Looking for a portrait lens ...

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Dear reader,

May I introduce myself? I'm a serious amateur photographer and owner of a Leica R6.2 SLR camera. I should like to make portraits of people, so I am thinking of buying a second-hand 90 mm. Leica lens. I informed at the leica dealer in the Netherlands if it was possible to hire such a lens, unfortunately it wasn't. Neither at any other profesional stores. Can you give me any advise about what kind of lens is usefull? For example, Is there much difference between the summicron-R 2.0 and the elmarit-R 2.8 (except the prize)?

Bye for now,

Wijnand The Hague Kingdom of the Netherlands bozbez@zonnet.nl

-- Wijnand (bosbes@mac.com), August 10, 2001


Go for the Elmarit, you will not be disappointed. It is a superb lens and a bargain..

-- Ivor Quaggin (iquaggin@home.com), August 10, 2001.

The standard answer seems to be the 90 2.8, which I now own. I once owned the 90 2.0, and prefer those images to the 2.8. Yes, the 2.8 is sharper, but I feel portraits with the summicron "feel" better, sharpness is not the end all in portrait photography.

-- Bill Dewberry (dewbie@earthlink.net), August 10, 2001.

I have the Summicron-R; my 90 Elmarit is for the M cameras. It's the old, original 90 Elmarit. So this will be a somewhat mixed comparison. The Elmarit lacks for nothing when it comes to sharpness, even wide open. The Summicron isn't outstandingly sharp wide open. But I would not describe it as soft, not in the sense that the 35 Summilux is soft wide open. I might prefer to describe the image as "liquid" wide open. As Bill Dewberry pointed out, this has an appeal all its own.

SO: If sharpness is the main goal, get the Elmarit. It's smaller and lighter. If you need the speed, and value other, less tangible properties in addition to sharpness, then consider the Summicron. It makes lovely images.

-- Bob Fleischman (RFXMAIL@prodigy.net), August 10, 2001.

I own both the 90/2.8 (2nd version) and 90/2 for the R series. If you want the sharpest, most contrasty lens at all apertures and not need to stop down as much at close distances for sharpness to the corners, and/or are using it for a general-purpose travel lens and want lighter weight, buy the Elmarit (2nd version only!). For a specialist portrait lens you might prefer the Summicron, as its rendition of the ultra-fine details is not as razor-sharp nor is the contrast hard-edged at f/2-f/4. From there down the 2 lenses differ mainly in weight. Another surprisingly good portrait lens which if you can find it is usually quite inexpensive, is the 100/4 Macro- Elmar (the one with focusing mount, not the short-mount for bellows).

-- Jay (infinitydt@aol.com), August 11, 2001.

Both the above lenses will give you great, and different results. I prefer the elmarit due to the high, yet gentle, sharpness and its beautifull backgrounds. At f2.8 and f4 the elmarit backgorunds dissolve into attractive and delicate forms and small highlights form perfect uniform circles. I also think the elmarits simple 4 element design contributes to its ability to render subtle gradations.

-- pedro lastra (plastra@webmail.bellsouth.net), August 11, 2001.

My vote is for the Summilux-R 80mm. This has superior performance to the Summicron 90 at wider apertures - and it is just a wondeful lens to use for any kind of portraits. It is a real joy to use on the camera. The Elmarit is an excellent lens too, but for any portraits now I now always pick out the Summilux. I found the Elmarit a little slow myself too for a lot of candid portraits in shade or on the street (I use 50-100 slide film). If the 'lux is too much, then I would buy the Summicron which I used for many years and liked very much - I sold it foolishly to buy the "superior" optics of the Elmarit. The Elmarit is better wide open, but for portraits the 'cron is just fine and it is a much better match on a reflex in my opinion.

-- Robin Smith (smith_robin@hotmail.com), August 13, 2001.

Aside from other considerations it could be worth to keep in mind that making someone's portrait at f2.0 is not always desirable (seldom desirable, in fact, depending upon your personal photo style) because of the shallow DOF involved, too shallow in far too many oportunities(now again, depending upon your way of doing things. . .) In my case, f2.8 is the widest aperture I think still useful for portraits because most of the time my subjects are not far enough to get a usable sharpness in all the planes usually of interest of a head, for instance.

Regards. Have fun !


-- Iván Barrientos M (ingenieria@simltda.tie.cl), August 14, 2001.


As long as the eyes are in sharp focus and the lens is a good "portrait" lens (i.e. nice bokeh that maintains out of focus shapes well) then in my opinion very often a beautiful result ensues - and like I have said somewhere else, how about candids - waist up with eyes in focus - very nice effects at f1.4 -2.8 - not all portraits are head only. And then there are other candids shot at further distances. Many people I think don't seem to get the whole concept of selective focus....

-- Robin Smith (smith_robin@hotmail.com), August 14, 2001.

I agree, Robin: according to your way of doing things what you say is a big truth. My only point is to warn Wijnand that the widest possible aperture is not the only consideration (may be not even the most important one) concerning portraiture lenses . . . according to one's way of doing portraits, right ? But still, have fun doing it your way!!


-- Iván Barrientos M (ingenieria@simltda.tie.cl), August 14, 2001.

My favorite portraits are very obviously not shot wide open. The "blurred background" headshot has become incredibly boring, not really interesting except for model portfolios. I shoot most of my portraits with a normal to wide lens, at f8 or f11 if the light allows it.

X3, Copyright 2001 Jeff Spirer

(Talk about photography without pictures is boring too.)

-- Jeff Spirer (jeff@spirer.com), August 14, 2001.

Want a lens that will give you a Black & White portrait that looks like it was shot by Yusef Karsh on an 8x10? Try a 135 Hector and a Visoflex on an M Leica. Shoot at F11 and see a real wonder.

-- Antonio Montesione (camera220@juno.com), April 16, 2002.

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