Last Updated on January 13, 2019
A number of photographers favor prime lenses with an aperture that can go as wide as possible for taking portraits. After all, those are the lenses capable of making the subject stand out and create that smooth background. But it comes at a price: lenses like that can cost over $1,000 and not everyone has that amount of cash lying around.
The good news is that there are choices – good ones at that – that don’t cost a fortune and still allow you to take great portraits. Here they are:
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM
This lens is quite old; there already is a version that goes to f/1.4 but costs more. Another drawback about this lens is the need for a lens hood because the front element isn’t recessed within the barrel.
But minor complaints aside, the lens is of good build quality and features a fast and silent ring-type autofocus system. The eight diaphragm blades allow the lens to give a well-rounded aperture. It works well on full-frame bodies and APS-C cameras.
Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8
This lens is meant for a Micro Four Thirds Mount and is quite small. Although made of plastic, the quality of the build feels solid. An in-camera motor drives the MSC autofocus system to ensure silence during image composition.
Although the sharpness provided by the M.Zuiko 45mm is impressive even at its widest aperture, it still has noticeable color fringing and distortion.
Tamron 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD
Users of Canon EF, Nikon FX, and Sony A cameras can take advantage of this lens. What makes this lens different from the others on this list is optical stabilization. The quality of the build is also good and it also features a full set of seals against the weather.
The lens is capable of delivering high quality images that are sharp with little to no flare, fringing, or ghosting thanks to XLD and LD elements, as well as eBand and BBAR nano-structured coatings.
Sony FE 85mm f/1.8
Although designed for full-frame mirrorless cameras, Sony users can still enjoy this lens on APS-C cameras. The body of the lens may be a bit on the chunky side, but no one will deny the really clean design. But the “cleanness” of the design also meant losing a few things like distance or DOF scales.
Minor design complaints aside, focusing is really good and quick. And it’s always a plus when a lens can deliver beautiful bokeh. All in all, there’s not much to complain about.
Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G
This lens produces images that are sharp and with impressive contrast, including shots created using the widest aperture. There is also minimal distortion and color fringing and it produces quite the delicious bokeh.
You’ll notice that only prime lenses make up this list, with only one that differs in focal length. Primes are good lenses for portrait photography, whether mounted on a full frame DSLR or an APS-C camera. They allow you to take high-quality shots from a comfortable distance.