Five Tips on How an 85mm Prime Lens Can Improve Your Photography

We often think of 35mm and 50mm prime lenses as being your standard walk-around lenses, but switching out to an 85mm prime could bring something special to your photography.

There’s probably never been a better time to get yourself an 85mm prime lens given the wealth of options currently available. Sony users, in particular, are blessed with a veritable smorgasbord: not only do they have the Sony and Zeiss options, there’s the Samyang/Rokinon AF 85mm f/1.4 for less than $700.

Cheaper still is the recently-released Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 at just $399, and Nikon users might also be tempted as a version for the Z-mount has just hit the shelves — the first third-party lens for Nikon's mirrorless cameras.

Canon’s 85mm f/2 Macro IS has been drawing some excellent reviews from Canon RF-mount owners and it’s also a relatively affordable option at $599. While that’s still not cheap, it’s certainly more easily within reach compared to its f/1.2L sibling which will set you back $2,699. If you want a fast 85mm and need to save some cash, consider the Samyang/Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 which, like the Sony version, is just $679.

If you're pondering your first prime lens and you're not sure what to choose, be sure to check out this article which runs you through a host of options.

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Taylor Franta's picture

Ugh I have been tossing around getting an 85 for the past week or so. You had to post this now, didnt you?

One correction - the Viltrox in the Nikon Z mount is not the first third party lens for the mount, but it is the first to offer AF.

Steve White's picture

A gentle reminder: for APS-C shooters, your 50mm is your 85 equivalent, and your 35mm is your 50 equivalent. If you want to shoot 35 equivalent, use a 24mm.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Or a 21mm on a Canon system, as their crop factor is 1.6.

Dillan K's picture

50mm is equivalent to 80mm on a Canon. 21mm is about 34mm.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Of course, wasn't precise. But one doesn't use a 24mm for a 35mm perspective on a crop Canon.

Chris Fowler's picture

and if you have a Sony A6xxx, go for the Sigma 56mm f1.4 for a great full-frame equivalent of 84mm.

Daniel Medley's picture

I love the 85. Most of my images (portraits) are done with an 85 1.8. And it's amazing the quality of lens you can get for the money if you're content with 1.8.

Mike Ditz's picture

When I sold off my Canon gear I kept the 85 1.8 and 2 of the tilt shifts. I think the AF is better on my Sony with an adaptor than the good old 5D2

Ryan Cooper's picture

haha didn't watch the video but I already know I agree. Imo 85mm is the magic focal length. 90% of my portfolio is shot on 85. I own 3 different 85s and the next lens I buy probably will be a 4th. There is something about that focal length that just connects with my soul. (at least on full frame)

MIchael DiGregori's picture

I understand, and, anyway, everyone's different and for everyone there is a "magic" piece of gear that resonates with their thought processes. I have a Sony NEX that I slap an old Canon 50mm FD lens (75mm equivalent) on and it's pretty fun. I do miss some shots, though, but the ones that work have the benefit of being sharper and having more character than my zoom would have created.

Peter Blaise's picture

So, the 5 tips are ... ?

If you do not put them in writing under the headline, then I'm out of here, I'm not watching some video hoping I guess what you got out of it.

And fstppers falls further down my spam-and-noise list with every such unrewarding teaser.

The headline should say "Video on ... " whatever topic, and tell us if it is the author's video or if the author is reviewing someone else's video.

In the headline.

MIchael DiGregori's picture

I agree, and have had the same thoughts. When I'm just browsing around I don't usually feel like stopping to watch a video--would appreciate the label that a link is going to a video. The same thing happens with news links. I don't necessarily like spending 7 minutes watching a video that conveys about the same amount of information as a 30 second read.

Lawrence Huber's picture

My 24-105 magically has 85mm in it.
Unless one has a heavy specific use for a 85mm fast prime it is a waste of money .
If you spend most of your time doing portraits then there is good value. Otherwise it is just another prime sitting on the shelf or having to change over and over and taking up space and weight with all the other primes in your bag.

Richard Kralicek's picture

It depends on your style, some of us love to use f1.2 - f2.8, something your (or mine) magic 24-105 doesn't offer. There are quite cheap lenses out there, like the trusty Canon 85/1.8 which delivers. It's not heavy, so why not include that one in your bag? I guess Nikon an others have equally good or even better options. No need for fat lenses.

I had many 85mm lenses, the Samyang, the Zeiss Planar T*, the Zeiss Milvus and finally I own the old Canon FD 85mm f1.2 L, which has the best balance on my EOS R. Sold all the other lenses, which where mostly bought second hand.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I guess it depends on your use. For me a lens that can't open up past F/4.0 is a complete waste of money. All about preference. I have 2.8 zooms and they almost never get any use whereas my primes represent my whole portfolio.

Also 85s aren't just for portraiture, I've shot landscapes, product shots, urban exploration, street, and miniatures using an 85 before.

(Not meant to be combative, just pointing out that we all have different priorities when shooting)

Dillan K's picture

Magically, my 85mm f/1.8 can open up to f/1.8, while your 24-105mm f/4 cannot. My magic is just different.

Howard Shubs's picture

Zooms have some good features, but speed is not one of them for a low price. A high priced zoom may have speed. But any zoom will also have more distortion. Primes have lower cost, less distortion, and higher speed, but less flexibility. It's about your priorities. You can't have everything all at once.

How many lenses do you want to carry around, and which focal lengths do you actually use? Answer that, and figure out what your priorities are, and you'll know what glass to keep with you.

Ron W.'s picture

Don't forget the Canon EF 85 mm, f/1.4 L. Fabulous lens -- and it has image stabilization unlike the other Canon EF 85mm lenses.

jose Gulías's picture

Have just bought the samyang 85 1.4 for a7rIII... waiting to give it a good try!!

Richard Kralicek's picture

From f1.4 to f2 it was better than my Zeiss Planar T* 85mm f1.4 when focussing on things roughly 1m away, but stopped down to f2.8 or shot a bit further apart the Planar showed it's class. Get one if you find one second hand, if you're not happy with the Samyang. I produced some keepers back then with the Samyang, so it's a nice lense, but I owned a Canon 6D with only 20MP, the Sony is a different level. Have fun!

jose Gulías's picture

Thanks Richard. My intention is to have it till the day I can afford the sony or the sigma. Read everywhere that sony has smoother bokeh, the first appeal of the 85 lenses!!

Richard Kralicek's picture

Of course. Anyway, those old Zeiss lenses have both, nice sharpness stopped down (had the planar 50/1.4 too) and nice bokeh when shot open. Let me show you an example The price is mostly the problem, that's why I buy second hand, mostly.

Barry Betts's picture

Its not the first third party Z mount lens, Lensbaby do several lenses for the Z mount.

Dave R's picture

The EF 85 1.8 with adapter is a great addition to the EOS R if you just want to experiment with the 85 focal length. You can pick an used one for $300 USD plus adapter and your only at $400. It’s a great focal length. Google “bokeh panorama” to have a bit of fun.