2017-06-02

5 of The Best Portrait Photography Lenses

As photographers, we all know that the lens we use can dictate the shot we get. Cameras come and go, but relatively speaking, lenses change very little over time. When you're searching for the perfect portrait, choosing the best portrait lens can make or break your shot, so we've compiled our top 5 favourite lenses for portrait photography to hopefully guide you slightly closer to that ultimate portrait shot.

1. 'Nifty-50' / Plastic Fantastic / 50mm f/1.8

Best portrait lens - the 50mm f/1.8


We start this list with the most basic of prime lenses. The 50mm f/1.8 from Canon has long been hailed as the best first lens that any budding photographer should invest in to almost immediately upgrade their photography.

Priced at less than £150 for a new version, or available used for much less, the 50mm f/1.8 is a cheaply build lens with surprisingly good quality optics.

If you're just getting started with photography, maybe you've tried taking some portraits with your kit lens that came with the camera but aren't getting the results you were hoping for, or maybe you're just looking for an inexpensive way to get some good portraits. If any of this rings true for you, then the 50mm f/1.8 should be at the top of your shopping list.

Although Canon's 50mm f/1.8 is typically the one known as 'Nifty-50' or 'Plastic Fantastic' (due to it's primarily plastic construction), Nikon also make two 50mm f/1.8 lenses, an AF-S f/1.8G and AF f/2.8D, Penax make an SMC DA 50mm f/1.8 for their K-mount digital SLRs, Sony have one for their A-mount DSLRs - the DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM, an E-mount FE f/1.8, and a E-mount 50mm f/1.8 OSS for mirrorless cameras.

So when it comes to a first choice lens for shooting your first portraits, the 50mm f/1.8 is our top pick.


2. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART

Second best portrait lens - the Sigma 85mm ART

Admittedly, this is a bit of a step up from the Nifty-50, but there's a very good reason it's made this list - the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART lens was awarded the highest ever score by DxOMark - the trust industry standard for measuring camera and lens image quality - with a score of 51.

There's another reason that this lens has made this list - not only is it an outstanding quality lens, praised for its sharpness and minimal distortion, but it's also priced at a very competitive price compared with other fast 85mm lenses.

The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART lens is £999 at Park Cameras in Canon EF-mount, Nikon F-mount and Sigma-mount fits, while the Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4G is £1,349, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 II is £1,799, and the Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 is £3,199.

For portraits, using an 85mm lens will give you a beautifully soft blurred background and will pick your subject out from whatever is around them. The 85mm focal range is renowned for being that perfect mid-point between a wide-angle and telephoto; slightly longer than the 'standard' 50mm, but not so telephoto as to add unnecessary compression to your subject matter.

While the Sigma 85mm ART does have a maximum aperture of f/1.4, DxOMark noted that it reached peak sharpness at between f/2.8 and f/4.


3. Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH Power O.I.S.

The best portrait lens for micro four thirds

Don't worry, we haven't forgotten you micro four thirds photographers! Nine years ago when Olympus and Panasonic banded together to develop the micro four thirds system, there was a distinct lack of lenses available, which made adopting the system somewhat problematic.

These days, however, micro four thirds photographers are spoilt for choice. From long super-zoom telephoto lenses to wide angle primes, there's almost as much choice as there is for DSLR users - plus you have the option of using an adaptor and using any of the aforementioned DSLR lenses, too.

Introduced in 2014, the Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 is an 85mm equivalent lens in 35mm terms, which lands it in the same field as the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 ART above. And just like the Sigma ART, it comes highly rated by DxOMark, with a score of 30 - the second highest rating of any recommended lens for the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II.

The Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 is a super fast, super bright, compact and lightweight lens with a durable all-metal construction and a 9-bladed diaphragm for round and smooth bokeh.

DxOMark noted that it was sharp all the way up to f/1.2, and rated it the best short telephoto prime lens to use with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II.

So if you're looking for the best portrait lens for your micro four thirds camera, you can't go wrong with the Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2.

However, if you're on a tighter budget, there's a Panasonic Lumix G option - the Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7 ASPH, available at Park Cameras for only £329, or even the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 at £169.


4. Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED

Latest & newest best portrait lens - the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E

The Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED is on the longer end of the focal length spectrum, but still well within the bounds of what's considered a 'portrait lens' by general consensus.

We awarded this lens a 'Highly Commended' in the 2017 Park Picks (it's like the Oscar's, except it's for photography equipment and only slightly less prestigious), thanks in no small part to the astounding image quality this lens is capable of.

This lens was rated at a score of 44 by DxOMark, making it the 4th best Nion lens they've tested. You may wonder why we haven't included the other top 3 in this list? Well the first two are 85mm lenses - and we've already included an 85mm in this list, and the third is a 200mm - which isn't usually considered a focal length regularly used for portraits.

Nikon's full-frame 105mm lens is a fast lens at f/1.4, giving incredibly sharp images even wide open in low light conditions. A 9-bladed diaphragm is there to give beautifully smooth bokeh on your blurred backgrounds.

The Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED has been touted as the perfect portrait lens - but seeing as it only came out in mid-2016 that's yet to be proved. It's in this list due to it's potential.


5. Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4

The Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 could be the best portrait lens

Aside from being one of the most beautifully designed lenses we've ever had in at Park Cameras, the Otus range held the top spot on DxOMark for 3 years after it was released in 2013.

Only topped recently by the Sigma 85mm ART, the Zeiss Otus 55mm is a one-of-a-kind. We've included the 55mm version of the Otus (there's also an 85mm and 28mm) as it can sometimes be more flattering to your subject to use a slightly wider focal length that doesn't compress their facial features as much as longer focal lengths do.

It gives spectacularly detailed images right across the frame that are full of contrast. Even at it's widest f/1.4 aperture, it's tack sharp right to the edges.

Zeiss have made a name for themselves over the last 100-or-so years as the definitive lens makers, and the Otus range is the current pinnacle of that.

Aside from the price tag, if you want one of the best portrait lenses around, the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 should be your top pick.


Hopefully you've found this article useful, if you want any more information about any of these lenses, just head over to the website at ParkCameras.com or give us a call on 01444 237070 and we'll be happy to help.


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