Reasons to have an 85mm Prime lens (example & Ideas)

canon ef 85mm f:1.2 L lens

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II | Photo: S.Su

We all know how important it is to have a 50mm lens. They are like bread and butter for photographers across all genres. Compared to them the less popular 85mm is a lens that is often understated and overlooked. They are, however, the perfect length for portrait photography while also serving for a variety of other purposes. In this article we shall be looking at the top reasons why you should invest in an 85mm lens. I assume you are using a full frame DSLR. If you are using an APS-C DSLR the crop factor will make a 50mm lens either 75mm or an 80mm and close to what you would want. This will make an investment into an 85mm unnecessary.

Let me start this discussion by saying that 85mm lenses can be both cheap & expensive. Canon currently sells the EF 85mm f/1.2L II lens which retails around 2100 dollars (Amazon | Adorama | B&H) and the EF 85mm f/1.8 which is the cheaper version, without image stabilization or the superior build quality of a L lens, retailing at 350 dollars (Amazon | Adorama | B&H). Comparatively, Nikon does not sell an 85mm f/1.2 at this time but yet offer no less than 5 choices and 4 out of them are for full frame sensors with one being for DX format DSLRs. The good one, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G retail over 1300 dollars a piece on an average. The cheaper one, the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G sells around 500 dollars (Amazon | Adorama | B&H). Third party lens maker like Sigma & Zeiss also make 85mm prime lenses. For example Sigma’s own Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens . This is what makes these lenses tools for serious portrait photographers only. Unless your bread and butter depends on the 85mm it makes no sense to invest in expensive one.

Photo: Shawn Chen

Maximum aperture

These lenses tend to have (at least the good ones) the fastest apertures in business. Look at the lenses manufactured by Canon, Nikon or Sigma and you will notice that the best of the lot all have maximum apertures of f/1.8 and wider. The Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II is the fastest and is a joy to shoot with. Fast apertures allow you to collect that much more light than compared to a standard kit lens and are perfect for low light situations and create beautiful smooth bokeh.

Photo: Ben Barnes

Photo: Nan Palmero


Fast apertures also has another advantage and that is they create beautiful out of focus areas around the subject. This is widely used to isolate the subject from the foreground and the background just in case they are not as exciting as the subject itself. read more about bokeh here

Photo: Maurizio Agelli

Ideal Portrait length

The best thing about the 85mm lens is that they are widely considered as the ideal portrait lens. While a lot of users prefer to use the 70-200mm for portraiture, some even preferring the tele end of the 24-70mm, but the odds are heavily in favor of the 85mm prime. As DigitalRev’s Kai would say, “they are not too big neither too small.” Thus the 85mm is a great focal length for covering weddings as well. They are just about compact, not appearing intimidating and yet allowing to capture beautiful candid portraits in social and other events.

Photo: Ehsan Khakbaz H


Being the ideal portrait length could mean a lot of things, but one aspect that photographers love about the 85mm is that it does not distort the facial features of a subject, chiefly the nose which can appear larger when shot with a 50mm or wider lens.

Photo: Dominik Golenia (f1.2)


Possibilities are limitless with these 85mm prime lenses. Your own imagination is the only limit here. Below are few examples of 85mm lens’s capabilities. See what kind of images it can produce.

Photo: Jon Osborne


Photo: Hiroyuki Takeda

Photo: Vaidotas Mišeikis

Photo: Jun Seita

Photo: Hiroyuki Takeda

Photo: Hiroyuki Takeda

Photo: Aurimas

Photo: Julian Schroeder

Photo: Simon R. Rowell


Photo: Fouquier ॐ

Photo: Stephan Geyer

Photo: Christian Yves Ocampo

Photo: Sean Molin

Photo:Sean Molin

Some popular 85mm Prime Lenses