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.

[amazon table=”635173″]

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 50mm will act more like 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!


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 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.

If you shoot portraits ONLY, you may want to consider something wider. You’ll likely feel that it’s too narrow.

Makes and models:

Canon- 24mm f/1.4, [amazon link=”B00NI3BZ5K” title=”f/2.8″ /]

[amazon box=”B00NI3BZ5K” template=”horizontal”]

Nikkor -24mm f/1.4, [amazon link=”B07W86M8FG” title=”f/1.8″ /], f/2.8

[amazon box=”B07W86M8FG” template=”horizontal”]

Sigma- 24mm [amazon link=”B07B9PTVWV” title=”f/1.4″ /]

[amazon box=”B07B9PTVWV” template=”horizontal”]

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?


This is one of the most versatile lenses on the market. This wide-angle lens is 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 has very few drawbacks.

best portrait lens

Makes and models:

Canon 35mm- [amazon link=”B014EOML6S” title=”f/1.4″ /], [amazon link=”B00A2BVBTG” title=”f/2.0″ /], [amazon link=”B06Y1HQDQQ” title=”f/2.8″ /]

[amazon box=”B014EOML6S” template=”horizontal”]

Nikkor 35mm- [amazon link=”B078GL2F1G” title=”f/1.4″ /], f/1.8,  f/2.0

[amazon box=”B078GL2F1G” template=”horizontal”]

Sigma Art– 35mm [amazon link=”B00A35X6NU” title=”f/1.4″ /]

[amazon box=”B00A35X6NU” template=”horizontal”]


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. It’s also fairly lightweight, which makes it ideal for traveling or just throwing in your bag for a day trip!

Makes and models:

Canon- 50mm [amazon link=”B000I1YIDQ” title=”f/1.2″ /], [amazon link=”B013JD2DJA” title=”f/1.4″ /], [amazon link=”B00X8MRBCW” title=”f/1.8″ /] (See a review of the 50mm 1.2 here!)

[amazon box=”B000I1YIDQ” template=”horizontal”]

Nikkor- 50mm [amazon link=”B001GCVA0U” title=”f/1.4″ /], [amazon link=”B07GQ6FR5F” title=”f/1.8″ /]

[amazon box=”B001GCVA0U” template=”horizontal”]

Sigma Art- 50mm [amazon link=”B016CQ5AUU” title=”f/1.4″ /]

[amazon box=”B016CQ5AUU” template=”horizontal”]

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


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 [amazon link=”B000EW9Y4M” title=”f/1.2″ /], [amazon link=”B074VQ6SGM” title=”f/1.4″ /], [amazon link=”B00007GQLU” title=”f/1.8″ /]

[amazon box=”B000EW9Y4M” template=”horizontal”]

Nikkor- 85mm [amazon link=”B003ZSHNE0″ title=”f/1.4″ /], [amazon link=”B006TAP096″ title=”f/1.8″ /]

[amazon box=”B006TAP096″ template=”horizontal”]

Sigma Art- 85mm [amazon link=”B01M0UO0HX” title=”f/1.4″ /]

[amazon box=”B01M0UO0HX” template=”horizontal”]


Best Portrait Lens

The 135mm is a great portrait lens if you have space and are looking for a lens with a fixed focal length!

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’s also a bit on the heavy side, so not ideal as a travel lens.

It gets your clients to appear clean and crisp while creating fantastic blur!

Makes and models:

Canon- 135mm [amazon link=”B000053HC5″ title=”f/2.0″ /]

[amazon box=”B000053HC5″ template=”horizontal”]

Nikkor- 135mm [amazon link=”B00006I5J4″ title=”f/2.0″ /]

[amazon box=”B00006I5J4″ template=”horizontal”]

Sigma Art – 135mm [amazon link=”B06XPTYXS6″ title=”f/1.8″ /] (I LOVE this lens!)

[amazon box=”B06XPTYXS6″ template=”horizontal”]

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!


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. This is a favorite among photographers as they mention it’s also great as their singular travel lens. It’s versatile and relatively lightweight.

Due to its 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- [amazon link=”B0076BNK30″ title=”f/2.8″ /], [amazon link=”B00A2BVAN8″ title=”f/4.0″ /]

[amazon box=”B0076BNK30″ template=”horizontal”]

Nikkor- 24-70mm [amazon link=”B01962IF0O” title=”f/2.8″ /]

[amazon box=”B01962IF0O” template=”horizontal”]


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. You can tend to find these lenses as kits, with camera bodies, so keep your eyes peeled for a good deal. It’s a solid lens with a lot of versatility!

best portrait lens

(Photo Credit: Meghan Kelly Images)

Makes and models:

Canon- 24-105mm [amazon link=”B01KURGS9O” title=”f/4″ /], [amazon link=”B01IX0K4CC” title=”f/3.5-5.6″ /]

[amazon box=”B01IX0K4CC” template=”horizontal”]

Sigma- 24-105mm [amazon link=”B00G6K4XZG” title=”f/4.0″ /]

[amazon box=”B00G6K4XZG” template=”horizontal”]

[ad id=’3′]


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 [amazon link=”B07DFVF7M4″ title=”f/2.8″ /], [amazon link=”B000053HH5″ title=”f/4.0″ /]

[amazon box=”B07DFVF7M4″ template=”horizontal”]

Nikkor- 70-200mm [amazon link=”B077VZN3Z6″ title=”f/2.8″ /], [amazon link=”B009VZOK0Q” title=”f/4.0″ /]

[amazon box=”B077VZN3Z6″ template=”horizontal”]

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 these up close and personal!

Similar Posts