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I am getting a Canon 7D in the next week or so - and I am wondering what, in your opinion, would be the better lens for me to get. I've researched for hours and have come to the conclusion that in the end, everyone has a different favorite. However, when you are looking to buy - and they come in the bundles with an extra lens, which would you suggest I get? They are all with a couple hundred of each other and I want it to take portraits in a studio and some outside. The options are 28-135mm with a 70-300mm, the canon 7D bundle with an extra 70-300mm lens, 28-135mm with an extra 55-250mm, OR a bundle with an extra 55-250mm. I am fairly new to the professional photography world and upgrading from an older rebel and want to use the investment as wisely as I can - any advice?


Thank you so much for all your input and advice - it has been really helpful. To answer the question why 7D - I have been taking portraits for people as a hobby for a couple years with a Rebel and need an upgrade. Just recently I've decided to kind of take a leap of faith and invest some money, upgrade my camera and get some more lighting and backgrounds, etc for indoor portraits. Thanks for the suggestion on money for lighting - it can cost a bundle, I have already spent $ on that! I have read a lot of articles, magazines and internet articles on the 60D and 7D and basically, the deciding factor was the consumer reports said the 7D was the best - so I figured - if I'm upgrading - I may as well go there. I understand a lot about photography and I have an art degree and took some photography in college - but this is a hobby that people have been paying me to do for awhile. I have no bought a 7D yet, so if anyone thinks a 60D would work better, with better lens - please share! I do like the idea of a better built camera - not plastic like the 60D. Any thoughts? Again - I appreciate your help!

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@rfusca is correct about the portrait lens. You should probably get a high-quality zoom like the EF-S 17-55mm F/2.8 or EF 24-70mm F/2.8 too as your versatile lens. None of the options you mentioned will cut if for enthusiasts, let alone professionals. –  Itai Aug 18 '11 at 18:22
    
The 135mm L is a great option but perhaps a bit long on a 1.6 crop. Personally, I would steer clear of EF-S lenses so you don't have to change any should you decide to go full frame one day. The 24-70 f/2.8 L is an excellent lens. –  JamWheel Aug 18 '11 at 18:25
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I'm not a canon expert, but most of the benefits of the 7D I'm aware of seem to revolve around areas that aren't particularly suited to portrait (not that it'd be bad, but I usually read it as more of a sports/outdoors camera). I'm curious, why the 7D? –  rfusca Aug 18 '11 at 18:46
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7D has 100% coverage viewfinder. That alone is worth the difference. It also supports focus micro-adjustment which you may need to get the primes for portrait into perfect focus. –  Itai Aug 18 '11 at 23:50
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@rfusca - for portraits, you are probably right. I was not looking "downwards"... But then, if this is the only intended use, I guess a rebel camera fits just as well. UPDATE: yes, that, and what Itai said... –  ysap Aug 18 '11 at 23:51

5 Answers 5

None of the lenses there are particularly good portrait lenses. I'd save the money on one of those and opt for a 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8, or 85mm f/1.2 (ideally, depending on budget) above those options. A 70-200mm f/2.8 is another option depending on your budget.

There's a wide range of budget options (few hundred dollars to a couple of thousand) there, but all of them are pretty much superior to the lenses in your question in terms of portrait use.

If you're intended to do this in a professional capacity, avoid any of the lenses listed in your question - they're simply not at that level.

If your budget is tight and you want to get the 7D and one good lens, I'd recommend the 50mm f/1.4 for a couple of reasons:

  • Its a pretty reasonable portrait lens on the 7D, the crop factor of the 7D puts it at the short end of the classic portrait length.
  • Its not so long on a APS-C sensor that indoor shots become difficult to do in tighter spaces.
  • It also serves as a reasonable general use lens. Anything longer and its difficult to use as a 'walk around' lens too.

If your budget is a little better, get the 7D, a 24-70 f/2.8L, and a 85mm f/1.8:

  • This gives you a great walk around lens and general 'event lens' in the 24-70.
  • Plus a classic portrait lens in the 85mm focal length.
  • You'll be able to offer a wider range of services to clients.
  • If money is no object, replace that 85mm f/1.8 with the 85mm f/1.2.

If you're going to be doing portraits and weddings (or any event in which your movement will be restricted) and your budget is really high, consider the 24-70 f/2.8L and the 70-200 f/2.8L (I'd also recommend a full frame camera, but that's a whole other discussion and budget) :

  • This fully covers your classic portrait length.
  • Gives you the flexibility to frame shots when you can't move around much.
  • Its a pretty classic wedding set of lens, for good reason.
  • Its fast enough to be used indoors still.
  • Allows pretty much for a full service offering.
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Great additions. For your final "all in" scenario, I would take the 17-55mm f/2.8 over the 24-70mm f/2.8L. You add IS, and a more useful focal range on the 7D. This is a personal preference, and both would be fantastic choices. –  dpollitt Aug 18 '11 at 21:24
    
@dpollitt - Definitely an option, I just know that many, many portrait photogs end up full frame, so the recommendation for the 24-70mm. But the 17-55mm is definitely supposed to be a great option as well for APS-C. –  rfusca Aug 18 '11 at 21:27
    
My name has 2 letter "l"'s and 2 letter "t"'s :) Thank you. –  dpollitt Aug 18 '11 at 21:29
    
I love the Canon 85mm f/1.2, but it's not the easiest lens to use. In the studio, if you don't have a lot of space, 85mm is going to be too long for you on a crop sensor. Outside, it'll be a dream, although know in advance that the 85mm f/1.2 focuses much more slowly than the f/1.8 and weighs far more. It also costs waaaay more. If it were me, and I were shooting a crop sensor, I would be looking at a 50mm just to give me the ability to work in smaller spaces. This is a personal opinion and reflects my working style. –  Steve Ross Aug 19 '11 at 16:56
    
@SteveRoss - Ya, thats why I never recommended the 85mm without another shorter option available. –  rfusca Aug 19 '11 at 17:39

You are correct that everyone has different favorites, but it is pretty easy to define a list of general professional grade equipment, especially if you limit yourself inside of the Canon brand umbrella.

