How to choose a lens

How to choose a lens

“What is your favorite lens?”

I get asked this ALLLL the time, and I love to share because I am IN LOVE with the 85mm lens.

Of course, the next question I always receive is, 1.8 or 1.4?

It’s so complicated for me to answer this, so I figured I’d put in blog format.  This will help serve two fold: (a) keep me from repeating the same thing over 🙂 and (b) helps to give a little insight into what to look at when choosing a lens.


Shot on the D90 crop body with the Nikon 85 mm 1.8

Choosing a Lens

Loving a lens is a very personal preference.  I have fellow photog friends who LOVE their 50mm 1.4, whereas, I am “okay” with mine. I don’t have the butterflies and love affair with the 50 that I do my 85.  I think choosing a lens is a individualized decision.  There are so many lenses out there and so many styles of shooting.  Pairing up a lens to match your style is trial and error.  I’ve tried many lenses that “do the job”, but I don’t get giddy over.

When choosing a lens, there’s a few things to think about. Remember, this list isn’t all inclusive.

What is my style of shooting?

Prime or zoom? Primes are fixed length lens (35mm, 50mm, 85mm, etc).  Zoom..well zoom. (i.e. 24-70mm, 70-200mm).

Who am I shooting?  If I’m shooting fast moving children, do I need a fast zoom? What if I’m only shooting only seniors? They cooperate – so do I need a zoom? Or can I zoom with my feet and shoot on a prime?

What is my shooting environment typically like? Wide open space? Dark? Light? Closed space?

What is my price range? As I’m going to answer below in the 85 1.4 vs. 85 1.8 debate, sometimes lenses can still give you a good happy medium at a lower cost while you wait to save for a more expensive lens.

What body am I on? Am I on a full frame or a crop body? Crop bodies automatically lengthen the mm of the lens.  A 50mm lens on a crop body works more like an 85mm length.  But don’t be confused, just because it “works” like the length of a lens doesn’t necessarily mean it gives the quality of that lens.  IMO, the 50mm doesn’t have the same quality as the 85.  So while on my D90 (crop), I may essentially be shooting with 85mm, the quality of bokeh and sharpness I’d get from a true 85 is not the same.  Full frame bodies shoot true to length of lens. An 85 is an 85.  They also allow you to see x% more of the setting in front of you than a crop.  (Crop v. Full frame is a whole other blog post!)

I can’t give a definitive answer to the type of lens you want based on these answers because everyone is so different! Your preferences are going to be different.  I suggest renting lenses or testing out your friend’s before getting into a purchase and hating a lens! Don’t buy it just because someone on a message board told you to!


Why I love the 85

I’m not sure why I love the 85. I just do. Like I said, it gives me butterflies. Probably more than my husband, but dont tell him that 😉 (I’m testing to see if he reads my posts!)

Since I shoot couples and seniors primarily, I know that I can shoot from farther away. An 85 requires to be backed up from your subject more than the 35 or 50mm lenses do.  For my style and who I’m shooting, that is perfectly fine!  I also know that I prefer primes. To me, in my opinion and others can vary on this, primes seem sharper to me.   The quality of the bokeh in the 85mm is dreamy.  It gives me the nice pretty, creamy background that I want to achieve in order to focus on my subject.  After achieving the technical aspects needed to capture the moment I wanted, the 85mm and I were able to take the captures to the next level.


D700 full frame with the 85 1.4mm
D700 full frame with the 50mm 1.4


For most the “nifty fifty” is a favorite, but for the reasons I explained above I just love the 85.  I even felt it when I used the 50mm in this session above. I just felt that “spark” missing.  The compression that the 85 fives and the sharpness + bokeh are unmatched for me.


85 1.8 versus the 85 1.4

Whew, so the big question I always get.  I started out on the 85 1.8 and LOVEDDD it.  I started there to test it before saving money for the 1.4 because there is a huge $$ difference.

Bottom line, I think the 85 1.8 is a fabulous lens.  I’m still on the fence whether it’s the same or better than the 85 1.4 .  My reasons for this are as follows:

  • Most lenses have a sweet spot. With the 1.8 I could push to 1.8 and get beautiful and sharp quality. With the 1.4 I’m having to hover around 1.6 and 1.8 anyways. This was the first aspect that made me think, “is this price difference really worth it?”
  • Lens quality- This quality I’m speaking of is the way it is made. The 1.4 seems more solid than the 1.8.  It is fatter and heavier.


My personal recommendation? You can make beautiful shots on the 1.8 and not lose any luster in your photographs. But for long term extended use I would recommend the 1.4. It is faster, a better quality made lens, and produces same results as the 1.8.  I think its a wonderful lens on crop AND full body.


85mm 1.8 on crop body
85 1.8 on full frame


I hope this helps clear up some mystery 🙂  If you have any questions, leave a comment or email me.  There of course are other reasons of differences between the two lenses, but this is just a very basic overview of *my* personal opinion!


How to choose a lens

The ultimate protection for portrait photographers is here! | SHOP NOW
+ +
Scroll to Top