a number of cameras and lens options for portraits depending on which camera I've selected including: 85mm f/1.8, 90mm f/2.5, 100mm f/2.8, 105mm f/2.5, 135mmf/2.5, 70-210mm f/3.5, and 70-210mm f/4. Some of these lenses are also compatible with my D700 and I can adapt most of them to my Fuji XE-2 (adding in the 1.5X crop factor to the mix). I think I really prefer the 105mm and 135mm primes for headshot portraits based on my results, although it can sometimes be tricky to shoot in challenging light with a 135mm lens even using 400 speed film and be able to keep your shutter speed up to avoid camera shake issues.

Bill Lawson's picture

Or go crazy and buy all three!! lol. I did!! I have G.A.S. I need to get help.

Przemek Lodej's picture

It really is personal preference. I have both 85mm and 135mm, however I tend to shoot with the 85mm more often. If Canon would make the 85mm focus as fast as the 135mm it would be the only lens I would use for portraits.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Any lens is a portrait lens.

Rob Mitchell's picture

I know, I know. We like to define things and put thinks in boxes. The classic Portrait focal length, etc etc.
Yet we’re bombed with articles about thinking outside the box. 😁

Brian Knight's picture

My favorite portrait lens is a 50. But I like to include the environment.

What was really striking is that the photographer didn't use any sort of lens shade, and she failed to grip the camera in a way that would stabilize it.

Anyone use the Canon 100 2.8L macro?

Spy Black's picture

A 135 is great when your subject is ugly, you can be further back. An 85 is better when your subject is cuter so you can be closer.

There. I summed up the advantages...

So you preferred the quality/style of most the 135 photos but still the 85 is your preferred Lense. Personally I only have a 135 on a 5D mark ii. I just get creative to work around needing to stand so far back. I'm semi retired shooting professionally so I can afford to just have fun.

Ryan Cooper's picture

It really just comes down to two things perspective and angle of view. Everything else doesn't really matter. The Bokeh is similar enough that you would never notice the difference unless comparing side by side. They are both plenty sharp and any other factors such as Chromatic Abberation has much less to do with the focal length than the specific lens and how it is designed.

Trying to define which one is better is really more or less pointless. It is more about deciding which is better for a given situation. Both are tele enough that you don't get much weirdness in terms of perspective, even when fairly close to the subject so even perspective is minimal. Ultimately it really boils down to how much background you want to show relative to the subject and that is going to change depending on your composition.

The only other factor I can think of that is occasionally relevant is space to shoot. There are going to occasionally be situations where the 135 simply cannot produce the frame you want because there is a wall in the way for you to back up far enough.

That “only other factor” that is “occasionally relevant” is literally relevant for me every single time.

David Pavlich's picture

If I had a big budget, my outdoor portrait lens would be a 200mm f2 L. As it is, I use my 70-200 f2.8 for my outdoor portrait lens which really isn't a bad choice, but the 200 f2 is stunning.

Am i the only person who is annoyed a site dedicated to still photography seems to be 75%, or more, video content?

I am interested in seeing the differences but but wading through a 10 minute video to see a few still images is a bit much.