First of all, yes the 7D does offer a few different kit options. For professional use, none of the included kit lenses are going to be adequate. When you start considering use as portrait lenses, they are even less adequate. Portrait photographers are usually interested in very wide apertures(i.e. f/2 or greater), and focal lengths in the 85-135mm range(on full frame).

It is understandable that if you do not have a great deal of money to spend, the kit that includes a 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens is only an additional $200 - and does provide value. But when you start talking about professional use, and professional portraits, this value is diminished.

Instead I would buy the 7D sans kit, and purchase a prime lens as such as a 50mm f/1.4, 85 f/1.8 or a general purpose lens in the 24-70mm or 17-55mm ranges as suggested by others here. If you are doing strictly portraits, a 70-200mm is also essential.

If you are truly after great portraits, and especially if you plan to work in a studio, the Canon 5D MkII is going to be the best option. Offering full frame coverage, and the full array of professional grade lenses. I know that this is a large jump in price, but for portrait work, this is the gold standard.

Overall, I think your best bet to stay within the budget it sounds like you have already set - is to purchase a 7D, with a prime lens such as the 85mm f/1.8. You will be amazed at the very high quality bokeh and IQ as compared to a mid-low grade consumer zoom lenses on a Rebel.

One place to look for recommendations is the-digital-picture, where they have Canon Portrait Lens Recommendations.

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It all depends on the kind of portraits you plan to take.

For the standard (boring?) portrait you need:

  • Something in the 50-100mm range (on an APS-C camera like the 7D).
  • Fast lens (low f number).
  • High quality bokeh.
  • And take pictures that are so sharp you can cut yourself.

This brings us to the 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8 and the high end expensive zooms that everyone else here recommends.

Now, if you want to be a professional studio portrait photographer those are the lenses that will give you the technically perfect pictures you need (not want, need)

but

if you are a hobbyist or an artist (or even a professional that specializes in environmental portraits) things are completely different - nobody will ever tell you "This is an interesting picture that really captures the essence of what I am but I want my money back because it's not technically perfect".

So, for the generic photos anyone can take you need the high end lenses - for more artistic/interesting photos you can use anything as long as it fits your style.

Also, leave some of your budget for lighting equipment - you will need it for indoor portraits.

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'as long as it fits your style' and you have the ability to control every aspect of the environment to fit the limitations of your equipment into your artistic vision. Definitely right on the budget for lighting equipment. –  rfusca Aug 18 '11 at 22:03
    
@rfusca - you are right about controlling the environment - but moving the subject to another room, opening and closing windows or moving yourself around the subject (to get an angle with "better" background when you can't blur it away, for example) are all great ways for controlling the environment without better glass - after all it's the photographer that makes the image not the lens - obviously I agree that good equipment does make life much easier, just not that it's required. –  Nir Aug 19 '11 at 21:26

I own the 7D, 50mm/1.4 and 70-200mm/2.8. Once getting the 70-200, I no longer use any other lens for portraits. That said, you probably know that it is extremely expensive...

Note that FWIW, if you shoot head portraits, you will rarely (if at all) shoot at f/1.4 as the DoF is too shallow, and parts of the face will most probably be out-of-focus. Considering this (and putting aside quality issues that I cannot comment from 1st hand experience), the 50/1.8 is a much cheaper lens that will let you shoot wide-enough. However, the image quality, including the bokeh, is arguably less good than the 50/1.4.

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Have you tried the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0 L USM or the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L USM? Those are both easy reasons to jump ship on the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS for portrait work. –  dpollitt Aug 19 '11 at 0:32
    
@dpollitt - No, I did not, and probably will not in the foreseeable future. I needed a versatile zoom lens and the 70-200 just answers my need perfectly. It just happens to be that good for portraits (and lots of pros seem to use it as their portrait/people tool). –  ysap Aug 19 '11 at 1:37
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I agree that the 70-200 2.8 IS is a fantastic tool. I know many wedding photographers on either side of the fence, some dislike primes and like the speed of the zooms as well. It is hard to argue with f/1.2 and f/2.0 in that range though. –  dpollitt Aug 19 '11 at 3:09

For hobbyist/artist use buying high quality manual prime lenses from eBay can also work. With studio portrait work manual focus is not a show-stopper and you can get really good bang for buck in terms of optical quality.

Obviously they are slower to focus and need practice and double-checking from LCD, but if you are on low budget, this is pretty much the only way to get high optical quality.

Personally, if getting good portraits is one of the main factors and your budget is low, I would sacrifice on camera body first, and get good light setup and good lens, in this order.

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