Best DSLR Portrait Lenses for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus

The best portrait lenses are those with longer focal lengths. So if you’re getting serious about portrait photography, consider investing in a moderate telephoto lens to get optimum results.
Focal length affects the quality of the portraits you take. If it’s shorter than 70mm, you risk subtle to not-so-subtle distortion of facial features (the wider the lens, the bigger the nose) and too much information in the background. If it’s longer than 135mm, visual compression can make subjects appear flat.

Therefore, anything in the 70-135mm range is perfect for the casual portrait photographer; 80-105mm is even better because it shows subjects more naturally.
But there’s more to it than that. Many lenses let you manipulate the quality of the out-of-focus areas of the image via defocus control, as well as wider apertures and rounded aperture blades for more natural focus falloff—all important factors that allow you to be even more selective with your focus. This control over focus is important because the quality of the focus fall-off can subtly affect the look of your portraits.

We’ve come up with a list of the best portrait lenses that are either specifically designed with portrait photography in mind or can capture portraits as one of their key features. But before we discuss these lenses, let’s talk about what you should look for or consider when choosing a portrait lens for your specific needs.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Portrait Lens

Focal Length

What makes a lens suitable for portrait photography? A lot of factors determine what makes a good portrait lens, but the most important factor is the focal length. Although the ideal lens is a medium telephoto in the 70-135mm or 80-105mm range, you can be a little flexible here. After all, you also have to consider a few things to ensure that your chosen focal length fits your needs. How close or far do you typically have to be from your subject? How big is your studio or the space where you’ll be frequently shooting? How many people will be in the frame? Consider these questions when choosing the focal length you want.

Camera Sensor Size

Full frame or crop sensor? Before you pick out a lens for portrait work, keep in mind that the effective focal length of a lens will vary when used with a smaller sensor. A standard 50mm prime lens, for instance, will still have a focal length of 50mm when used with a 35mm full-frame camera. But when used with an APS-C camera, the effective focal length will change to the about 75 to 80mm.
It’s important, therefore, to take your camera’s sensor into consideration before deciding on a focal length.

Zoom or Prime

Making a choice between a zoom and a prime is one of the typical dilemmas every photographer has to face when choosing a lens (or lenses) for their kit. If you have a bigger budget, obviously you can get both. But if you have a limited budget and want to get just one lens that you can get the most out of, you’ll have to pick between the two.
Zoom lenses offer versatility and convenience. They allow you to have a variety of focal lengths at your fingertips, which is useful when you like to change it up every once in a while.
Primes, on the other hand, are far from versatile because they have only one focal length. Despite the limitation, many photographers prefer them due to the higher image quality, better performance, and increased portability. Prime lenses are specifically optimized for their focal length, which drastically increases the quality of their output. Also, since they aren’t crammed with a number of focal lengths, they’re smaller and lighter than zoom lenses.
If the price is an issue, keep in mind that primes are usually more expensive than zooms—but if having one fixed focal length fits your needs, it’s certainly worth the investment.

Bokeh

One of the hallmarks of a good portrait is the quality of the background blur, which enhances your subject’s isolation from the rest of the photo’s elements. To achieve this, you need portrait photography lenses with wide maximum apertures (at least f/2.8 or so) and defocusing controls that allow you to control the rendering of out-of-focus areas. This will give your portraits a shallower depth of field, as well as attractive, creamy bokeh.

Minimum Focusing Distance

Most people don’t consider the minimum focusing distance when choosing a good portrait lens—after all, it’s not a macro. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty important factor to consider for portraiture, especially if you do a lot of close-ups. Your lens won’t focus properly if you go any closer than its minimum focusing distance, so make sure to choose a lens that will allow you to get as close as you want.


Best Lenses for Portrait Photography

Now that you know what factors to consider when choosing portrait lenses, here are our top five recommendations (plus a few bonus ones)

  1. Nikon 105mm f/2 DC Nikkor
  2.  Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM
  3.  Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/4-5.
  4. Pentax 70mm f/2.4 Pancake Lens
  5.  Sony 135mm f/2.8-4.5 STF
Why did we choose them as the best portrait lenses on the market? Here’s a more in-depth look at each lens:
*Prices are accurate as of February 10, 2017

1. Nikon 105mm f/2 DC Nikkor

Price: $1196.95

 Key Specifications:

Lens type Prime
Focal length 105mm
Lens mount Nikon F (FX)
Maximum aperture f/2
Minimum focusing distance 0.9m
Weight 640g
Diameter 79mm
Length 111mm
Aperture blades Rounded, 9-blade
The Nikon 105mm f/2 DC Nikkor delivers excellent bokeh, thanks to its wide maximum aperture and defocus control feature. One of the best Nikon lenses for portrait work, it allows you to control the shape of the aperture to change the quality of the bokeh. The aperture blades are also rounded, which produce spectral highlights that are softer, rounded, and more natural-looking than the straight-edged ones you get from non-rounded aperture blades. At its widest aperture, the 105mm produces a shallow depth of field and performs exceptionally well in low-light situations.
With outstanding optics, convenient defocus control, and premium-quality construction, the Nikon 105mm f/2 DC Nikkor, which was introduced in 1993, remains an influential lens to this day.

