Whether you are a budding photographer starting your journey or you are an expert in the field, you are sure to know that finding the best portrait lens is one of the most important aspects of photography, even if you aren’t interested in becoming a portrait photographer.
Portrait lenses are a well-rounded type of lens that tend to have excellent quality, and being able to take a state of the art portrait-style photograph is certainly a bonus incentive to any photographer.
A portrait lens is one of the necessary lenses that any photographer should invest in if they want a versatile and practical camera lens collection.
With that in mind, we are going to be taking a look at some of the best portrait lenses that are sure to help you take the best portrait images possible.
Canon EF 50 mm f/ 1.8 STM Lens
This lens is an exceptional, all-around choice when it comes to a portrait lens. With a focal length of 50 millimeters, it is a great choice for action portraits and can take nighttime portraits too.
The f/ 1.8 mm aperture of the lens creates clear and concise images in low light conditions, whilst the circular 7-blade design lets you make films and take images that are incredibly sharp, with a beautiful background blur to ensure the focus is entirely on your subject.
It has a great range of motion regarding the angles, with a horizontal angle of 40 degrees, a vertical angle of 27 degrees, and a diagonal angle of 46 degrees. This range allows for more versatility with your portrait images.
The available focusing distance with the Canon EF 50 mm lens also aids with this versatility, thanks to the maximum focus and magnification of 0.21x and a minimum focus distance of 1.15 feet (or 0.35 meters).
When it comes to APS C cameras (digital cameras with a large sensor), the lens offers a focal length of 80 millimeters, whilst maintaining 50 millimeters of focal length with cameras that have full frames.
Not only that, but the lens is relatively light as well as compact.
- Good level of focus capacity
- Focusing is relatively quiet
- Sharp images with the maximum aperture
- Light and easy to carry for travel
- Speeds of focusing aren’t always particularly quick
- Whilst it is quiet, it could be a little quieter
Canon EF 85 mm f/ 1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
The Canon EF 85 mm f/1.8 USM lens is a great option when it comes to a lens that performs well whilst also being compact and having good value for money.
The USM (or ultrasonic autofocus monitors) allows for the subject to be brought into focus quickly and efficiently in a quiet and smooth manner.
Whilst we are on the subject of the focus, the 85 mm length allows for a focal distance of 2.8 feet, and the focal control is perfect for shallow depth of field focus control thanks to the speedy f/1.8 mm aperture.
The front lens group does not rotate whilst it is focusing, which makes for a lens that can be adapted to special filters more easily. Able to create plenty of sharp images- and with a versatile focus range- it is easy to see why this is a brand of lens that lends itself well to portraiture.
- Excellent focus capacity
- Clear and crisp images
- Good saturation and contrast
- USM ensures fast focusing that is pleasantly quiet
- The f /1.8 aperture makes for excellent background blur quality, but it does make taking a close portrait difficult when it comes to keeping both eyes in focus.
Sony E 50 mm F1.8 OSS Portrait Lens
Available in black and silver, this particular lens is designed specifically for portrait photography. This lens has a minimum focus distance of 0.39 m or 1.28ft, and a maximum magnification ratio of 0.16x, which is a splendid specification for portraits.
The focal length- 50 mm- is also a perfect choice for this kind of photograph, but the lens remains versatile enough to allow for a wide range of photography projects to be undertaken with it.
The f.18 maximum aperture is beautifully brightening and can blur away the background with ease to focus on the face of your subject, whilst the OSS (otherwise known as the Optical Steady Shot) allows for stabilization of your images without sacrificing quality.
This is another compact option that isn’t too heavy either, making it great to be taken with you whilst on the go.
- OSS makes for super stability
- A f.18 maximum 7 blade aperture is brightening and can aid with defocus effects
- Another lightweight and compact option of lens
- Designed specifically for portrait photography
- The focus-by-wire system is a little imprecise at times.
Sigma 50 mm F1.4 Art DG HSM Lens for Canon
With an all-metal barrel, the Sigma 50 mm HSM lens is certainly a sturdier choice that handles excellently for both experienced and inexperienced photographers.
This is an all-new design for the Sigma lens, and it performs at a professional level. It would suit portrait photography, but is also an excellent general lens for various other photography undertakings too.
One of the most noteworthy features of this particular lens is the hypersonic motor- or the HSM – which not only offers incredibly smooth and efficient autofocusing, but also stays quiet whilst doing so.
The HSM combines well with the SLD (special low dispersion) glass to create a lens that is high performance as well as incredibly contemporary and well suited to modern DSLR sensors.
- HSM offers a range of benefits, such as a quiet lens and accurate autofocusing.
