Ask a pro photographer what's the best lens for portraits, and they'll almost certainly say an 85mm. Also known as short telephotos, the best 85mm lenses confer a number of advantages for anyone looking to shoot portraits.
The main reason that an 85mm is the best lens for portraits is the perspective it provides. When mounted on a full-frame camera (meaning it delivers the focal length on the box), an 85mm produces a flattering perspective of facial features. Wider lenses will tend to stretch them out horizontally, which can produce some fun perspectives, but isn't all that conducive to making someone look and feel beautiful.
If you're using a smaller sensor, remember that the effective focal length will increase according to your crop factor. So an 85mm on an APS-C body (x1.5) becomes 127.5mm, on a Canon APS-C (x1.6) becomes 136mm, and on Micro Four Thirds (x2) it becomes 170mm.
The other half of the best portrait lens equation is having a wide maximum aperture. Also referred to as a "fast" aperture, this allows for the creation of a shallow depth of field, meaning you can keep your subject sharp while blurring the background, really making them stand out. An aperture of f/1.8 is pretty standard, but faster is better – that can be f/1.4, f/1.2, or even f/0.95 in some cases!
So, here's our roundup of the best portrait lenses available right now…
The best lens for portraits
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The best lens for portraits: Canon
The RF 85mm f/1.2 looks ludicrously large on a svelte EOS R-series body, and is massively expensive to buy. But while it’s big in build and price, it’s utterly supersized in terms of image quality and all-round performance.
The highly complex optical path includes aspherical and UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) elements, the same Air Sphere Coating that’s featured in the latest EF 85mm f/1.4 lens, plus BR (Blue spectrum Refractive) optics. The overall aim is to maximize wide-aperture sharpness and contrast, while keeping both lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberrations, ghosting, flare and distortion to an absolute minimum.
Build quality is super-sturdy and includes weather-seals and fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements. The ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is fast and has an electronically coupled manual focus ring that operates with smooth precision. Another addition is the ‘control ring’ which can be customized for a variety of functions.
Image sharpness is astonishingly high in the central region of the frame, even when shooting wide-open. The overall quality of bokeh is simply unbeatable, and defocused points of light remain particularly well-rounded when stopping down.
See our full Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM review
This is one of only two 85mm lenses for Canon cameras that features image stabilization, the other being a Tamron. Build quality is pretty epic, including a shock-absorbing front barrel, weather-seals and fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements. The ability to shoot portraits in the rain might seem superfluous but wedding photographers would disagree. The optical path is based on 14 elements and features Canon’s high-tech Air Sphere Coating which further reduces ghosting and flare.
At 950g, this lens is smaller and lighter than the competing Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A, which lacks stabilization. It feels well-balanced on chunky full-frame DSLRs like the 6D Mark II and 5D Mark IV, with excellent handling characteristics.
Wide-aperture sharpness is marginally less magnificent than from the Sigma 85mm Art lens but still pretty extraordinary. The quality of bokeh is exceptional, with super-smooth blur and particularly minimal longitudinal or ‘bokeh’ fringing. The aperture remains more well-rounded when stopping down a little, compared with Canon’s EF f/1.2 and f/1.8 lenses for DSLRs.
See our full Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM review
This Sigma is available for a variety of mounts, including Canon EF. It's a weighty proposition for an 85mm f/1.4 lens, at 1,130g. Typical of Sigma’s Art series, it’s designed for premium image quality without any concessions to compactness. The complex optical path is based on 14 elements, including an aspherical element at the rear and two SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements, placed at the centre and towards the front. Autofocus is based on a ring-type ultrasonic system. Sigma’s Art lenses are immaculately well-built but, unlike some of them, this one adds the extra bonus of weather-seals.
