As a small business owner, freelance photographer, or budding entrepreneur in the field of photography, choosing a suitable portrait lens is an essential step. This guide will help you understand the different types of portrait lenses and the factors you should consider while choosing the one that best fits your needs.
What Are Portrait Lenses?
A portrait lens is a specialized tool designed to capture stunning, intimate images of people. These lenses, often used by professional portrait photographers, offer a focal length and maximum aperture that provides a flattering perspective and an appealing shallow depth of field. The focal length refers to the distance between the lens and the image sensor when the subject is focused. Usually, portrait lenses come in the form of prime lenses, which have a fixed focal length, or zoom lenses, which offer a range of focal lengths.
The advantage of a prime lens, like the 85mm f/1.8, is its wide maximum aperture that allows you to create images with a shallow depth of field, putting the subject in sharp focus while blurring the background. Prime lenses also often produce sharper images and perform better in low-light situations than zoom lenses.
Zoom lenses, on the other hand, are incredibly versatile. They provide various focal lengths allowing you to quickly adjust your composition without physically moving closer or further from your subject. One common zoom lens for portraits is the 70-200mm f/2.8. It provides longer focal lengths, ideal for compressing facial features and isolating the subject from the background.
Mirrorless Camera Lens
Whether you’re using a digital SLR or mirrorless camera, a good portrait lens is indispensable. Mirrorless cameras, a newer technology, are becoming increasingly popular due to their compact size, lighter weight, and superb image quality. Brands like Canon, Nikon, and Sony produce excellent mirrorless cameras, each with their respective range of compatible lenses.
Product Recommendations: Top Portrait Lenses for Small Photography Businesses
Finding the right portrait lens is no small feat. As you’ve read, there are several factors to consider in order to find the best portrait lens for your needs. We’ve established a set of criteria to guide you in selecting a portrait lens that aligns with your specific needs:
- Focal Length (Importance Scale: 9/10)
- Criteria: Generally between 50mm to 135mm for optimal framing and perspective.
- Rationale: Ensures flattering proportions and a natural field of view for portraits.
- Aperture (Importance Scale: 10/10)
- Criteria: Wide aperture (e.g., f/1.4, f/1.8, or f/2.8) for better light capture and depth of field control.
- Rationale: Enables beautiful background blur (bokeh) and excellent performance in low-light conditions.
- Lens Mount and Compatibility (Importance Scale: 10/10)
- Criteria: Compatible with your camera body (e.g., Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E-mount).
- Rationale: Ensures the lens will function seamlessly with your existing equipment.
- Image Quality (Importance Scale: 9/10)
- Criteria: Sharpness, contrast, and color rendition.
- Rationale: Critical for producing professional-grade photographs.
- Autofocus Performance (Importance Scale: 8/10)
- Criteria: Fast and accurate autofocus, with manual override options.
- Rationale: Essential for capturing sharp images, especially in dynamic shooting situations.
- Build Quality and Durability (Importance Scale: 7/10)
- Criteria: Robust construction, weather-sealing for outdoor shoots.
- Rationale: Ensures longevity and reliability in various shooting environments.
- Price and Budget Considerations (Importance Scale: 6/10)
- Criteria: Cost-effectiveness, meeting the balance between quality and budget constraints.
- Rationale: Maximizes return on investment without sacrificing essential features.
- Additional Features (Importance Scale: 5/10)
- Criteria: Image stabilization, specialized lens elements to reduce aberrations.
- Rationale: Enhances image quality and user experience.
Using these criteria, we’ve handpicked a range of portrait lenses that stand out.. Each lens on our list has been assessed based on these factors. Browse our picks below and find your next portrait lens!
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Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
- 85mm standard lens with f/1.8 maximum aperture: Standard focal length with a large aperture, ideal for creating defocused backgrounds and delivering sharp, high-contrast images even at maximum aperture.
- Ring-type ultra-sonic monitor (USM) drives rapid auto focusing with near-silent operation.
- Natural angle of view and perspective: The lens offers a natural angle of view and perspective that’s perfect for portraits and natural images.
- Background blur: The lens’s wide aperture can create a background blur (bokeh), making your subject stand out against a soft, out-of-focus background.
- Compact size and weight: Measuring just 3 inches in diameter and 2.8 inches long, and weighing 15 ounces, this lens is easy to carry and handle.
Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens for Nikon DSLR Cameras
- Focal Length: This lens offers a focal length range from 18mm to 55mm, which makes it versatile and suitable for a variety of shooting scenarios.
- Aperture: The maximum aperture varies from f/3.5 at the wide end to f/5.6 at the telephoto end. This is useful for managing depth of field and shooting in various lighting conditions.
- Vibration Reduction (VR): Nikon’s Vibration Reduction technology helps reduce the effect of camera shake and blur, especially in low-light conditions or when using slower shutter speeds.
