12 Lenses That Will Inspire a Passion for Portraiture

12 Lenses That Will Inspire a Passion for Portraiture

These optics are optimized for capturing compelling people pictures.

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Portrait-lenses-12-2023

For at least the past decade or so, we’ve experienced a genuine resurgence in shooting portraits. This passion for portraiture has captivated everyone from emerging creative enthusiasts to well-established pros.

Creating accurate, naturalistic as well as lasting images focused on human faces is certainly nothing new. Indeed, it’s been one of photography’s signature achievements for more than 180 years. Nevertheless, due to the current popularity of portraiture, the sales of studio gear such as backgrounds, light modifiers and light stands has increased over the last few years. But by far, the hottest items on portrait photographer’s “must have” lists are portrait lenses. They are the tools that literally shape and define the facial image.

What Makes a Lens a Portrait Lens?

You can use virtually any lens to shoot portraits. However, for most photographers, the ideal portrait lens is a moderate telephoto with a focal length about two times that of a normal lens. Moreover, it typically has a wide enough aperture to facilitate selective focus techniques using shallow depth of field. For full-frame cameras, a prime lens in the 85–105mm range qualifies as a portrait lens. And so do zoom lenses that fall within the 24–85mm or 70–200mm ranges. However, they should have maximum apertures between f/1.4 and f/2.8 to meet the criteria of a portrait lens. This goes ditto for any equivalent focal length lens in the APS-C or MFT formats.

All these lenses let you capture head shots and head-to-shoulders portraits at a sufficient working distance to eliminate perspective distortion. That’s the dreaded “big nose” effect you get when shooting close-up portraits with shorter focal length lenses. Further, all the lenses on our list also have diaphragms with seven or more blades to enhance their inherently attractive bokeh. And most provide smooth transitions from the in-focus to the out-of-focus areas of the image for a pleasing, natural look.

Note, however, that none of the lenses listed here are specialized soft-focus lenses. All these lenses can capture exquisitely sharp images at the point of focus. Moreover, they also enable the wide-ranging depth-of-field control that helps photographers create unique portraits with smooth de-emphasized backgrounds and faces that “pop” off the foreground. In short, a good portrait lens can help to express the photographer’s vision and create images that not only  stand out but also stand the test of time.

12 Lenses That Inspire a Passion for Portraiture

We’ve selected a dozen high-quality portrait lenses from 12 different manufacturers. Furthermore, they range in retail price from about $400 to $2,800 and cover a variety of technical features. However, to keep this article to manageable proportions, we had to be selective. That’s why we encourage you to check out the dozens of other worthy portrait lenses we couldn’t possibly include here.

Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.2 S

We start with Nikon’s super-speed 85mm tele for Nikon Z full-frame and APS-C mirrorless cameras. Nikon designed the pro lens to deliver a combination of high sharpness, distinctive rendering and gorgeous bokeh. The goal: to enable accomplished photographers in specialties like portraiture, weddings, fashion and boudoir photography to create memorable images.

The primo S line portrait lens boasts a state-of-the-art, 15-element, 10-group optical design. It incorporates two aspheric elements and one ED (extra-low dispersion) element to minimize coma, linear distortion as well as chromatic aberrations. The position of the elements also eliminates “onion-ring” characteristics. Further, the lens provides exceptional light-gathering performance. And a razor-thin plane of focus at f/1.2 enables striking background separation. It also extends low-light performance and creates dreamlike out-of-focus effects at its widest apertures.

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Nikon Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.2 S

Moreover, Nikon’s multi-focus system and dual STM (stepping motors) motors enable swift, quiet, decisive autofocus, even at f/1.2. They also result in rapid transitions and tracking when moving from one subject to another. The lens also provides eye-detect AF compatibility. What’s more, A/M auto-priority manual focus allows easy transitions to manual during AF operation. Other benefits are a programmable control ring and an L-Fn shortcut button that defaults to MF. It can control aperture and exposure compensation, and you can program it to enable AF lock, image tracking or playback for stills or video.

