Macro lenses too sharp for portraits?

Are macro lenses too sharp for portraits?


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Feb 23, 2007
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Pandan Gardens
#1
We've all heard this before. Macro lenses are too sharp for portraits cos its gonna show you all the details you wanna hide.

But then again, are they too sharp for portraits? I would love to hear your opinions. :)

Please don't make this thread to be argumentative. Let's have a discussion about this in a nice way.
 

chenlewis

New Member
Oct 26, 2008
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#2
Actually, it depends on the type of portraits. If it is filled with texture, I think macro lens is still ok.
 

giantcanopy

Senior Member
Feb 11, 2007
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#3
Easy to soften, difficult to sharpen. Some more you can use it as a great macro lens.

Else there are always those wide aperture portrait lenses.

Ryan
 

zac08

Senior Member
Feb 21, 2005
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#4
Depends on application...

Each type of portrait shoot is different, so it depends on what is required or needed for that shot.
 

May 5, 2005
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52
Hougang Ave. 7
#5
Love to use Macro lenses for portraits as it give very hard and well define images and details. It is easy to soften hard image with filters or PP. Very hard to harden or sharpen soft images.
 

Dream Merchant

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Staff member
Jan 11, 2007
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#7
Actually no rule to say one cannot use macro lens to shoot portraits.

But macro lenses are super corrected to deliver maximum resolution, high contrast and very low or almost no optical abberations.

At higher levels in the past, portrait masters look for lenses with specific optical balances to deliver still sharp, but not clinical results.
 

Feb 23, 2007
409
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Pandan Gardens
#9
so it'll be good to actually just get a macro lens for general purposes.

This way, anything, we can just edit using photoshop.
 

sbc

New Member
Jun 27, 2005
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West of Singapore
#10
I have been using 100mm macro for portraits for as long as I can remember. The thing to look out for is a focus limiter, or else it can hunt and slow down focusing.
 

Dream Merchant

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Jan 11, 2007
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#11
too sharp can make blur
too blur cannot make sharp
Absolutely true, on a quantative level, but not on a qualitative level.

From what I gather, folks specialising in portraits (debatable, and also which gnere of portraits?) tend to look for lenses with specific abberations or lenses without very high contrast levels for greater detail and more balanced rendition.

Different people will always look for different 'qualities' or characteristics in a lens.
 

Jan 27, 2009
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#12
Actually no rule to say one cannot use macro lens to shoot portraits.

But macro lenses are super corrected to deliver maximum resolution, high contrast and very low or almost no optical abberations.

At higher levels in the past, portrait masters look for lenses with specific optical balances to deliver still sharp, but not clinical results.

is the above statement true ? Anyone want to add to this ??
 

Jan 3, 2008
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Punggol
#13
Been using 60mm/2.8 macro len for portraits shoot some times. Dont think it is over-sharpen.
 

muvouser

New Member
Oct 2, 2006
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#15
Macro lenses are definitely too sharp for most portraits.

We do not always take portraits for people with perfect skin, being too sharp and too detail is not flattering for most portraits of general people - except models.
 

Dream Merchant

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Staff member
Jan 11, 2007
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#19
I was about to go search for portraits I took with several different macro lenses to illustrate a point, but I stopped and thought for a moment ...

Not about sharpness and not about whether a particular piece of equipment is 'right' or 'wrong' ... at least not without considering several factors ... like the subject's age and skin condition, location and lighting conditions etc, and most important: what I need in the photo.

When I see discussion about whether a lense is 'sharp' enough for this or that application, or when considering which lense to choose for a task, I sometimes ask myself the above, and somewhere at the back of my head, I also bear in mind the type of post processing (post) that's going to be done to the work as well as the sensors used.

Then my mind gets hauled back to long ago lessons on what makes a lens 'sharp', or not so sharp, and remember that resolution, often measured in terms like lines per inch or nowadays, pixels per inch (not the common, inaccurately used Dots per inch), is not the be all and end all to benchmark the performance of a lense.

Without getting technical, resolution is only one component that defines the perception of how 'sharp' a lens can be under certain conditions.

The others include things like contrast, accutance, distortions, abberations and so on. ALL of these contribute or detract from the perceived performance of a lens, again, and I stress, under a given set of shooting conditions.

Why the emphasis?

Simple.

Assuming we all know about stuff like contrast, and how it affects the definition of objects and edges, just like accutance, we know that the same exact lense can be made to seem more or less sharp, to some extent, simply by altering conditions.

Similarly, when the envelope of say, lens coatings are pushed to the limits, you might get things like flare and CA, all of which negatively (relative term) affects how an image is recorded.

When you consider all the parts that makes up the final picture, you'll realise that choices aren't made simply on "Oh, we need a super sharp photo - just use a macro lens." If life were that simple, you would likely see macro lenses on almost every portrait, flashion and glamour photographer's camera. That, is likely to be not the case. But WHY?

Look around at what working portrait professionals are using, and what lenses they use. Don't limit yourself, search on youtube and many of the US and European sites where a lot of glamour and fashion is showcased. If possible, look out for sites where working professionals contribute.

Take it one step further and consider another sector: the commercial photographer specialising in product and industrial photography. Take note of what lenses they are using.

Be generous.

Note down a sampling (fairly) of say 100 photographers and consider the results you find, but more importantly, examine the CONDITIONS under which they shoot. It might give hints at their equipment choices. Remember, these guys do not shoot for fun. They have businesses, reputations and families to support, and sometimes, astronomically lavish lifestyles as well. Naturally, one would assume that as far as possible, they would choose THE BEST lenses for the job.

I know it's not the most accurate analogy, (or maybe even the most useful) but there's nothing wrong in using a surgical scaple to cut a steak. Why don't we use them in place of the knives that we do?

Having said that, there is another arguement that could rationalise the use of macro lenses for portraits - to compensate for less than ideal conditions and post work.

It would be great to hear more thoughts.
 

Last edited:

viix

New Member
Oct 25, 2002
525
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0
Singapore
#20
I personally find macro lens great for portraits too! Using a tokina 100, it's sharp, and the f2.8 helps to give a nice background seperation. The key to hiding and enhancing features is to play with lights, not blur out the details with soft lens.. I think soft dreamy portraits are so passe unless you want it to be treated that way.
 

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