The 85mm lens has become a mainstay in my camera bag.
And that’s a hard thing to come by in my kit! As a minimalist, I’m always looking for the max value I can get out of any single thing, and everything I own has to earn its keep.
The 85mm lens for me is one of those things. It’s one of the two lenses I always bring with me no matter what, and one of the two lenses I couldn’t live without.
Here’s why I use my 85mm, and why you should also consider an 85mm in your life too.
The biggest reason why I use it is because it’s versatile. Especially for a prime/fixed focal length.
For me when considering the size, weight and profile, the 85mm allows me to shoot street photography, portraits and landscape, all with a single focal length. I find that personally, I gravitate towards the 85 over my 70-200mm, because the 85 is less than half the size, 2 stops faster (I use the 85mm f1.4 G Master), and can still do everything I would use a longer lens for.
Of course, you don’t get the same amount of compression at 85mm that a 200mm image gives you, however, many 85mm lenses come with fast apertures (f1.2, f1.4, f1.8 etc), which is more than enough to compensate for the compression by bokeh blasting most anything.
And speaking of bokeh blasting everything, because many 85’s come with fast apertures, the ability for low-light photography opens up a whole world of possibility and confidence for shooting at night.
As a travel lens, this is super important. Having low-light shooting capability using the least amount of lenses possible means you can travel lightly while still covering as many options as possible.
Also, because it’s a prime lens, most 85’s are rather small (but perhaps a little heavy for their size) in profile, so compared to something like a 70-200, you could literally bring two lenses for the size of one.
It might seem a little unconventional, but I actually use my 85 for street photography the most.
85mm is a great focal range for the type of street photography I do. It’s not close enough to really disturb people (which is great unless you’re looking for the opposite effect in your street images), but not too far that you’re completely removed from the action.
In addition, the use of creative framing with a fast aperture gives street photography with an 85mm a different dimension, as a lot of street photography is shot with a very deep depth of field where most things are in focus.
Perhaps very unconventional in use, then, but I find that 85mm is a great focal length to have in your bag for landscapes also.
Perhaps not for the general, epic, wide scenes (although you could easily panorama for those too), but for picking out details in nature.
In particular, the way I love using an 85 for landscapes is to use shallow depth of field to pick out elements and compositions that are complementary to the epic, wide scenes. Put together, they end up telling a much better story than what you can do in a single image alone.
85mm is the classic portrait focal length.
Different focal lengths have a different effect on distortion which is especially noticeable on faces.
The 85mm focal length has a very flattering, slimming look on the face, which makes it perfect for almost all compositions you throw at it.
Don’t just take my word for it though, ask any portrait photographer you know and they’re sure to have an 85mm lens in their kit.
What do you think?
It’s a focal length I can’t live without, and if you’ve been on the fence about diving into this focal length, hopefully these 5 reasons have inspired you enough to consider one for yourself!