50mm vs 85mm – Comparing the Best Lenses for Portraits

In the constantly evolving field of portrait photography, selecting the ideal lens to support your artistic vision can be a challenging task. The 50mm and 85mm lenses have become popular choices among photographers because they each have distinctive features that give your pictures depth and character. However, figuring out which lens best suits your unique requirements and preferences can be a daunting task.In this comprehensive comparison, I will delve into the intricate nuances of these two versatile lenses, unraveling their performance in relation to angle of view, depth of field, perspective, and other critical factors. By the conclusion of this article, you will possess a more profound understanding of the capabilities and strengths of each lens in various scenarios, empowering you to confidently select a new addition to your camera bag and fully leverage the benefits of both 50mm and 85mm focal lengths.Get started on this thrilling exploration of portrait photography and discover the lens that best suits your artistic vision and gives your photographs a sense of vibrancy and depth.

The Similarities

  • Fixed Focal Length: The 50mm and 85mm lenses are both prime lenses, which means that their focal lengths are fixed. Compared to zoom lenses, this fixed focal length frequently produces images with better picture quality, greater sharpness, and reduced chromatic aberration. Prime lenses, like the 50mm and the 85mm, are extremely popular among portrait photographers because of their ability to produce photographs that are sharp, detailed, and have good contrast and color reproduction.

  • Great Low Light Performance : Wide apertures on both lenses make them excellent in low light circumstances, enabling photographers to take well-exposed pictures despite difficult lighting scenarios without relying heavily on high ISO settings or additional lighting equipment. In low-light situations, the 50mm and 85mm lenses’ wide apertures allow more light to access the camera’s sensor, which leads to faster shutter speeds and an improvement in image quality. Due to this quality, these lenses are extremely versatile and suitable for a wide range of photography situations, including interior portraiture, outdoor shooting during the golden hour, and shooting in low light.

The Differences

  • Angle of View: The 50mm lens offers a wider angle of view than the 85mm lens, making it a suitable choice for environmental portraits where the context and background play a critical role in the composition.On the other hand, the 85mm lens features a narrower angle of view, which is ideal for tighter compositions, such as headshots and close-up portraits. The narrower angle helps to focus on the subject, eliminating distractions and creating a more intimate connection between the viewer and the subject.

  • Depth of Field: When shot at the same aperture and distance from the subject, the 85mm lens produces a shallower depth of field compared to the 50mm lens. This results in a more pronounced background blur that helps separate the subject from the background, giving portraits a professional and artistic appearance. The shallow depth of field created by the 85mm lens allows photographers to emphasize their subjects while artistically blurring the background, creating a sense of depth and dimension in the image.

  • Perspective: The 85mm lens typically requires a greater subject-to-camera distance, which minimizes facial distortions and results in more flattering portraits. This longer distance compresses facial features, creating a more aesthetically pleasing and natural appearance. In contrast, the 50mm lens provides a more natural perspective that closely resembles the human field of view, making subjects appear relatable and authentic. However, this can lead to less flattering results for close-up portraits due to potential distortions caused by the closer proximity to the subject.

  • Size and Weight: Generally, 50mm lenses are more compact and lightweight than 85mm lenses. This makes them easier to carry and handle during long photo sessions, particularly for photographers who often work on location or need to travel with their gear. The reduced size and weight of 50mm lenses can be a significant advantage when mobility and ease of use are essential factors during a shoot.

  • Cost: 50mm lenses are usually more affordable than 85mm lenses, making them a budget-friendly option for photographers looking to invest in a high-quality portrait lens without breaking the bank. This lower cost makes the 50mm lens an attractive choice for both amateur and professional photographers, offering excellent performance at a more accessible price point.

50mm Lens for Portraits

Characteristics of a 50mm Lens

  • Normal Field of View : One of the most noteworthy attributes of a 50mm lens is its normal field of view, which closely mirrors the human eye’s perspective. This characteristic lends a natural and relatable quality to your portraits, making them more visually appealing and engaging. The normal field of view also facilitates a better connection between the viewer and the subject, as the image appears realistic and true to life. This inherent authenticity can add depth and emotion to your portraits, resulting in more captivating and memorable photographs.

  • Low Distortion : Another significant feature of the 50mm lens is its low distortion level. Distortion, which occurs when straight lines appear curved or bent in an image, can adversely impact the quality of a portrait. However, the 50mm lens effectively minimizes this issue, ensuring that subjects appear true to life with accurate proportions and without any exaggerated or unnatural features. The low distortion quality of the 50mm lens enables photographers to capture visually pleasing and accurate portraits that faithfully represent their subjects.