Autofocus is both fast and accurate. Sharpness across the entire image frame is hugely impressive, even when shooting wide-open, which is a real challenge for a ‘fast’ f/1.4 lens. We’ve noticed a little ‘onion ring’ effect in the bokeh of some Sigma Art lenses but it’s particularly negligible in this one. Bokeh remains super-smooth when stopping down, helped by a well-rounded 9-blade diaphragm.
See our full Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A review
Let’s face it, most of us are not purely portrait photographers, so it makes sense not to spend a fortune on a ‘portrait lens’ that we might not use very often, and to buy one that’s reasonably compact and lightweight, for popping in a spare corner of a gadget bag.
This Canon lens is ideal on both counts, costing a small fraction of any other Canon 85mm lens and being very much more lightweight, at just 425g. Originally launched nearly 30 years ago for 35mm film SLRs, the lens has certainly stood the test of time and is equally viable for digital bodies.
The optical path is fairly simple, based on nine elements in seven groups, but includes Super Spectra coatings to reduce ghosting and flare. The ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is fast, whisper-quiet and has the usual full-time manual override with a purely mechanical linkage.
Given the modest aperture rating, sharpness isn’t particularly impressive when shooting wide-open but still sufficient for plenty of detail in the eyes. Color fringing and distortion are minimal. The quality of bokeh is very pleasing when shooting wide-open but the 8-blade diaphragm isn’t quite as well-rounded as in some competing lenses, tending to give a noticeable octagonal shape to defocused points of light and bright objects when you stop down a little.
See our full Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM review
The best lens for portraits: Nikon
There’s nothing wrong with the budget-friendly Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S, but it lacks an ultra-bright aperture favored by portrait, wedding and fashion photographers for getting a really tight depth of field. This 85mm f/1.2 Z system prime boasts superior performance in every regard, chiefly speed, overtaking the longstanding F-mount AF-S 85mm f/1.4G lens.
It’s actually the first 85mm f/1.2 lens that Nikon has ever made and, although it’s quite chunky, it handles beautifully and delivers simply spectacular image quality, combining scintillating sharpness with sumptuously smooth bokeh. For Nikon-toting portrait perfectionists, the wait is finally over. This lens is destined to become a modern-day classic.
Read our full Nikon Z 85mm f/1.2S review
Frankly enormous for an 85mm f/1.4 lens, this Sigma weighs in at 1,130g. Typical of Sigma’s Art series, the design is firmly focused on image quality without any concessions to reducing size and weight. The complex optical path consists of 14 elements, including an aspherical element and two SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. Autofocus is based on a ring-type ultrasonic autofocus and is both speedy and precise.
Sigma’s Art lenses are all immaculately well-built and, unlike some of them, this one adds the bonus of weather seals. However, you don't get optical image stabilization.
We're particularly impressed by the corner-to-corner image sharpness of this Sigma, which is pin-sharp even when shooting wide-open. Bokeh is also beautifully smooth, helped by a well-rounded 9-blade diaphragm, and there's little sign of any ‘onion ring’ effect that we've noticed from some Sigma Art lenses in the past.
See our full Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art review
A big attraction of this lens is its smallness. Compact and lightweight, it’s easy to pop into a spare corner of your gadget bag for as and when you need it. It’s refreshingly inexpensive for an own-brand Nikon lens as well, undercutting most rivals for price. Even so, it has a high-quality optical path based on nine elements, although there are no aspherical or ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements.
Build quality is good, complete with a rubber weather seal on the mounting plate and a fast, ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system. However, it’s only has seven diaphragm blades, rather than the more usual nine that you tend to find in 85mm primes. Bokeh is impressively smooth though, with points of light remaining fairly well-rounded when stopping down a little.
This little Nikon really punches above its weight for sharpness, even at its widest aperture. Both lateral and axial chromatic aberrations are minimal, the latter helped by the modest aperture rating. There’s a slight touch of pincushion distortion, but it’s hardly an issue in portraiture.
