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I am using a Panasonic Lumix G Vario 35-100mm F/2.8, a MFT telephoto lens.

I am learning about photography by reading articles and reviews and in one review it was mentioned there is a great portrait lens, namely the Panasonic Lumix G 42,5mm F/1.7, also a MFT lens.

I learned a bit about sensor size (full frame, ASP-C, MFT, ...) and the relationship of f#, focal length and aperture, etc., though I'm still not very fluent to be honest.

Considering that the sensor size is the same (MFT) and that the focal length of the portrait lense 42.5mm is within the range of my telephoto lense, I ask myself why would I want to buy the portrait lense then?

The different I see is the f.#, but what does that mean? Could someone explain to me in simple words please? And it would be nice to have some examples (on some articles they let me see what the difference is, but not sure if one can show a difference of F/1.7 and F/2.8?).

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There is no such thing as a portrait lens. Just some are known to produce more appealing portraits. It can be used to shoot any other thing where the focal-length desired is the same. Note that I didn't say needed since portraits can and are shot with different focal-length.

A 42.5mm lens on a MFT gives what people consider a flattering perspective, making people's face's proportion and nose length shorter than perceived with the human eye. Your 35-100mm lens, set to 42.5mm will give exactly the same perspective.

With an F/1.7 aperture though, which your 35-100mm lens cannot manage, produces an image with a more shallow depth-of-field. This is considered desirable for portraits since the background gets more blurred and isolates the subject more than an F/2.8 lens.

The bottom line is that you can make portraits which are flattering with your 35-100mm, but a 42.5mm lens could be used to isolate your subject more from the background, given the same situation. It will not necessarily mean your portraits will be automatically better since there are so many factors that influence the results such as subject, lighting, position, distance, etc.

Specifically regarding those two lenses, when it comes to the quality of the resulting images, there is a small difference between the two. The 42.5mm is an extremely sharp lens and shows very little corner shading (aka vignetting) while the 35-100mm is quite sharp - just not as sharp - and shows moderate vignetting until stopped down to F/4. Such difference in sharpness would be visible in large prints only. Although the vignetting is easily noticeable, it is one of the easiest artifact to eliminate in software.

  • Note that some lenses marketed as "portrait lenses" have a spherical field curvature, as opposed to macro lenses which typically have flat field curvature photo.stackexchange.com/questions/83070/…. However, I do not know whether this is the case for the lenses mentioned here. – godfatherofpolka Feb 5 '17 at 9:20
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    Funny enough, vignetting may be one of the "least undesired" effects, especially when the attention is to be directed to the middle of the image (where the face will often be in a portrait). After all it's one of the staple effects used in post-processing. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Feb 5 '17 at 9:28
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    Shooting portraits at faster apertures is not generally "considered desirable" - it produces a shallow DOF that may or may not be the look you're going for. F/1.7 on MFT won't be super-shallow, of course, but it really depends on the application. In studio work, for example, where your background is entirely controlled and you have lots of light, stopping down to get maximum sharpness and more DOF is very common. Sharp eyes, blurry ears isn't always what you want in a portrait... – J... Feb 5 '17 at 12:16
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    @PeterA.Schneider - Yes but I never understood that. When I see a vignetted image, all that I see is the tunnel. But indeed, it is a really popular tool for some photographers. In video effects, we have the same thing with Regrain which adds grain to video, it's the second most popular took after Color-Correct. – Itai Feb 5 '17 at 13:39
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First, those numbers are probably f/2.8 for the 35-100mm and f/1.7 for the 42.5mm.

Secondly, the 42.5 has a larger aperture which allows the camera to collect more light in a given period of time. This means that you can get a good shot with less light, or have a faster shutter speed with the same amount of light.

Additionally, a prime lens (one which only handles a single focal length), is usually sharper than a zoom lens at the same length. (Though you should check comparisons if you can to be sure.) This article explains the benefits in more detail. Here's an excerpt:

Ask any professional photographer about the benefit of a prime lens and the answer will be the same: it takes clearer photos. Since they don't have a lot of moving parts like zooms, the glass inside of a prime lens is very precise.

Advantage number two: prime lenses are pretty light.

Here's the best part: you don't have to break the bank to get a superior lens for your digital SLR camera.

