Confused about your next portrait lens? Let us give you the breakdown!

Choosing the best portrait lens can be confusing, as they all have some admirable qualities. As a new (or seasoned) portrait photographer, portrait lens choices can really get confusing! We often hear about one great lens, only to read about ANOTHER great lens! We’re here to help.

Let’s get down to the main prime and zoom lenses used in portrait photography. We will examine some pros and cons and give you our top picks! We’ll also tell you what lenses are available for the three most popular lens manufacturers; Canon, Nikon, and Sigma. Both Sony and Tamron also make many of these lenses.

Brand
Best Overall
Canon EF 85mm f1.2L
Best Wide
Nikon Fixed Focal Length Lens 35mm
Best Zoom
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E
Product
Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM Lens for Canon DSLR...
Nikon Fixed Focal Length Lens with UV Protection...
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR with UV...
Maximum Focal Length
85 mm
35 mm
200 mm
Lens
Telephoto
Wide Angle
Wide Angle
Rating
Best Overall
Brand
Canon EF 85mm f1.2L
Product
Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM Lens for Canon DSLR...
Maximum Focal Length
85 mm
Lens
Telephoto
Rating
Price
Best Wide
Brand
Nikon Fixed Focal Length Lens 35mm
Product
Nikon Fixed Focal Length Lens with UV Protection...
Maximum Focal Length
35 mm
Lens
Wide Angle
Rating
Price
Best Zoom
Brand
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E
Product
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR with UV...
Maximum Focal Length
200 mm
Lens
Wide Angle
Rating
Price

A few random pieces of info…

*Remember that if you have a crop sensor camera, your lens focal length will be roughly multiplied by 1.5x! This means that a 50mm will act more like a 75mm.

*As a quick reminder, Sigma lenses are made for both Canon and Sigma. Make sure to get the correct version!

*Nikkor is the lens manufacturer for Nikon.

What is the best prime portrait lens?

Prime lenses are great for portraits because they tend to have better optical performance than zooms and typically can have a wider aperture. check out this in-depth tutorial for more about why everyone needs a prime lens! We are going to outline our tops picks and WHY we love them. Check them out and see what fits your needs!

24mm

A 24mm is going to give you one of the fullest focal perspectives and is probably the widest lens you want to choose for a portrait lens.  It can create some stunning shots if you hope to capture more of the background, like a mountain range or ocean view.  It’s great for full body shots as well. You’re not going to get a creamy background with a 24mm as you would an 85mm, for example.  Another downfall is that shots with the 24mm tend to be more distorted than a longer focal length.  This lens is the most popular with street photographers, landscape and event photographers (as you can get more in the shot). On a crop sensor, it will function roughly like a 38mm lens.

Makes and models:

Canon- 24mm f/1.4, f/2.8

Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens
  • Wide angle lens for Canon APS C cameras (equivalent to 38 millimeter on a full frame camera)
  • Focal length & maximum aperture: 24 millimeter 1:2.8, maximum magnification of x0.27
  • Slimmest and lightest lens of the EF S series

Nikkor -24mm f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.8

Sale
NIKON NIKKOR Z 24mm f/1.8 S Wide Angle Fast Prime...
  • Package Dimensions: 22.86 H x 11.68 L x 14.22 W (centimetres)
  • Package Weight: 0.82 kilograms
  • Powered by an ultra-quiet stepping motor

Sigma- 24mm f/1.4

Sigma 24mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Sony E...
  • Focal length: 24mm
  • Aperture range: f/1.4 - f/16
  • Sony e  mount lens

What are the best lenses to use for outdoor family portraits?

There are a few things to consider when choosing the best portrait lens, especially when it comes to outdoor family portraits! Here are a few quick questions to ask yourself when considering these lenses:

  1. How many people will I be photographing?
  2. Do I have space to take the photos (can I backup, or is space cramped, like in a small room)?
  3. How much compression (aka blur) do you want in your photos?