See our full Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G review
The best lens for portraits: Sony
This is Sony's own premium portrait lens option, from its top-quality GM (Gold Master) range of optics. As well as being super-sharp, the quality of bokeh is wonderfully soft and dreamy, and remains so even when stopping down a little, helped by a very well-rounded 11-blade diaphragm.
Build quality is rock-solid, with a weather-sealed construction. There’s no lack of high-tech features, either, including a customizable focus-hold button and an aperture control ring that comes complete with a de-click option, enabling smooth aperture transitions when shooting video. It’s undeniably a very pricey lens but its performance more than justifies the cost.
See our full Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM review
Following on from Sony’s 35mm and 50mm f/1.8 lenses, this one has a similar look and feel. It’s certainly not cheap for an 85mm f/1.8 but only costs about a third as much as Sony’s f/1.4 G Master lens and feels a much more fitting size and weight for E-mount mirrorless bodies.
With a typically minimalist design, there’s no aperture ring nor a focus distance scale, although the lens does have an AF/MF switch and customizable focus hold button. Autofocus is courtesy of a quick and virtually silent linear stepping motor, with an electronically coupled manual focus ring that works with smooth precision. The weather-resistant build quality feels very good, while the optical design incorporates an ED (Extra-low Dispersion) element and a well-rounded 9-blade diaphragm.
Sharpness in the central region of the frame is outstanding, even when shooting wide-open. Bokeh is equally impressive, remaining smooth and dreamy even when reducing the aperture a little.
Compact and lightweight with impressive handling and performance, it’s ideal for A7 and A9 series cameras, although Sigma's 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens (below) will give you an extra two-thirds of an f/stop to play with.
See our full Sony FE 85mm f1.8 review
Throwing compactness to the wind, this Sigma tips the scales at a hefty 1,130g and is equally bulky. But thanks to its uncompromising 14-element optical path that includes an aspherical element and two SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements, image quality is brilliant. Sharpness is outstanding right across the image frame, while the 9-blade diaphragm helps produce super-smooth bokeh. Chromatic aberration is minimal, and you'll struggle to spot even a trace of lens distortion.
If you can live with the size and weight, there’s no beating this lens for image quality and it’s great value for a full-frame FE-mount 85mm f/1.4. See our full Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art review.
The best lens for portraits: Fujifilm
With an effective focal length of 84mm, this lens enables a natural working distance for portraiture on Fujifilm’s APS-C format X-series cameras. Even so, gaining a tight depth of field is more of a challenge – so the f/1.2 maximum aperture is even more essential than on a full-frame camera.
This is the very latest XF 85mm, which has been completely redesigned to offer the sharpness and autofocus performance demanded by the latest cameras in the Fujifilm range. Just as importantly for many shooters, this 2022 version offers weatherproofing.
In our lab tests we remarked that center sharpness is superb at f/1.2, improving even further at f/2. Mid-frame and corner sharpness aren't quite so amazing, but are still above average for an APS-C-format lens.
See our full Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R WR review
While the XF 56mm (above) has an effective 84mm focal length when mounted to a Fujifilm camera, it still renders the depth of field of a 56mm lens. The XF 80mm, by contrast, delivers a native 80mm depth of field, while becoming an equivalent 120mm – another classic focal length for portraiture as it flatters the features of your subjects.
This delivers the best of both worlds for shooting headshots, compensating for the slightly slower f/2.8 aperture, making it arguably a better pure portrait lens than the XF 56mm. The only points to consider are that the out-of-focus areas feature "cat's eye bokeh" (rendering slightly oval-shaped, rather than round, "bokeh balls"), and that this is a macro lens – meaning it renders pin-sharp detail, which may not always be what you want if shooting skin with a lot of imperfections.
Otherwise, the added bonus of 1:1 macro shooting makes this a much more versatile lens, and the 5-stop image stabilizer helps compensate for any camera shake while working with the longer focal length.
