In this email I will clear up this confusion in a short and precise manner.
The answer to this is very simple – If your main purpose of buying a prime lens is to shoot portraits, then go for 85mm f1.8. EVEN ON A CROPPED SENSOR!!!!
Whereas if you want a general purpose lens with no real specialty, then go for 50mm f1.8.
The reason why the 85mm f1.8 is better for portraits is because the longer focal length compresses the background and therefore results in a much better looking portrait because you get a background which is free of distractions.
To understand this, look at the image below:
Here I have clicked six different images at different focal lengths and you can see that as the focal length increases, the background behind gets smaller in size (as the field of view is lesser on a higher focal length).
This enables you to get distraction-free portraits even if you are shooting in places where there are a lot of distractions and it’s tough to find a good background.
If you want to understand this phenomenon in detail, then you can read this article that I wrote a while back.
This advice goes against what many retailers will tell you when you go shopping. The main reason why they try to sell you the 50mm lens is because it’s cheaper than the 85mm lens and therefore they know that you are more likely to buy it. They won’t even mention the 85mm lens if they come to know you are a complete beginner.
The 85mm was and is still my favorite go-to portrait lens. The only thing is that if you are shooting indoors, you will need to shoot in an area which has slightly more space because of the longer focal length. But especially outdoors, this is the best portrait lens and is fairly inexpensive too.
Another advantage of the 85mm lens is that you can use it to shoot events too. All the shots that we ourselves take in our photography workshops that happen in Pune are taken with this lens.
I hope this tip helps you!
About the Author
Hi there, I'm Kush Sharma, the founder of Creative Pad Media, an organization dedicated to simplifying photography and videography education.
We have over 40 online courses that cover various genres in photography & videography, catering to both beginners as well as professionals. These courses are available via Udemy.com. Our courses have been downloaded in over 170 countries.
I hope to see you inside a course very soon!