- SLD allows for a high-quality optical performance.
- A strong metal barrel makes the lens much more durable.
- Handles excellently, making it great for professionals and casual photographers.
- A heavier option, that might make traveling with the lens a little more difficult.
- One of the more expensive lenses.
Nikon AF S NIKKOR 85 mm f/1.8G Fixed Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
This Nikon lens might be one of the pricier options when it comes to a portrait lens, but the superfast and bright aperture, durable build, and silent focusing motor makes it one of the better quality lenses and certainly worth the expense if you are planning on taking professional-level portrait photographs.
The lens is larger and wider than the earlier AF-D model of this lens, but it isn’t too difficult to get used to. The size also does not affect the weight of the lens, with the lens itself only weighing around 350g.
The wideness of the manual focus ring makes for easy adjustment should you need it, whilst the internal focusing of the 67 mm filter thread is perfect for various filters, particularly those that focus on polarizing or graduating effects.
The minimum focus distance is around 80 cm, which is about average for a lens of this kind, but it does make it another great option for portraits (though not significantly close-up ones).
The images provided by this lens are relatively sharp, particularly in between the f/ 5.6 and f/8 mark, where it becomes exceptional in terms of quality.
- Sharp images
- Lightweight despite the wideness
- Durable and sturdy
- Focus is internal
- Average focusing speed
- At certain apertures, the sharpness of the images can become less concise around the edges of the frame
So, there you have a handful of the best camera lenses for portrait photography, but how do you go about deciding which lens is the best for you? We are going to be running through some important factors to consider before you settle on a specific camera lens.
Types of Portrait Photographs
The great thing about portrait photography is that it is one of the few niches to be found in the photography industry that can utilize a wide variety of lenses and still achieve outstanding results.
That being said, there are still some factors to consider, including what style of portraits you want to be able to take. If you want to be able to take wider images that capture both the subject and the scenery, opt for a wide-angle lens.
This kind of lens won’t be as effective when it comes to close-ups, as they can distort the subject, but they are a great choice for a wider image that captures various environments.
Short telephoto lenses are sometimes called portrait lenses due to having a focal length that is well suited to taking flattering images of people, as it limits distortion when the photographer is moving closer or further away from the subject.
Regular telephoto lenses are also well suited for portrait photographers and are often used by professionals due to this lens’s ability to separate the background and isolate the model and the compressed perspective.
Normal lenses are an option too, as they offer a middle ground choice that sides between the short telephoto lens and the wide-angle lens.
Decide on exactly what kind of images you are planning to take with your lens, and you should be on the right track to choosing the appropriate kind.
Camera lenses can be an expensive investment, which is another reason why it is essential to know exactly what kind of lens you are looking for before you buy.
Decide on your budget and fit your research around that budget accordingly, whilst also fitting it around what kind of portraits you want to be able to take with your lens. This should give you a ballpark area when it comes to the lens that would suit you best.
The Focal Length and Lens Speed
We touched on this briefly, but it is important to keep note of the different focal lengths for different lenses (focal length refers to the optical distance that is measured from the point where light connects to the lens that sits within the sensor of the camera).
Some lenses can be zoomed, whilst others are fixed. It is critical to remember that the size of the sensor on your camera and the size of the body of the camera will affect the focal length.
Speed is also an essential factor to think about with a portrait lens, otherwise known as the maximum aperture. The speed of a lens is a notable factor when it comes to working in conditions with specific kinds of lighting, such as brighter lights or low lighting.
The depth of field is also a significant photography element – referring to the area of the image that is most focused and sharp in terms of image quality – when considering the speed of a lens.
Make sure you know exactly what the capabilities of your chosen lens are before you make your decision.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Portrait Photography?
To put it simply, portrait photography is the art of capturing a person’s image within a photograph. It is much more than just taking a nice picture, though, as you need to be able to capture a lot of crucial information on the subject in one image.
A good portrait photograph is able to capture a person’s personality and the essence of who they are as an individual, as well as offer a stunning picture to look at too. No pressure, budding photographers!
What is Considered A Portrait Lens?
Talking technically, any camera lens between 8 mm and 800 mm classes as an appropriate lens for taking pictures of people. However, not every choice is suitable, particularly for professional photographers.
If you are more casual in your photography and are more of a hobbyist, you can technically utilize any lens, but be aware that certain lenses – such as the ones we have mentioned above – are better suited for the task of portrait photography.
What is the Best Focal Length for Portrait Photography?
When it comes to focal lengths, the best choice for portrait photography is between around 50 mm and 200 mm. This is due to the fact they allow for minimal optical distortion, which nobody wants to see when they have their picture taken!