Head to head

We pit a ver­sa­tile zoom lens against a fast prime to see which is the best for por­trai­ture

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Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

El­e­ments/groups 21/16 Di­aphragm 9 blades Op­ti­cal sta­biliser Yes Fo­cus type Ul­tra­sonic (ring-type) Min fo­cus dis­tance 1.4m Max re­pro­duc­tion ra­tio 0.12 x Fil­ter size 77mm Ac­ces­sories in­cluded Hood, soft case Di­am­e­ter x min length 87x206mm Weight 1.54kg Price £2000/$2100 With its 2.9x zoom range, this lens gives you great ver­sa­til­ity for por­trai­ture at wed­dings and other events, where you might need to re­act quickly and won’t nec­es­sar­ily have the time to ma­noeu­vre your­self and oth­ers when com­pos­ing the shot. This fea­ture-rich zoom also boasts dual-mode op­ti­cal sta­bil­i­sa­tion, a whop­ping seven Ex­tra-low Dis­per­sion (ED) el­e­ments, nano crys­tal coat­ings, an aut­o­fo­cus lim­iter switch and more be­sides – all wrapped up in a rugged, weather-sealed mag­ne­sium al­loy shell. There’s no dis­guis­ing the fact that this is a big, heavy lens. It’s 206mm long, not in­clud­ing the lens hood, and weighs more than 1.5kg. It’s a weighty propo­si­tion for lengthy pe­ri­ods of hand­held shoot­ing, and can seem in­tim­i­dat­ing for por­trait sit­ters. Usu­ally, top-notch prime lenses are bet­ter than zoom lenses for out­right sharp­ness. In our tests, how­ever, this 70-200mm zoom matches or beats most pro-grade prime lenses for sharp­ness, through­out its en­tire zoom range, even when shoot­ing wide open. Bokeh, or the qual­ity of de­fo­cused ar­eas, is of­ten an es­sen­tial part of por­trai­ture. At a com­pet­ing fo­cal length of 85mm, this lens is no match for the f/1.4 prime when it comes to min­imis­ing depth of field, but it’s very good at the 200mm end of its zoom range.

Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4G

El­e­ments/groups 10/9 Di­aphragm 9 blades Op­ti­cal sta­biliser No Fo­cus type Ul­tra­sonic (ring-type) Min fo­cus dis­tance 0.85m Max re­pro­duc­tion ra­tio 0.12x Fil­ter size 77mm Ac­ces­sories in­cluded Hood, soft case Di­am­e­ter x min length 86x84mm Weight 595g Price £1350/$1600 85mm is an ideal fo­cal length for por­trai­ture with a full-frame cam­era, since you can give your sub­ject plenty of breath­ing space while not be­ing too dis­tant and re­mote. There’s nat­u­rally no zoom fa­cil­ity, so you’ll just have to use your feet. This lens doesn't fea­ture any ED or as­pher­i­cal el­e­ments, or vi­bra­tion re­duc­tion (VR). How­ever, it does boast fast ring-type ul­tra­sonic AF, a well-rounded aper­ture based on nine di­aphragm blades, nano crys­tal coat­ings and pro-grade build qual­ity with weather seals. At much less than half the phys­i­cal length and weight of the 70-200mm lens, the prime is more man­age­able for hand­held shoot­ing. It’s also a lot less threat­en­ing for timid por­trait sit­ters, who might feel ner­vous in front of a big tele­photo zoom. Fast lenses tend to lose sharp­ness at their widest aper­tures, and this lens is no ex­cep­tion. While it beats the 70-200mm at f/2.8, it’s quite soft at f/1.4. That’s not al­to­gether a bad thing, though, as it gives the op­tion of beau­ti­ful, dreamy-look­ing por­traits. The 85mm fo­cal length and f/1.4 max­i­mum aper­ture en­able an ex­tremely tight depth of field. This of­fers the po­ten­tial to blur not just the back­ground, but every­thing apart from the sub­ject's eye. The rounded aper­ture also re­sults in won­der­fully creamy bokeh.

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