Other Recommended Nikon Lenses for Portrait Photography:
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G IF AF-S NIKKOR
Adorama Price: $1596.95
If you’re looking for a portrait lens with a slightly shorter focal length, this 85mm prime is your best bet. It has a wide maximum aperture, nine rounded aperture blades, and special coatings for maximum image fidelity. Portrait photographers will love the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 for its razor-sharp images with beautiful, natural-looking bokeh.
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR NIKKOR
Adorama Price: $2796.95
For the best portrait lens in the zoom category, check out the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. With a focal length range that works for both FX and DX cameras, this versatile lens also offers image stabilization, dynamic focus functions, and weather sealing to allow for other applications apart from portrait work.

2. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

 Price: $349

Key Specifications:
Lens type Prime
Focal length 85mm
Lens mount Canon EF
Maximum aperture f/1.8
Minimum focusing distance 0.85m
Weight 425g
Diameter 75mm
Length 72mm
Aperture blades Circular, 8-blade
Considered one of the best Canon lenses because of its impressive line of optics, the 85mm f/1.8 USM is a classic portrait lens and an excellent companion to full-frame DSLR cameras. Lightweight and relatively inexpensive, this Canon portrait lens has an 8-blade aperture, a fast and quiet USM autofocus motor, and the ability to create pleasing background blur.
The 85mm f/1.8 is mostly used as a portrait lens and has the ideal length both in the studio and outside. However, it’s also used for low-light candid photography, thanks to its wide-open aperture. Reports say that even at its widest aperture, this lens produces sharp images with pleasing focus fall-off. It focuses down to 2.8 feet—more than adequate for facial close-ups.
While it’s designed for full-frame sensors, it can also be used with Canon’s APS-C cameras, with an effective focal length of 125mm.

Other Recommended Canon lenses for Portrait Photography:
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
Price: $1949
This telephoto zoom lens from Canon’s hugely popular L series is one of the best portrait lenses for those who need a variety of focal lengths. One of the most acclaimed Canon lenses, it offers a perfectly round aperture for attractive out-of-focus areas, a very wide aperture, a smooth and silent autofocus, a good minimum focusing distance (1.2m) for close-up portraits, two-mode image stabilization, and even dust and moisture sealing, allowing you to shoot in demanding conditions without damaging the lens.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
Price: $1849
A more high-end alternative to the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8, this lens is perfect for portrait work due to its ultra-wide maximum aperture of f/1.2, 8-bladed circular diaphragm for stunning bokeh, and an innovative floating optical system with special lens coatings to produce the best color, contrast, and vividness in your images, with little to no chromatic aberrations.

3. Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/4-5.6

Price: $1,199.00

Key Specifications:
Lens type Zoom
Focal length 50-200mm
Lens mount Four Thirds
Maximum aperture f/2.8
Minimum focusing distance 1.2m
Weight 995g
Diameter 86.5mm
Length 157mm
Aperture blades Rounded, 9-blade
The Olympus Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 zoom is a highly versatile lens that can handle a wide variety of photographic demands. With a 35mm equivalent of 100-400mm, this lens can handle many applications from portraiture to sports photography.
Nonetheless, the 50-200mm lens is optimized for portrait work, thanks to its nine rounded diaphragm blades, which form a circular aperture at all settings. This translates into natural-looking, out-of-focus areas and round specular highlights—all important elements for portrait shots.

With a minimum focusing distance of about 1.2m, which is pretty close for such a long lens, the 50-200mm also offers adequate magnification for near-macro close-ups when shooting at the maximum focal length.