Additionally, Nano Crystal coating reduces internal reflections, enhances contrast and minimizes flare. It also eliminates ghost effects caused by red light. Further, an 11-blade diaphragm smooths bokeh. Plus, an electromagnetic diaphragm stops down to f/16 and provides enhanced exposure consistency when shooting high-speed bursts or video. The Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.2 S focuses down to about 32 inches (0.11x). It’s 5.6 inches in length and 4 inches in diameter. It weighs 2.6 pounds. Z mount, $2,799.95.

Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Sigma’s elite Art series, full-frame, ultrahigh-speed tele prime employs cutting-edge optical technology. Consequently, this portrait lens captures exceptionally sharp, detailed images. It also achieves the luminous rendition and smooth bokeh associated with classic vintage lenses.

Its f/1.4 aperture facilitates shooting in low light and using selective focus techniques. The 17-element, 12-group lens incorporates three FLD (fluorite equivalent, two SLD (special low dispersion) elements and one aspheric element. Together, they work to minimize chromatic and other aberrations, capturing crisp, contrasty images with outstanding color accuracy. Super Multi-Layer coating throughout also enhances light transmission and minimizes flare and ghosting.

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Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

The lens additionally uses a hypersonic AF motor (HSM) that provides quick, quiet, precise autofocus. Moreover, it features a large focusing ring with AF override for full-time manual focus, and a physical aperture ring that you can de-click for video. Further, a rounded 9-blade diaphragm enhances its inherently beautiful bokeh.

Other features include a thermally stable composite barrel to ensure consistent performance in any climate, and a precision machined brass barrel to provide precise alignment over the long haul. The Art line lens is also compatible with Sigma’s USB Dock. It additionally provides a 168mm-equivalent focal length on APS-C-format cameras and focuses down to 3.3 feet (0.12x). The Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art weighs in at 3.6 pounds and measures 5.2×4.6 inches. Canon EF, Nikon F, Sigma SA, Sony E and L mounts, $1,599.

TTArtisan 100mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Macro

Just released, this exciting medium-tele macro lens focuses down to 9.8 inches (2:1, two times life-size magnification!) for breathtaking close-ups. The TTArtisan lens also captures frame-filling distortion-free portraits. Further, it provides up to an 8° tilt and a +/- 6mm shift for adjusting the focal plane to alter the depth of field and correct for the perspective distortion commonly encountered in architectural and close-up product photography.

What’s more, the manual focus, full-frame lens employs an advanced 14-element, 10-group optical design with five high-index elements. Plus, it has a 12-blade diaphragm to enhance its artistic bokeh. Moreover, the lens click stops to f/22 and has a clearly defined focusing distance and depth of field scales. It also accepts 67mm filters and comes with a cold shoe mount for attaching one or more small lights for close-up applications.

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TTArtisan 100mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Macro

The lens measures 5.5×2.8 inches (including knob protrusions) and weighs in at a hefty 24.5–29.8 ounces, depending on mount. Nikon Z, Sony E, Canon RF, Fujifilm X, L and MFT mounts, $389.

Note: TTArtisan also offers a non-tilt-shift manual focus 100mm f/2.8 lens in the M42 screw mount that’s adaptable to various mirrorless and SLR systems. It features a much simpler 3-element, 3-group optical design, has a 13-blade diaphragm and is said to provide “soap bubble bokeh.” It weighs in at only 10.8 ounces and accepts 49mm filters. $155.

Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM

This fast, full-frame, medium-tele portrait lens is a member of Sony’s high-performance G Master series. As such, the prime lens delivers superlative sharpness across the field at all apertures. And it creates beautiful bokeh. It’s based on an advanced 11-element, 8-group optical formula. Further, it includes one XA (extreme aspheric) element and three ED elements to eliminate spherical and chromatic aberrations. In addition, the lens is Nano AR coated throughout to minimize flare and ghosting. It also enhances contrast and color fidelity in strong light, even at the lens’s widest apertures.

Moreover, the lens’s impressive image quality at f/1.4 to f/2.8 makes it ideal for shooting in low light. Plus, its wide f/1.4 to f/16 aperture range facilitates the artistic use of shallow or extended depth of field. Furthermore, it has a rounded 11-blade diaphragm to enrich its natural, smooth bokeh.