35mm

This is one of the most versatile lenses on the market. This wide-angle lens is both great for detailed portraits and portraits that include a scenic background.  It’s not going to give you a ton of compression, so if that’s what you’re after, it may be better to check out a 50, 85 or 135mm lens.  The 35mm allows you to use it in cramped spaces, such as narrow streets, in small rooms/studios (for newborn photography, for example), and give beautiful detail.  You may have an issue with cropping out distractions, however. In a small space, it will be great, but in say, a hotel room for bridal portraits, a 50mm may be a better bet. Overall, a 35mm is clean, crisp and have very few drawbacks.

best portrait lens

Makes and models:

Canon 35mm- f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens, Lens Only
  • Focal Length & Maximum Aperture: 35mm f/1.4
  • Subwavelength Coating (SWC) helps significantly reduce lens ghosting and flare.Lens Construction: 14...
  • Diagonal Angle of View: 63°

Nikkor 35mm- f/1.4, f/1.8,  f/2.0

Nikon Fixed Focal Length Lens with UV Protection...
  • FX-format, ultra-fast classic wide-angle lens
  • Focal Length : 35 mm, Minimum Focus Distance - 1.0 ft.
  • UV protection filter for general, everyday use

Sigma Art– 35mm f/1.4

Sale
Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art DG HSM Lens for Canon, Black,...
  • High speed with large aperture
  • HSM (Hypersonic motor) and inner focusing system
  • Accessories include: Lens Hood (LH730-03), carrying case

50mm

The 50mm is probably in the top three most popular prime lens choices for portraits, as it gives you a tighter shot than a 24mm or 35mm.  You don’t have to be too close or too far from your subject; it starts to create that pretty bokeh that many photographers are after, and is all around a solid lens for most types of photography. MANY portrait photographers agree that their 50mm doesn’t leave their camera.

Makes and models:

Canon- 50mm f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8 (See a review of the 50mm 1.2 here!)

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens for Canon Digital...
  • Weather-resistant standard lens
  • Focal Length & Maximum Aperture-50mm F/1.2, Closest Focusing Distance - 1.48 ft. / 0.45m
  • AF with full-time manual focus, 72mm filter size

Nikkor- 50mm f/1.4, f/1.8

Sale
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G Lens with Auto...
  • F1.4 maximum aperture; F16 minimum
  • Ultrasonic-type AF motor with full-time manual focusing, 58mm filters
  • Minimum focus Distance : 0.45m/17.72 Inches. Lens Hood: HB-47

Sigma Art- 50mm f/1.4

Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens + Tiffen Digital...
  • Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon Cameras
  • Tiffen Digital Essentials 77DIGEK3 Filter Kit for 77mm Filter Size

Check out a more in-depth tutorial about the 50mm!

85mm

The 85mm has grown in popularity amongst portrait photographers due to its ability to create soft and creamy images while keeping the subject clean and crisp.  Shooting with the 85mm wide open creates stunning compression that is unmatched by most prime portrait lenses. An 85mm will be GREAT if you want to capture the emotion and have your clients POP off the background. The 85mm is the best for blurring those distracting backgrounds, something you may not get with a 35mm. Click here for a tutorial on why everyone needs an 85mm prime lens! In a recent Facebook poll in the member’s group, the 85mm seems to have come out on top for the favorite portrait lens.

best portrait lens

Makes and models:

Canon- 85mm f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8

Sale
Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM Lens for Canon DSLR...
  • f1.2 maximum aperture
  • Ring-type UltraSonic motor (USM), Focal length : 85mm, Closest focusing distance : 3.2 feet
  • EF mount, medium telephoto lens, High-speed AF and circular aperture create shallow depth-of-field

Nikkor- 85mm f/1.4, f/1.8

Nikon AF S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G Fixed Lens with Auto...
  • Fast aperture medium telephoto lens
  • Internal focus, focal length: 85 millimeter, minimum focus range: 0.80 meter
  • Silent wave motor (SWM). Number of diaphragm blades: 7 (rounded diaphragm opening)

Sigma Art- 85mm f/1.4

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon EF...
  • The Sigma 85mm 1.4 DG HSM Art is the latest addition to the world renowned Sigma Global Vision Line
  • It has equipped newly designed hyper sonic motor (HSM) for nimble AF control, 1.3 times better...
  • This lens is compatible with Mount converter MC-11 , so Sony E-mount users can also enjoy this lens...

135mm

Best Portrait Lens

The 135mm is a great portrait lens if you have space! This is the portrait lens you want if you’re looking for extreme compression and some stunning close-ups! This lens is best for family or portrait sessions where you have adequate space, like an open field or park, and the beach, but would NOT work for tight street or studio shots.  It gets your clients to appear clean and crisp while creating fantastic blur!

