Which Lens is Best for Portrait Photography

Technology  ·  Best Picks   Updated December 2019

The answer to this question depends largely on your personal preferences, the camera you own, and your budget.

Zoom or Prime?

Zoom lenses, especially high quality ones can be remarkably good at shooting portraits or prime lenses are not an obvious choice. You need to look at the details, such as aperture and image quality.

Prime lenses do tend to be much faster, that is have a wider maximum aperture than comparable zoom lenses. This is great for portrait photography as it allows you to produce beautiful out-of-focus backgrounds with a shallow depth-of-field. Wide aperture is also extremely important when you work in low-light conditions.

Image sharpness is another area where prime lenses outperform zoom lenses in the same price range. Primes are usually more simple, contain fewer elements and thus there is less potential for distortions or flares.

Budget Considerations

The price difference between prime lenses in the same range can be often very steep. As a rule of thumb, expensive models will give your higher quality images, and they will be built to last many years. However, due to metal bodies and thicker glass, they tend to be heavier than the cheaper plastic lenses.

Focal Ranges

There are three main types here: wide-angle, normal and telephoto lenses.

Wide-angle lenses are great if you want to take a photo of the subject with their surroundings (environmental portraits). They are not so good for close-ups as they tend to produce edge distortions.

Normal lenses, with a focal length of around 50mm, give a similar perspective to those experienced by us humans.

Short telephoto lenses of around 85mm are perhaps most used prime lenses portrait photography. They provide an excellent flexibility of taking close-up photos as well as photographing the whole person.

If you have a APS-C camera body,  a 50mm prime lens will also fall into a short telephoto range.

Telephoto lenses allow even more ability to isolate the model from the background. However, they tend to be heavier and much more expensive.

Best Portrait Lenses

In the list below you will find some of the most popular portrait lenses available today:

Fujinon 56mm F1.2 R

 
   
    Fujinon 56mm F1.2 R
In Stock.
Amazon
User Comments & Reviews
Beautiful portrait lens.  
David duChemin ·  Best Photography Blogs

Nikon AF NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G

This super-fast wide-angle prime lens is one of the most respected Nikon has ever produced. The f/1.4 maximum aperture permits handheld shooting in low light and delivers a striking separation between subject and an out-of-focus background.

It's been optimized for edge to edge sharpness and includes the latest advances in optics, such as aspherical lens elements to reduce aberrations or nano coating to eliminate ghosting and flare.

   
    Nikon AF NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G
In Stock.
Amazon
User Comments & Reviews
If you love lifestyle photography and like to take photos indoor the 35mm 1.4 was made for you.  
Click it Up a Notch ·  Best Photography Blogs
Very thankful for these wonderful prime lenses that Nikon has given us!  
Joe McNally ·  Best Photography Blogs

Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D

Nikon f/1.8D is a high-speed prime lens with a focal length of 50 mm. It's small and versatile, with superb low-light capability which makes it great for portrait photography.

The minimum focus distance is 1.5 ft.( 45 cm

   
    Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D
In Stock.
Amazon
User Comments & Reviews
If you are looking for your first lens I highly recommend the 50mm 1.8.  
Click it Up a Notch ·  Best Photography Blogs

Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4D

Nikon f/1.4D is an ultra-fast prime lens, which allows shooting in almost all light conditions. The focal range of 50mm makes is especially suitable for full-length portrait photography, for example at weddings. Nevertheless, it is also popular among travel photographers as well thanks to its crisp images and color integrity.

   
    Nikon AF NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4D
In Stock.
Amazon
User Comments & Reviews
I like to use my 50mm 1.4 when I plan on shooting portrait type images.  
Click it Up a Notch ·  Best Photography Blogs
If I were to take only one lens to a wedding, this would be it.  
Photography Life ·  Best Photography Blogs

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G     Prime Lenses

This prime lens from Nikon has a 105mm focal range and has been designed with close-up and potrait photographers in mind. It features image stabilization (VR II) and can focus from as near as 1ft away. (ca. 30cm).

The lens body employs extra-low dispersion (ED) elements as well as nano crystal coating to help reduce chromatic aberrations and flare. It weighs 27.9 oz. (790g)

   
    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G
In Stock.
Amazon
User Comments & Reviews
I struggle with objects that don’t move so it is fun to photograph flowers, dew, or any variety of things.  
Click it Up a Notch ·  Best Photography Blogs
Optically it is so good that many photographers employ the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G VR for portraiture.  
Photography Life ·  Best Photography Blogs

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G

The Nikon 70-200mm was designed with professionals in mind. It is a great lens for sports, wildlife and photojournalism. It contains seven ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass elements and nano crystal coating to provide exceptional image sharpness and clarity with dramatically reduced flare and ghosting effects.

The silent wave motor (SWM) is responsible for fast and quiet autofocusing. It has built-in image stabilization. (Nikon's VR II)

   
    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G
In Stock.
Amazon
User Comments & Reviews
Great portrait lens. Sharp all the way through the zoom, and edge to edge.  
Joe McNally ·  Best Photography Blogs
If I need the flexibility of a zoom lens when photographing people, wildlife or landscapes, the Nikon 70-200mm is the answer.  
Photography Life ·  Best Photography Blogs

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G     Prime Lenses

This Nikon is a mid-range (85mm) telephoto lens with ultra-fast f/1.4 aperture. It delivers brilliantly sharp images and beautifuly out-of-focus backgrounds, which makes it great for portrait and wedding photography.

Thanks to its aperture of f/1.4 it is superb in low-light conditions, and Nikon's nano crystal coating prevents any flare or ghosting to affect image quality.

   
    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G
In Stock.
Amazon
User Comments & Reviews
Very sharp I often use for tight portraits.  
Joe McNally ·  Best Photography Blogs
If you love to be able to isolate your subjects and have the smoothest bokeh, this is the portrait lens you want to own.  
Photography Life ·  Best Photography Blogs

Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro

At 100mm this is one of Canon's best mid-range telephoto lenses. It boasts a fast f/2.8 aperture and a sophisticated hybrid image stabilization. The IS deals with both shift and angular camera shake, which means even higher image clarity.

Thanks to Canon's USM technology, autofocus ist predictably fast and silent.

   
    Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro
In Stock.
Amazon
User Comments & Reviews
This is easily in the top-3 sharpest lenses I’ve every used.  
Dan Carr Photography ·  Best Photography Blogs
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