Using macro lenses for portrait photography

by 10 Replies   Last Updated January 07, 2018 03:18 AM

A while ago I was trying to find IS in prime lenses (I have one prime and one zoom, the zoom has IS, making it super awesome for video work and the prime has f1.4 making it super awesome for low light) and I gave up after I could not find any, however, recently I discovered the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM.

Will the IS still work for portrait focus distance rather than macro?

Answers 3

When doing portraits, working in too close induces facial distortion. What happens is, the nose reproduces too large and the ears too small. Some like this artistic approach however it’s unlikely that the client will adore. The cure is simple; just step back when imaging the human face. The problem is, its hard to bring yourself to step back if the mounted lens is too short. This is because the too short lens, when worked from afar, makes for empty space surrounding the subject. The better approach is to mount a moderate telephoto. This longer focal length forces the photographer to step back and this act mitigates the facial distortion.

So what’s a moderate telephoto? The rule of thumb for portrait work, mount a lens 2 times thru 2 ½ time “normal” for that make/model camera. Normal for a full frame is 50mm so now were talking 100mm thru 125mm. For the compact digital 30mm is normal. So we are talking 60mm thru 80mm.

So where does your 35mm macro fit? It’s a wonderful lens but I doubt it will serve your purpose. However, photography is both an art and a science and there are no hard fast rules in art. You are free to follow your heart.

Alan Marcus
Alan Marcus
January 07, 2018 04:59 AM

As camera-shake in macro photography will be about the same as in any other kind of photography, the IS will work just as well.

I can confirm this for my 100mm f/2.8 L Macro IS USM which I primarily use for portraits. As this is a different lens, it would still be possible that Canon went through the trouble to specifically deactivate IS in non-macro use in the 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM.

This review from does mention IS - but no limitation to macro-only. In my opinion, Bryan typically is very thorough with his reviews, so I would imagine that he would mention such a heavy limitation in use-cases.

The lens's manual states at page 9:

The shorter the subject distance from the camera, the lesser the Image Stabilizer effect will be. [...]

Also, the Image Stabilizer provides image stabilization depending on shooting conditions (such as shooting still subjects, following shots, and close-ups (macro)).

So actually, it will work even better in non-macro distances (as there is more room for error - a few µm will not be noticed at 3m distance).

Lens stabilization in this lens will, most certainly, work with all kinds of photography at full 4 stops in ideal conditions. This should apply to all macro lenses with image stabilization - though of course, any manufacturer could deactivate it for whichever reason they want. That, however, would definitively be noticed by users - and we would know for sure within days or weeks of the release of such a lens, as nobody likes their lenses with artificially limited functions.

January 07, 2018 15:43 PM

A while ago I was trying to find IS in prime lenses...and I gave up after I could not find any

The Canon EF lens mount page at Wikipedia has a lists of Canon EF zoom and prime lenses, and it shows which lenses include image stabilization. There are similar pages for EF-S and EF-M lenses, but only one prime with IS currently exists in each of those mounts.

Will the IS still work for portrait focus distance rather than macro?

It should work fine. I haven't tried the EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM, but I've used the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, and the image stabilization on that lens works fine at all distances. That said, when taking macro shots you'll probably want a tripod or at least something to help stabilize the camera because at very close range, tiny forward or backward movements will change the point where the camera is focused, and image stabilization won't compensate for that.

January 07, 2018 20:50 PM

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