- AF-P: This lens features Nikon’s AF-P (Pulse motor) technology, which offers fast, quiet, and smooth autofocus operation
- The lens is fully compatible with a range of Nikon DSLR cameras, including the D7500, D5600, D5500, D5300, D3400, D3300, D500, D850. Some models like the Df, D5, D810, D750, D7200, D7100 will have limited functions.
BALITY APS C Z Mount Sensitive 56mm F1.4 Portrait Lens
- Designed for Z mount cameras including ZFC Z5 Z50 Z6 Z7 Z6II Z7II. It supports eye-controlled focusing and tracking the subject, automatic aperture, A mode, S mode and EXIF information recording.
- Large F1.4 aperture offers greater control over the depth of field, enabling a soft blur effect in the background.
- Precise brass mount and a silent motor for sensitive and precise focusing.
- The lens comes with a hood that can be reversed on the lens when not in use. This makes it easy to store and helps protect the lens and block stray or scattered light.
- 10 optical structures in 9 groups, including 1 ED (Extra-low Dispersion) lens and 1 high refractive lens.
Panasonic LUMIX G Lens for Micro Four Thirds Cameras
- F1.7 Large Diameter and Mid-Telephoto 85mm focal length offering a versatile field of view perfect for a variety of scenes.
- 31cm Closest Focusing Distance allows you to capture stunning close-ups with clarity.
- POWER O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) ensures steady and sharp images, even at slower shutter speeds.
- 240fps Drive AF ensures rapid autofocus, capturing fleeting moments with precision.
- Large F1.7 aperture perfect for low-light photography, capturing bright and clear images.
- 10 elements in 8 groups including 1 aspherical lens for superior image quality.
- Maximum Magnification of approximately 0.2x/0.4x (35mm camera equivalent), providing ample scope for detail-oriented work.
Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN for EF-M Mount
- Stepper motor technology that ensures smooth, quiet, and progressive autofocus for precise imaging.
- Dust and water-resistant construction for reliable usage in various weather conditions.
- Large lens hood included as standard, designed to reduce side flares, improving overall image clarity.
- Flare and ghost images reduction design ensures maximum image quality by minimizing unwanted light artifacts.
- Standard 56mm focal length is versatile for a wide range of photographic styles and situations.
- Made in Japan – guaranteeing incredible craftsmanship and quality.
Sony – E 50mm F1.8 OSS Portrait Lens
- Built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization helps capture sharp images, minimizing blur caused by camera shake.
- 7-blade circular aperture creates defocus effects, enhancing the subject by blurring the background.
- Large F1.8 maximum aperture allows for exceptional performance in low-light conditions.
- 50mm focal length is ideal for a range of photography styles, including portrait, landscape, and more.
- Minimum focus distance of 1.28 ft (0.39 m) and a maximum magnification ratio of 0.16x, allowing for detailed close-ups.
- 49mm filter diameter is compatible with a range of accessories.
- Included Lens hood (ALC-SH116), Lens front cap, Lens rear cap for maximum protection.
Lightdow 85mm F1.8 Manual Focus Full Frame Portrait Lens for Nikon
- Manual focus operation: This lens requires full manual focus operation on the DSLR camera
- Compatible with various Nikon DSLRs: The lens is designed for an extensive range of Nikon DSLR cameras
- 8-piece circular aperture: Enjoy a smooth and large focus range, ideal for capturing stunning portraits and landscapes
- Hybrid aspherical lenses and ultra multi-coating contribute to a better image quality by reducing aberrations and improving light transmission.
- Large aperture: The lens’s large aperture helps in creating shallow depth of field images with an attractive bokeh effect.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon EF
- Newly designed Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) for swift autofocus control
- F1.4 aperture delivers exceptional low-light performance and depth-of-field control, allowing for beautiful bokeh effects.
- 9 aperture blades
- Compatible with the Mount Converter MC-11, this lens can be adapted for use with Sony E-mount systems
- 14 lens elements built in 12 groups for ultra-high resolution
VILTROX 56mm F1.4 f/1.4 XF Autofocus APS-C Portrait Lens for Fujifilm X-Mount
- Compact and efficient design compatible with Fujifilm X-mount mirrorless cameras
- Short telephoto focal length paired with a bright f/1.4 maximum aperture for outstanding control over depth of field
- High-quality optical design featuring extra-low dispersion and high refractive index elements
- STM stepping motor integrated into the lens design for fast, near-silent, and precise autofocus performance along with full-time manual focus override.
- Internal focusing design that contributes to speedy performance.
- Micro-USB port for firmware updates that ensures your lens continues to deliver optimal performance.