4. Pentax SMCP-DA 70mm f/2.4 ED Limited Edition

Price: $496.95

Key Specifications:
Lens type Prime
Focal length 70mm
Lens mount Pentax K mount
Maximum aperture f/2.4
Minimum focusing distance 2.3m
Weight 147g
Diameter 26mm
Length 63mm
Aperture blades 9-blade
Somehow, Pentax has used its legendary innovative lens design prowess to deliver a unique 70mm f/2.4 pancake lens—a short telephoto that’s ideal for landscape and portrait photography. When used with any APS-C Pentax DSLR, the 35mm equivalent focal length is 105mm, which is the reasonable focal length for portrait photos.
The lens is made up of high-performance optics and boasts edge-to-edge sharpness. It features Pentax’s high-grade, multi-layer High Definition (HD) coating to ensure the clearest, sharpest photos with highly reduced flare, ghosting, and aberrations, as well as a Super Protect (SP) coating to repel dust, water, and grease.
It also has a Quick-Shift Focus system that lets you instantly switch from autofocus to manual focus.
Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Pentax 70mm f/2.4 doesn’t skimp on image quality. It delivers outstanding sharpness because it’s a prime lens, and therefore it’s fully optimized for its focal length. In addition to sharpness, it also creates attractive out-of-focus areas in your portraits, thanks to a 9-bladed diaphragm that ensures beautiful, natural-looking bokeh.
For portrait photographers who shoot Pentax and want an ultra-lightweight lens that’s perfect for travel and unobtrusive shooting, this engineering marvel is well worth considering.

Other Recommended Pentax Lenses for Portrait Photography:
Pentax SMCP-FA 77mm f/1.8 Limited Edition
Price: $796.95
The 70mm f/2.4 is one of the best portrait lenses by Pentax, but it’s not the only one—the 77mm f/1.8 is also a great choice for portraiture. It’s a telephoto lens designed specifically for shooting portraits, and like all primes, it promises optimum performance and superior image quality. It also has a large maximum aperture of f/1.8 and is equipped with Pentax’s Super-Multi-Coating for maximum light transmission, ultra-defined sharpness, high contrast, and reduced flare and ghosting.

Pentax SMCP-DA 55-300mm f/4-5.8 ED WR
Price: $396.95
If zoom lenses are more your speed, this lens is your best choice in the Pentax line. With a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 84.5-460mm, you can use this with either an APS-C or a full-frame camera and still have the ideal focal length for portraits. Despite the reasonably affordable price, this versatile telephoto zoom lens has plenty of features, including two Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) glass elements, a high-grade, multi-layer HD coating, Pentax’s Quick-Shift Focus System, and a weather-resistant body.

5. Sony 135mm f/2.8-4.5 STF Smooth Transition Focus

 Price: $1398

Key Specifications:
Lens type Prime
Focal length 135mm
Lens mount Sony Alpha/ Minolta AF
Maximum aperture f/2.8
Minimum focusing distance 87cm
Weight 730g
Diameter 80mm
Length 99mm
Aperture blades Rounded, 9-blade
In 1985, shortly before the world’s first autofocus SLR camera was introduced, Minolta dazzled the photography world by introducing the 135mm f/2.8 STF lens. When Sony took over the Minolta SLR line in 2005, the company re-introduced the lens under the Sony brand name. Twenty years later, it’s still unique among lenses. The Sony 135mm f/2.8-4.5 STF Smooth Transition Focus lens is a highly specialized manual focus lens that is designed to produce the best bokeh possible. As a result, out-of-focus blur is incredibly soft, natural, and smooth.

To control the quality of the bokeh, the 135mm has an apodization optical element near the aperture. This element has a circular, graduated ND filter that becomes gradually darker towards the perimeter, which takes the unnatural edge off of out-of-focus details but maintains extraordinary subject sharpness.
Another aspect of its defocus control is the aperture. It has two aperture sets: a 10-blade aperture with rounded sides that is controlled manually, and a 9-blade aperture with rounded sides that is controlled in Auto (A) mode.

Other Recommended Sony Lenses for Portrait Photography:
Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G-Series II
Price: $2998
This premium telephoto zoom lens is a great investment for any serious photographer. It has a myriad of features that make it perfect for all sorts of applications from portraits to wildlife photography. This lens is equipped with a Super Sonic Wave Motor (SSM) for fast, smooth, and quiet focus (with enhanced subject-tracking capabilities) performance, a Focus Range Limiter for quicker and more controlled focusing, a 9-blade circular diaphragm for stunning bokeh, in-body image stabilization, and ED glass elements (with specialized lens coatings) to ensure superior image quality and fidelity.
Sony 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* Carl Zeiss
Price: $1698
One of the best portrait lenses by Sony, the 85mm f/1.4 is a telephoto prime that delivers truly stellar images, thanks to its wide-open maximum aperture, nine rounded aperture blades that translate to a perfectly circular aperture opening, and the special Carl Zeiss T* (T-Star) coating that combats (and virtually eliminates) lens flare, internal reflection, and light scattering. (Via Adorama)

Do you have a favorite portrait photography lens that isn’t mentioned in this list? Share it in the comments section and tell us why you love it!