What's the best camera for portraits? Well, that depends on what you're looking for! Great cameras for portraits can be found in every sector of the market, from full-frame professional DSLRs to humble everyday smartphone cameras, and everywhere in between. If you're interested in shooting portraits, there will be a camera that suits you perfectly. It's just a matter of finding it.
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.
Great portraits often have their main subject in sharp focus, with the background artfully blurred. This is known as a shallow depth of field; it's something you can achieve in software with many mobile phones (look for "Portrait Mode" in the camera settings), but nothing quite beats the look you get from a dedicated digital camera, which will result in a file that will stand up much better to enlarging and printing.
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. We've included lens recommendations for each of our cameras where relevant in the list below, but you can also check out our dedicated lens guides if you're interested in exploring more options.
The general rule of thumb is a mid-length telephoto works well, as it flatters your subject's features for a pleasing look. You also want a large maximum aperture to create that artful blur from shallow depth of field — having at least f/2 is preferable, though if you can get f/1.8 or f/1.4 or even f/1.2, so much the better.
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We've put together this guide to help you navigate the world of cameras for portraits, and to make it easier, we've divided it up into sections — smartphones for portraits, starter portrait cameras and expert portrait cameras.
Why have we picked our favourite smartphones for portrait shooting? These are a good bet for those who don't have the capacity or budget to pick up a dedicated camera. The best smartphones will have sophisticated camera setups, and also will tend to come with special "Portrait" modes that simulate the look of an expensive camera/lens combination. If you're on a budget, or only really interested in sharing images on Instagram or similar, these are the best bet.
The best starter portrait cameras are a mixture of DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and compacts. We've factored in everything when making our picks, including image quality, ease of use and price, so there should be something in here to suit you.
Finally, we've also included a selection of more expensive cameras that are the best choice for experts and seasoned photographers looking for a tool to capture professional-grade portraits. These are some of the finest cameras available right now — and are priced accordingly.
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Best camera for portraits in 2021
Smartphones for portraits
There’s 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 an impromptu portrait shoot.
Read more: Samsung S10+ review
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
Starter portrait cameras
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.
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.
Sony’s hugely popular A6000 camera proved to be a huge seller, so much so that Sony has since considerably expanded the range to include plenty of different cameras at different price points. We're going to throw our recommendation to 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.
Panasonic and the Micro Four Thirds system have been in the mirrorless game a long time, so while you do get a smaller sensor with this system, the flip-side is that you have absolutely loads of lenses to choose from – not only those made by Panasonic, but also Olympus. The Lumix G100 is one of Panasonic's newest mirrorless cameras, and it's full of great video features that also help its stills capabilities, such as 4K Photo, which allows the user to extract 8MP stills from 4K footage shot at 30p, effectively giving you a stills frame rate of 30fps. No longer will the perfect shot be ruined by a slight blink or minor head movement! The G100 is also designed with a more traditional camera form factor, making it more enjoyable to use than some mirrorless cheaper mirrorless cameras, which can be boxy and plasticky. Super light, but pleasingly sophisticated, the G100 is a great choice for the portrait-shooting creative.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix G100 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.
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
Expert portrait cameras
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.
For good-looking cameras that have the tech to match their appearance, you can't get much better than the stunning Fujifilm X series. The flagship masterpiece of the series right now is the X-T4, which takes the winning combination of a sophisticated X-Trans sensor and cool retro style, and adds up-to-date features like in-body image stabilisation. Fujifilm cameras have a reputation for producing gorgeous images from the moment the shutter is pressed, and the X-T4 is a shining example of this. If you fancy the look of the X-T4 but are on a more limited budget, we'd recommend you consider the X-T30, which is Fujifilm's slimmed-down, more affordable version of its X-T3 (let's hope we get an X-T40 before too long!).
• Fujifilm X-T4 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.
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.
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