The best camera for portraits could be DSLR, a mirrorless cameras or even a camera phone. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras take interchangeable lenses and have big sensors for top quality and background blur, but camera phones now offer interesting digital 'depth' modes which can do a good job of simulating the background blur of a bigger camera.
Does it matter whether you choose a DSLR or a mirrorless camera? Both take interchangeable lenses, so not really. The best DSLRs offer serious value for money these days, while the best mirrorless cameras combine small size and versatility, with 4K video now being almost universal. You don't have to spend a fortune, either, as some of the best cameras for beginners are also ideal for portrait photography.
One of the primary reasons many of us buy a digital camera is to take beautiful portraits. Whether it’s holiday and family snaps to capture your precious memories, or you’re a dedicated portrait photographer, equipping yourself with the right camera for the job is essential.
There are a few things to think about when considering the best camera for portraits, if you’re seriously concerned about getting the best shots.
Many portraits are characterized by the subject (the person) being in sharp focus, while the background is beautifully blurred (something often referred to as bokeh). This is something that you can achieve in software with many mobile phones, but nothing quite beats the look you get from a dedicated digital camera.
DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are the main contenders for great portrait photography, but bear in mind you’ll also need a lens to go with it. You can work with the supplied kit lens when you’re just getting started, but if you’re serious about your people photography, then investing in a dedicated portrait lens is a sensible idea.
Mid-length and telephoto lenses, with a long focal length and a wide aperture, make for good portrait lenses that create flattering effects and throw the background out of focus. We’ve also included some top recommendations for those in our list below.
You’ll need to think about what level of camera you’re looking to buy, and perhaps also crucially, what your budget is. If you’re just getting started, an entry-level model will be on your mind and we’ve included some great options in our list below. If you’re a little bit more serious, then we’ve also got some top advanced and professional level recommendations to consider here also.
Finally, we’ll also recommend a couple of the best camera phones which have been primed and ready for portrait snapping. After all, the best camera is the one you have to hand, and you never know when a perfect family moment might occur.
Read on to find out more…
What you need to know about Black Friday 2019
The Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales have always been a great time to pick up camera gear. This is when camera retailers bring out their best camera deals, often for a short time only and while stocks last. So what do we expect to see this year? Well, we think some of the best Black Friday camera deals in 2019 will come via the big-name brands. You may not get massive savings on the latest models – instead, the best deals are often on cameras, lenses and accessories that are a little older, or the previous model. So should you wait before you buy? Not necessarily! Makers and retailers bring out promotions and deals all year round, and you can be sure we'll bring you the latest just as soon as they appear!
1. Nikon Z 7
High-resolution full-frame mirrorless is great for top-quality portraits on the go
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: 45.7MP full-frame CMOS | Lens Mount: Nikon Z | Autofocus: Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF | Viewfinder: 0.5-inch, 3690k-dot OLED | Screen: 3.2-inch, 2100k-dot tilting touch-sensitive TFT LCD | User level: Expert
Nikon’s fantastic full-frame compact system camera is a great all-rounder which performs well in a number of different scenarios. However, we’ve selected it for portraits thanks to a number of particularly appealing features. First up, that 45.7 megapixel full-frame sensor can produce both seriously sharp foregrounds, while also giving you good scope for nicely blurred backgrounds. Secondly, with Eye AF, you can help ensure the most important part of the subject is pin sharp, leaving you free to concentrate mainly on composition. Being a relatively new system, Nikon’s Z range doesn’t have a huge range of native optics – but what it does have already available are fantastically sharp. What’s more, you can also use any existing Nikon DSLR lenses you have via an optional adapter.
• Nikon Z 7 review
Recommended portrait lens: The Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S is a fast prime lens for flattering, yet sharp portraits.
2. Fujifilm X-T3
A fantastic APS-C mirrorless camera oozing retro charm
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: 26.1MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS | Autofocus: Intelligent hybrid AF | Viewfinder: 0.5-inch, 3.69-million dot OLED | Screen: 3.0-inch, 1.04-million dot tri-axis tilting touch-sensitive screen | User level: Expert
If you like your cameras to look as good as the subject you’re photographing, then Fujifilm’s stunning X series range makes a lot of sense. There are some fantastic choices, but the X-T3 gets our vote for its excellent blend of high-quality specifications, and a beautiful design which is a real joy to use. For portrait lovers, Fujifilm’s excellent range of X series lenses contains some real gems, while the X-Trans CMOS sensor is perfect for capturing as much detail and dynamic range as possible. If you fancy the look of the X-T3 but are on a more limited budget, also consider the X-T30, which shares many of the X-T3’s specifications at a more affordable price.