  • Versatility : The 50mm lens is well known for being versatile, which makes it a popular option among photographers who take part in many genres of photography. This lens may be used for a wide range of photographic purposes and circumstances. It is equally suited for portrait photography, the goal of which is to capture the essence of the subject, and for street photography, which demands rapid reactions and the capacity to catch candid moments. Both types of photography may benefit from its use. Its versatility also extends to event photography, where the lens is capable of taking both group photos and individual portraits, as well as anything in between.

Advantages of Using a 50mm Lens for Portraits

  • Lightweight and Compact: The 50mm lens’s portability and small size is one of its main advantages. Compared to many other lenses, the 50mm lens is smaller and lighter, which makes it an easy and useful choice for shooters who need to carry their gear to picture sessions or while traveling. Photographers who regularly switch between different settings or operate on location may find that this mobility and simplicity of handling are especially helpful since it frees them up to concentrate on getting the ideal image without having to worry about carrying around heavy equipment.

  • Great for Environmental Portraits: Another advantage of the 50mm lens is its suitability for environmental portraits, which emphasize the subject’s surroundings and their relationship to the environment. Because it has a larger field of view, the 50mm lens gives photographers the ability to capture more of the background and context, resulting in a picture that is more compelling and richer in detail. Photographers may produce a more immersive and aesthetically appealing image that tells a story about the person and their location by adding parts of the surroundings into the composition. A sense of location, culture, or way of life may be effectively communicated through this kind of photograph, giving the picture more depth and significance.

  • Cost-Effective: The 50mm lens is a desirable choice for photographers on a tight budget or those just getting started in portrait photography since it is often less expensive than other portrait lenses. This cost-effectiveness does not degrade the quality of the photos, since the 50mm lens is able to capture portraits with comparable sharpness and clarity to those obtained with more costly lenses. By choosing a 50mm lens, photographers may purchase a flexible and dependable piece of gear without breaking the bank, enabling them to polish their abilities and develop their style without being constrained by budgetary limitations.

Disadvantages of Using a 50mm Lens for Portraits

  • Potential for Unflattering Facial Features : Due to its normal field of view, the 50mm lens can occasionally emphasize certain facial features, making them appear larger or more prominent than they are in reality. For example, the nose or forehead may seem more pronounced in close-up portraits taken with a 50mm lens. This can result in less flattering images, especially for subjects who are sensitive about particular features. In such cases, a longer focal length lens may be more suitable, as it tends to compress facial features and produce a more flattering perspective.

  • Less Background Blur : When taking portraits, using a lens with a shorter focal length, such as 50 millimeters, rather than a lens with a larger focal length, such as 85 millimeters, will result in less background blur. Because of this reduced blur, it may be more difficult to produce a distinct separation between the subject and the backdrop, which is sometimes necessary for producing portraits that have a professional look. Although the background blur generated by the 50mm lens can still be noticeable, it might not be as strong or appealing as that produced by greater focal length lenses.

  • Not Ideal for Tight Headshots : The wider field of view offered by the 50mm lens may not be the best choice for tight headshots, as it may necessitate the photographer being too close to the subject, leading to unflattering distortion. When shooting close-up headshots, the proximity to the subject can cause features to appear distorted and disproportionate, detracting from the overall quality of the image. Longer focal lengths, such the 85mm or 135mm, are frequently more suitable in these circumstances because they enable the photographer to stay at a comfortable distance from the subject while still shooting a closely framed headshot, giving the image a more flattering perspective and less distortion.

85mm Lens for Portraits

Characteristics of a 85mm Lens

  • Narrower Field of View : When it comes to portrait photography, the 85mm lens stands out for its narrower field of view in comparison to other popular choices, like the 50mm lens. This specific attribute enables photographers to concentrate more intently on their subject, while reducing the prominence of the surrounding environment within the frame. Consequently, the resulting images are powerful, intimate, and skillfully emphasize the individual being captured in the portrait.

  • Flattering Perspective : A notable feature of the 85mm lens is its capacity to deliver a flattering perspective. This is particularly important in portrait photography, as wider focal lengths can sometimes lead to facial distortions in close-up shots. The 85mm lens, on the other hand, ensures a more natural and visually appealing representation of the subject’s features. This is achieved by preserving accurate proportions, thereby enhancing the overall aesthetics of the portrait.

