Top 5 Portrait Lenses

canon 100mm
The Canon 100mm f/2.8 makes a great portrait lens for full frame DSLRs

When buying a new camera most people, unless they already have lenses, will get it with a decent kit zoom.  Their first lens purchase will almost inevitably be a portrait lens.There are so many great lenses out there for portraits, it’s hard to pick winners.  So my compromise is to pick my five favorites.

Nikon Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 D

Coming in at just under $500, the 85mm f/1.8 is one of the of the most highly regarded lenses in Nikon’s arsenal.  Not a great choice for low-light situations, but portrait photographers swear by it.

Specifically that would be head and shoulders style portraits or close-ups.  If you want to take full body shots, you’ll have to step back quite a bit.

Nikon makes a f/1.4 version of the same lens, but at twice the price it’s hard to justify the cost.

Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G

Criticized lately on build quality, it’s still a fine portrait lens for around $200.  Maybe a tad less sharp than the 85mm, but it takes better eyes than mine to see much difference.

Mounted in front of Nikon’s APS-C, a slightly larger sensor than the Canon APS-C, it yields an effective zoom of 75mm.

Canon 100mm f/2.8 Autofocus Prime

This lens might be a tad long for APS-C models, like my Canon 7D, but matched up with a full size sensor on a 5D, this is a killer portrait lens.

Fast enough to provide good performance in low light, and snaps to focus nearly silently.  Work a stop or two under wide open and it’s sharp enough to slice paper.  Priced around $600.

The only downside to using this lens all day is the weight.  It’s one of the heavier lenses of the top picks.

Canon “Nifty Fifty” 50mm f/1.8

You knew this one was coming.  It’s one of the finest portrait lenses Canon makes.  Priced around $100, it’s the first lens most Canon shooters purchase and the one that ends up spend the most time on the camera.

Newer models have developed a noticeable buzz in the auto-focus.

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II

This is my personal favorite.  A little more expensive than some of the others and the only zoom on my list, I love this lens.  It’s a great performer in low and mixed light and delivers razor sharp quality.

The auto-focus is noisier than you’d expect for a lens at this price point and it can act confused and slow hunting around for focus.

Priced in the mid-$600’s, it’s still my choice for portraits or weddings.