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Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM

The lens also features a physical aperture ring you can de-clicked for silent aperture switching when shooting video. What’s more, it employs a linear SSM (supersonic wave motor) drive as well as an internal focus mechanism to deliver quick, quiet, decisive autofocus. It also offers intuitive manual control at the touch of its conveniently located AF/MF switch. Plus, a focus hold button enables tactile control and rapid access to select settings.

Dust- and moisture-sealed construction allow worry-free use outdoors. Additionally, the lens focuses down to 2.6 feet (0.12x) for frame-filling headshots. It measures 4.2×3.5 inches and weighs a moderate 1.8 pounds. E mount, $1,799.99.

OM System M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro

Here’s a pro-caliber, telephoto zoom for Micro Four Thirds (MFT) mirrorless cameras from OM Digital Solutions. It offers an impressive 80–300mm-equivalent range at a constant f/2.8 aperture. Thus, you can press this versatile lens into service for everything from portraiture to sports and wildlife photography.

The high-performing lens employs a cutting-edge 16-element, 10-group optical construction. The design integrates one aspheric ED element; two other aspheric elements; one super ED element; and one HD (high dispersion) element. They all combat spherical and chromatic aberrations, distortion as well as color fringing over the entire zoom range. Consequently, they contribute to overall image sharpness, clarity and color fidelity.

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OM System M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro

Moreover, ZERO (Zuiko extra-low reflection optical) coating is used throughout to minimize flare and ghosting. It also refines contrast and color accuracy. What’s more, a dual VCM (voice control motor) autofocus system provides fast, nearly silent focusing for still and video applications. Plus, a manual focus clutch allows quick switching between AF and MF. And a programmable L-Fn button facilitates intuitive lens-based control over shooting settings.

The lens also has a rounded 9-blade diaphragm to achieve smooth, attractive bokeh. Additionally, it features a 2.3-foot (0.21x) close focusing distance. Other benefits are a well-sealed, weather-resistant construction; a removable rotating tripod collar; and a collapsible lens hood. Further, the lens is compatible with an optional M.Zuiko Digital MC-14 1.4x teleconverter to extend its range to 112–420mm equivalent. The lens measures 6.3x 3.1 inches (maximum extension) and weighs a moderate 1.7 pounds. MFT mount, $1,399.99.

Meyer Optik Görlitz Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 II

This is an updated centennial commemoration version of the coveted vintage 100mm f/2.8 Meyer Trioplan. The new lens features a revised version of the venerable 3-element, 3-group Trioplan design using premium, coated Schott optical glass.

The manual focus classic provides full-frame coverage and has a diaphragm consisting of 15 steel blades that enhances its distinctive “soap bubble bokeh.” The lens stops down to f/22 and focuses down to 39.4 inches for frame-filling headshots. The new optical design also delivers vibrant neutral color rendition with excellent center sharpness, improved contrast and higher resolution than its vintage predecessors. Plus, the Trioplan can achieve an image scale of up to 2:1. So, you can also use it for artistic macro shots.

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Meyer Optik Görlitz Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 II

The lens additionally employs improved, smoother operating mechanics in a streamlined form factor. Furthermore, it provides a 160mm-equivalent focal length on APS-C-format cameras. Moreover, it accepts 52mm filters like the other lenses in the Meyer Optik version II line and comes with front and rear caps and a lens hood.

This second-generation lens measures 3.3 to 4.5 inches and weighs in at 11.3 to 13.8 ounces, both specs depending on mount. The Trioplan 100mm f/2.8 II comes in Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E, Pentax K, Fujifilm X, M42, MFT and Leica L mounts. The Leica M, Nikon Z and Canon RF mount versions are currently in production. $999.

HD Pentax-D FA* 85mm f/1.4ED SDM AW

For Pentax K-mount digital SLR cameras, this is the second fixed-focal-length lens in the new-generation Pentax Star (★) series from Ricoh Imaging. The outstanding full-frame, high-speed portrait telephoto lens features an advanced 12-element, 10-group optical formula. It incorporates three super ED glass elements to minimize chromatic aberrations for edge-to-edge sharpness. In addition, one glass molded aspheric element markedly reduces linear distortion to achieve very high levels of sharpness and clarity and pleasing natural rendition—even in backlit scenes.