• Fujifilm X-T3 review
Recommended portrait lens: The Fujifilm XF 50mm f/2 WR is an affordable lens in Fujifilm’s “f2” range, this will push your portraits to another level. Try the Fujifilm Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 lens if you’ve got a bigger budget.
3. Sony A7R IV
This ultra-high resolution full-frame mirrorless is the one for detail
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: 61MP full-frame Exmor R CMOS | Lens Mount: Sony FE | Autofocus: Fast Hybrid AF with Eye AF | Viewfinder: 0.5-inch, 5.76k-dot OLED | Screen: 3.0-inch, 1,440k-dot tilting touch-sensitive TFT LCD | User level: Expert
If you’re looking for the most detail possible, look no further than the Sony A7R IV. Toting a spectacular 61-megapixel sensor, it’s the ideal choice for those who favour portraits. We’re also big fans of Sony’s Eye AF functionality, which can not only recognise human eyes, but animal ones too – ideal for all of your pet portraits. Sony has been in the full-frame mirrorless game the longest, so its lens line-up is the broadest, which some stunningly sharp G-master lenses to elevate your portraits to the next level. Other fantastic features include a super-high resolution viewfinder, and a useful tilting touchscreen.
• Sony A7R IV hands on review
Recommended portrait lens: The Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 G Master lens is a stunning portrait lens that's the perfect partner for the A7R IV’s high-resolution sensor. Try the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 lens if your budget is tighter.
4. Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III
DSLR in your pocket? This miniature marvel is a great choice for portraits
Type: Compact | Sensor: 24.2MP APS-C CMOS | Lens: 3x zoom, 24 – 72mm equivalent, f/2.8-f/5.6 | Autofocus: Dual Pixel CMOS AF | Viewfinder: 0.39-inch, 2,369k-dot OLED | Screen: 3.0-inch, 1040k-dot fully-articulating touch-sensitive LCD TFT | User level: Enthusiast
If you’re looking for something which you can use for a wide-variety of subjects, which produces excellent, detailed images, and which fits neatly into your life, then the Canon G1X Mark III is worth thinking about. Despite being just-about small enough to fit into a large pocket, it features an APS-C sized sensor, the same size you’ll find in many DSLRs. For portraits, there’s a wide aperture fixed lens, which enables background blurring. A fairly limited lens range is a downside here, but you’ll still be able to capture great family moments, holiday portraits and more without the hassle of bulky equipment or changing lenses.
Read more: Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III review
5. Nikon D3500
If you’re looking for your first DSLR, this entry-level camera is a great choice
Type: DSLR | Sensor: 24.2 MP APS-C CMOS | Lens Mount: Nikon F | Autofocus: Phase detection | Viewfinder: 95% coverage optical viewfinder | Screen: 3.2-inch 1037k-dot fully-articulating TFT LCD | User level: Beginner
If you’re thinking of getting your first “real” camera, it’s highly likely that you won’t want to splash out on something hugely expensive. The Nikon D3500 is ideally pitched as a first-time camera for those with a relatively limited. With a helpful Guide mode to help you understand how it all works, this is a camera you can learn and grow with. Typically it will be supplied with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, but if you can find a little extra budget, a fairly inexpensive 50mm lens (see below) will give your portraits the extra edge you’ve been looking for.
Read more: Nikon D3500 review
Recommended portrait lens: The Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G is a (fairly) cheap and cheerful “nifty fifty” which is equivalent to a 75mm lens on a full frame camera, so almost ideal for portraits, and will get you excellent results on a limited budget.
6. Panasonic Lumix G90/G95
A great all-rounder with prime portrait specifications
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: 20.3MP Four Thirds Live MOS | Lens Mount: Micro Four Thirds | Autofocus: Contrast AF | Viewfinder: 2,360k-dot OLED Live View Finder | Screen: 3.0-inch, 1040k-dot fully-articulating touch-sensitive OLED | User level: Intermediate
This mid-range compact system camera makes sense for a wide range of different users. A great all rounder, it’s also well-suited to travel and trips, making it perfectly primed to capture family portraits. What’s more, with its handy 4K Photo option, you can shoot an amazing 30 frames per second, extracting only the exact moment you want – no more blinking eyes or turned heads. Having been in the mirrorless market for over 10 years, there are a huge number of lenses which are compatible with Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds mount, too. Rounding off the feature set of this versatile CSC is a good viewfinder, fully-articulating screen and various connectivity options.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix G90 review
Recommended portrait lens: The Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 is equivalent to a 90mm lens on a full frame camera and has a fast f/1.8 maximum aperture too. Panasonic shares its Micro Four Thirds format with Olympus, so you can lenses from either brand.
