- What Makes a Good Portrait Lens?
- Sony Portrait Lens - Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8
- Leica Portrait Lens - 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit M
- Sigma Art Portrait Lens - 105mm f/2.8 DG Macro<
- Canon Portrait Lens - Canon RF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM
- Nikon Portrait Lens - Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S
- APS-C Fuji Portrait Lens - Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R WR
- Medium Format Portrait Lens - Fujifilm GF 110mm f2.0 R LM WR
Photo by adamkaz via iStock
What focal length, f-stop, and lens type makes the best portrait lens is a subject photographers love to talk about. If you saw some of us “discussing” portrait lens choices, you might think we’re arguing! We’re not arguing; we’re just passionate because we’re artists.
As a disclaimer, let me go on record by saying there is not one single perfect portrait lens that will satisfy every photographer’s thoughts on the matter. Hey, my own portrait lens choice might change from subject to subject or what style I’m shooting!
Still, some general ideas or principles governing portrait lens basics are good to know. I’ll talk about those and list some great portrait lens candidates I found at my go-to online platform for gear, MPB.
I like to shop for used cameras and lenses at MPB because pre-owned gear saves me money. MPB allows me to buy, sell, and trade gear, and they have customer-friendly policies that make buying, selling, and trading photography equipment safe and easy. What’s not to like?!
Now, let’s have a chat about the best portrait lens options for varying camera systems…
Table of Contents:
What Makes a Good Portrait Lens?
Photo by piola666 via iStock
The qualities that make a lens a good portrait lens are somewhat variable; there is no one set of criteria for the best portrait lens.
Some things are generally considered good for a portrait lens, though. For example, a focal length longer than what’s considered normal for the format used but not too much into the telephoto range is desirable. An f-stop or lens aperture fast enough for selective focus is also desired.
We tend to like a slightly telephoto portrait lens focal length because we’re capturing images of people. Too short of a focal length, especially when used up close, causes unflattering elongation of facial features due to apparent perspective. Some of that depends on our framing - a 3/4s length portrait can be captured with a normal lens, but the typical head and shoulders portrait usually looks better with a short telephoto portrait lens.
Here is a good comparison on the Mango Street YouTube page of various portrait lens focal length options:
Most of the lenses in my list of portrait lens favorites skew towards single focal length short telephoto prime lenses with a fairly fast maximum aperture, though I also consider a normal lens a good portrait lens for some styles of portraits.
Many pro-style telephoto zooms have fast apertures, too, so they’re also in the running. Let's take a look at some lenses I found at the MPB. If any aren’t in stock at the time of your reading this, simply bookmark the placeholder page and look again later, as used inventory is constantly changing.
Sony Portrait Lens - Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8
The Sony Portrait Lens - Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 is a very fast, extremely sharp, short telephoto focal length from one of the premier lens makers in the history of photography, Zeiss. This version fits on Sony Full Frame format mirrorless cameras like the 61MP Sony Alpha A7R V camera.
A little heavy at just under a pound, it balances nicely on Sony cameras. Focusing to about 2 ½ feet, this lens has three low dispersion elements and produces beautiful bokeh in selective focus portraits.
Leica Portrait Lens - 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit M
The Leica Portrait Lens - 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit M fits M-Series Leica rangefinder cameras, including the fantastic Full Frame format 24MP Leica M10 camera. Very compact, this is one of the sharpest examples of a portrait lens you can find.
Sigma Art Portrait Lens - 105mm f/2.8 DG Macro
The Sigma Art Portrait Lens - 105mm f/2.8 DG Macro is a great dual-purpose lens. Available in various mirrorless lens mounts for Full Frame format, this lens works as a portrait lens and has 1:1 close focusing capability for macro work.
Canon Portrait Lens - Canon RF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM
The Canon Portrait Lens - Canon RF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM is a high-quality professional-level fast aperture telephoto zoom lens for the awesome Canon R-Series mirrorless Full Frame format cameras. Large and somewhat heavy, it’s a fine example of a multipurpose lens that can also be used as a portrait lens.
Nikon Portrait Lens - Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S
The Nikon Portrait Lens - Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S is a good candidate for a normal lens used as a portrait lens. It fits the excellent Nikon Z-Series of Full Frame mirrorless cameras such as the top tier Nikon Z9 45.7MP camera with 8K video. Much smaller and lighter than the f/1.2 version, this lens is plenty fast for lots of uses and is very compact.
APS-C Fuji Portrait Lens - Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R WR
The APS-C Fuji Portrait Lens - Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R WR is made for Fujinon XT mount APS-C mirrorless cameras. With a 1.5X crop factor, this lens corresponds to 84mm in Full Frame format and has beautiful bokeh with the ultra-fast f/1.2 lens aperture and 11-blade diaphragm.
Medium Format Portrait Lens - Fujifilm GF 110mm f2.0 R LM WR
The Medium Format Portrait Lens - Fujifilm GF 110mm f2.0 R LM WR is a portrait lens for Fujifilm G-Mount medium format cameras like the very affordable Fujifilm GFX 50S. It corresponds to 87mm in Full Frame format. It balances perfectly with the GFX 50S and has a close focus, making it a great contender for the best portrait lens in medium format.
With that, you have numerous examples of the best portrait lenses for varying formats and camera brands. Again, there is no single lens that’s the “best” for everyone, so consider the type of camera you have, the type of portraiture you most often do, and your budget, then set about finding an optimal lens that meets your criteria.
As I noted earlier, MPB is my go-to platform for finding used gear. If you want to save money while having a tremendous selection of lenses to choose from, MPB is the first place you should look!