You probably know Scott Schuman and his blog (The Sartorialist). What kind of lens (that is not expensive) would you recommend for Canon 550D to achieve similar effect (in terms of DoF etc.)? I'm a newbie so I'm not sure how to properly interpret those photos' EXIF info. My guess is, that a similar effect can be achieved using 85mm f/1.8.

PS: Typical example (full body shot)

Update: Thank you guys for all the answers, it's much more clear for me right now. I think I'll try the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens.

  • Not a direct answer to the question but worth noting... I'm assuming he is using spot metering. I say this because in many of the photos the sky is completely blown out. He may be using manual mode but in this "street" environment it would be easier to switch to spot and let the camera meter for the subjects face. edit: just noted the EXIF data and he doesn't use spot metering :(
    – Neil
    Jun 30, 2012 at 4:20

5 Answers 5


He's using a full-frame camera with a 85mm lens on a number of those shots.

So, in terms of APS-C (which yours is), a 50 or 55mm lens would give you a similar angle of view if you go the prime route, but I'm not sure if Canon makes a 55mm, though they have excellent 50mm lenses. If you go zoom, something like a Canon 24-70mm or 18-135mm would add some range. Anyways, that's my take.

Welcome to the site!

  • 1
    Oh, so I guess this is where this 1.6 ratio comes around. I've been playing with Canon 50mm f/1.8 and while it was great for taking portrait (or "half-body") photos, I couldn't get the shallow DoF I wanted on a full body shot. Will 50mm f/1.4 make a difference? I'm fine with a prime.
    – Darius
    Oct 29, 2010 at 14:33
  • The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field. However, depth of field is impacted by sensor size (smaller sensors have greater depth), so it will be more challenging to achieve the same depth of field that he is getting with the full frame camera.
    – Joanne C
    Oct 29, 2010 at 15:43
  • 1
    true, however looking at the EXIF he's suing f/2 - f/3.5 which you can just about replicate with a 50 f/1.4 as the crop is equivalent to about 1.3 stops in terms of DOF.
    – Matt Grum
    Oct 30, 2010 at 11:22

Based on the EXIF data, he tends to use a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF85mm f/1.2L II USM.

Since you have a cropped sensor, a 50mm will have similar framing. In order to get the tighter DOF and creamy bokeh you'll want the widest aperture you can get, so either:

  1. 50mm f/1.2 L
  2. 50mm f/1.4

Incidentally, there is another question comparing those two models.

Also, keep in mind that the DOF will not be as tight as what he can get. For example given the same situaltion (subject 10ft away, shooting wide open):

 | Gear                  | Depth of field
 | 5d mk2 + 85mm f/1.2 L |   0.29 ft
 | 550d + 50mm f/1.2 L   |   0.54 ft
 | 550d + 50mm f/1.4     |   0.65 ft
 | 550d + 50mm f/1.8     |   0.81 ft

All the numbers came from DOFMaster.com

  • Hmm... according to this site, if I use 85mm f/1.8 I will get Depth of field 0.28 ft (so it's shallower than the 5d mk2 example above). So the difference will be, that using 85mm on 550d will result in wider perspective? If so, maybe this is the lens I should start practicing with (I think that the perspective is not that important in that case)?
    – Darius
    Oct 29, 2010 at 16:42
  • 2
    No, an 85mm on a 550 will produce a narrower perspective, it's kind of like a 1.6x zoom.
    – chills42
    Oct 29, 2010 at 16:53
  • 1
    Seems reasonable, yeah. You just have to keep in mind that in order to frame the picture the same you'll have to be a little farther away, and that extra distance increases the depth of field. In the end you really aren't going to go wrong with any of the options here.
    – chills42
    Oct 29, 2010 at 17:20
  • 6
    I don't think Darius is after the shallow depth of field, but rather after the subject isolation provided by the background blur, which is not quite the same! The background blurring ability of a lens depends essentially on it's physical aperture, while the depth of field depends on the f-number. The 85/1.2 has an aperture of 71 mm, which is hard to match with any shorter lens (a 50 mm f/0.7 would do). So he can either use the same 85/1.2 from a larger distance, by a full frame camera or settle for the subtler background blur of a 50 mm. Oct 29, 2010 at 21:00
  • 2
    @edgar Very true, but the ogirinal photographer is not shooting wide open with the 85 f/1.2 (he's shooting in the f/2 - f/3 region mostly) so the physcial aperture to match is more like 40mm
    – Matt Grum
    Oct 30, 2010 at 11:24

Sounds like you're after a shallow depth of field.

You should be able to achieve a similar effect with the Canon 50 at around f/1.8, but you'd need to be shooting as wide as possible. I also wouldn't be at all surprised if he's got a reflector or flash out of shot to balance the light in some of those.

Other things to bear in mind when trying to get that shallow depth of field, is to shoot with as wide an aperture as possible - I'd normally flick over to "Av" mode, and get a low f-stop number (so 1.8 with the 50mm prime lens). Then get as physically close as possible.

Finally, if you're manually focusing, err on the focusing ahead of the subject -- the way that depth of field works, you get an area (depth) that appears to be focused, by having the subject in the back half, the background behind is going to appear to be even more off focus, as desired. I believe this is another technique he's using, apparent when you look at the ground with more of the ground ahead of the subject in focus than even to the back of their feet.

If you're still not happy, then you could and a really gentle blur in post-production, although I'm always a fan of trying to get it right in camera, as it will have a more realistic feel to it.

  • 3
    +1 nice observation on the focusing point! I didn't know about that technique :)
    – MartinodF
    Oct 29, 2010 at 15:02

Any lens with large maximum apertures can give you subject isolation. The 50/1.4 and 85/1.8 are great lenses for the money.


No, 85mm on a full-frame camera is 85mm.

Read this about full-frame and crop sensor.

  • 1
    true, the correct statement is the field of view of an 85mm lens on a 35mm camera is about the same as the field of view of a 50mm lens on a 22mm camera but it's a bit of a mouthful!
    – Matt Grum
    Oct 30, 2010 at 11:20

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