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Why do people shooting fashion inside a controlled environment (studio, when shooting apertures above f/2.8, like f/8, f/11), seem to prefer a 85mm fast prime versus a 70-200 f/2.8 for half and full-body shots?

Considering you shoot both at the same focal length, a 70-200mm offers the same perspective @85mm, and the offerings from name brands (like Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II and Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II) seem to be just as sharp at 85mm as the primes at those smaller apertures. Is there a specific reason (like a marginal gain in sharpness, color representation, MFD)?

  • I think your question is based upon an only partially correct assumption. Not all fashion photographers today prefer an 85mm prime over a high quality zoom. In the past when there was a larger margin between the performance of prime and zoom lenses this was probably more the case that at present, when the performance of some very high quality zooms approach or even match the performance of their prime lens counterparts at some focal lengths. – Michael C Mar 26 '15 at 23:19
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Two reasons that jumps right out at me are size and weight. A 70-200 is pretty big, especially with a hood. To a new model, I bet it's downright intimidating. Hold that 70-200 for long, and you'll start to feel it in your hand and wrist, too. An 85mm easily solves both of those problems, assuming you want to shoot at 85.

  • +1 sir. All that sharpness talk is nonsense for tiny 35 mm frames. Also, real fashion is hot on medium format (flame war, begin!). And if you want zoom, just make a step forward – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Mar 27 '15 at 0:09
  • @aandreev Are you sure your comment's on the right answer? This one doesn't mention sharpness at all... – inkista Mar 27 '15 at 0:52
  • I'd also posit that a studio situation makes a prime not as restrictive, given that the subject's unlikely to be moving quickly (i.e., won't require a zoom for framing as in, say, sports). – inkista Mar 27 '15 at 0:53
  • @inkista i wanted to show appreciation of the decent answer and say why, not discuss fallacy – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Mar 27 '15 at 2:30
  • @aandreev Ah. Missed the +1. – inkista Mar 27 '15 at 2:49
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Primes nearly always outperform zooms for distortion and sharpness at a given focal point as their construction is generally simpler with fewer optical elements in the light path. Zooms are, by nature, compromised as they have to be able to provide different focal lengths with as low distortion as possible, and this entails some fairly complex optical engineering. When it comes to studio and/or commercial photography, sharpness is a paramount quality of a lens and this is why primes will frequently be used over zooms.

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The minimum focal distance of the 70-200mm vs 85mm might be a factor if the photographer wants to get in closer to the subject.

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I regularly use both in this environment and find optically both are very very good.

However I often find that I prefer using the 70-200 for one simple reason. I don't have to move. Frequently I will ask a model to hold a pose for two shots, one for a full length, and another a closer crop and it's less of a faff to turn a ring rather than move forward then back again.

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