NIKON NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S Portrait Fast Prime Lens for Nikon Z Cameras
- 85mm f/1.8 lens with a nine-blade diaphragm for soft, rounded bokeh
- Two ED glass elements and Nano Crystal coating ensuring lifelike accuracy and reducing lens flare and ghosting.
- Dust and drip-resistant design offering extensive sealing to keep out dust and moisture, making it ideal for outdoor and challenging conditions.
- Customizable control ring allowing for on-the-fly adjustments to camera settings.
Fujifilm Lens XF35mmF1.4 R
- 35mm focal length (53mm equivalent in 35mm format) that provides a “normal” angle of view
- Constructed with 8 elements in 6 groups including 1 Aspherical Element
- 44.2-degree angle of view for capturing broad landscapes and tight interior shots
- 7-blade rounded diaphragm opening for creating beautiful bokeh effects
- 52mm filter size – compatible with a wide range of filters
- Focus range of normal 0.8m to infinity and Macro 28cm to 2.0m, offering versatility for close-up and distant subjects.
- Maximum magnification of 0.17x, making it suitable for capturing detailed close-ups.
Tamron 70-300mm F/4.5-6.3 Di III RXD for Sony Full Frame Mirrorless Camera/APS-C E-Mount
- Supreme lightweight portability: This lens is engineered to be extremely lightweight, making telephoto shooting a fun and stress-free experience. It’s a good choice for photographers who need to carry their gear for extended periods.
- Lens structure comprises 15 elements in 10 groups, designed to deliver high-quality images with excellent detail and contrast.
- Close focusing distance of 31.5″ at the wide end and 59.1″ at the tele end
- Maximum magnification ratio of 1:9.4 at the wide-angle end and 1:5.1 at the telephoto end.
- Moisture-Resistant Construction offering some degree of protection against the elements.
- Focal length: The lens offers a versatile focal length of 70-300mm, making it suitable for portrait photography, as well as a variety of shooting scenarios, including landscape, wildlife, and sports.
Meike 85mm f1.8 Wide Aperture Full Frame Auto Focus Telephoto Lens
- Compatibility with Nikon F mount full frame mirrorless cameras and DSLRs, ensuring a perfect fit for your Nikon equipment.
- Classic 85mm portrait lens with a wide f/1.8 aperture, enabling beautiful photos with a smooth background blur effect, even in low-light conditions.
- Wide application range from selective architecture, landscapes, portrait, to short-range sports and theatre photography.
- Auto focus lens and automatic aperture offering ease of use
- Lens structure comprising 6 groups and 11 elements for delivering sharp and detailed images.
- USB connection for firmware updates to keep your lens operating at its peak performance.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is a prime lens, and why is it often recommended for portrait photography?
A prime lens is a type of lens that has a fixed focal length. In other words, unlike a zoom lens, a prime lens doesn’t allow you to zoom in or out to change your framing; to get closer or farther from your subject, you have to physically move. So why would anyone prefer this over the versatility of a zoom lens? The answer lies in the image quality and aperture size. Prime lenses often offer superior image sharpness and a larger maximum aperture (lower f-number) compared to zoom lenses. This larger aperture allows more light to reach the sensor, which not only helps in low light conditions but also provides a shallower depth of field. A shallow depth of field is desirable in portrait photography because it keeps the subject in sharp focus while blurring the background, helping the subject stand out.
What’s the difference between a full-frame camera and a crop sensor, and how does it affect the choice of portrait lens?
A full-frame camera has a sensor that’s roughly the same size as a 35mm film frame, whereas a crop sensor is smaller. The main impact of this difference is the ‘crop factor’ which affects the effective focal length of lenses. For instance, a 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera with a crop factor of 1.5x will have an effective focal length of 75mm. Therefore, when choosing a lens for a crop sensor camera, you need to account for the crop factor. If you want the equivalent field of view to an 85mm lens on a full-frame camera, for instance, you’d need a shorter focal length on a crop sensor camera. The sensor size can also impact the depth of field and low light performance, with full-frame cameras generally performing better in these aspects.
How does focal length affect a portrait?
Focal length can significantly impact how a portrait looks. Shorter focal lengths (wide-angle lenses) can distort facial features when used close up, making them less desirable for close-up portraits. However, they can be good for environmental portraits where you want to include more of the scene around the subject. Longer focal lengths (telephoto lenses) can compress facial features and provide a more flattering perspective. They also help to isolate the subject from the background, which is often desirable in portrait photography.
Why do some photographers prefer zoom lenses for portrait photography?
While prime lenses are often recommended for portrait photography, some photographers prefer zoom lenses for their versatility. A zoom lens allows you to adjust your framing without needing to move closer or farther from your subject, which can be particularly useful when shooting in a confined space. Some modern zoom lenses also offer excellent image quality and a reasonably large maximum aperture, making them suitable for portrait photography. For instance, a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens is a popular choice for portraits.
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