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Lens Review: A Headshot session with the Nikkor 135mm F/2DC lens

Recognized  as one the best Nikkor portrait lens, the Nikon AF DC-NIKKOR 135mm f/2 D (72mm filters, 818g, 1.1m close focus) is also one of the sharpest prime lenses available and has the advantage of a closer minimum focus distance than the Nikkor 70-200mm F/2.8 VRII.

As a photographer shooting a lot of natural light portraits, the 1300$ investment in that lens felt was like a good move to make. The lens is lighter and shorter than the Nikkor 70-200mm F/2.8 VRII and easier to handle.

So as soon as I received this new baby, I had to plan a shoot with my assistant/makeup artist Audrey from Chaz Makeup & Hair and review this lens in the same conditions as I would do during sessions with actors.

First things first, if you’re looking for technical lens reviews of the Nikkor 135mm F/2DC, I would suggest visiting the photozone review, this review is more like a hands on review.

So to begin the session, I had in mind of shooting Audrey in a black shirt against a black background (round chair) using only natural light from the studio. For this specific shot (see below), I used the following settings on my D700: ISO400, F/3.2 and 1/100s. The lens is really sharp at F/3.2 and skin tones are amazing. Getting sharp pictures at 1/100s is a bit more challenging and a exposure inferior to 1/160s is recommended to minimize blurry shots.

So just like I do in my actors headshots sessions, we went outside for some natural lights portraits. For the first shots, I had Audrey sitting down, her back on the fence, in the shade, back-lit by the sun. I love how the sun makes for such a great hair light and how the fence fades into the blurred high key background.  Both those pictures were taken at ISO 200, F/2.2 and 1/1250s. For the next two shots, I had Audrey standing in the shade against a light wooden garage door using the lines  and shallow depth of field to draw the attention to her face. Both those pictures were taken at ISO 200, F/2.0 and 1/1800s.I also wanted to see how the lens performed for 3/4 shots, so for this next sequence, I had Audrey standing in the shade against a brick wall. The high key soft look comes from the sunlit pavement acting as a huge white reflector.  Again, the lens perform wells in that situation, although you have to move much further back to get the shot. A 50mm lens is a better alternative when it’s not possible to be further from the subject. Both those pictures were taken at ISO 200, F/2.0 and 1/640s.

Then while walking to find new locations to shoot, we walked near a sunlit metal wall. For this shot, I had Audrey back-lit again, making sure her face wasn’t sunlit at all. The metal wall acted like a huge silver reflector to give us once again a really soft look and thus removing all the complexity of Audrey’s face. One of the downside of the lens, at least at high aperture, is that it does show pretty strong chromatic aberration, but nothing that cannot be fixed in Photoshop. Both those pictures were taken at ISO 200, F/2.0 and 1/640s.For the last shot, I wanted to test the lens with a one light setup using an octabox on a Alienbeens AB400 at 1/32 power 3 feet from Audrey against a black background, for a low key headshot.  A round reflector was used to send some light back to her chin. The lighting makes for a dramatic shot as it slowly falls off onto the background, separating her from the background.Both those pictures were taken at ISO 200, F/2.8 and 1/250s.

So overall, this lens is amazing and I would recommend it to all the photographers serious about portraiture who are willing to invest into one of the best portrait lenses available.

+ sharp lens

+ excellent build quality

+ ideal for 3/4 and closeup portraits and headshots

+ lightweight

– chromatic aberration at high aperture

– expensive

Thanks for viewing!

David Giral is a published Montreal/Toronto based editorial and commercial professional photographer specialized in architecture, interiors, portrait and travel photography.

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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright David Giral (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without permission from David Giral.

David Giral
1 Comment
  • Thanks for this very useful review ! It helps a lot when thinking of buying this lens, hesitating with a 150 sigma MACRO or the 70-200 f4 Nikon (the f2,8 is out of question for me : too heavy and close focus not so close for me…) ;
    So I wonder for your headshots at what distance were you from your subject ? Was it the closest distance possible for close focus ? Thank you for your time !!

    2015/04/24 at 3:47 am

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