Top 5 Portrait Lenses

canon 100mm
The Canon 100mm f/2.8 makes a great portrait lens for full frame DSLRs

When buying a new camera most people, unless they already have lenses, will get it with a decent kit zoom.  Their first lens purchase will almost inevitably be a portrait lens.There are so many great lenses out there for portraits, it’s hard to pick winners.  So my compromise is to pick my five favorites.

Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 D

Coming in at just under $500, the 85mm f/1.8 is one of the of the most highly regarded lenses in Nikon’s arsenal.  Not a great choice for low-light situations, but portrait photographers swear by it.

Specifically that would be head and shoulders style portraits or close-ups.  If you want to take full body shots, you’ll have to step back quite a bit.

Nikon makes a f/1.4 version of the same lens, but at twice the price it’s hard to justify the cost.

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G

Criticized lately on build quality, it’s still a fine portrait lens for around $200.  Maybe a tad less sharp than the 85mm, but it takes better eyes than mine to see much difference.

Mounted in front of Nikon’s APS-C, a slightly larger sensor than the Canon APS-C, it yields an effective zoom of 75mm.

Canon 100mm f/2.8 Autofocus Prime

This lens might be a tad long for APS-C models, like my Canon 7D, but matched up with a full size sensor on a 5D, this is a killer portrait lens.

Fast enough to provide good performance in low light, and snaps to focus nearly silently.  Work a stop or two under wide open and it’s sharp enough to slice paper.  Priced around $600.

The only downside to using this lens all day is the weight.  It’s one of the heavier lenses of the top picks.

Canon “Nifty Fifty” 50mm f/1.8

You knew this one was coming.  It’s one of the finest portrait lenses Canon makes.  Priced around $100, it’s the first lens most Canon shooters purchase and the one that ends up spend the most time on the camera.

Newer models have developed a noticeable buzz in the auto-focus.

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II

This is my personal favorite.  A little more expensive than some of the others and the only zoom on my list, I love this lens.  It’s a great performer in low and mixed light and delivers razor sharp quality.

The auto-focus is noisier than you’d expect for a lens at this price point and it can act confused and slow hunting around for focus.

Priced in the mid-$600’s, it’s still my choice for portraits or weddings.

Top 4 Lenses For Nature Photography

The Nikon AF-S 600mm in the wild with photographer Al Haley
In nature photography it’s not unusual to see someone drive up in a beater car that barely runs only to have the shooter pull out an $8,000 lens.  It is not a hobby for the financially faint of heart.
Getting enough light at those magnifications means a big barrel, and a big barrel means a lot of expensive glass.  For these lenses most photographers buy a dedicated body to use with them.  The cost of the camera is almost inconsequential compared to the lens.These are my four picks for the best in nature photography.


Quick and accurate auto-focus driven by high precision, ultra-quiet motors.  You’ll need a quality tripod to hang this bad boy but it’s worth it sit at a comfortable quarter mile away to get your shots. The color and clarity can only be described as amazing.

Canon ef 500mm
With ultra-fast and rock steady focusing that almost jumps to the subject, you’ll see this lens on a lot of the sidelines of sporting events as well as nature photography.500mm with a 4.1 degree horizontal angle of view for full frame sensor models like the 5D MKII.
If you’re not into brand names, you can save some money looking at brands like Sigma, which run closer to half what the Canon and Nikon glass costs.  There are concessions like weight and weather proofing you’re giving up, but you won’t have to trade your car for one, either.

Sigma 500mm
A little heavier than its more expensive cousins, but not that difficult to pack around and still delivers high quality images.  You’re giving up weather sealing at the lower price point, so carry a bag cover with you at all times.

Sigma 50-500
This zoom is heavy, but offers a long, flexible zoom range.  You are giving up a fixed aperture on the zoom, but considering the price point, that’s an inconvenience I can live with.

What is involved in putting together a $7,000 lens

There is a lot of work that goes into putting together a Canon EF 500mm F/4L IS USM lens, after all the lens does have 17 optical elements. These videos shows the steps involved from manufacturing the lens, from molten glass to finished product.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Last month we shared a “How it’s Made” segment about how lenses are made.

Turn your iPhone into a DSLR

Some have argued that the iPhone is one of the most popular cameras in the world. Although I don’t think you will be seeing the iPhone on Snapsort anytime soon, you can now upgrade your iPhone with a case that allows SLR lenses to be used.

The iPhone may have a tiny sensor and no business being used with high end lenses, but if you are a more money than brains iPhone owner, this is a must have accessory. You can mount your Canon or Nikon lenses to your phone and become the coolest iPhone photographer in the world.  For only $250 (that doesn’t include a lens), you can now carry a giant bag of lenses around with your ultra portable iPhone.

They are in stock now so check out the Photojojo store now before you are disappointed.

How camera lenses are made

Have you ever wondered how camera lenses are made? Discovery Channel’s “How it’s Made” produced a segment a few years ago on the process of assembling a lens.

According to the video it takes 6 weeks to make an lens and optical glass can costs up to $1000 per kilogram, no wonder lenses are so expensive.

Image credit: Photographs by Duncan Meeder