Many contemporary art, fashion and portrait photographers are now shooting images designed to emulate the elegance, style and look of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. It’s a trend that began seriously about a decade ago, and it’s been steadily increasing ever since. Certainly traditional lighting, classic composition and retro attire can go a long way toward helping to create a vintage look.
However, the rendition of the lens, particularly its bokeh, can spell the difference between creating a passable retro replica and a picture that really has a vintage look, like it was shot 75 years ago.
Indeed, some serious retro shooters have mounted ancient, uncoated lenses on their high-end digital cameras in quest of that elusive vintage rendition. Fortunately, today’s retro shooters don’t have to go to the trouble of finding and mounting vintage lenses to achieve the effects they want. Moreover, they don’t even have to sacrifice the versatility of modern lenses.
All 10 fast prime lenses listed here are in current production; all yield images with a vintage look, especially at their widest apertures. This is due to their beautiful natural bokeh, rounded multiblade diaphragms and smooth transitions in front of and behind the point of focus. Moreover, there are probably other fast prime lenses in your current inventory that are good alternatives for your most artistic clientele.
Prime Lenses for Creating Photos with That Vintage Look
Sigma 28mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
Sigma’s high-performance, full-frame, f/1.4 wide angle has a versatile use profile. It’s particularly suited for available-light photography in dimly lit locations and at night. In addition, it will isolate subjects from the background using limited depth of field at its widest apertures.
To achieve a high level of aberration correction and sharpness at all apertures, it employs two FLD (fluorite equivalent) elements, three SLD (special low dispersion) elements, and three aspheric elements. Also, Sigma’s Super Multilayer Coating is applied to the lens’s glass surfaces for maximum light transmission and clarity.
Other features include: internal focusing; a hypersonic motor (HSM) for fast, quiet, precise AF with full-time manual focus override; weather-resistant construction; a rounded 9-blade diaphragm to enhance its inherently beautiful bokeh; a weather-sealed solid brass lens mount; and water/oil-resistant protective coating on the front element. It comes in Nikon F, Canon EF, Sigma SA and Sony E mounts, $1,399.
Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED
This is the latest iteration of Nikon’s classic 105mm moderate telephoto macro lens for FX- (full-frame) and DX-format Nikon DSLRs. It is significantly upgraded with one ED (extra-low dispersion) element that minimizes chromatic aberration and enhances clarity. Moreover, Nano Crystal and Super Integrated coatings on all elements suppress flare and ghosting.
The lens also incorporates built-in VR (vibration reduction) image stabilization that provides a 3-stop anti-shake-effect advantage—crucial when shooting high-magnification close-ups.
Other features include: a silent wave motor AF system for fast, precise, nearly noiseless autofocusing; apertures to f/32; and a rounded 9-blade diaphragm that enhances its naturally smooth bokeh. The lens also focuses down to 12 inches (1:1 magnification) and delivers outstanding image quality at all apertures and focusing distances. $899.95.
Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM
Sony’s brand-new G Master (GM) full-frame E-mount wide-angle lens offers versatility. The super-speedy lens has a focal length that can be pressed into service for everything from landscapes to nature photography. It is perfect for low-light street photography, night shooting and depth-of-field control, thanks to its f/1.4 aperture. It can even be used for astrophotography.
The lens employs three ED elements and two XA (extreme aspheric) elements to achieve control of spherical aberrations, yielding images of extreme sharpness and clarity. Moreover, Nano AR coating virtually eliminates flare and ghosting—and enhances contrast and color fidelity. Fluorine coating on the front element repels contaminants and facilitates cleaning.
Other features include: internal focusing with a DDSSM (direct-drive supersonic motor) to ensure quick, quiet, precise AF; a convenient AF/MF switch; a focus hold button; an aperture ring with a de-click switch for silent aperture changing when shooting video; a rounded 11-blade diaphragm for natural bokeh; plus dust- and moisture-resistant construction. $1,400.
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD
This upgrade of Tamron’s classic, long-running, full-frame 90mm macro lens employs the latest optical and mechanical technology to achieve better performance in the field. It incorporates one LD and two XLD (eXtra-low dispersion) elements to minimize aberrations and enhance sharpness. Moreover, eBAND (extended bandwidth & angular-dependency), BBAR (broadband antireflection) and fluorine coatings optimize light transmission, minimize flare, repel dust and facilitate cleaning.
A ring-type ultrasonic drive motor (USM) delivers fast, precise, quiet AF with full-time manual focus override. In addition, built-in VC (vibration compensation) image stabilization provides a 3.5-stop anti-shake-effect advantage in handheld shooting.
