I am currently shooting with a Nikon D90 and use the kit 18-105 lens and a 50mm f/1.8. Mostly I shoot as a hobby but lately I've been asked to do some family and engagement shoots. The 50mm is lovely, great depth of field, great sharpness, great price! The 18-105 is not nearly as good. I'm thinking of upgrading. I know the Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 is great and I've also read a bit about the Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8. Both lenses are quite expensive though (I'm in Canada so add a couple hundred dollars to any american prices).

Any suggestions on other lenses that might do the job? I'm open to Sigma/Tamron if they have great lenses, but so far I've stuck with Nikon gear only. I'd like to have some zoom range (so prime and fixed lenses probably won't do the trick - although a nice macro lens does seem to be good for portraiture...). I'm open to buying used, but I'm located in Newfoundland Canada so the available used lens market here is pretty small and I'm not sure about buying from eBay for a lens... But I could be. Any and all suggestions welcome.

  • 1
    Since you're in Canada (like me), you should check out photoprice.ca which is a price comparison tool for cameras and lenses from many retailers (Canadian and US). It includes estimates of shipping and handling too.
    – seanmc
    Nov 12, 2010 at 13:02

7 Answers 7


Two suggestions:

  • If you want to stay Nikon, 85mm f/1.8. I shoot with this thing at f/2.0 regularly, and it produces fantastic portraits for your price range. The f/1.4 is call the 'cream machine' by the guys over at dpreview, but I hesitate to even look at it-- it's so expensive for 2/3 of a stop better light. I own this lens, and love it. It's also useful for shooting stage productions in low light on a d300 (which is where I find myself using it a lot these days).
  • If you don't care so much, check out the Tamron f/2.8 90mm macro is reputed to be a very good lens, both for portraiture and for macro work. I don't have one, but the results I see on pbase make me think that it's quite capable.

I know what you mean about moving past the 50mm f/1.8. I have a 50mm f/1.4 that I got used for a very reasonable price, but I find myself using that focal length very rarely for whatever reason. I have the 17-55 f/2.8, and it's a very capable lens (my workhorse for events and traveling), but the 85mm is something else when you know you're going to use it.

If you're buying used, I don't know if KEH ships to Canada, but it might, and if so, it's definitely worth a look.

  • 2
    I have the Tamron 90mm, and it's definitely a great macro lens. But I find it's way too tight for portrait work on a crop-factor camera; you have to be across the room for a person to be framed correctly. Aug 11, 2010 at 16:28
  • Depends on how you do your portraits, and in what kind of space. I like to do upper body portraits, and I've managed to do (what I think of as) good work across a table with the 85mm. As in: markmroden.com/Weddings/Jon-and-Jen/The-Reception/…
    – mmr
    Aug 11, 2010 at 16:48
  • 1
    One of my friends has a D300 and has the 85mm 1.8 and the 50mm 1.4 so i know exactly what you're talking about. The 85 can take great portraits for sure, but inside i would definitely have the issues Craig Walker mentioned. The Price on the prime lenses is great though (compared to the 2.8 zooms) Aug 12, 2010 at 11:39

As someone who has owned the Nikon 85mm f1.4 and the f1.8 I would only recommend the f1.4 if you never leave the studio. It is a gorgeous piece of glass and in my opinion one of the best portrait lenses ever, but crazy heavy... I shoot around the world and very purposely chose the f1.8 because it is so much smaller, but still really beautiful. Can't recommend it highly enough... I have shot hundreds and hundreds of people with that lens indoors in a studio and out in the field. And I agree with Craig that prime lenses for portraits are the way to go.

  • I also have an f1.8 (albeit Canon) and it has been terrific for my uses. Aug 12, 2010 at 18:12
  • Great hearing from people with lots of real-world experience. Thanks for your comment Aug 12, 2010 at 21:54

I've used the 35mm DX lens, it really is quite nice. Fast and sharp. The lack of a zoom bugged me at first, but it forces the photographer to be more active in forming photos. I also liked it for the fact that it has a lesser "zoom" factor than the 50mm, when you account for the crop factor.

  • 2
    I've been looking at the 35mm 1.8 and the 35mm 2.0/f. Any suggestions on choosing one over the other? There's a price difference and the DX obviously only works (properly) on a DX body. I'm wondering if the full-frame version is worth the extra $100 or so. Aug 13, 2010 at 11:48
  • @newfie: depends almost entirely on your budget. If you plan on spending some money in the future then spend the $100 now with the prospect of spending $$$ on an FX or film body. OTOH: you can always sell the DX lens later. Also, the DX is smaller/lighter. Aug 13, 2010 at 14:37
  • @newfie_coder I've only used the DX lens (my camera is a D50) so I can't say anything towards the full frame version. However, the DX lens is quite compact, though not as much as the 50mm. If you anticipate going full frame, that lens may be the better purchase. Aug 13, 2010 at 17:24
  • DX lens is lighter, cheaper and faster by a small amount. You also get full-time manual focus. I think the 35/1.8 is sharper than the 35/2 at f/2, but don't quote me on it! The DX lens seems to keep its value, so selling it if you move on to FX shouldn't be too hard (I got mine used).
    – gerikson
    Jan 15, 2011 at 13:49

Just to add a different view - I am currently shooting portraits on a D90 and like you was looking at the 24-70mm 2.8 and was shocked by the price.

Instead I found 2nd hand a 35mm-70mm 2.8 for about $300 and its great, has a nice range, autofocus's and copes with the light very well

  • I was looking at this lens on ebay and was very much considering purchasing it. No issues with the D90 and the lens? Nov 12, 2010 at 21:53
  • none at all - works like a dream
    – Zoe Bailey
    Nov 13, 2010 at 6:50

My suggestion would be to stick with the 50mm. It'll be sharper than nearly everything else you could get, and is just fine for head & shoulders portraits.

The problem with it is that it's a fairly narrow field of view, especially on a 1.5x crop-factor camera like the d90 (I'm in the same boat myself). The Nikon 35mm prime is a good substitute in this respect. Whether it's wide enough for you is a different story.

If you really want a zoom, then the 28-70mm seems to be the lens of choice among pros, and it's in the right zoom range. But I'd far prefer to have the extra f-stops (for shallower DoF) AND an extra $1000 in my pocket (or spent on lights). Zooms are good for active walking-around shots, but for portraiture I'd say they're not necessary.

  • Good points. I have considered the 35mm prime since I shoot indoors often... but I like the idea of zoom for just the reason you mention - walking around. I also have a tough time justifying $1k more than a 1.8f prime though... Aug 11, 2010 at 14:58
  • If you're looking to get/use ONLY 1 lens, then it might be worth your while to get the 28-70. But the 50 and the 35 are so cheap that you'd have to value convenience a lot to make that decision worthwhile. Aug 11, 2010 at 16:31
  • i own a nikon 50mm 1.4 prime...and it's definitely not bad for the field of view as people talk about it...50 mm is extremely practical field of view for the usual shoot even for a D90. Oct 21, 2010 at 11:31

The Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G - Awesome color and contrast + a shallow DoF for ~1/3 the price of the 85 f/1.4 AF-D (I actually like it better too). Alternately, for more reach - you can get a very nice used 105mm f/2.5 manual focus for ~$250. For studio/portrait - manual focus shouldn't be much of problem. This was also rumored to be the lens Steve McCurry used for his Afghan Girl portrait.


Here in Poland where I live Samyang 85 f1.4 is quite popular as a lower-cost alternative to system lenses. I didn't have chance to check it out myself but heard positive opinions about it. Here's a link to this lens review.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.