Advantages of Using a 85mm Lens for Portraits

  • Greater Subject Isolation: The 85mm lens stands out in its ability to effectively isolate subjects from their backgrounds, surpassing the performance of shorter focal lengths in this regard. Its narrower field of view, coupled with the potential for a shallower depth of field, allows the 85mm lens to create a clear distinction between the subject and the background. This separation directs the viewer’s attention towards the subject, resulting in a captivating and powerful portrait.

  • Flattering Facial Features: An essential advantage of the 85mm lens is its ability to provide a flattering perspective, which minimizes facial distortions commonly seen in close-up portraits taken with wider focal lengths. By ensuring that facial features are accurately represented and appear more natural, the 85mm lens is an optimal choice for creating genuine and visually appealing portraits. This characteristic sets the 85mm lens apart as a go-to option for photographers aiming to capture their subjects in the most favorable light, producing portraits that are both aesthetically pleasing and true to life.

  • Ideal for Tight Headshots and Close-ups: The 85mm lens is particularly adept at capturing tight headshots and close-up portraits, which is another reason why it is highly favored by portrait photographers. Its narrower field of view and longer focal length enable photographers to concentrate on their subjects while preserving a natural perspective. This focus on the subject helps to emphasize their facial features and expressions, ultimately capturing the essence of their personality. By creating a strong connection between the subject and the viewer, the 85mm lens proves to be a versatile and effective tool in producing emotive close-up portraits.

Disadvantages of Using a 85mm Lens for Portraits

  • Higher Cost: One notable drawback of the 85mm lens is its relatively higher price point compared to other portrait lenses, such as the 50mm. This additional expense may make it less appealing to photographers on a tight budget or those just starting out in portrait photography. As a result, some photographers may choose less expensive options that nonetheless provide acceptable images, even if they don’t exactly equal the performance of the 85mm lens.

  • Less Versatile: The 85mm lens, due to its specific characteristics, is not as versatile as other portrait lenses. Its narrower field of view and longer focal length make it exceptionally well-suited for tight headshots and close-up portraits. However, when it comes to capturing environmental portraits or other photography styles that necessitate a wider field of view, the 85mm lens might not be the ideal choice. Photographers who require a lens that can handle a wider range of situations and subject matter might prefer a more versatile option, such as the 50mm lens, which offers greater flexibility in various shooting scenarios.

  • Requires more Distance from the Subject: Another disadvantage of using an 85mm lens for portraits is the increased distance required between the photographer and the subject to achieve proper framing and composition. This longer working distance can pose challenges in smaller or confined spaces, where the photographer may struggle to position themselves far enough from the subject to capture the desired shot. Moreover, this increased distance can also hinder the ability to capture candid, intimate moments, as the photographer might need to be more distant from the action, potentially making it harder to seize spontaneous expressions and emotions.

50mm vs 85mm Lens , Which one is better?

  • Environmental Portraits : These portraits aim to showcase the subject within their environment, telling a story about who they are and what they do. A 50mm lens is a great choice for environmental portraits, as its wider field of view allows for the inclusion of more background elements, providing context and depth to your images. The 50mm lens offers a more natural perspective that closely resembles the human eye’s field of view, making these portraits feel more relatable and authentic. In contrast, the 85mm lens offers a more limited field of view. Since it focuses more on the subject and less on the surroundings, it might not be as suited for environmental portraiture or other genres of photography where a larger field of view is needed. This may produce a more personal and focussed image, which may be good for some storytelling objectives but may not completely represent the scene’s context and environment.

  • Close-up Headshots : For tight headshots that focus on the subject’s face and facial features, an 85mm lens is ideal. The longer focal length provides flattering facial features, minimizing distortions and ensuring that facial proportions are accurately represented. Additionally, the 85mm lens excels in subject isolation, thanks to its shallower depth of field, which helps the subject stand out from the background. This separation creates a more professional and polished appearance, allowing your subject to be the center of attention in your portrait. The 50mm lens, while not as specialized for headshots as the 85mm, can still produce beautiful close-up portraits. However, it may not provide the same level of subject isolation or flattering facial features as the 85mm lens, and the wider field of view might include more distracting background elements.

  • Studio Portraits : Studio portrait photography often requires versatility, as you may need to capture various types of images, from full-length shots to close-ups. Both 50mm and 85mm lenses can work well in a studio setting, depending on your creative vision and the available space. The 50mm lens may be more useful while working in a small studio since it enables you to take broader images without having as much space between you and your subject. This flexibility enables you to make the most of limited space and create a variety of portrait styles. On the other hand, the 85mm lens can produce more intimate and focused portraits, with greater subject isolation and a more flattering perspective, making it an excellent choice for studio headshots and close-ups. The 85mm lens may require more working distance in the studio, which could be a limiting factor in smaller spaces.

