back to top

Best Lens for Portraits in 2023 (Top 28 Prime & Zoom Lenses)

Last updated: November 12, 2023 - 20 min read
ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little money. Need more info? See how it all works here.
Subscribe Below to Download the Article Immediately

You can also select your interests for free access to our premium training:

Your privacy is safe! We will never share your information.

Portrait photography is probably the only photography niche where you can use basically any lens and still have great results. But the lens you choose affects the mood and message of your image. That is why it is essential that you know which is the best lens for portraits.

In a competitive field, our top choice is the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 SLD Art EF HSM lens.

Our Top 3 Choices for The Best Lens For Portraits
Sigma 85mm F/1.4 EX DG HSM for Canon EF
Sigma 85mm F/1.4 EX DG HSM for Canon EF
Sigma 85mm F/1.4 EX DG HSM for Canon EF
Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD F016 for Nikon F
Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD F016 for Nikon F
Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD F016 for Nikon F
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony E
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony E
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony E

 

How to Choose the Best Lens for Portraits?

A portrait lens is not a term that defines one exact focal length, as it depends on the nature of portraiture. There is no rule that you should always use certain focal lengths and aperture values. Choose one that fits your style.

The closest focal length to the perspective of our eyes is the 50 mm lens. However, photographers, in general, consider a portrait lens from 85 mm up to 110 mm. These lenses give you significant background blur and a shallow depth of field. They also allow you to position your subject far away comfortably. They also have a perspective that is ideal for showing human faces and bodies.

You can use these links to jump to the section you want to look at:

  1. The Best Prime Lenses for DSLRs
  2. The Best Zoom Lenses for DSLRs
  3. The Best Prime Lenses for Mirrorless Cameras
  4. The Best Zoom Lenses for Mirrorless Cameras
 

The Best DSLR Prime Lenses for Portraits

Best Sigma Prime for Portraits
Sigma 85mm F/1.4 EX DG HSM for Canon EF
Sigma 85mm F/1.4 EX DG HSM for Canon EF
Sigma 85mm F/1.4 EX DG HSM for Canon EF
  • Excellent optical quality
  • Great value at the price
  • Solid build quality
  • Smooth, attractive bokeh
Best Budget Prime Lens
Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD F016 for Nikon F
Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD F016 for Nikon F
Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD F016 for Nikon F
  • Fast f/1.8 maximum aperture
  • Weather-sealed
  • Great price for a fast prime lens
  • 3.5 stops IS
Best "Nifty-Fifty"
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony E
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony E
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony E
  • Fast 1.4 maximum aperture
  • Exceptionally sharp wide open
  • Almost zero distortion
  • Solid construction
Best Value Nikon Prime Lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm F/1.8G
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm F/1.8G
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm F/1.8G
  • Fast maximum aperture
  • Good bokeh at wider apertures
  • Sharp images at all apertures
  • Quite compact for an 85mm full frame lens
Best Canon Prime Lens
Canon EF 135mm F/2L USM
Canon EF 135mm F/2L USM
Canon EF 135mm F/2L USM
  • Fast maximum aperture
  • Smooth bokeh
  • Weather sealed
  • Ultra-quiet USM AF motor
Best Wide Angle Portrait Lens
Canon EF 35mm F/1.4L II USM
Canon EF 35mm F/1.4L II USM
Canon EF 35mm F/1.4L II USM
  • Fast f/1.4 maximum aperture
  • Whisper-quiet USM AF motor
  • Crisp, clear optics
  • Weather-sealed
Best Fast Prime Canon Lens
Canon EF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Canon EF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Canon EF 50mm F/1.2L USM
  • Super-fast f/1.2 aperture
  • Weather-sealed L series
  • Fast, silent USM AF motor
  • Super sharp even wide open
Best Value 35mm Prime Lens
Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony A
Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony A
Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony A
  • Super-quiet HSM AF motor
  • Great price for a fast prime lens
  • Fast f/1.4 maximum aperture
  • Other mounts available

Now let’s look in detail at those prime DSLR lenses and why we think they’re worth your consideration.