  • You could expand your answer a little – Janardan S Feb 5 '17 at 5:59
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    Good answer. When, back in the 1980s, I casually asked a professional photographer for general advice on taking high quality pictures, she said "use a professional lens" and "use the film labeled 'professional' even if it feels lame". 30 years later the latter translates into "large, high-quality sensor" (which has the desired side effect of narrowing the depth of field, in addition to a better image quality). – Peter - Reinstate Monica Feb 5 '17 at 9:32
  • Back in the 1980s the mid-grade prime would blow the doors off the best zoom money could buy. That's no longer the case. The difference between zoom and prime lenses in terms of sharpness is all but gone in the premium zoom lens space. A good prime is still cheaper than a good zoom, but a $500 prime is no longer guaranteed to be sharper than a $2000 zoom from the same manufacturer. – Michael C Feb 5 '17 at 21:56
  • From the article cited near the end of the answer: "If you want to change your angle of view when using a prime lens, you actually have to move forward or backward with the camera." No you don't. If you want to change the angle of view with a prime you need to change lenses. If you want to change the framing without changing the angle of view (because you can't change the angle of view of a prime lens) then you need to move forward or backward with the camera. – Michael C Feb 5 '17 at 22:00
  • @MichaelClark Yes, obviously correct. It was sloppy writing, but I think the point comes across. It's like the old saying, "Zoom with your feet." It's not technically zooming because the angle of view doesn't change, but the point is fairly obvious. – user1118321 Feb 5 '17 at 22:25
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... why would I want to buy the portrait lense then?

Thinner depth of field from a smaller/lighter/cheaper lens. Courtesey of camerasize.com:

enter image description here

The 45.2mm is much smaller. The Olympus m.Zuiko 45/1.8 is even smaller than the Panasonic 42.5. And both of them are around the US$300 mark, new, while the Panasonic 35-100/2.8 II new is about $1k.

Granted, it's only 1.3 stops advantage in the max. aperture, but that's still more than double the light, and a thinner DoF if you need it than an f/2.8 lens can give.

Some people also prefer the discipline of shooting with a prime vs. the framing versatility of a zoom—one less factor to worry about pre-visualizing—but this is mostly a matter of personal taste.

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There is no good answer to "what focal length for portraits". Anyone that claims portraits need to be XX mm focal length just doesn't know anything about it.

Pay the most attention to those repsonses here to stand back some with the camera. They have the only right answer. Then whatever focal length gives your camera the view that you desire is the right answer. Only the right view matters, the numerical number of focal length simply does not matter. Except of course, useful focal length depends on if you want a tight head and shoulders shot, or a half length, or a full length standing portrait, or a small group, or a large group. There simply is no one answer. Except the one answer is that in every case, stand back a bit with the camera.

At least 6 or 8 feet. 10 feet can be even better. So that distance of course might mean you need a little longer lens to frame your shot. Or shorter, it depends on how large the subject group is. But as desired to get the view you want, from at least about 7 feet.

In 35 mm film days, it was very popular to consider a 105 mm lens as the "portrait lens". Portrait perspective depends only on where the camera stands. And it turns out that with 35 mm film with a 105 mm lens, then at 7 feet, it has a field of view of 1.6 x 2.4 feet. This is about right for a tight head and shoulders view. But the only magic it has is that it FORCES us to stand back at least 7 feet. Some consider the 135 mm better, to be really sure you stand back some. But any wider shot is of course a different game. The one rule still stands though, stand back a bit with the camera.

This 105 mm length translates to about 70 or 80 mm for the popular APS cropped DSLR models (1.5 and 1.6x crop). Because it forces about the same 7 feet minimum distance from subject to camera. Same 1.6x2.4 foot field of view.

A wider shot, for a waist-up or standing portrait could need and use a shorter lens instead of standing back so much more, but ALWAYS stand back at least about 7 feet. Focal length simply does not matter, except that it controls where you have to stand. And the goal is to stand back a little. But different portrait views do require different views, but in all cases, stand back a little, at least 7 feet (or call it at least 2 meters, and consider 3 meters).

This distance is what determines the portrait perspective, and too close is simply not a good result. I think this has been known about 100 years, but not everyone gets it yet.

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