What are Your Favorite Portrait Lenses?

People are one of — if not the — most beloved subjects to photograph. But with so many different lenses, there are a lot of ways to do it. Which lens do you reach for primarily when taking portraits?

My love for portraiture has not once waned in comfortably over a decade of taking them. If anything, it has grown. I've shot using everything from wide angle lens on a micro four thirds sensor, through to a telephoto lens on a medium format sensor (the latter is far better in case you were wondering.) I've used a number of different lenses and I will one day write a more comprehensive breakdown of my choices. However, in answer to which lens is my absolute favorite, I probably have to go for Lord of the Red Rings: Canon 135mm f/2

This lens has done nothing but deliver for me. Having it in my camera bag ensures that whenever I need to, I can get an image I like and I know exactly how it will look before I even pick the camera up. That sort of consistently pleasing imagery is worth its weight in gold, and for a lens that didn't cost me the earth, it earns the rank of my favorite. That said, there are 85mm lenses as well as medium format lenses which would certainly be in contention. One of which is the Fujifilm GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR Granger chooses too.

What are your favorite portrait lenses? Do you agree with Granger's choices?

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37 Comments

Pradipto WP's picture

I only shoot portrait for last 10 years. And i use EFM 22mm F2 and EF 50mm F1.4 with my EOS M series and Rebels.

Enrique Olivieri's picture

I can safely say I use the 85mm f1.8 for about 90% of the portraits I shoot, I'm presently using the Nikon Z6. It seems to work for me.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I'm the same, I have all kinds of other fancy lenses but if I look at my work, a good 90% of it is shot with an 85 prime.

Matt Williams's picture

My favorite lens that I would really consider a "portrait lens" - as in I don't really use it for much else - is the Nikkor 58/1.4G. It gets terrible results in tests and the edges/corners never sharpen up very much but that's not really what it's made for... it's a gorgeous portrait lens. One of the best ever made, in my opinion.

Ryan Cooper's picture

That lens has captivated me since it was first announced. I love the way it renders portraits. So hard to justify the price though. ;)

Tobias Köstl's picture

I love my Sigma 105mm 1.4
In combination with the A7r IV it is unbeatable.

unbeatable. the king of all portrait lenses.

Daniel Medley's picture

On my Sony A7R IV I use the following: Sigma 50mm 1.4 Art. Sony 85mm 1.8, and Sony 135mm 1.8. These lenses work perfectly for exactly what I need/want.

I prefer an 85 or above. 50 for full body, anything wider just doesnt interest me in terms of perspective

Zoli Tarnavölgyi's picture

Canon 85mm F1.4 IS.... Fantastic balance between sharpness and soft background! Detailed, stabilizied and oh that creamy bokeh..! :)

Exactly. The tone are exceptionally calming. The bokeh are magical. An expensive lens that I never regret buying it.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Nikon 105mm f2 DC. Also.....a 200mm or 300mm for different look and perspective.

warren garrett's picture

I second this lens, beautiful images!

Heiko Kanzler's picture

I love 35mm/ƒ1.4 for intimate portraits or to show a bit more of the environment, and 85mm/ƒ1.8 for close framings.

Scott Kiekbusch's picture

Always love the results shooting with my Panasonic Leica DG Nocticoron 42.5mm/ƒ1.2 (85mm full frame equivalent) with my Olympus EM-1

John Ellingson's picture

Back in the day I loved the 85 and 105 from Nikon and the 120 on my Hasselblad (actually still my favorite, but only as a memory). Today the combination I like best is my D850 with my Sigma 120-300 f/2.8. I like the working distance that it affords. Recently (while social distancing) the Sigma 180 f/2.8 macro has spent a lot of time on the D850. I had not used it much before and now that I have pushed thousands of frames through it I think it may have the best bokeh of any lens I have ever used in my 65 years of being a photographer.

David Pavlich's picture

70-200 f2.8 L II.

Silviu Gheorghe's picture

On myOly M1x I use the 45 f1,8 and the 75 f1.8. It is a really good combination.

Christian Lainesse's picture

There should not be a favourite lens for any given subject. I think this puts limits on creativity.

David Pavlich's picture

I use other lenses for portraits, but the question deals with your favorite.

Ryan Cooper's picture

To be fair, a favorite doesn't mean only. I have lenses I like better than others but it doesn't stop me from busting out the others when they are appropriate.

Scott McDonald's picture

Since I enjoy vintage lenses so much...I tend to gravitate towards those in my collection that best suit portraiture such as Nikkor AI 135mm f3.5, Nikkor AI 105mm f2.5, Tamron 52B 90mm f2.5, Minolta MD 85mm f2, and to round out the range at the shorter end...Canon FD 55mm f1.2 one of my favorite lenses! These provide very different results shooting on my A7RII vs my little M50...pleasingly different. I have many other "standard" contenders but these guys get my attention first.

70-200mm f2.8 all day but i almost always shoot it at f4 so even a 70-200mm f4 would be glued to my camera if I had one lol.

Tony Tumminello's picture

I used an EF 85mm f1.8 for the longest time as my go-to portrait lens, then I got to play with an EF 85mm f1.4L IS at work which was so much fun. Now I've sold my personal 85mm and moved to the 135mm f2L and couldn't be happier.

For medium format, I can't say enough good things about my Mamiya 110mm f2.8 on my RZ67, and my 165mm f2.8 on Pentax 67.

Kenneth Muhlestein's picture

35mm f1.4, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.2, 105mm f1.4, 135mm f2. Pick any, i love them all. My best shots are with my 50mm. But, one can't help but love the bokeh on the 85, 105, and 135. I can't pick just 1. I'll even do unique portraits with my 14mm from time to time.

Nick Viton's picture

Hands down, my fave glass for portraits is my Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

35 and 85. If I had a 50 or 55, they'd be my favorites also.

135mm. I love the Zeiss 135/1.8.( I use the old A-mount Zeiss with adapter), but I would often pick even a 135/2.8 over an 85/1.4, if I have enough space between me and the subject. If I have to be physically closer, I will use a 85 or 50, but 135 is the sweet spot. 200 is too long to be practical again.

In the 90-100 range there are plenty of macro lenses that take good portraits. Longer macros could be used, but they take too long to focus. My experience with tamron 180 tells me that yes, it's very sharp, has long hood and nice bokeh, but the AF speed is an issue; I hear that other long macros pose the same problem.

And tossing practicality aside, if you ever get a chance to put your hands on the old 55/1.2 tomioka (you can find one branded revuenon, vivitar, cosinon), give it a try: it has a touch of a magical Helios-44-like swirliness of the background, but it is way faster and sharper than the Russian toy.

Tommy Lyles's picture

Leica 90mm Summicron on my M9 - that's my go-to.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Absofreakinglutely.

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