 

1. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Sigma 85mm F/1.4 EX DG HSM for Canon EF
Brand
Brand
Sigma
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Canon EF
Focal Range
Focal Range
85 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 1.4
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

The Sigma Art line does not disappoint, providing exceptional speed and sharpness. Its relatively low price and outstanding quality raise it above its direct competition. You can buy versions compatible with Nikon, Canon, and Sony camera bodies.

 

2. Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD

Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD F016 for Nikon F
Brand
Brand
Tamron
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Nikon F
Focal Range
Focal Range
85 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 1.8
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes

85 mm lenses are one of the most popular focal lengths for taking portraits. Speed, sturdy build, and accurate focusing are trademark features of this lens. It also has weather-proof sealing that ensures smooth photoshoots, even in unfortunate circumstances.

 

3. Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM

Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony E
Brand
Brand
Sigma
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Sony E
Focal Range
Focal Range
50 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 1.4
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

This is another masterpiece Sigma Art lens. The f/1.4 aperture ensures that you get as much light into your camera as possible, even in low-light situations. The ultrasonic focus motor is another feature that helps you focus smoothly, quietly, and accurately.

 

4. Nikon AF S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm F/1.8G
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Nikon F
Focal Range
Focal Range
85 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 1.8
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

Even though it is a cheap lens, the Nikon 85 mm f/1.8 does not disappoint. It is a reliable and predictable piece of glass with a silent focus motor and fast focusing. If you are looking for a portrait lens that will create a decent background blur but does not break the bank, opt for this one.

 

5. Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens

Canon EF 135mm F/2L USM
Brand
Brand
Canon
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Canon EF
Focal Range
Focal Range
135 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 2.0
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

Many consider the 135 mm f/2 to be a favorite among portrait shooters. The 135 mm gives you a decent telephoto feature, which you can utilize in portrait or sports photography. The f/2.0 aperture creates excellent bokeh and is comfortable to use due to its fast and silent autofocus.

 

6. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens

Canon EF 35mm F/1.4L II USM
Brand
Brand
Canon
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Canon EF
Focal Range
Focal Range
35 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 1.4
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

35 mm is a popular focal length for portrait photography. This Canon lens is an excellent addition to your gear if you are shooting environmental portraits, weddings, or other events. It gives you a wide field of view with a fast aperture and a silent autofocus motor. It is also part of Canon’s L series, which ensures that it is of high quality.

 

7. Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Canon EF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Brand
Brand
Canon
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Canon EF
Focal Range
Focal Range
50 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 1.2
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

This Canon is great competition to the other 50 mm lenses out there, as none of them features an f/1.2 aperture. This makes the Canon EF 50 mm f/1.2L suitable for any light situation. The weather-resistant sealing and the high-quality glass contribute to the standard that one would expect from a higher-end prime lens.

 

8. Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM Art

Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony A
Brand
Brand
Sigma
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Sony A
Focal Range
Focal Range
35 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 1.4
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

This is another lens from the Sigma Art series that conquers many other 35 mm lenses out there. The extra glass elements and the hypersonic focus motor make sure you bring your photography to the next level. If you aim to get into environmental or street portraits, definitely check this lens out.

 

The Best DSLR Zoom Lenses for Portraits

Here’s a summary of the zoom lenses we recommend for DSLRs.