Makes and models:

Canon- 135mm f/2.0

Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens for Canon SLR Cameras...
  • Micro UltraSonic Motor (USM),
  • 135mm focal length, Closest focusing distance: 3 feet
  • Ultra-low Dispersion glass with Fluorite elements; inner focusing ring

Nikkor- 135mm f/2.0

Sigma Art – 135mm f/1.8 (I LOVE this lens!)

Sale
Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon EF...
  • A new large Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) delivers ample torque to the focusing group for outstanding...
  • This state-of-the-art prime lens touts a dust and splash proof mount for guaranteed performance in...
  • A stunning compression effect makes the Sigma 135mm F1.8 Art the ideal portrait lens while its large...

best portrait lens

Prime lenses tend to be a great choice over zooms, and here’s why!

What are the best zoom lenses?

Zoom lenses are an excellent choice for portrait photography because it allows YOU to stay fixed while giving you the ability to get a variety of focal lengths! Zooms are very popular these days for weddings!

24-70mm

If you prefer a zoom lens, the 24-70mm is a great choice, especially if you want to include some epic landscape shots in your portraits. Due to it’s wider field of view, it’s very versatile regarding the types of images you can capture! Street photographers, landscape and portraits photographers all agree that this is an excellent lens option.

Makes and models:

Canon- 24-70mm- f/2.8, f/4.0

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens
  • 24 70 millimetre focal length, 38.4 112 millimetre equivalent focal length on Canon APS C cameras
  • F2.8 constant maximum aperture; F22 minimum, ring type ultrasonic type AF motor with full time...
  • 82 millimetre filters, closest focusing distance: 0.38 meter/1.25 feet

Nikkor- 24-70mm f/2.8

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Zoom...
  • Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24 to 70 millimeter f/2.8E ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for...
  • B+W 82 millimeter Clear UV Haze with Multi Resistant Coating

24-105mm

Another great option for a portrait zoom lens is the 24-105mm.  One of the drawbacks reported is this zoom lens may take a tad longer to focus.

best portrait lens

(Photo Credit: Meghan Kelly Images)

Makes and models:

Canon- 24-105mm f/4, f/3.5-5.6

Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens Filter...
  • Optical Image Stabilizer provides up to four shutter speed stops of correction
  • Optimum protection for camera lenses without color shift or reflective glare

Sigma- 24-105mm f/4.0

Sale
Sigma 24-105mm F4.0 Art DG OS HSM Lens for Canon
  • Offers stable and fine image quality from wide to mid-telephoto range
  • This lens has a combination of fixed aperture and a good zoom ratio that is kept as high as possible
  • minimum focusing distance of 45cm and a maximum magnification ratio of 1:4.6. great for close up...

70-200mm

The 70-200mm is probably the most popular zoom lens choice for portrait photographers. It is very commonly used for weddings, as you can get full shots during the ceremony and zoom in for those more emotional shots without having to move position.  The major complaint about this lens is the weight!

Makes and models:

Canon- 70-200mm f/2.8, f/4.0

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens for Canon...
  • Constant f/2.8 Maximum Aperture throughout Entire Zoom Range.
  • Canon’s Air Sphere Coating (ASC) Minimizes Ghosting and Flare.
  • Optical Image Stabilization at up to 3.5 Stops of Shake Correction.

Nikkor- 70-200mm f/2.8, f/4.0

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR with UV...
  • Minimum Focus Distance-3.6ft.(1.1m)
  • This filter uses our XS-Pro Digital mount which is especially suited for DSLRs with wide angle and...
  • MRC nano has an improved outer (8th) layer over regular MRC. The nanotechnology based characteristic...

When it comes to the best portrait lenses, we all have our preferences! No ONE lens is the go-to for all photographers. It depends on what you’re doing in your images and what you want. Do you LOVE consistently sharp detailed portraits or photos that POP thanks to the amazing compression in the background?  A great option before breaking the bank is to rent a lens.  A final note, don’t feel bad if you LOVE a lens and another photographer hates it! This is what makes all unique! Happy researching!

Check out this great video if you want to see many of thses up close and personal!