Furthermore, all elements are multi-layer HD (high definition) coated to suppress flare and ghosting. This reduces average reflectance in the visible ray spectrum to less than 50% of conventional multilayer coatings. Plus, the front element includes a SP (super protect) coating to repel moisture and facilitate cleaning. In addition, the lens boasts a large f/1.4 maximum aperture, useful with many different subjects in a range of applications, including portraiture with a defocused background.

passion for portraiture HD-Pentax-D-FA-85mm-F1.4ED-SDM-AW-horizont
HD Pentax-D FA* 85mm f/1.4ED SDM AW

Pentax’s proprietary ring-type SDM (supersonic direct drive motor) autofocus system delivers quick, quiet, precise autofocusing for stills and video. Moreover, the lens features comprehensively sealed weatherproof (AW) construction with eight special seals extending its versatility.

Other key features include a rounded 9-blade diaphragm to enhance its natural bokeh effect. And an electromagnetic diaphragm (compatible with most recent Pentax K-mount models) for improved exposure consistency when shooting video or high-speed sequences. Further, the lens focuses down to 2.8 feet for compelling close-ups. The HD Pentax-D FA* 85mm f/1.4 measures 4.9×3.7 inches and weighs in at 2.8 pounds. $1,799.95.

Venus Optics Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO

This innovative Chinese optical company has specialized in ingenious optical designs at compelling prices since 2013. Indeed, this full-frame, manual focus, portrait tele-macro prime is an excellent example. The lens is based on an inventive 12-element, 10-group optical design. It includes two extra-low-dispersion elements to minimize chromatic aberrations and color fringing. Thus, the lens achieves commendable sharpness, clarity and color accuracy.

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Venus Optics Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO

In addition, it focuses down to an amazing 9.7 inches (2.0x magnification!). What’s more, it is said to deliver apochromatic color correction. It brings light of the three primary colors to a common point of focus to enhance sharpness and detail as well as provide vibrant, accurate color rendition.

The lens also employs a 9- to 13-blade diaphragm, depending on the mount version, to enrich its very attractive bokeh. Further, it has apertures from f/2.8 to f/22. On average, the Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO lens measures 6.1×2.8 inches and weighs in at 1.4 pounds. Sony E, Nikon F/AI/Z, Canon EF/RF, Pentax K and L mounts, $499.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

This full-frame portrait lens is a member of Canon’s prestigious L series for EOS DSLRs. The ultrafast tele prime employs a leading-edge 14-element, 10-group optical design. It uses one glass-molded aspheric element (GMo) to notably reduce spherical aberrations and distortion. It thereby dramatically improves sharpness and clarity. The lens is also coated with Canon’s antireflective Air Sphere Coating (ASC) to reduce the incidence of flare and ghosting.

Furthermore, its f/1.4 maximum aperture enables shooting in low-light conditions and augments it creative depth-of-field control. In addition, a rounded 9-blade diaphragm heightens its pleasing bokeh. The lens additionally features Canon’s built in IS (image stabilization) system. The system achieves a 4-stop advantage in minimizing the effects of camera shake in handheld shooting.

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Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

What’s more, the lens has a ring-type USM (ultrasonic motor) that delivers quick, quiet, precise AF plus full-time manual focus override for fine-tuning. It also has a closest focusing distance of 2.8 feet. Other features include a fluorine coating on front and rear elements to minimize contamination and facilitate cleaning; as well as dust- and weather-sealed construction that enables shooting in inclement weather.

The professional-grade Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens measures 4.1×3.5 inches and weighs in at 2.1 pounds. Canon EF mount, $1,599.

Tamron SP 70–200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2

This high-performance, Tamron medium-tele zoom was built for full-frame DSLR cameras. However, it provides a 12–320mm-equivalent focal length range on APS-C-format cameras. Moreover, its focal length range is ideal for capturing compelling portraits. Its constant f/2.8 maximum aperture also enables working in available light and provides superior depth-of-field control.

