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DSLR for Portrait photography?

Jay L , Apr 18, 2006; 07:09 p.m.

I'm hoping to start a portrait photography studio, and am looking for some advice on the best, and most versatile camera to use. Currently considering the Nikon D200, but would really appreciate any input or suggestions from others. Thanks in advance. Cheers, J

Responses


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Stephen Lewis , Apr 18, 2006; 07:32 p.m.

If you're into digital, IMHO, the best would be a medium format with digital back...but that will set you back a real chunk of change, as I last looked the backs run around $10-15k. In "35mm" the Leica DMR would be next best, with a Canon and Nikon in 3rd place.

Honestly, though a good 4x5 film camera with tilt & shift is really hard to beat in portrait photography. If you need to ask, you need to spend some time with a skilled portrait photographer to see what is involved. (all opinions are humble, as I'm not a portrait photographer...merely an admirer).

Ignacio Feito , Apr 18, 2006; 10:57 p.m.

Canon 5D + EF 85 1.2L is as good as you will get on a DSLR, above that is medium format with digital backs.

On the D200, here's an interesting link: http://www.photo.net/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=00G4PU&tag=

I'm not trying to bash the D200, I'm saying that the strenghts of this camera probably shine in the field, while the 5D will work much better on a studio environment.

Ignore reviews on the 5D from Nikon sites like Ken Rockwell (same as you shouldn't go to reviews on Nikon stuff on The Luminous Landscape).

Ignacio

Joseph Wisniewski , Apr 18, 2006; 10:59 p.m.

I have a D200 and a D2X. I love them to pieces, and that's good, because I own a great deal of Nikon glass (about 3 dozen lenses) and accessories (about 250 different Nikon specific doodads from flashes to cable releases to macro gear) and I don't want to change at this point in the game.

If I were starting over today from a clean slate, and my primary goal was portraits, I'd skip Nikon and go Canon.

The Nikon has a 1.5x crop factor, which means you've got a bit of trouble when shopping for portrait lenses. Nikon hasn't released a really good lineup of portrait lenses, yet, that take that 1.5x into consideration. A classic 105mm has the field of view of a 157mm, which means for portrait work you want to be 12-15 feet from your subject, a bit long for good contact, and you need a big studio. (8 feet from subject to backdrop, 15 feet from subject to camera, and about 6 feet behind the photographer, 29 feet is the minimum studio depth). The 135mm isn't an indoor lens on that camera, and even the 85mm feels a bit long sometimes. The 50mm f1.4 and 60mm f2.8 macro just doesn't have the "look" for portraits.

If I were out to equip a portrait studio, I would get a Canon 5D body (they're down to about $2800 with the outrageous discounts and rebates going on right now) and either a 30D or another 5D for a backup. 30D and 5D have the same control layout and menus, which means you're comfortable with the controls if you have to switch to a backup. 30D has a 1.6x crop, which means you'll want to invest in a good 28mm lens in addition to all the other lenses I'll recommended, but even so, you'll still save about $1000 over a 5D as a backup camera.

Lenses would be a 105mm f2.0 (that's the lens for 90% of your adult portraits), 85mm f1.8, a 50mm f1.4 (for family groups) and possibly a 135mm f2.8 soft focus or f2.0 L or 200mm f2.8 L for headshots. The 135mm Soft Focus is adjustable, you can set it to be razor sharp for "character" on a businessman, moderately soft for senior portraits, or a romantic gauzy blur for, well, romantics.

If my studio had a nice looking north window, I'd get an 85mm f1.2 (charming lens) for romantic window-light portraits. (Heck, I'd get it anyway, because one of my things is candlelight portraits, and the 85mm f1.2 is THE candlelight portrait lens).

Stephen is right, he's not a portrait photographer. Leica Modul-R is really really (thrown in 6 or 8 more "reallys") bad for that kind of work. It's got the crop factor problem of the Nikon D200, weighs a ton, is horrible to focus (the R9 body was designed for film, the 1.37x crop makes manual focus errors 1.37x worse on digital than they'd be on film), it's heavy, and it's near impossible to imagine worse control ergonomics. For image quality, it's far outclassed by the Nikon D2X, Canon 5D, or Canon 1Ds II, and I'm not sure it can keep up with the Nikon D200, a camera that costs 1/3 what a DMR does.

And yes, with years of experience and hard work, a 4x5 can occasionally produce some amazing portraits. I'd estimate that about 60% of people over 25 years old, and 100% of people under 25 years old do not have the patience to wait out a photographer setting up a 4x5 view camera. For that remaining 40% of adult subjects, they will always look serious, because they're a bit exasperated with the photographer. Look at the works of any view camera master to see what I mean.

Beepy . , Apr 19, 2006; 05:39 a.m.

The D200 is a high mid-range DSLR? at 10.2 megapixels. Canon 5D is 12 megapixels? And the greatest capture short of a medium format back is the Canon 1Ds Mark II at 16.7 megapixels?

I bring this up only to observe you asked for the best most versatile camera to use and then said you were considering the D200. As the previous poster observed, for versatility a 4x5 monorail studio camera is very versatile and scans of the 4x5 can be used to produce very large gorgeous prints (or used to produce traditional enlargements).

I think this is probably all not helpful. Can you expand a bit more on what your budget is, how much you have for a camera vs. lights, backdrops or whatever (unless you have a large studio with generous natural light, strobes would be in your future?) More info?

I shoot both a Canon 1Ds Mark II and a couple 4x5 film cameras (for later scanning). The 1Ds Mark II does not approach the information capture of the 4x5 scan for larger print production. When you say portrait studio - what are you envisioning as final product - sizes, etc.

Do you have some investment in Nikon lenses now such that you want to go with D200? Having switched from Nikon DSLR's to Canon (for full frame and sheer pixels) I lean to investing in Canon DSLRs.

Steve Levine , Apr 19, 2006; 07:08 a.m.

Mamiya 645, cost about $300 used, plus $4 a roll for film. This will produce better pictures than any digital camera on the market at present. And you won't have to go insane sitting at a computer.

Marshall Goff , Apr 19, 2006; 09:55 a.m.

Steve - hm, perhaps I should have you write the advertising for the complete 645 setup that I'm about to sell...

Joseph Wisniewski , Apr 19, 2006; 10:31 a.m.

Steve - "And you won't have to go insane sitting at a computer."

Ha! What do you think you're doing, right now?

You're posting to an on-line forum, which proves you're at a computer (probably sitting, but you could be standing, or lying down).

And the particular forum is photo.net, which proves you're as insane as the rest of us here.

Sorry, could not resist.

Jay L , Apr 19, 2006; 01:09 p.m.

OK, it seems that I've got some more investigating to do. I'm definitely going to stay digital and as far as my budget is concerned, it's a somewhat flexible, however I was hoping to avoid getting up to 10 to 15K on a digital medium format camera.

I do appreciate all the input so far. Nikon certainly took a little beating here.

Any more comments are welcome and appreciated.

Thanks again, J

Tito Espina , Apr 19, 2006; 02:19 p.m.

Jay: You are using a D70s right now. Yes? Why donメt you push that as far as you can before seeking another body? I doubt that the D200 will dramatically change your end result. Portrait photography (especially in a studio setting) will not tax your camera significantly, at least not to the point of needing the added features of the D200. I question the need to jump to a new camera immediately unless there's something wrong with what you have now.

I would concentrate on getting the other elements for the studio: lenses, lights, backdrops, stands, better PC/software for post processing, marketing. Draft a solid business plan and try to stay the course. (Perhaps this isn't what you wanted to hear.) Best of luck.


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