Prime lenses are great because they give you exceptional sharpness, large maximum apertures, and versatile performance for a variety of shooting situations.
What’s more, you can often find prime lenses for a great price, making them a sound investment.
That’s especially the case if you opt for a gently used lens from a retailer that focuses on offering quality used products for a good price.
When it comes to buying a prime lens, though, which one is the best for you?
There’s a strong argument that for many photographers, an 85mm lens is the best bet.
It’s Perfect for Portraits
What’s great about an 85mm lens for portraiture is that it allows you to fill the frame with the subject without being right in the subject’s face.
As many portrait photographers experience, that little extra bit of distance allows the subject to relax a bit more, with more natural-looking portraits a result.
Additionally, 85mm lenses show minimal distortion which is great for creating images that render a person’s forehead, nose, and chin in a way that looks normal to the eye.
In looking at the image above, you can see how the 85mm lens the photographer used produced little distortion and great bokeh (more on that next…).
The Bokeh is Fantastic
By and large, prime lenses produce beautiful bokeh.
The 85mm is no exception…
The buttery, blurry backgrounds you can create with an 85mm lens like the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM shown above are ideal for portraiture because it allows you to separate the subject from the background.
What’s more, you can shoot portraits in locations that might not have the most beautiful backgrounds because it will all be rendered in gorgeous bokeh goodness anyway.
Without having to work so hard to find the perfect background, the 85mm lens doesn’t just make your portrait backgrounds look good, but it also helps you save time too.
Instead of hunting around for an ideal background, you can spend more time working on composition, framing, and developing a connection with your subject.
Wedding Photographers Adore It
One of the great things about an 85mm lens is that it’s extremely versatile.
You can shoot indoors in low light, outdoors in bright sunshine, and everywhere in between.
That makes it ideal for wedding photographers that need a lens that can pull double duty indoors and out.
On top of that, with an 85mm lens, you can move nearer the front of the venue to capture frame-filling shots during the ceremony and then move further back to capture a wider view of the happy couple with their bridal party.
It’s also a great lens for moving around the wedding reception to capture fun candid photos from a good distance away.
Though an 85mm lens like the Nikon AF 85mm f/1.4D is larger than, say, a 35mm or a 50mm lens, they are still by no means big and bulky.
Not only do 85mm not protrude all that far from your camera, but many of them are also very lightweight.
That means that you can work a crowd and take gorgeous photos without feeling like you’re cramming a huge lens in everyone’s face.
This applies to all sorts of situations, be that a wedding reception, a street scene, a corporate event, or even photos of individuals and couples.
It Offers Versatility of Shots
As noted earlier, the 85mm lens is versatile because you can do so much with it.
From a closer distance, you can frame up a headshot with a gorgeously blurred background.
From mid-range, you can get a frame-filling shot of a person’s upper body.
From further away, you can use an 85mm lens to get a pleasing full body portrait too.
So, even though you’re working at a constant focal length, just by simply moving your feet you can get a wider variety of shots.
It’s Got “Zoom Factor”
Sure, an 85mm lens like the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM shown above is a prime lens without a zoom…
However, at 85mm, you’re operating in the short telephoto range on a full frame camera.
On a crop sensor camera, this 85mm lens acts like a full-on telephoto lens at a 136mm effective focal length.
That means that regardless of whether you’re shooting on a full frame or a crop sensor camera, you get tons of focal length to photograph subjects far away.
Superb Low-Light Performance
Just like its 35mm and 50mm siblings, 85mm lenses offer excellent capabilities in low-light situations.
At f/1.8, you get a tremendous amount of light entering the lens. At f/1.4 and f/1.2, that amount of light only increases.
And since 85mm lenses are great for portraiture, that means you can still get great shots in adverse lighting.
You won’t have to use your flash as often. Likewise, you won’t need to boost the ISO as much.
The result is pleasing images that look natural and are free of digital noise.
It Offers Bang for the Buck
Like other prime lenses, 85mm lenses offer excellent value for the price.
Not only do you get something with a large maximum aperture, an excellent “zoom factor,” great low-light performance, and versatility, but you can also get that at a price that won’t bust your budget.
In fact, you can get a used Nikon AF 85mm f/1.8 like the one above in good condition for less than $250.
If you’re in the Canon environment, the Rokinon 85mm T1.5 AS UMC lens is under $300 for a lens that’s in like new condition.
The point here is that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get a quality 85mm lens for your kit.
Since budget is the biggest concern for most of us, that means there’s really no excuse not to outfit yourself with an 85mm lens – especially if you mostly take portraits.
See an 85mm lens in action (and compared to a 50mm lens) in the video above by Weekly Imogen.