  • Lifestyle and Candid Photography : If you prefer capturing candid moments or lifestyle portraits, a 50mm lens may be more suitable. Its wider field of view and versatility allow for more spontaneous shots, while still delivering excellent image quality. The 50mm lens enables you to capture a range of different portrait styles, making it a valuable tool for photographers who enjoy shooting on-the-go or want to document their subjects in everyday situations. The 85mm lens, while not typically used for lifestyle and candid photography, can still create striking images in these situations. Its longer focal length and narrower field of view can help to emphasize specific details or emotions within a scene, creating a more intimate and focused portrayal of your subject. However, the 85mm lens may not be as versatile as the 50mm lens when it comes to capturing a wide range of candid moments. Additionally, it may demand greater distance from the subject, which might be difficult in dynamic and fast-paced scenarios.


The debate between 50mm and 85mm lenses for portrait photography can be challenging, as each lens has unique attributes suited for specific photography styles. It’s crucial to consider your needs and intended use before purchasing a lens.

The 50mm lens provides a wider field of view, resembling the human eye’s perspective, making it ideal for environmental portraits that showcase subjects within their surroundings. Its versatility enables diverse portrait styles, making it valuable for lifestyle and candid photography. Additionally, the 50mm lens is more practical in smaller studio spaces, as it allows wider shots without needing significant distance between you and your subject.

Conversely, the 85mm lens has a narrower field of view and longer focal length, making it perfect for close-up headshots focusing on facial features. It minimizes distortions and ensures accurate facial proportions, resulting in professional, flattering portraits. Its shallower depth of field enhances subject isolation, helping them stand out from the background. While less versatile than the 50mm lens, the 85mm lens produces more intimate and focused portraits, making it a popular choice for studio headshots and close-ups.

When deciding between the two lenses, consider your portrait sessions’ specific requirements. If you frequently capture environmental portraits or work in smaller studio spaces, the 50mm lens may be better due to its versatility and wider field of view. However, if you primarily focus on headshots and close-ups, the 85mm lens is likely the better choice for a polished and professional appearance. Additionally, consider your budget and equipment preferences when selecting a lens. Both 50mm and 85mm lenses are available at different price points, catering to various budgets. Investing in a high-quality lens tailored to your needs can significantly impact your portraits’ quality and style.

In summary, both the 50mm and 85mm lenses offer unique advantages and disadvantages, making them suitable for different portrait photography styles. By carefully evaluating your creative vision, primary style, intended use, and portrait session requirements, you can make an informed decision about the best focal length for your needs. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution in photography; success lies in understanding and leveraging each lens’s strengths to create visually captivating and impactful portraits.


Is 85mm good for full body portraits?

An 85mm lens can indeed work well for full-body portraits, but it does have some limitations. Due to its longer focal length, you’ll need more space to back up and fit your subject in the frame. This can be challenging in tight spaces or small studios. However, if you have enough room, the 85mm lens can produce flattering full-body shots with minimal distortion, creating a professional look. So while it’s not the most versatile option for full-body portraits, it can still deliver impressive results under the right circumstances.

Is 50mm or 85mm better for family portraits?

Both 50mm and 85mm lenses can be effective for family portraits, but the choice depends on your specific needs. The 50mm lens, with its wider field of view, is great for capturing larger groups or including more background context, making it an excellent choice for outdoor or environmental family portraits. In contrast,  the 85mm lens excels at providing a more intimate feel, isolating subjects and creating beautiful background blur which is ideal for close-ups or smaller groups. From my experience, either lens can yield fantastic results; just be sure to consider the location and group size when deciding which lens to use.

Can I use 85mm for environmental portraits?

Utilizing an 85mm lens for environmental portraits may not be the optimal choice, given its longer focal length and limited field of view. Environmental portraits emphasize the subject’s connection to their surroundings, adding context and depth to the images. The 85mm lens shines in close-up portraits and isolating subjects, but incorporating the environment into your compositions can prove challenging. A 50mm lens or even a wider focal length might be more appropriate for environmental portraits, as they facilitate capturing both the subject and the setting, resulting in a more captivating and immersive photograph.


I’m a professional photographer with 17 years of experience in a wide range of photography, and over the course of my career I’ve had the opportunity to use a variety of photographic equipment now I would like to share my knowledge with you through this website. I hope Cameraindepth.com becomes the go-to destination when selecting the best gears for any project. Here you can access unbiased reviews and make an informed decision when choosing gears.

Sittha Sathutham Photographer and Writer

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