The photographer, setting, lighting, fashion and model are more important than the lens used, but the lens is not unimportant. The Tamron 24-70mm is much cheaper than the Nikon and Canon 24-70’s and it holds it own against them.
This is a manual focus lens that gets rebranded under several different names (Bower, Rokinon, Vivitar, etc.). It’s a sharp lens with strong optical quality and it can be had for a fraction of the price of brand-name 35mm F1.4 lenses.
When we think of portraiture and fashion photography the longer focal lengths of 85mm, 135mm, 200mm, and even 300mm come to mind. Many portrait photographers would pick the 85mm lens if they could only have one lens. These larger focal lengths compress the image in a way that is flattering to the model and that lacks the unflattering distortion of wider lenses.
Wider angle lenses are harder to get right. Considerations about the foreground and background become much more relevant and it’s just harder to pull of that great shot in general. But when one does, it has a feel that a longer focal length lens cannot produce.
My lens of choice was always the 35 mm. It was more environmental. You can’t come in closer with the 35 mm. – Annie Leibovitz
We feel that 28mm is about as wide as is ideal to still maintain a natural look to a fashion photograph. There are of course exceptions to this and reasons you would want a look that is less than natural. Having a 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm lens creates a wonderfully complementary kit. Just don’t forget to use the 35mm.
This $1,800 Sony lens looks superb but its main competition, the Zeiss Batis 85mm F1.8, is also an excellent lens and you truly cannot go wrong with either.
If you’re a Nikon shooter the $450 AF-S 85mm F1.8 is an incredible value. For Canon the 85mm F1.8 is starting to show its age but it’s still usable.
Viktor Pavlovic has released an excellent comparison of the the Zeiss Otus, Milvus, and Planar 85mm lenses. What we found most interesting was the conclusion that:
Stopped down to f/2.8 and smaller it [Planar] comes actually very close to Otus and Milvus, and most professional photographers won’t shot portraits at wide open aperture anyway.
So whether or not the Otus or Milvus is worth it to you depends on how much you really need to shoot at F1.4 and how much you are willing to deal with the extra cost and physical size and weight of the Milvus and Otus. Don’t get us wrong, we want both an Otus and Milvus, but we have no doubts that a Planar in the hands of a competent photographer can produce excellent results.
These are of course manual focus lenses and trying to focus them on a Nikon or a Canon body is a pain. You require a tripod and a loupe and the camera to be in live-view mode to really focus properly. Mirrorless cameras like the Sony A7 series do better with manual focus lenses but the Otus and the Milvus are huge on the Sony bodies and do not balance well. So there is no perfect solution to focusing these lenses presently, just compromises on either side of the fence.
Many of the sensors in Nikon cameras are made by Sony, and Sony’s sensors are considered superior to Canon’s. Despite having great sensors Sony cameras have not been good until the recent generation (the Sony A7r II is usable for some kinds of fashion photography) and we expect Sony will continue to improve and eventually begin to match and maybe even exceed Canon and Nikon. Lens choices was a huge issue for Sony shooters, but they’ve made things more interesting by releasing three lenses that are great focal lengths for fashion photography: 85mm F1.4, 24-70 F2.8, and a 70-200 F2.8.
But this is where things get a bit fuzzy. These 3 lenses are big lenses and Sony’s camera bodies are small. If you’re going to have a big lens then what’s the advantage of having a small body? We like the Sony with smaller lenses as it’s way easier to carry around than a dSLR. But if you’re going to have big lenses, should you just stick with a dSLR anyway since their autofocus and price are better? How a photographer answers these questions will depend on a large number of factors. Choice is a good thing though, and we applaud Sony for adding more lenses that will be of use to the fashion photographer.