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When it comes to photographing portraits, my go to lenses have to be the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. Depending on the situation, sometimes I do prefer the versatility of the Nikon 70-200mm. But when I am not being time pressured and have space to move around, my favourite portrait lens is definitely the Nikon 85mm f/1.4. The Nikon 85mm f/1.4 is much smaller and lighter to work with, less than half the length and one third of the weight of the 70-200mm f/2.8. It is just so much easier to manoeuvre with it. 85mm is considered a good focal length for portrait, it gives a little bit of subject isolation and compression and it has the ability to enhance the isolation even more by opening up the aperture. A slight disadvantage with the 85mm is that its minimum focus distance is 0.85m which is fine for portrait but it is not ideal for close up shots. Its magnification is only 0.12x.
The Nikon 85mm f/1.4 is two stops faster than the 70-200mm f/2.8 which is significant in low light condition. Consider if you are on ISO 6400 or shutter speed 1/10s, the two extra stops of light will help you to drop your ISO to 1600 or shutter speed to 1/40s which is much more manageable. Aside from the ability to capture more light, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 is tremendous in blurring out the background, with the aperture fully wide open (f/1.4)and the subject being 1 meter away, the Depth of Field (DoF) is about 10cm. This means you can create images with a very shallow Depth of Field. The bokeh from this lens is exceptional, undoubtedly one of the best.
Browsing through some the photos taken by the Nikon 85mm, the sharpness of this lens is amazing, even at f/1.4. I would consider the 85mm f/1.4 is a special lens, while the 70-200mm f/2.8 is an all purpose lens. A special lens has the ability to create unique images that other lenses cannot produce, in this case, the sharpness at wide open, extreme shallow DoF and stunning bokeh. For those who are looking for a portrait lens, the 85mm is a must. Nikon makes two versions of the 85mm, the top quality f/1.4 and the more affordable f/1.8 which is one third of the price of the f/1.4.
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