See our full Fujifilm XF80mmF2.8 Macro lens review
The best lens for portraits: Micro Four Thirds
Thanks to the 2x crop factor of the Micro Four Thirds system, this lens has an effective focal length of 90mm, which is very similar to the feature-flattering 85mm. However, it only renders the depth of field of a 45mm lens – making the fast f/1.8 important in achieving a shallow depth of field.
Suitable for a range of Olympus, Panasonic and Blackmagic cameras, it measures just 56x46mm and weighs a mere 116g – making exceptionally portable, and literally pocket-sized. Autofocus is driven by a quick and quiet stepping motor, while high-precision manual focusing is available via a fly-by-wire focus ring.
Sharpness remains good across almost the entire image frame, even when shooting wide-open, where it only drops off towards the extreme edges and corners. Bokeh could be smoother, though, and when stopping down, points of defocused light take on a heptagonal shape (due to the seven-blade diaphragm).
This is still a fantastic portrait prime but, if bokeh and depth of field are your primary motivators, the M.Zuiko 75mm (below) is a better bet.
See our full Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 review
This lens has garnered a reputation as being one of the absolute best lenses for Micro Four Thirds – and with good reason! The M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 is a stunning prime lens with an equivalent 150mm focal length that is absolutely perfect for portraits. And it provides a premium handling experience, thanks to its all-metal construction and smooth focusing ring.
Sharpness is absolutely outstanding from corner to corner, delivering surgical precision in your shots. The manufacturer employed some of its best coatings in the construction of this lens, ensuring smooth images free from reflection and stray light, while that f/1.8 maximum aperture gives tremendous leeway in low light – and of course, it helps obliterate the background in your portraits. If you want the full-frame depth of field look on an MFT camera, look no further.
Read our full Olympus M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8 review
The best lens for portraits: Pentax
With Pentax determinedly pushing on with its DSLR line of cameras and not a sight of any mirrorless cameras in the future, there better be some decent lenses to shout about. Luckily Pentax has done just that, with the mighty HD Pentax-D FA* 85mm f/1.4ED SDM AW portrait lens. If you're shooting portraits with a full-frame Pentax DSLR like the K-1, this is the ultimate lens for you.
It's expensive when compared to equivalent glass from its larger rivals, but this is one impressive lens. With an ultra-fast maximum aperture of f/1.4, Pentax has equipped the lens with an unusual concave front element, while there are three Super ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and an aspherical optical element to suppress aberrations and axial chromatic aberration. What's more, Pentax has designed the lens to reduce distortion to nearly zero at a focus distance of four meters. It's certainly big and heavy, but you'll be rewarded with a state-of-the-art lens for portraits.
Best portrait lenses: How we test lenses
We test lenses using both real world sample images and lab tests. Our lab tests are carried out scientifically in controlled conditions using the Imatest testing suite, which consists of custom charts and analysis software that measures resolution in line widths/picture height, a measurement widely used in lens and camera testing. We find the combination of lab and real-word testing works best, as each reveals different qualities and characteristics.
Best portrait lenses: FAQs
Which lens is best for portrait photography?
There are two classic focal lengths for portraiture: 85mm and 135mm. These telephoto lenses are flattering to facial features by way of their lengths, which minimize distortion (using shorter focal lengths, such as 50mm or 35mm, will distort your subject's features if used for close-ups).
While 135mm is in many ways a superior choice, since the longer length is both more flattering (less distorting) and can create greater subject separation, the increased working distance can make it hard to interact with your subjects. As such, an 85mm lens is considered the sweet spot for portraiture.
Is 50mm good for portraits?
Yes, a 50mm lens is good for portraits – but it is intended for full- and medium-length shots, not for close-ups where it will begin to distort facial features.
So, if you are intending to shoot no closer than three-quarter or head-and-torso portraits, check out the best 50mm lenses. For tighter portraits and headshots (and, indeed, full- and medium-length shots as well), an 85mm lens is the best option.