Nikon 85mm vs. 70-200mm for Portraits: Which Is Better?


There are so many different lenses out there, and when it comes to portrait photography, a certain kind of lens can make a world of difference. 

The Nikon 70-200mm is a better lens for portrait photography if you shoot weddings, candid and standard portrait photos. The 70-200mm has superior autofocus and stabilization compared to the 85mm. However, the 85mm is a cheaper option that will still produce beautiful portraits. 

This article will describe the pros and cons of both the Nikon 85mm lens and the 70-200mm lens and help you decide which one to use for portraits. While both have advantages, there are a few things we can look at that might sway your mind from one to the other. 

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Nikon 85mm Overview

Nikon has been making 85mm lenses ever since 1949, but this is the sharpest one yet (not only out of the 85mm lenses but the sharpest lens ever by Nikon). The Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G has some of the best optics on the market and has autofocus on most cameras (it is a fixed lens), and can focus manually. 

The 85mm lens is compatible with DX and FX models and some recent AF film cameras. However, there are some issues when you put the lens on an older and cheaper 35mm camera model. The lens has internal focus, good bokeh, and great ergonomics and costs just under $450. 

This medium telephoto portrait lens is known for shooting still shots and portraits and is excellent for weddings, concerts, and many other events. This model can also shoot low-light conditions. (An 85mm f/1.8 lens shot the photo below. Notice the superb bokeh.)

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Source: AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G

Pros of the Nikon 85mm

We will review the pros of the Nikon 85mm in this section.

  • Internal Focus. The 85mm lens has internal focus to prevent dust from collecting inside the chamber. 
  • Good bokeh. The main thing that photographers want when doing portrait photography is to have a lens with good bokeh. This feature will blur the background while your model stays clear and sharp, accentuating them more. 
  • No visible distortion on the lens. Another great benefit of this lens is that there is no visible distortion. Even if you notice it in post-production, photoshop can easily fix this problem with the lens distortion filter. 
  • One of the sharpest lenses out there. The 85mm f/1.8 is the sharpest lens by Nikon. Having a sharp lens is what makes this model great for portraits. 

Cons of the Nikon 85mm

Now that we have gone over the pros, let’s look at some of the cons. 

  • Plastic focus ring. One of the disadvantages of the 85mm is that it has a plastic focus ring (made in China). Every photographer knows that metal rings are superior since they last longer and do not break as easily. 
  • The lens has no aperture ring. However, this will only affect a small number of camera models. If you have a manual focus film camera, this lens will not be compatible.
  • Relatively expensive. The Nikon 85mm f/1.8 is around the $430 mark. Even though lenses are normally around this price or higher, that is still a lot of money to be handing over. However, you will be getting the bang for the buck with this lens. 
  • Average AF speed. Compared to other models, this lens only has an average autofocus speed. The AF speed will be something to keep in mind since, especially with candid portrait photography, the quick focus can make all the difference. 

Nikon 70-200mm Overview

The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 is great for various types of photography such as sports, weddings, wildlife, portraits, and everyday photography. The lens also performs well in low-light. This lens has amazing bokeh and shoots very sharp and clear shots. Furthermore, it has fast autofocus so you can keep up with your subjects. 

Since the lens has a wide range, it can shoot multiple ranges that are great for portrait photography, such as 85mm, 105mm, and 200mm. Finally, this lens is a lot less heavy than other lenses of the same range, making it even easier to shoot handheld photos without having to lug around a tripod. 

Here are some image sample shots using the Nikon 70-200mm:

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n07VT8d0ShvfzDH9FRvon3 RNBe06JZiaI 9VzAS1wyEPmQiRyHvzrY14HTWZ0 TNK42FDBiiDgrVNnfU1R1afz9ncWprRmG08OEiKYvSHqaMSq2 8XOU9hxQ

Source: Photography Life: Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II Review

Pros of the Nikon 70-200mm 

Let’s take a look at some of the pros of the Nikon 70-200mm lens. 

  • Quick and responsive autofocus. One of the great things about the 70-200mm is that it focuses almost instantaneously. This feature will be helpful for events such as weddings and non-studio portrait photography. 
  • Great Bokeh. This lens has an amazing shallow depth of field, which is key for beautiful portrait photography. 
  • Steady vibration reduction. The 70-200mm lens has effective vibration reduction, eliminating the need for a tripod! You will be able to shoot stable, handheld shots with this lens. 
  • It covers multiple portrait ranges. Unlike many other models, this lens has a wide range, which allows you to try many different portrait shots, such as 85mm, 105mm, and 200mm. 
  • Internal focus. This lens has internal focus that will prevent dust from entering the camera chamber. 

Cons of the Nikon 70-200mm

Now that we have covered this lens’s benefits, let’s look at a few cons. 

  • Heavier lens. Even though this lens is more lightweight than others the same size, it is still a heavier lens. It might get a bit tiresome if you carry this around for an eight-hour wedding shoot. 
  • Expensive. This lens will be one of the most expensive lenses in your collection if you purchase this model since it is around $1900. However, you can consider buying a used lens for cheaper. 
  • Not compatible with older DSLRs. Unfortunately, this lens’s diaphragm is not compatible with first-generation Nikon DSLRs (models made before 2007).

Which One Should You Choose? 

Both the 85mm and 70-200mm are wonderful lenses and have many great features. However, there are a few stark differences between them.

If you are a beginner or intermediate photographer, we would recommend going for the 85mm since it is much cheaper than the 70-200mm. The 85mm has good bokeh, internal focus and is one of the sharpest lenses out there. However, its autofocus feature is not as quick as other models. The slower AF might be a problem if you want to shoot weddings and candid portrait photography. 

Follow this link if you are interested in the 85mm: Nikon AF S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G.

Nikon AF S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G Fixed Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
1,818 Reviews
Nikon AF S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G Fixed Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
  • Fast aperture medium telephoto lens
  • Internal focus, focal length: 85 millimeter, minimum focus range: 0.80 meter
  • Silent wave motor (SWM). Number of diaphragm blades: 7 (rounded diaphragm opening)

The 70-200mm is by far the superior of the two for a few reasons. If the lens is in your price range and you are into wedding, event, and portrait photography, we recommend this lens. The 70-200mm lens has amazingly quick autofocus, which is one of its best features. You will never miss a money shot with this in your collection. 

You can shoot handheld with both lenses, but keep in mind that the 70-200mm has steady vibration reduction. The stabilization will allow you to capture clear photos from far away. On the other hand, you might need a tripod with the 85mm lens if you want to take some shots while standing further away from the model. 

Check out this link if you are interested in the 70-200mm lens: Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens
287 Reviews
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens
  • Minimum Focus Distance- 3.6 feet (1.1 meter)
  • Diaphragm blades: 9. Format: FX/35 millimeter. Minimum Aperture: f/ 22
  • Focus distance indicator- 1.1 am to infinity

Conclusion

Both of these lenses are designed for portrait photography. You will be getting amazing results with each. It depends on the style and kind of portrait photography you will be doing. If you need quick photos that are in focus, go with the 70-200mm lens. If you are geared more towards studio portrait photography and want a cheaper option, the 85mm will suit you well. 

Check out to see if the Nikon D750 is good for portrait photography here!

Sources

Last update on 2021-08-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

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