Best Budget Long Zoom for Nikon
Tamron SP AF 70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD IF Macro A001 for Nikon F
Tamron SP AF 70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD IF Macro A001 for Nikon F
Tamron SP AF 70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD IF Macro A001 for Nikon F
  • Constant, fast f/2.8 maximum aperture
  • Moisture-proof
  • Up to 4 stops of IS
  • Ultra-sonic AF motor
Best Canon Mid-Range Zoom Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM
Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM
Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM
  • Fast and silent USM AF motor
  • Sharp across all apertures
  • Weather-sealed construction
  • Great contrast
Best Nikon Long Zoom
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8G ED VR II
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8G ED VR II
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8G ED VR II
  • Fast constant f/2.8 maximum aperture
  • Weather-sealed
  • Up to 4 stops IS
  • Switchable VR (IS) for action photography
Best Budget Wide Zoom
Sigma 24-35mm F/2 DG HSM | A for Canon EF
Sigma 24-35mm F/2 DG HSM | A for Canon EF
Sigma 24-35mm F/2 DG HSM | A for Canon EF
  • Two of the most popular focal lengths
  • Fast f/2 at all focal lengths
  • Premium low dispersion glass
  • Super-quiet AF motor
Best Nikon Mid-Zoom
Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
  • Exceptional sharpness
  • Constant f/2.8 maximum aperture
  • Nano-crystal coating to reduce flare
  • Whisper-quiet AF

Now let’s look at those recommendations in more detail.

 

1. Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC

Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Zoom Lens for Nikon F-Mount
No

If there was ever a staple to the portrait photographer’s kit, this is it. Tamron’s version is much less expensive but a very comparable alternative to the original Nikon and Canon 70-200. The wide aperture combined with the long focal length gives you an exceptionally smooth background.

 

2. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM
Brand
Brand
Canon
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Canon EF
Focal Range
Focal Range
24-70 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 2.8
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

This lens’s focal length starts at a wide angle and works its way up to short telephoto. The wide aperture allows you to utilize it in any lighting condition. It is handy for event and wedding photography, as it covers the whole scene and can be zoomed into a tighter frame.

 

3. Nikon AF-S FX 70-200mm f/2.8 ED VR II

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8G ED VR II
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Nikon F
Focal Range
Focal Range
70-200 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 2.8
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

This lens allows you to get further away from your subjects so that you can capture a candid and personal shot. A very useful feature is image stabilization, which helps you reduce camera shake even at the longest focal length. The lens is also weather-sealed, allowing you to take portraits in any condition.

 

4. Sigma 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM A

Sigma 24-35mm F/2 DG HSM | A for Canon EF
Brand
Brand
Sigma
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Canon EF
Focal Range
Focal Range
24-35 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 2.0
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

If you want to keep the 35 mm around included in a telephoto lens, we recommend this Sigma 24-35 mm. This lens has one of the shortest zoom ranges we have ever seen, making it the middle ground between primes and zooms. We recommend it for its image quality and fast aperture.

 

5. Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED

Nikon AF-S FX 24-70mm f/2.8 ED Zoom Lens
No

This reliable lens is an all-time favorite of many professional photographers. The autofocus is fast, quiet, and accurate, giving you the chance to bring the most out of your portrait photography. The enhanced optical performance ensures exceptional sharpness and contrast.

 

The Best Portrait Prime Lenses for Mirrorless Cameras

First of all, this is a summary table of the best prime lenses for mirrorless cameras.

Best for Low-Light Photography
Sony FE 85mm F/1.4 GM SEL85F14GM
Sony FE 85mm F/1.4 GM SEL85F14GM
Sony FE 85mm F/1.4 GM SEL85F14GM
  • Fast and sharp f/1.4 lens
  • Fast and silent Autofocus
  • Handy focus-lock button
  • Aperture ring (with or without clicks)
Best Nikon Standard Lens
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
  • Zero distortion
  • Fast f/1.8 maximum aperture
  • 5-axis IS with Z cameras
  • Beautiful bokeh
Best Sony 85mm Lens
Sony FE 85mm f/1.8-22 Prime Lens
Sony FE 85mm f/1.8-22 Prime Lens
Sony FE 85mm f/1.8-22 Prime Lens
  • Fast f/1.8 maximum aperture
  • ED element for reduced chromatic aberration
  • Edge-to-edge shaepness
  • Exceptional bokeh
Great Value Canon Lens
Canon RF 400mm F/2.8L IS USM
Canon RF 400mm F/2.8L IS USM
Canon RF 400mm F/2.8L IS USM
  • Up to 5 stops IS
  • Fast f/2 maximum aperture
  • 1:2 magnification
  • Compact and lightweight
Best Quality 50mm Lens
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
  • Ultra-sharp at all apertures
  • No distortion
  • 10-blade diaphragm
  • Exceptional bokeh
Best Micro Four Thirds Lens
Panasonic Lumix Leica DG 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH
Panasonic Lumix Leica DG 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH
Panasonic Lumix Leica DG 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH
  • Fast maximum aperture
  • 85mm full frame equivalent
  • In-lens optical IS
  • Made by Leica
Best Standard Lens for X-mount
Fujifilm FUJINON XF 35mm F/1.4 R
Fujifilm FUJINON XF 35mm F/1.4 R
Fujifilm FUJINON XF 35mm F/1.4 R
  • Fast f/1.4 maximum aperture
  • One aspherical element
  • Superb bokeh
  • All-metal construction
Best E-Mount Lens
Sony FE Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm F/1.8 ZA SEL55F18Z
Sony FE Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm F/1.8 ZA SEL55F18Z
Sony FE Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 55mm F/1.8 ZA SEL55F18Z
  • Fast f/1.8 maximum aperture
  • Edge-to-edge sharpness
  • Super bokeh
  • Distortion-free
Best Micro Four Thirds Telephoto Prime
Olympus ED 75mm f/1.8 Prime Lens for Micro 4/3
Olympus ED 75mm f/1.8 Prime Lens for Micro 4/3
Olympus ED 75mm f/1.8 Prime Lens for Micro 4/3
  • 150mm full frame equivalent
  • Fast f/1.8 maximum aperture
  • All-metal construction
  • Impressively sharp at all apertures
Best Value E-mount Lens
Sigma 30mm F/1.4 DC DN | C for Sony E
Sigma 30mm F/1.4 DC DN | C for Sony E
Sigma 30mm F/1.4 DC DN | C for Sony E
  • Great value
  • Fast f/1.4 aperture
  • Nice bokeh
  • Quiet AF motor

Now let’s look at those choices in detail.

 

1. Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM

Sony FE 85mm F/1.4 GM SEL85F14GM
Brand
Brand
Sony
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Sony E
Focal Range
Focal Range
85 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 1.4
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

This Sony lens provides a wider aperture than most of its 85 mm competitors. The f/1.4 will ensure that you can take stunning photos in any low-light condition. The Super Sonic Wave Motor allows you to focus fast and accurately. The Extra-low Dispersion glass reduces flare and chromatic aberration.

 

2. Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S

Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Brand
Brand
Nikon
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Nikon Z
Focal Range
Focal Range
50 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 1.8
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

Due to the standard focal length of this lens, it has zero distortion, which makes it highly suitable for portraits. It is compact, lightweight, and provides gorgeous bokeh alongside its superior low-light performance. Although it has no in-lens IS, with Z cameras, it gives up to three stops IS.

 

3. Sony FE 85mm f/1.8

Sony FE 85mm f/1.8-22 Prime Lens
Brand
Brand
Sony
Focal Range
Focal Range
85 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 1.8
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
No

The unique feature of this lens is a built-in low-dispersion element that minimizes chromatic aberration and color fringing. This results in vibrant colors with great contrast. The double linear focus motor provides a fast, smooth, and quiet autofocus.

 

4. Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM

Canon RF 400mm F/2.8L IS USM
Brand
Brand
Canon
Lens Mount
Lens Mount
Canon RF
Focal Range
Focal Range
85 mm
Maximum Aperture
Maximum Aperture
f/ 2.0
Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization
Yes