Learning to take a good portrait photograph is one of the first thing aspiring photographers learn. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to capture a person’s essence, personality and uniqueness in a photo. There are a few factors that affect how a portrait turns out, such as light conditions, your camera, and the lens you use with it. Having some good glass to back up your technical knowledge can make all the difference when taking a portrait. We’ve taken a look at the five best Sony lenses for portrait photography to give you all you need to know about them. Plus, we’ll explain what to look for when buying one.
Best Sony Lenses for Portrait Photography: Top Five
Why it’s great:
- 85mm full-frame prime lens with f/1.8 aperture.
- Outstanding image sharpness and lovely soft bokeh.
- Quick and near-silent autofocus.
Sony designed their EF 85mm f/1.8 to work with full-frame mirrorless cameras, but it’s also a good option for APS-C cameras. Despite its fairly modest cost compared to competitor’s 85mm lenses, it offers excellent performance in nearly all areas. The 85mm angle of view is perfect for portraiture, and image sharpness is outstanding throughout the frame. Thanks to the wide maximum aperture of f/1.8, the EF 85mm is capable of creating a wonderful soft bokeh, or background blur, to really emphasize the subject of your shots. Optically this lens performs really well in all areas; it’s consistently good throughout its aperture range, and controls chromatic aberration very well. Overall, this is one of the best available Sony lenses for portrait photography.
- There are no depth of field or distance markers on the lens, which will frustrate some users.
Why it’s great:
- Long focal length range with f/2.8 constant maximum aperture.
- Robust and durable construction.
- Excellent image sharpness across focal length range.
Many photographers love this lens. Its wide focal length range of 70-200mm lends itself well to a wide variety of photography, including sports, wildlife, weddings, and portraits. The reason it’s so good is the fact that the optical performance is fantastic across its focal length range. No matter how far you zoom with it, images will come out sharp and clear. The autofocus on the FE 70-200mm is incredibly fast and accurate, and you’ll barely notice the sound it makes when doing so thanks to the SSM (supersonic motor) that drives the autofocus. A focus limiter means that the lens is less prone to focus hunting, making it well-suited for fast paced shooting. The glass and elements are dust and moisture sealed, meaning it’s the perfect lens for taking out into the field.
Sony has included their excellent Optical Steady Shot (OSS) technology on the 70-200mm. This is essentially image stabilization which compensates for any shaking or movement that may be produces when shooting with it.
- This isn’t a budget lens by any means. If you’re just starting out with portrait photography, or are on a tight budget, this will likely be too expensive.
- The lens is quite prone to flare.
Why it’s great:
- Inexpensive yet high-quality lens.
- Fast f/1.8 maximum aperture.
- Low chromatic aberration and lens flare.
50mm lenses are enjoyed by photographers everywhere. They’re often inexpensive, lightweight, and deliver great results in a range of different situations. Portrait photographs will often use a 50mm, or ‘nifty fifty’, when conditions for the shoot are a little cramped. They have a slightly wider field of vision than an 85mm, and capture at a range comparable to the human eye. The f/1.8 maximum aperture of the Sony FE 50mm allows for shooting in low-light conditions and good control over the depth of field and bokeh. Subjects are incredibly sharp in images, while the softness of the background can be controlled easily. Both manual and autofocus perform well and are easy to use, and the design is straightforward and lightweight.
- There is some noticeable chromatic aberration towards the edge of the frame.
Why it’s great:
- Wide-angle to short telephoto range with constant f/2.8 aperture.
- Exquisitely manufactured lens.
- Excellent sharpness, low flare and chromatic aberration.
This is another versatile lens that portrait photographers will love. Its 24-70mm range covers wide-angle to short telephoto ranges, giving an incredible amount of flexibility. What’s more, it performs excellently across this range. The constant f/2.8 aperture gives a good amount of low-light performance, as well as image sharpness and bokeh. Sony have gone to great lengths to try and eliminate unwanted optical defects. They’ve included a Nano AR coating on the glass which almost eliminated lens flare and chromatic aberration. It’s an incredibly well constructed lens, and although it’s heavy, you’ll be able to depend upon it in any situation, as well as capture some stunning portraits.
- The price tag of the Sony FE 24-70mm may rule it out for anyone but the professional.
- It’s quite bulky and heavy, not suitable for travelling light.
Why it’s great:
- Maximum aperture of f/1.4.
- Zeiss T anti-reflective coating for fantastic flare and ghosting reduction.
- SSM autofocus motor for quick and quiet autofocus.
35mm lenses are ideal for a wide range of photography and particularly excel at portraits. The f/1.4 aperture of this Sony Zeiss lens means that you can create a nice soft background to frame your subject, and also allows you to capture great shots regardless of lighting. Sharpness of the images it captures is excellent, and will be up to the standard of even the most scrutinous of eyes. There are a lot of features to like about this lens; it has an advanced optical design that includes aspherical and advanced spherical lens elements that drive the fantastic resolution. It also has a Zeiss T coating which reduces flare and ghosting. Overall this is another fantastic lens in the range of Nikon lenses for portrait photography.
- This is another pricey lens on the list. Again, it’s worth the cost but it may be out of most budgets.
- There’s no image stabilization, which you may find detrimental when shooting hand-held.
Sony Lenses for Portrait Photography: Buying Factors
Now that you know some of the great options you have available, it’s time to look at what it is that makes these choices so good, and what factors will influence your buying decision. There are five main considerations you should make when choosing the right portrait lens. These are: focal length, sensor size, bokeh, choosing between zoom and prime, and how much available space you’re working with. Let’s look at each on in more detail:
You’ll notice from our list of lenses that there’s quite a variety of focal lengths on show, from 35mm up to 70-200mm. Your choice will depend on a few factors. For example, the amount of space you’ll have may limit or broaden the focal length you can use. 35mm will capture a lot in your portraits, whilst 85mm will have a narrower focus. It also depends how close you want to be to your subject; a telephoto range allows you to be further away. The focal length you choose depends on your preferences and situation.
Your camera’s sensor size will also greatly affect the type of lens you choose. If you have a crop-frame camera, the equivalent focal length of your chosen lens will change. For example, a 50mm on a crop frame camera will equate to around 75mm in a full-frame sense.
Bokeh is a term that refers to the quality of the unfocused areas of a picture. The softly blurred background that makes a portrait look truly amazing. This is largely controlled by the aperture of the lens; the wider the aperture the greater the background blur is.
Having a wide maximum aperture also means that you’re capable of shooting in lower light. As the aperture is wider, it allows more light to enter the sensor. This means you don’t have to increase ISO, resulting in less image noise.
Zoom or Prime
This is another factor that somewhat comes down to personal preference. A zoom lens gives you the benefit of flexibility in your shots. You can change positions and get a variety of different types of portrait shots when using one. You don’t have to swap out lenses either, meaning there’s less to carry around with you. Prime lenses are often a lot smaller, and their optical performance can be a lot better. They usually have wider maximum apertures, and really make you work with the space and angles you have.
If you’re shooting in a wide open space, you can choose a lens that allows you to work with all the room you have to work with. An 85mm or 70-200mm lens would serve you well in this situation. However, if you’re slightly more constrained, you should choose something with a wider angle of vision, such as a 35mm or 50mm.