I like the way 135mm lens, on full frame cameras, cropped to squares, looks. It's a mix.

For a while now I've been talking about shooting portraits in a square format. Many have commented that they routinely shoot stuff in a 3:2 aspect ratio with the intention of later cropping to square. I had trouble getting my brain around post partum cropping because I was concerned about not composing correctly or, not having enough resolution with the outer (vestigial) wings cut off. I recently put a cheap, plastic protective cover over the rear monitor screen of my A7Rii and marked off the cropped square with a black Sharpie. Now I have permanent square frame lines. Oh joy! I'm also happy to know that I still have nearly 24 megapixels of image resolution left after the crop. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief and start making portraits the way I like them again. 

The final piece of the puzzle for me was to find the right focal length to complement the square and the way I like portraits to look. Historically, the images I liked best all came from about 135mm of focal length. To that end I've been using the Rokinon 135mm t2.2 cine lens as my primary, square lens.  It gives me the compression that I like and, when used near the close focusing limits and the aperture range of f2.2-f4.0 it gives me the kind of quick focusing ramp that helps to isolate faces in a charming way.  

I always know when my brain agrees with my heart because I start begging my friends and colleagues to come over to the studio for a little portrait sitting. I've been on a roll lately. 

The image above is the color file that corresponds to the black and white image I showed about a week ago. We aren't in my studio but in a airy space at the Topfer Theatre on the Zach Theatre campus. I used the lens to make this image of Rebecca and, previously, images of Jack Donahue. Now that I finally have some free time to post process I am very happy with the choices I made. 

It's nice to find that sweet spot you have been missing...


Wolfgang Lonien said...

Wow, that is nice indeed. And look at those highlights (or catch lights) in her eyes - perfect!

George Beinhorn said...

Thanks for the Friday inspiration. Lovely catchlights, indeed. So natural.

Pseudo Boethius said...

Back in the film days I LOVED using a 135mm for portraits. It's really a great focal length to work with, and just about every manufacturer that made cameras and lenses had a 135mm f/2.8 lens, if not a f/2 and f/3.5 version as well. If you couldn't afford one from "the Big Five", you could always get a less expensive one from the third party lens makers like Vivitar and Sigma.

It seems that lens has fallen out of favor here in the digital age, which is a shame. Though for APS users, the 85mm focal length comes very close to a full-frame 135mm in regards to angle of view and working distance. I have a contact on Flickr who uses a Canon 135mm f/2 lens on his 5D, and the portraits he gets with that combination are incredible.

luis said...

Kirk I love square format, mostly because I read this blog ;)
Have you ever think about the new Fuji GFX50S in square format ? and what about adapting 135 format lenses on it for 1:1 ratio ?
1:1 ratio in 135 format is 24x24mm sensor size, but if you adapt those "fast portrait lenses from 135 format" the maximum square covered by those lenses is 30.6x30.6mm, conversion factor from 24mm to 30.6mm square is 0.78...
I've wrote a post in my blog (in spanish but it has a "translate button" upper right):

Anonymous said...

The old Hasselblad/Rollei/Yashica square format cameras were excellent for a lot of work. Weddings were great with them. No worry about horizontal or vertical. You shot the square, did a 5x5 proof book - made easier as all proofs the same size and you oriented them correctly instead of goofing around with changing page orientation.

Then Hasselblad does digital and pissed on their heritage with 645 rather than the Square format.

So much nicer using the camera designed with the square format rather than having to shoot and crop later. A different mindset - a lot like shooting B&W rather than color and converting.