My love of portrait photography has always gone hand in hand with my love of Bokeh. Bo-keh is the Japanese term for the visual quality of the out-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens. Each lens has its strengths as well as weaknesses. There are certain lenses suitable for portrait work and definitely some you should steer clear of. It has always been said that the 85mm lens is the “Portrait lens” or the “King of Bokeh” and arguably the best focal length to use for portrait work. While I would agree I also believe the 50mm or in the Nikon world the 58mm has just as much a place in your bag when shooting portraits or couples. It allows a little more to enter your scene so you can set the stage for your story and what your trying to show the viewer.
Now to throw another lens into the mix and those lucky enough to have had the chance to use one, I will add the Contax/Zeiss 80mm f/2 Planar. This is a medium format lens that was made for the Contax 645 Autofocus film camera. While that system can still be had today for approx $3000 and up, they can be a dicey purchase. Contax is no longer in business and if it breaks then good luck finding someone to repair it. The cost for replacement parts can be ridiculous. Furthermore, if you wish to opt for a digital back to replace the 120 roll film back then the price can be astronomical compared to the already high price tag of digital backs for other medium format brands such as Hasselblad, Mamiya or Phase One. However with that said there is an option by way of a company called The Bokeh Factory. Owner Tom does some amazing things with lenses you and i have never even heard about. Converting their mounts for cameras in use today. Tom did just that for me converting my 80mm Zeiss Planar into a Mamiya/Phase One mount. However with that said I lose Auto focus and my only f/stop is wide open. Thats not really an issue since it is technically a sin in the medium format world to shoot this lens stopped down anyway and not to worry it is crazy sharp at f/2.
So why medium format? Some will say it has a look all its own especially with the Zeiss 80mm f/2 Planar. I would agree with that statement. If your shooting 120 rolls of film then Kodak Portra 400, Fuji 400H or 160NS and black and white Ilford or Tri-X would be the recipe of the day. Grab your light meter and have at it. For the digital route I use a Phase one P40+ on a Phase one DF+ body. The 12 stops of dynamic range produce amazing files to able to pull highlight detail or push shadows from and 16 bit files give you amazing skin tones. The Zeiss 80mm Planar gives you a beautiful depth of field and amazing fall off. You get that 3D look your after. Contrast is deep and rich thanks to Zeiss’s amazing T* coating which is still in use on todays Zeiss lenses. Razor sharp wide open at f/2 thankfully since in stuck at that f/stop regardless. Some may consider the Bokeh busy or harsh but my opinion is that theres nothing else like it. It just screams Zeiss 80mm f/2. The lens can catch some flare but I rather enjoy the look of it and don't consider it a negative especially since contrast doesn't appear to be lost. Lastly, using this combination forces you to slow down, nail focus and exposure and concentrate on composing your image.
One thing of note to remember is due to the format size an 80mm lens on a medium format acts more like a 50mm on a 35mm camera due to the crop factor. Now factor in that the P40+ is a 1.3x cropped 645 back and that comes out to be another focal length a bit more then 50mm. I’m not smart enough to figure it out exactly but but just know that it exists. Anyway my partner Vin and I agree that there is just something about the medium format files and the way in renders an image. We are glad to have the opportunity to offer that look to our clients.
Getting back to the full frame 35mm camera world, we both have been shooting the Sigma 85mm ART lens that was just released. Vin uses the Canon version on his new Mark4 and I shoot it on my Nikon D810 and D750. There are rumors circulating that some Sigma lenses require a fine tune AF adjustment upon receiving them and at least on my end I can confirm that was true on my D810. The D750 was fine right from the get go. We both agree that the lens is crazy sharp. NO, I mean CRAZY SHARP. While not a small lens by any standard certainly well built and easily handled. Files produced by this lens are gorgeous with a beautiful 3D look. This lens was said to be designed and coated with flare resistance in mind. While I can see that may be true I was able to catch a few that I feel added nicely to the look of images.
Below you will find a few images from both the Contax/Zeiss 80mm f/2 Planar and the 85mm Sigma ART. Both lens were shot at f/2. The Planar on the Phase One DF+ and the Sigma 85mm on the D750.
This blog post was created for the sole purpose of seeing how 2 different lenses from different format cameras render similar images differently. I’m not trying to make a this verse that comparison by any means. Enjoy!!!!!
Top: 80mm Zeiss Planar Below: 85mm Sigma
Top: 80mm Zeiss Below: 85mm Sigma The Zeiss here can be seen rendering a much warmer image.
Top : 80mm Zeiss (look at that flare and creamy fall off) Bottom :85mm Sigma razor sharp and a bit cooler.
Top :80mm Zeiss Bottom : 85mm Sigma man that sigma is a sharp lens.
Again Top: Zeiss 80mm and Bottom :85mm Sigma. Im loving the flare and contrast. To my eyes the Zeiss seems to have handled the lighting better.
Top : Zeiss 80mm Bottom Sigma 85mm ART. This is a tough one. Bokeh seems a bit larger on the 80mm Zeiss and I like the flare but that may be subjective. Either way you can't lose.