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

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.

A few random pieces of info…

*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.

Prime Lenses

Prime lenses are great for portraits because they tend to have better optical performance than zooms, and typically have the ability to have a wider aperture. For more about why everyone needs a prime lens, check out this in depth tutorial!

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 your hope is 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 as a 38mm lens.

Makes and models:

Canon- 24mm f/1.4, f/2.8

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

Sigma- 24mm f/1.4

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 backgrounds.  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’s going to 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.

Canon 35mm

Makes and models:

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

Nikkor 35mm- f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.0

Sigma Art- 35mm f/1.4

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 really pretty bokah 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!)

Nikkor- 50mm f/1.4, f/1.8

Sigma Art- 50mm f/1.4

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

85mm

The 85mm has grown in popularity amongst portrait photographers due to it’s 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 emotion and have your clients POP off the background. The 85mm is really the best for blurring those distracting backgrounds, something you may not get with a 35mm. For a tutorial on why everyone needs an 85mm prime lens, click here! In a recent Facebook poll in the members group, the 85mm seems to have come out on top for the favorite portrait lens.

85mm Prime Lens

Makes and models:

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

Nikkor- 85mm f/1.4, f/1.8

Sigma Art- 85mm f/1.4

135mm

135mm Portrait Lens

The 135mm is a great portrait lens if you have the 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 and open field or park, and the beach, but would NOT work for tight street or studio shots.  It really gets your clients to appear clean and crisp, while creating amazing blur!

Makes and models:

Canon- 135mm f/2.0

Nikkor- 135mm f/2.0

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

135mm Sigma Art Lens

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

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses are a great 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 in terms of the types of images you can capture! Street photographers, landscape and portraits photographers all agree that this is a great lens option.

Makes and models:

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

Nikkor- 24-70mm f/2.8

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.

(Photo Credit: Meghan Kelly Images)

Makes and models:

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

Sigma- 24-105mm f/4.0

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

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

When it comes to portrait lenses, we all have our preferences! No ONE lens is the go-to for all photographers. It really depends on what your 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!