A fast 85mm has long been a favorite among the portrait photographer’s toolbox. Slightly telephoto, this particular focal length lightly compresses the image so that people are comfortably nestled within the background. From a design perspective, large apertures like f/1.8 or even f/1.2 remain cost effective and practical because at longer focal lengths, glass elements necessarily become prohibitively expensive and oversized. Lastly, the 85mm’s working distance lets you stay close enough to the model yet provide a lot more depth-of-field (and bokeh) than your fast 50mm or 35mm.
So what do we look for when choosing a 85mm portrait lens? Of course, is image quality but that is often a broad and nebulous term, and 85mms, in general, have been great performers. More specifically, a defining feature of the 85mm is its ability to throw the background out of focus, isolating the subject in a cocoon of soft blurriness. So a good portrait lens should have its own character.
Note: The Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Classic Lens has been replaced by the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens.