The Best Lenses for Portrait Photography
This post has been updated to reflect recent portrait lens recommendations.
Most of the lenses in this original list from 2016 are still great choices for portrait photographers but we wanted to check in on the exciting lenses that have been released in 2021 and 2022 and give you some updated recommendations for portrait photographers. We also wanted to expand the offerings and include models from Sony. It’s also important to note that Canon and Nikon have finally become formidable Sony competitors in the full frame mirrorless space, with lenses from their new mount systems, RF and Z.
Best Lenses for Portrait Photography in 2022 (So Far)
For Canon EF and Nikon F mount shooters, the list is largely unchanged. There aren’t as many iterative updates coming from lens models as there are camera models. If you are using a 24-70mm f/2.8 or a 50mm f/1.2, then that is probably still the best choice for your particular brand. That said, here are a few EF and F mount lenses worth looking at. It’s also worth noting that, as of 2020, Canon is no longer manufacturing new EF mount lenses in order to put more resources into expanding their new RF mount line. There hasn’t been the same messaging from Nikon regarding their F mount lenses but they have recently discontinued a number of beloved older models, including the 16-35mm f/4G.
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II
Offering a significant boost in AF performance over the prior model, Sony’s 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II telephoto zoom has a 3-mode stabilization system, an Iris Lock with a de-click mechanism for video shooters and is 25% lighter than competitors.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III
If you already own the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, it probably isn’t really worth upgrading. The Mark II is still an incredible lens and this version is barely different. But if you’ve been eyeing getting a zoom like this, then it’s exciting that there is a Mark III out now. The main upgrade is in the coatings for better contrast and suppressed flare.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E VR
As with the Canon version, the newer Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E VR is largely the same as the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, with the key difference being that the newer E version offers a specialized electromagnetic aperture mechanism for greater exposure control stability that is especially good for working with fast continuous shooting rates.
Best Mirrorless Portrait Lenses for Sony E Mount, Canon RF Mount, and Nikon Z Mount in 2022
If you view all of our lenses in order of newness, the first 4 or so pages of results will be populated entirely by new full frame mirrorless options. While DSLRs shooters are still extremely prevalent, it’s clear the world is shifting to a mirrorless one. There are honestly too many new options to choose from, so we’ve narrowed it down to only our 3 most popular renters for portrait shooters. It’s worth noting that there are nearly 3 times as many Sony E mount lenses to choose from vs Nikon Z or Canon RF – though expect that gap to narrow in 2022 and 2023.
24-70mm lenses ruled the DSLRs world and are still the leading choice among mirrorless users. It’s just really hard to beat a good 24-70mm lens. It offers nearly all of the focal ranges one would use for portraits of all styles, eliminating the need for multiple lenses. At f/2.8, they are fast enough for most lighting and artistic purposes. Not convinced? You can rent these lenses for as little as $100 a week:
Each mount also offers new takes on the quintessential 50mm f/1.2 lens:
Nikon Z 50mm f/1.2 S (Stepping Motor, OLED Info Panel, Weather Sealed)
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L (Customizable Control Ring)
Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM (De-Clickable Aperture Ring, Quad Linear Motors)
10 Great Lenses for Portrait Photography for Canon and Nikon Shooters in 2016
Things to Consider When Choosing the Best Lens for Portraits
There are two major types of lenses: zooms and primes. Zoom lenses come in variable focal ranges (such as 24-70mm, 70-200mm, etc.), making each lens extremely versatile. Zoom lenses make it easy for you to take a wide variety of photos without ever having to switch out your gear. Prime lenses have fixed focal lengths (24mm, 35mm, 50mm, etc.) and often provide superior clarity and image quality (but you pay for it in lack of flexibility). They are also typically smaller and lighter to carry around than a zoom lens, but not always – some prime lenses are quite beefy. Many professional portrait photographers like primes because they tend to have faster maximum apertures for beautiful out-of-focus backgrounds. If that blur is important to you, look for a lens that can shoot at a wider aperture such as f/2.8, f/1.8, or even f/1.2. A larger aperture will give your images a shallower depth of field and allow for better low light performance – an important quality if you are shooting primarily with natural lighting as opposed to strobe/LED lighting.
One of the first things you will need to decide is what focal length is right for your needs. The best focal length for portrait photography depends on many things, including the available space where you will be shooting, the number of people in the frame, how much of the environment you want to include, and how close you want to be to your subjects. Focal lengths from 35mm to 200mm are common for portrait photography, depending on the subject, style, and preferences of the photographer. 50mm is a very common starting point for most portraits. If you are unsure what you need, a zoom lens is great to learn on.
Your Camera’s Sensor Size Will Affect Lens Choice
An important thing to remember when picking out a lens for portrait photography is that the body you will be shooting on will impact the apparent focal length of your lens. In other words, the same lens will act “longer” on a crop sensor camera than on a full frame one. For example, a 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera will give you an effective focal length of around 75mm. Keep this in mind when deciding how long you want your lens to be. Get more advice in New DSLR Owners: What You Must Know About Full Frame vs Crop Frame Sensors Before Choosing a Lens.
Best Canon Lenses for Portraits
Once you’ve figured out what you’re looking for in a portrait lens, you have a lot of good options to choose from. These are some of our favorite portrait lenses for Canon shooters.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II Lens
The Canon 85mm f/1.2L II is very high quality and has a very fast maximum aperture that is perfect for low depth-of-field portraiture and still life work. It features a Super Spectra coating to suppress flare and ghosting and is also weather-sealed for safe outdoor shooting. It can be paired with both full frame and with crop frame sensor cameras. This lens supports Power AF and video shooters will not able to adjust focus on this lens while video is rolling, so it might not be a good choice for hybrid shooters. At nearly 3 lbs, it’s also on the larger side.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II Lens
Equipped with panning-friendly Image Stabilization modes and a Focus Range Limiter, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens is ideal for wildlife and sports shooters. But it’s also one of Canon’s most popular L series lenses for portrait work. The subject-to-background distance potentials of this lens provide exceptional out-of-focus backgrounds for beautiful separation of your model and the environment – even in busy, distracting locations. This makes the lens perfect for outdoor portraits. It’s long length makes it less suitable for small studios.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L Lens
This lens is the quintessential portrait lens. It has very high optical quality, beautiful bokeh, and has a nice weight and shape to it, making it a joy to shoot with. It features a Super Spectra coating to suppress flare and ghosting and is also weather-sealed for safe outdoor shooting. It can be paired with both full frame and crop frame sensor cameras. This is a “normal length” prime, meaning that its field of view feels “natural” and best approximates – basically – how the human eye sees. For this reason, a 50mm is an ideal lens to start out with in photography, giving you the freedom to learn composition and style using a kind of “universal starting point” for imaging. This lens in particular is a favorite among portrait and street photographers.
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II Lens
The original Canon 35mm f/1.4L is a beloved lens for group portraits and events and excels for low depth-of-field and low light shooting. This newer version is constructed with Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics, which refracts shorter wavelengths of the visible spectrum (blue light) in order to significantly reduce chromatic aberrations and color fringing and also allows for better low-light results. It also features a slighter better minimum focusing distance and maximum magnification for closeup subjects. Built specifically with the quality and resolving power necessary for the latest high megapixel cameras, this lens will remain a popular choice for years to come.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II Lens
The 24-70mm zoom range is among the most versatile available. For this reason, it’s a superb choice for shooters who just aren’t sure what to get. You will likely end up falling in love with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II like so many others already have. Along with the 70-200mm, it’s our most popular lens. It’s as powerful for everyday candids as it is for specialty work, including landscapes, events, portraits, and still life. A high-speed CPU with optimized AF algorithms ensures a fast and silent AF, making it a good choice for vloggers and videographers as well. For the coverage it offers, this lens is remarkably portable and easy to handle. It’s a great choice for novices and seasoned shooters alike.
Best Nikon Lenses for Portraits
Photographers who shoot Nikon have a wide range of quality portrait lenses to choose from. As with the Canon options above, these lenses all produce beautiful images in a variety of settings. These are some of our favorite portrait lenses for Nikon shooters.
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G
The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is a high performance classic portrait lens with an internal focusing mechanism that keeps the lens stable during use and won’t change the direction of a polarizing filter or lens hood. Quickly change between manual focus and autofocus silently for video recording thanks to the M/A switch and Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor. This lens can be paired with both full frame and with crop frame sensor cameras. This is prime is well suited for beautiful out of focus backgrounds for portraits as well as natural and low-light shooting – though it’s not quite as fast as the Canon’s f/1.2L version. This is due to the narrower style of Nikon’s F mount, allowing modern F mount DSLRs to pair with even some of the oldest Nikon lenses.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II
Nikon’s innovative Vibration Reduction system reduces the appearance of camera shake even when shooting at slower shutter speeds – which is a great feature to have on a longer lens like this one. The subject-to-background distance potentials of this lens provide exceptional out-of-focus backgrounds for beautiful separation of your model and the environment – even in busy, distracting locations. This makes the lens perfect for outdoor portraits. It’s long length makes it less suitable for small studios.
Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
This lens is a definitive portrait tool with very high optical quality and beautiful bokeh. It can be paired with both full frame and crop frame sensor cameras. The Silent Wave Motor keeps the autofocus quick and quiet and the Super Integrated Coating delivers superior color rendering and suppresses ghosting. This is a “normal length” prime, meaning that its field of view feels “natural” and best approximates – basically – how the human eye sees. For this reason, a 50mm is an ideal lens to start out with in photography, giving you the freedom to learn composition and style using a kind of “universal starting point” for imaging. This lens in particular is a favorite among portrait and street photographers.
Nikon 35mm f/1.4G
With a classic semi-wide angle of view, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G is very versatile for a fixed-length lens. It’s wide enough to capture scenery but long enough to produce pleasing portraits without distortion. It sports an internal focusing mechanism that keeps the lens stable during use and won’t change the direction of a polarizing filter or lens hood. Fast enough for low-light shooting and quiet enough for ceremonies, this is a must-have tool for those who shoot scenery as often as they do people.
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
The 24-70mm zoom range is among the most versatile available. For this reason, it’s a superb choice for shooters who just aren’t sure what to get. You will likely end up falling in love with the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G like so many others already have. Along with the 70-200mm, it’s our most popular lens. It’s as powerful for everyday candids as it is for specialty work, including landscapes, events, portraits, and still life. Super Integrated and Exclusive Nano Crystal Coatings reduce ghosting and flare for enhanced image clarity while a direct manual focus override gives you precise control for fast and simple focus changes. It’s a great choice for novices and seasoned shooters alike.
With so many options on the market, picking the perfect portrait lens can be a challenge — and a lot of the time the choice comes down to personal preference. If you are trying to decide whether to go zoom or prime and what focal lengths are ideal for your portrait photography, it may be useful to take a few lenses for a spin before making your purchase. Nothing gives you an idea of how a lens will work for you quite like mounting it to the front of your camera and trying it out in the real world. Renting lenses s a great way to be sure that you are making smart decisions with your money.
Although this guide is very comprehensive. Can you tell me as an expert?
Canon 70-200 Vs Nikon 70-200: Which is the best one?
I find it funny reading arguments which is the best camera or lens. I am one for which ever one that gives that photographer the comfort and confidence that they will get their best photograph with. As for beginners if they can afford the 2.8 zooms it will give them the versatility to play around with a different focal lengths until they figure which lengths they prefer. Take this with a grain of salt as it is one opinion in a chorus of opinions.
Is it Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM best for portraits photography?
What is the best lens to shoot portraits, that is the 6 million dollar question. This question has more questions than answers. The #1 question is what type of portraits will you be shooting, as some one that photographs wildlife, landscapes and events, you will find your self shooting groups, both large & Small, couples and singles. Shooting portraits could be full body, half, head shots, no one lens will cover all of this so the answer to what is the best portrait lens, that would depend on the camera sensor, Micro 4/3, APS-C and Full Frame, next how much of the person do you wan’t to include in your photo. Any of the above glass will allow you to do portraits but no one lens will not allow you to shoo it all that is why most event or portrait photographers carry more than one lens, nothing about photography is cheep. I shoot both APSC and FF Pentax, glass, Sigma 17-50 f 2.8, FF 24-70 F-2.8, FF 31 F-1.8, 77 mm f1.8 and 55 F-1.4 Pentax glass 50-135 F 2-8 Pentax.
for head shots, I recommend tighter- depending on space either 85 or 135 may be the preferred option. If you cannot afford prime, a 70-200 will do the work too. However while 70-200 will still produce an excellent result, it is nowhere chose to the primes of 85 or 135 IMO.
However if you have a crop body camera then 50mm might do the work since FOV is 80mm equivalent. I still think 85 and 135 are better options, but available space also needs to be taken into account.
For group shots as recommended by alexandria either the 24-70 or the 35/50mm prime are the better option.
which one are you asking about? then 135L?? if so, unless you are looking to use that for a tightly framed landscape shot, 135 is not very effective. You are honestly better off with a 70-200L than the 135 for landscape shots.
Brad Jason Thompson
What is the best portrait lens
For head shots and group shots.
Brad Jason Thompson
How does it compare with the rest.. 50/35/24-70?
Is it good for landscape photography…
Fully appreciate the Canon L lenses now that I have one (100- 400 for wildlife), but my favorite portrait lens is the 28 to 105. Can handle large groups to small families. The 24 to 105L will be my next purchase. Not a pro portrait taker anymore, but its my favorite go to range when not birding.
Wrong for Nikon! The 105mm f2 DC is the best portrait lens for Nikon…period! Also, the 85mm f1.8G is actually a better lens than the f1.4G. The 70-200mm f2.8G VRII is not a great portrait lens, but the latest version of the 70-200 is!
That was for the swollen-headed Canon fanboy JJ BTW. Man, you have got a seriously mahousive ego to carry around son!
Wind your neck in sunshine…you’ll be needing a tripod to rest that swollen head of yours!
great work inlove with those lenses wish i can have one
24-70 2.8 and the 70 -200 2.8 would cover most of your usual work . I use these lenses for almost 80% of my work
if you are speaking purely from portraits perspective, it is not the best. The primes listed above perform much much better than 24-70. But 24-70 is a excellent lens (probably the best of all zoom lenses) and versatile enough to give you a very good portrait result.
Eddie b Echols
hello im looking at a 50mm 1.2 for some portrait ,that I have read on here im not sure any suggestions
First time here on your blog and it’s amazing! Really had a great time! Keep up the good work.
Your select camera lens are too good.
Is it Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM best for portraits photography?
Thank you very much for your suggestions. I’ve bought EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM and now planning to buy EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM soon.
Funny, I always figured that the lens is a minor factor in making a great photo, but I somehow doubt your judgement owning a canon and a nikon system myself. Knowing that I don’t own even close to all lenses for both systems I wouldn’t dare to judge which system is better. But if one wants to trust Ken Rockwell, check out the Nikon 135mm f2 DC, supposed to be the world’s best lens for portrait with an amazing bokeh – if you haven’t tried this lens yet, you can’t make a valid judgement about which system is better.
Anyway, it is never the gear always the artist that counts 🙂
Diane M Letarte
Amature and question about group pic. 3 rows. 1st row sitting on floor. 2nd row sitting on couch. 3rd row standing behind couch. Which lense works best to keep a heads relatively the same size
Thanks for this great post. I am using Canon PowerShot G7 for my blogging use. I would definitely try the “Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM” one.
My Rock Covers
I found a very useful website http://onfotolife.com where you can check sample photos from a big collection of lenses and cameras!!!
You wont make a mistake with T6i and a Canon 50mm f1.8 and especially an 85mm f1.8 for tight headshots. Only disadvantage I see with the T6i is no microadjustment for focus.
If you have room to work, I would definitely recommend 135L. The bokeh is extremely pleasing. Although keep the light factor into consideration since at some distances, flash may not be very effective. Again it depends on the type of portrait- If you are looking for head-shots- 135L is excellent and will perfectly fit your need when you are outside. But if light is not enough and you need a flash to support, plus you are looking to take a body shot then maybe 85mm lens or even 50mm (at least f1.4, especially if you have a crop body) might be a better choice.
Can you please suggest a lens for outdoor portraits? Do you suggest the 135 mm for this as well? Thanks
So could you tell us disadvantages of 50 mm??
I agree, you will see my very first comment mentioning the 135L. The dream Bokeh that it churns up is awesome. I love love loveeee my 135L (even on a crop body)
The best portrait lenses for both brands aren’t even on here… canon 135 f2, nikon 105 dc, nikon 135 dc… Those 50/35/24-70s can not compare…
I also shoot a Sony A7rii with the 85 1.4 GM lens, and that kicks the Nikkor lens in the rear end as well…
Amateur portrait photographer here. Because of the amateur status, I don’t have a lot to spend to upgrade my equipment. I’m crossing over to Canon from nikon so I have to buy all new lenses, too. Would you recommend something like a rebel t6i or should I go with an older full frame? I was set on the t6i and a great lens or two but now I’m not so sure. I really need this nailed down so that I can move on to the real fun of finding lenses. I’d be super grateful for any and all recommendations on this subject.
It is a brilliant lens! You cant go wrong with OEM 24-70/2.8 lenses (that said, even the third party lenses in this zoom range are excellent). Now the only thing is if you have a crop body and are looking towards 24-70 as standard lens, it mostly works, but it does not provide you with a wide angle view. If however you are looking to use the 24-70 on a full frame body, the lens is perfect! If you already have a wide angle lens and are looking to complement it with 24-70, then again you are on the perfect track. So bottom line – lens quality and performance is brilliant, target use – you need to determine!
Sir Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 Kaisi He? Street Photography Ke Liye?
The ideal focal length depends on the type of portraiture you intend to do. For headshots, you probably wouldn’t want a 50mm lens on full-frame or APS-C but it would work well for (some) environmental portraiture. There is no one BEST focal length for, well… anything.
Assuming you’re right, I don’t know having never shot Canon, it’s just too bad you can’t mount it on a better camera! 😉
Newbie here! I have one doubt –
When you say that lens #3 ‘Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S’ is a good option for portrait photography, do you mean it is ideal for full-frame camera or crop-sensor camera? I suppose on crop-sensor camera such as D5100, it will be equivalent to 75mm lens, right? So, would it be good with full-frame or crop-sensor camera?
Similarly, is all explanation in the article for full-frame camera or crop-sensor camera?
Canon lenses are better for portraiture, as anyone who has carefully used both Canon and Nikon lenses can attest… Nikon glass has its place, particularly for wide angle (12-24) or macro work, but it can’t compare to the likes of the 85mm 1.2 L ii lens for portraits and bokeh. Sorry Nikon fanboys, you can’t fool me — I own BOTH systems with their respective lenses and know whereof I speak….
I recommend not to buy 135L since you have 24-105L IS USM for Video unless you take portrait more than video. Most Video photographer like their 24-105L IS USM.
If you plan to shoot video at night then consider looking into lower F-Stop like f1.2 to f2.8. Are you going to use Zoom for video or going to use Prime mostly? Consider what you need to do Video.
I shoot with my Canon 5D Mark 4 with Canon 24-70L f2.8 mark 2, Canon 70-200L f2.8 mark 2, Canon 35L f1.4 mark 2 and 50 f1.4 and 85 f1.8 and 24-105 L f4.
I like all of my canon lens and each one has it own purposes. I recommend you should rent the lens before you tried to purchase Canon 135L.
Just my suggestion, rent the lens first before buying. Go to your nearest camera store to see if you can rent the lens from them or go online and rent the lens.
Hi! Shankar, I likes your explanation. I’m planning to buy soon this EF 135mm f/2L USM. Please tell me. Is EF 135mm applicable for shooting video? I’ll use it mostly for video capture with 5D Mark III. Currently using EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM. Is it worth buying 135mm after having 24-105mm?
Sorry to say but you forgot 135L for tight head shot portraits or portraits where there are more open spaces. The bokeh is spectacular! If you have to list only 5 for canon, I think 135L beats 50, 35 and 24-70 II. So the worst of these three can be removed and replaced with 135L. My 135 portraits are very personal so I dont share, but bokeh is astounding.
Floyd P. Palmer
Is the Nikon AF-S 14-24mm lens the best for portraits?