Portrait photography involves many different things. Generally I would say the most important is knowing how to interact with your subject and lighting, then you go onto understanding framing and being able to set up the camera.
In that list some where is knowing your lens. Photographers regularly say that a good lens is more important than a good camera and whilst this isn’t wholly true, I would say lenses are just as important.
Photographers also seem to think that the best and most expensive lenses are the best but that doesn’t always hold up either.
As I am still a little under the weather, I thought I would do a comparison between 2 lenses. The £1389 Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus and the (£479) Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 Nokton.
Both lenses are generally considered to be very good by most people (though some complain of the micro contrast in the Zeiss Milvus). So I thought I would do a comparison with each lens, in a studio environment. Because I was shooting indoors, with a background I wasn’t that bothered about the depth of field. The camera setup is, shutterspeed: 1/160, aperture: f/8, ISO: 100. I had a 3 light setup. 2 studio lights, (left) 1st a diffused beauty dish set at 5.3 and the 2nd (back right) with a diffused strip box set to 3.7. The beauty dish was around 2/3 further than the strip box.
I also had a gelled speed light set to 1/2 power, with a blue gel fixed (I really should have been at 1/4). I also used 2 reflectors to help take away a bit of the shadow on the right and front right (facing upwards).
This set up gives enough of a contrasty shoot to see the differences between the 2 lenses.
With the aperture at f/8 both lenses are extremely sharp, at f/1.4 the the Milvus easily beats the voigtlander but at f/8, the difference is minimal. Neither lens suffers from chromatic aberrations, either and the vignetting has disappeared.
So looking at the 2 photos, the images are dramatically different. Of course we have the differences, due the the focal length and compression but the big difference is the contrast between light and dark. The Voigtlander is a much brighter image, my guess is around 2/3’s of a stop, also it is far less contrasty, with a noticeable difference between light and shadow.
Now I am not going to get into the micro contrast argument in this video, it is down to the individual to decide what kind of look they want from an image.
Now the important thing though is that a good photographers will be able to tell the difference between lenses and will have the right look for the kind of photo you want.
So for the photo below, I knew I wanted a black and white photo, I knew the lighting would create heavier shadow on the right with more contrast, as I was using the Ziess 85mm. Unlike the top photo I did change power of the speed light. An interesting thing to note is because I darkened the blow, it had a slight effect on the eyes but I pre brightened them, so the eyes still stand out.