The rule-of-thumb for portraiture is to use a focal length that is approximately 2.5 times the diagonal measure of the camera’s format. As an example, the Fx (full frame) measures 24mm height by 36mm length; the diagonal of this rectangle is 42mm. Thus 42 X 2.5 = 105, therefore the recommended portrait lens for the full frame is about 105mm.
Everything has a why – let’s explore:
A portrait image that displays a “correct” perspective sells best because people have a perceived self-image that is derived from the view seen in their dressing mirror. The portrait photographer needs to know, if this perspective is duplicated, the portrait wins favor.
To duplicate this perspective, the viewer needs to look at the finished image from a distance equal to the focal length multiplied by the magnification applied to make the final displayed image. A portrait image is likely on the mantle or wall viewed from about 1 yard (1 meter). A full frame image enlarged to make an 8x10 image requires 8X enlargement. If a 105mm lens is mounted, the optimal viewing distance to display correct perspective is 105 X 8 = 840mm = 33 inches (0.84 meters). Using the 105mm lens forces the photographer to step back when composing. The result is an image that matches the view seen in the dressing mirror.
If a Dx format camera is used, the crop factor is 1.5 or 1.6. This format is 66% of the size of the Fx. The diagonal measure is 30mm. Using the same rule-of-thumb, the focal length of choice for portraiture is 30 X 2.5 = 75. Using the 2.5x principle, we mount a 75mm lens. The magnification applied to make an 8x10 print is 12X. The optimal viewing distance is 75 X 12 = 900mm about 1 yard (1 meter).
Please note: Most images we take do not require that the perspective be “correct”. Portraiture is an exception, because the difference between individual human face is misrule but very important to the subject of the portrait.