7. Sony A6100
Beginner-friendly mirrorless that's part of Sony’s ever-growing system
Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: 24.2MP APS-C Exmor CMOS | Lens Mount: Sony E | Autofocus: Fast Hybrid AF | Viewfinder: 1.44k-dot EVF | Screen: 3.0-inch, 921k-dot tilting touch-sensitive TFT LCD | User level: Beginner
Sony’s hugely popular A6000 camera proved to be a huge seller. It offered a great range of specs in an affordable body – now Sony has released an update in the shape of the A6100. It retains many of the features which were popular in the original, evolving a few of them along the way. For portrait lovers, a great new feature is the addition of real-time autofocus tracking and Eye AF. The camera can automatically detect when it sees an eye and help ensure it’s as sharp as possible. It works on both humans and animals (pets), so the whole family can look forward to perfect portraits. On the downside, the A6100 does have a somewhat plasticky feel and although it's much better at video, not much has changed for stills photographers since the A6000.
• Sony A6100 hands on review
Recommended portrait lens: The Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 OSS is an affordable addition to your kit bag, as 50mm lens used on an A6100 will give you a portrait-friendly equivalent of 75mm.
8. Canon EOS Rebel SL3/EOS 250D
An entry-level DSLR with all you need to get started with portraits
Type: DSLR | Sensor: 24.1MP APS-C CMOS | Lens Mount: Canon EF-S | Autofocus: Phase-detection (via viewfinder) | Viewfinder: Optical viewfinder, 95% coverage | Screen: 3.2-inch 1040k-dot vari-angle touch-sensitive TFT LCD | User level: Beginner
Another great contender if you’re looking for your first DSLR, the Rebel SL3 (known as the EOS 250D in Europe) is small enough to be a travel camera, while having just about enough space for buttons and dials to be well spaced out. As an entry-level model, it’s a good camera to hone your craft on while you’re still learning, plus Canon has a vast ecosystem of accessories which you can upgrade with. For self-portrait (aka selfie) lovers, there’s a fully-articulating touchscreen which faces all the way forwards for perfect framing. The kit lens supplied with the Canon EOS 250D is fine to get you started with – but if you’re serious about your portraiture, you’ll probably find you want to upgrade to something with a wide aperture and long focal length (see below).
• Canon EOS Rebel SL3/EOS 250D review
Recommended portrait lens:
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is currently available at temptingly low prices, and this 50mm lens is equivalent to a 75mm lens on this APS-C format Canon camera.
9. Samsung S10+
A well-performing Android smartphone with great portrait options
Type: Camera phone | Cameras: 12MP + 16MP + 12MP | Lenses: f/1.5-2.4 (dual aperture main lens), f/2.2 super wide angle lens, f/2.4 telephoto lens | Screen: 6.4-inch, QuadHD+ Dynamic AMOLED
Despite what we said about nothing beating a “proper” camera, there’s still a lot to be said for picking the right smartphone for photography fans. The Samsung S10+ is our top Android choice at the moment, thanks to its beautiful high-resolution screen, flexible camera app (which can even shoot raw format files) and flexibility with expanding memory. The native camera app has a dedicated blurred background mode (called Live Focus) which comes in particularly useful for portraits, producing fairly convincing effects. Overall the S10+ is a good replacement for the compact camera of old, and as something you’ll always have with you, ideal for capturing spur-of-the-moment action.
Read more: Samsung S10+ review
10. Apple iPhone 11 Pro
An improved portrait mode is great for social snaps of family and friends
Type: Camera phone | Cameras: 12MP x 3 | Lenses: f/1.8 main lens (26mm equivalent), f/2.0 telephoto lens (52mm equivalent), f/2.4 super wide angle lens (13mm equivalent) | Screen: 5.8-inch (Pro) or 6.5-inch (Pro Max) Super Retina XDR
If Apple is more your thing than Android, you surely won’t be disappointed with the iPhone 11 Pro. The best-ever image quality from an iPhone – as well as the most flexible lens setup – portrait lovers will be pleased to see an improved Portrait mode which is now better equipped to recognise its subjects – be they human or otherwise. Although not on par with shots taken by a DSLR or CSC, images from Portrait mode look great on Instagram or other social networking sites. There are some downsides to consider with the iPhone 11 Pro – there’s no advanced, professional or manual mode for the camera, but think of it like a well-performing point-and-shoot and you’re golden.
Read more: Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max review