85mm Versus 135mm Lens Comparison for Portraiture

Two of the most popular focal lengths for portraiture are 85mm and 135mm. If you want to upgrade your nifty-fifty for something a bit longer, which should you choose? Well, it depends on a number of factors.

On a full frame body, I have taken an enormous number of portraits over the years, and I can say confidently that 70% or more have been taken with either an 85mm or a 135mm. Like most, I started photography with a 50mm prime and loved it, but I wanted a more cinematic look. I didn't understand what that meant or really what I was after, until I started to take notice of the lenses other photographers were using and it became clear.

I bought an 85mm next and started using it for headshots and I loved it — I still do. It's long enough that subject separation is strong, but it's still wide enough that if you take a few steps back, you can capture more of the scene. Then, after seeing one of my favorite photographers creating stunning images of flowers (of all things!), I invested in a Canon 135mm L and it was my favorite lens until the past few years, but it still sits in second place, miles above third. If there's good light, it's hard to take a bad shot with the 135mm wide open, and if you've never tried it, I implore you to borrow or rent one to see what it's like!

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Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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This is not an either or decision. There are a multitude of possible locations where space may suggest a certain focal length and even where space is the same, different focal lengths may come into play.

My approach is to be ready for anything and my portrait set is 28mm, 50mm, 58mm (special case with the Noct), 85mm, 105mm, 135mm, 200mm and 400mm. Of course, I will often select three or four from this set based on what I have planned for the shoot.

It may be an either-or decision if you're just starting out and are on a low budget, mate.

It's not about how many lenses you own (and how much glass you have to carry around at your back's expense). It's about knowing how to get the best out of what you have at the moment. If you're sitting on your arse in a studio with a cart to wheel your lenses around, that's one thing, but if you're portable, it's an entirely different thing.

I am seriously in love with my ageing Canon L 135mm f2... as well as an even older Tair 11A.... perhaps because I am ageing as well.

Disturbing that there is a "new" video on a subject that's been discussed for ages and already known.
Also hard to take a video serious when you video quality/editing is just completely off.
F stoppers might be losing material to use if this is now recommended content.

I have used an Olympus 300mm lens on an old full frame Olympus camera and got really pleasing portraits of twin subjects heads. Super sharp for eye detail and the concertina effect is unusual.

Poor example...if you crop in the 85mm to the 135mm crop you will have exactly the same picture. If shot at the same aperture the "perspective " and dof will be identical...you've just lost some resolution by not framing more accurately in camera!!

And it's the subject to camera distance that matters...for portraits I prefer the 85mm as it seems an optimum distance to give flattering perspective...ear to nose size ratio...and close enough to maintain a human inter action. I find 135mm puts me just out of strong communication distance...

Same with "120"...always preferred a 120mm to a 150mm...may be why the Mamiya 135mm was a popular portrait choice...a tad soft but low in distortion and good frame coverage...

For subjects other than portraiture, you would choose your focal length to get the best angle of view ? Modern zooms work well here? With fashion the longer focal length works to separate your subject from the background of course...and you are not looking for "personal interaction" so much as letting the model determine how best to pose with the chosen outfits...

It's ultimately down to personal choice of course and subject matter preference..

Ummm longer focal length gives more depth of field...

I purchased a Nikon Z9 and when I did I grabbed the Nikon 85mm S f/1.8 . It’s a nice lens . The 85mm S f/1.2 was coming out at the same time. Boy do I wish I could have afforded it . The f/1.8 is a nice lens though. Now in a couple days I’ll have a Sigma Art 135mm dg hsm f/1.8 in my hands. I have wanted this lens for a while now. I know Nikon is coming out with a 135mm f/1.8 soon but it’ll be probably in that $3k range .
This Sigma also does NOT have any aspherical elements in it and ONLY 13 elements.
These are attributes I want in a portrait type lens . I shoot live music photography and videography. The 135mm lenght is a good mid range low light lens . I’ve been using an old Nikkor 135mm f/2.0 manual focus. Wow what beautiful images come from that lens . Bokeh beauty. Low element count and no aspherical elements bam!
The 85 is nice for adding some atmosphere to the live music and just enough to let you know it’s live music and no more. That way you keep the compression and background blur.