The lens boasts a state-of-the-art, 23-element, 17-group optical design. The construction includes one XLD (eXtra-low dispersion) element and five LD elements to correct a range of aberrations. As a result, the lens captures crisp, detailed images with outstanding color fidelity over its focal length range. It also features Tamron’s eBAND and BBAR antireflection coatings to minimize flare and ghosting. Thus, the lens achieves enhanced contrast and color vibrancy.

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Tamron SP 70–200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2

Also key is a ring-type USD (ultrasonic silent drive) motor that delivers quick, responsive, smooth and very quiet AF in still and video applications. The system also delivers full-time manual focus override. This is complemented by an upgraded in-lens VC (vibration compensation) system with three VC modes. Furthermore, it compensates for 5 stops of camera shake for sharper handheld shooting. Additionally, a rounded 9-blade diaphragm contributes to artistic bokeh.

What’s more, an electromagnetic diaphragm delivers more precise, consistent exposure accuracy when shooting high-speed bursts. Other features include a removable rotating tripod collar with an Arca-type foot; moisture resistance; and a fluorine coating on the front element to repel moisture/dust and facilitate cleaning. Tamron also reduced the closest focusing distance of this lens to 37.4 inches (0.16x). Relatively compact for its class, it measures 7.6×3.7 inches. It weighs a hefty 3.3 pounds. EF and F mounts, $1,299.

Lensbaby Velvet 85mm f/1.8

This unique, moderate-telephoto Lensbaby prime was inspired by classic mid-20th-century portrait lenses. It captures “vintage look” images with a dreamy, glowing rendition at its widest apertures and increased sharpness on stopping down.

Furthermore, it employs a broadband multicoated, antireflection rendition of the classic 4-element, 3-group Zeiss Tessar design. It stops down to f/16. In addition, the lens provides smooth manual focusing down to 9.5 inches (1:2) for impressive frame-filling, macro range close-ups. In addition, a 12-blade diaphragm augments its inherently attractive bokeh.

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Lensbaby Velvet 85mm f/1.8

What’s more, its wide maximum aperture facilitates depth-of-field control and selective focus techniques. The lens also features comprehensive focusing scales and a well-damped focusing action. Additionally, it provides a 127.5mm-equivalent focal length on APS-C-format cameras.

The Lensbaby Velvet 85mm f/1.8 measures a compact 5×3 inches and weighs in at 1.2 pounds. In black, Nikon F/Z, Fujifilm X, Leica L, Sony E, MFT, Pentax K and Canon EF/RF mounts, $499.95; in silver, Canon RF/EF, Nikon F/Z, Pentax K, Sony E, Fujifilm X, MFT and L mounts, $599.95.

Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro

This ingenious, full-frame Tokina lens works as a medium-tele portrait lens as well as a true macro lens. That’s because it gets down to 1:1 (a life-size image on the sensor). This corresponds to an 11.8-inch minimum focusing distance. Additionally, it provides 150mm-equivalent coverage on Nikon F-mount APS-C-format models and 160mm-equivalent coverage on Canon’s EF-mount APS-C-format cameras.

The lens also features an innovative 9-element, 8-group flat-field optical design. It provides natural rendition along with impressive detail and clarity. The formula includes two aspherical glass elements and two super-low dispersion glass elements. They work to minimize distortion as well as manage spherical aberration and astigmatism. As a result, the lens produces excellent edge-to edge resolution and contrast across the entire image. And it is fully multicoated to reduce flare and ghosting.

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Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro

Also, its effective working distance of 11.8 inches permits convenient close-up setups. Printed magnifications on the lens barrel also aid in macro shooting. It additionally offers fast, precise AF with full-time manual override. Further, it has a 9-blade diaphragm to produce beautiful bokeh effects and it stops down to f/32. The Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro lens measures 3.8×2.9 inches and weighs in at a portable 1.1 pounds (average). Nikon F and Canon EF mounts, $429.

What’s more, Tokina also offers the FiRIN 100mm f/2.8 FE Macro in the Sony E mount. For full-frame or APS-C-format cameras, it has the same basic specs as the F/EF-mount versions detailed above. However, it is somewhat larger and heavier. It measures 4.8×2.9 inches and weighs in at 1.3 pounds. E mount, $599.

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