- Available for Nikon FX, Canon EF, Pentax K, Sigma SA, and Sony A Mounts
- Aperture range: f/1.4-f/16
- Minimum focusing distance: 0.85m
- Number of diaphragm blades: 9
- Construction: 11 elements in 8 groups
- Available for Nikon FX
- Aperture range: f/1.8-f/16
- Minimum focusing distance: 0.82m
- Number of diaphragm blades: 7
- Construction: 9 elements in 8 groups
- Available for Canon EF
- Aperture range: f/1.8-f/22
- Minimum focusing distance: 0.85m
- Number of diaphragm blades: 8
- Construction: 9 elements in 7 groups
Personally, I love taking portraits.
For me, it's not just being able to create an image for someone that they will (hopefully) cherish for a long time, but it's also about the challenge of directing the person to get the best shot.
It's kind of like a puzzle - How can I pose this person (or, alternatively, let them be more natural) to make them look their best? How can I use lighting to add drama? How can I frame the shot to get the most impact?
Of course, there's also decisions to be made about the type of lens you use as well.
There are a ton of options out there for taking portraits. But for me, there's one focal length that's better than all the others for portraits: 85mm.
Awhile back, I wrote an article about the best portrait lens money can buy, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART.
And though it's a fantastic lens, it also has a fantastically high price.
But you don't have to shell out a ton of money to get a great lens.
In fact, there are plenty of budget-friendly options that will give you a lot of bang for your buck. Let's have a look at a few favorites.
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
At a Glance:
Though this lens isn't as good as the Sigma f/1.4 ART I mentioned above, it's still a fantastic portrait lens for a much smaller price tag.
This is an older lens, but still has special low dispersion and aspherical elements that give it the ability to produce sharp images. That's especially true for the center of the image where sharpness is absolutely superb.
Get an in-depth review of this lens in the video below by DigitalRev TV:
Add to that a nine-blade aperture that produces nicely-shaped bokeh and a ghosting and flare-reducing multi-layer coating, and you have the recipe for pleasing portraits at a bargain price.
Additionally, the lens has an ultrasonic autofocus system, so it's quiet (and fast, too). That means you can use it to take portraits of a sleeping newborn without worrying that your lens will wake it up. You can also capture some action-based portraits as well.
It's not a perfect lens, though. There's no weather sealing, although you're unlikely to be out in inclement weather taking portraits anyway.
And while sharpness is excellent in the center of the frame, near the edges that's not the case. But, again, that's not a huge deal for portraiture.
Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G
At a Glance:
If you're a Nikon shooter, it's tough to beat their AF-S 85mm f/1.8G. It's got good autofocus speed, though if you want to shoot with manual focus, the action is incredibly smooth. There's also full-time override of the focus that you can adjust using this lens's delightfully large focus ring.
When it comes to sharpness, this lens really delivers. That's true throughout the aperture range, even at its maximum f/1.8 aperture. Contrast is good as well, again, throughout the aperture range. Get a review of the lens in the video below by Alex's Photo and Video:
Additionally, the rounded 7-blade diaphragm delivers dreamy bokeh, which is ideal for portraiture. And with minimal distortion and virtually no color fringing, you get images that are true to form that's hard to beat at this price point.
On the downside, the lens does produce more chromatic aberration than comparable lenses, but it's certainly not a deal-breaker. This is an all-around excellent lens!
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM
At a Glance:
Canon shooters on a budget should give the 85mm f/1.8 USM lens a good, hard look.
It's got an excellent aperture range that allows you to get a minute depth of field at f/1.8 for portraits, and a huge depth of field at f/22 if you want to tackle a few landscape shots too.
The lens produces excellent bokeh with an eight-blade diaphragm, and the ring-type autofocus system is virtually silent - and fast. See the lens in action in the video below by Christopher Frost Photography:
Another benefit of this lens is that it's quite compact. That allows you to carry it with greater ease, and it will put your portrait subjects at ease because you can shoot from a greater distance away, but without a giant lens attached to your camera.
Because the front element of the lens isn't recessed, you'll need to buy a lens hood, though that isn't a huge expense. Of greater concern is that this lens is getting long in the tooth. There are newer options available that are better, but of course, more expensive too.
Nevertheless, if you want a lens that performs very well for portraiture, this one is tough to beat.
Putting It All Together
As you've no doubt heard before, you get what you pay for when you buy a lens.
That's why it's often recommended to save your money and buy the best lens you can afford.
There are, of course, exceptions to that rule, including the three lenses reviewed above.
Each provides sharp results with pleasing bokeh that's great for portraits.
And at 85mm, you can get good close-up shots without having to be right in the model's face - that's especially true if you use a crop sensor camera because it will extend the effective focal length even further.
When choosing your ideal portrait lens, also consider if it's compatible with your camera system - some lenses only work with a specific manufacturer's camera, and still others only work with certain models of camera.
There are a lot of other portrait lenses out there, but if you use these guidelines and explore the lenses outlined above, and you'll be able to find a great lens that produces pleasing results, all without breaking the bank.