The moisture-resistant lens is compatible with Tamron’s TAP-in console for updating its firmware. And it focuses down to 11.8 inches, providing a maximum magnification of 1:1. In Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony A mounts, $649.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM
This outstanding Canon L-series fast, full-frame, medium telephoto prime is ideal for creating artistic portraits using limited depth of field. Its large f/1.4 aperture produces a shallow depth of field for beautiful background blur, while a 9-blade diaphragm enhances bokeh.
Moreover, it employs one glass-molded (GMo) aspheric element to achieve excellent optical correction, reducing spherical aberration and distortion. In addition, antireflective Air Sphere and fluorine coatings enhance light transmission, suppress flare and provide smudge resistance.
The lens’s built-in IS provides a 4-stop advantage in minimizing the effects of camera shake. And a ring-type ultrasonic motor (USM) produces quick, precise AF. It also features: dust- and weather-resistant construction; full-time manual focus override; and a 136mm-equivalent focal length with APS-C-format Canon cameras. $1,599.
Pentax-D FA Macro 100mm f/2.8 WR
This high-value, high-performance medium telephoto macro lens covers the full-frame format. The Pentax K-mount lens also provides enhanced weather-resistant (WR) construction with strategic seals. In addition, its elements are treated with Pentax Super Protect multilayer coating to minimize reflections and yield crisp, high-contrast images.
Moreover, a quick-shift focusing system allows easy switching from autofocus to manual focus.
Other features include: a robust, lightweight aluminum barrel; a rounded 8-blade diaphragm for more attractive bokeh; and continuous focusing down to 1:1 magnification (life-size on sensor). $549.99.
Fujifilm Fujinon XF56mm f/1.2 R
This superlative, superspeed prime lens provides an 85mm-equivalent focal length on APS-C-format Fujifilm X-mount mirrorless cameras. Moreover, the portrait lens is widely acclaimed for its exceptional bokeh. A rounded 7-blade diaphragm enriches the inherently beautiful bokeh, creating smooth, natural transitions from in-focus to out-of-focus areas of the image. Also, its ultrawide f/1.2 maximum aperture is excellent for low-light applications, greatly enhances its depth-of-field control and facilitates the use of selective focus techniques.
The lens employs one double-sided aspheric element to achieve low distortion and correct spherical aberration, resulting in exceptional sharpness along with pleasing rendition. It also incorporates two ED elements to reduce color fringing and chromatic aberrations, for greater clarity and color accuracy.
Other features include: an internal focusing design that enables fast, precise, quiet AF in both still and video applications; and Super EBC coating to reduce flare and ghosting as well as improve contrast and color accuracy, especially in bright and backlit conditions. $999.
Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD
Designed for full-frame and APS-C-format cameras, this fast medium telephoto lens incorporates LD and XLD elements to reduce chromatic aberration and deliver high image quality.
Tamron’s proprietary BBAR and eBand coatings effectively minimize flare and ghosting. In addition, built-in VC image stabilization controls the effects of camera shake, providing up to a 3.5-stop advantage in handheld shooting.
Moreover, the new lens’s ring-type USD AF motor delivers fast, precise, quiet autofocus. Other features include: a rounded 9-blade diaphragm for soft, natural bokeh; moisture-resistant construction; an easy-to-clean fluorine coating; and compatibility with the optional TAP-in console to input software updates and focus settings. In Nikon F, Canon EF and Sony Alpha mounts (without VC), $749.
Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
Sigma’s unique ultrahigh-speed medium telephoto lens is optimized for portraiture, low-light photography and enhanced depth-of-field control. Like the other lenses in the Art line, it delivers an impressive combination of high resolution, high contrast, rounded natural rendition and beautiful bokeh.
To achieve outstanding image quality it incorporates three FLD elements, three SLD (special low dispersion) elements and one aspheric element.
Its hypersonic AF motor provides fast, decisive autofocus, while a rounded 9-blade diaphragm enhances its artistic bokeh. The lens also features weather-sealed construction and a special protective coating on its front surface to facilitate shooting under adverse conditions. Moreover, it’s equipped with a robust Arca-type tripod foot that’s removable for handheld shooting. In Sony E, Nikon F, Canon EF and Sigma SA mounts, $1,599.
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM
This new Sony G Master glass is a fast, medium telephoto lens for full-frame or APS-C-format E-mount mirrorless cameras. It delivers a shallow depth of field for portraiture, enhanced low-light performance and high image quality.
The portrait lens employs three ED glass elements to control chromatic aberration as well as one XA (extreme aspheric) element that is designed to minimize spherical aberrations and increase sharpness.
In addition, Sony’s Nano AR coating reduces flare and ghosting. The lens also features an 11-blade circular diaphragm to enhance bokeh; a linear SSM (supersonic wave motor) for swift, quiet, responsive AF; a dedicated focus hold button; a manual aperture ring; and moisture-sealed construction. $1,799.99.