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Hopefully this is the right place for this question...

I'm looking at purchasing either the 85mm 1.8, or 200mm 2.8 (Canon) in the next few months. I'm wanting to get more into portraits and people (mainly a landscape shooter currently).

I've read a bunch of reviews on both, and have seen high praise in both cases (great sharpness, bokeh, etc.), but I'm curious as to which would better serve my portrait-shooting purposes, while also allowing some flexibility for landscape. I was wondering if anyone here might be able to provide a direct comparison as to which is sharper, has better DOF, etc... (the 2.8 L is top-of-the-line, I know, but I've heard that the 85 1.8 does a great job standing up to most L lenses). I occasionally shoot wildlife, but am probably going to get away from that as I move more towards urban environmental shots / portrait work, if that is helpful in your assesment.

Currently shooting on a crop-body, but plan to eventually upgrade to full-frame (6D).

Thanks for the feedback.

My main photo page, if you're interested: http://www.weatherworks.com/MattBoltonPhotography/

  • I would recommend the 135L f/2 over both of those. Throw in the 1.4x tele and you also have the equiv of the 200 f/2.8. And the bokeh and DoF on the 135L is second to none. – dpollitt May 1 '14 at 23:11
  • I could also use a 2x converter - that would be nice as well. Thanks for the suggestion. – Matt May 2 '14 at 1:26
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Idealy you'd end up with both. A 200 is great for nature shots and flattening the background in portraits, but you need a lot of space to have a person fill the frame nicely.
The 85 (or shorter, 70 is the traditional portrait lens on a crop sensor) makes a more versatile lens for portraiture, but is really to short for nature shots unless you're interested in macro photography and it can double for that (check, I don't know the specifics of the lens).
For landscapes, pretty much anything will do depending on the location and desired result. I've shot landscapes with lenses ranging from 10 to 500mm for example. But most likely you may find both these lenses to be too long/narrow for shooting those wide open vistas most people associate with traditional landscape shots.

So, get both. But you probably (as portraits seem to be your primary interest right now) want to get the 85 first if you can at the moment only afford one.

  • I've considered that route - getting both - since I prefer primes; that would eventually give me really an ideal full frame setup, an 85 and 200 in addition to the 35 f/2 that I hope to get as well. I think that would be an excellent lens loadout to cover most situations. The 85 is, from what I've read, a pretty spectacular portrait lens, and, as you note, it is too short for nature/wildlife - I don't see that as too much of an issue here, and I could use it for compact views. Since its on sale right now at B&H, and others, I'll probably go for it. Thanks. :-) – Matt Apr 30 '14 at 7:17
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Have you considered splitting the difference and going with an EF 135mm f/2L USM, instead? I use one on my 50D for zoo and event shooting, and on my 5DMkII for portraits. It ain't considered one of the "Holy Trinity of L Primes" (35L/85L/135L) for nuthin'. And 135mm is the center of the 70-200 zoom range. It's also a full stop faster than the 200/2.8L.

Both the 85/1.8 and 200/2.8L are likely to limit you to head or head-and-torso shots on a crop body. The 85 will be much more general-portrait useful on a full-frame camera. And the 200 is too long both on crop and full frame to be generally recommended as a portrait lens. The 200/2.8L is more often recommended to wildlife shooters who want a cheaper alternative to a 70-200/2.8L and who are willing to go with teleconverters.

There is also the EF 100mm f/2 USM to consider as a "sibling" to the EF 85/1.8 USM; just as the 135/2L and 200/2.8L are siblings. It sees less recommendation because most folks probably prefer having the EF 100/2.8L USM Macro lens to do double-duty, but it's pretty much on a par with the 85/1.8.

  • Right now, I'm shooting with an 18-55mm, 50 1.8, and 100-300 4.5-5.6 on a crop-body Rebel. Had been planning to upgrade to the 6D at some point hopefully this year, with a primary loadout (eventually) consisting of a 35 f/2, and either the 85 1.8, or 200 2.8 (or both) for a little more reach. Those three, I felt covered a good length that would be versatile enough for just about anything. I had thought about the 135 briefly but now am reconsidering it. I have the 28-90 (EF mount), so it could fill the gap between 35-135, which could be extended with a 2x converter if I needed the reach. – Matt May 2 '14 at 1:41
  • Your plan of the 35/85/200 is pretty dead-on with the old traditional "doubles" approach to primes. I'm just saying that 200 might be too long for portrait use on either body, for good interaction with your subject. Between crop and full-frame, most of the portrait lengths are still useful (I.e., 35<->50; 50<->85; 85<->135; 135<->200). I think the only hole in your plan is there's no wide or ultrawide, which is eccentric for someone who mostly shoots landscape. :) Consider a 17-40 f/4L to replace the 18-55, if you want ultrawide on FF. – inkista May 2 '14 at 18:19
  • Right. I see what you're saying regarding the 200; I agree that's it's too long for portrait work. :) I like the idea of topping out at 135 though. Not too long, not too short and it can be extended. I guess now the question for me is deciding between the 35 f/2 usm, and the 17-40 L... Prime sharpness over zoom versatility. – Matt May 2 '14 at 21:49
  • I was going with the 35 f/2 usm, as I love primes, and liked the fact that it was lower light at a semi-wide angle. It also doesn't have bad distortion, so it would be good as a portrait/documentary lens. I figured it could serve multiple purposes better than the 17-40, with comparable quality. – Matt May 2 '14 at 22:56
  • Very true. A 35/2 can be landscape/portrait/low light, and near-macro all in one. The 17-40 is a medium-slow ultrawide on FF, and a medium-slow walkaround on crop. – inkista May 3 '14 at 0:08

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