What is the ultimate Sony FE (full-frame, E-mount) Portrait lens?
Nearly every lens be used as a portrait lens. Lenses with focal lengths ranging from 12mm through 600mm can be used to capture the world's most valuable (but not always the most cooperative) subject: people. Still, not all lenses are good choices for all portrait photography, while some lenses seem explicitly made for this purpose.
The first portrait photography concept that needs to be understood is perspective. If the camera is too close to the subject, the part of the body closest to the lens, usually the nose, is going to appear too large relative to the rest of the body. This effect is due to perspective distortion. Move in too close, and the subject may become uncomfortable with you in their personal space, creating a tension that does not photograph well.
Being too far away from a subject brings other problems. Facial features may become too compressed in appearance, and being too far away complicates communication. Longer focal length lenses require more working distance than their wider counterparts, and physical obstacles can inhibit the necessary line of sight.
The portrait lens focal length decision should be based on the perspective you want, the subject framing desired, and the working space available. A wide-angle lens is best used for environmental portraits where your subject is shown along with their surroundings. Conversely, a long telephoto lens should be used for tight headshots.
Conventional teaching is that the 85-135mm focal length range is ideal for portrait photography. I generally agree with this teaching, though I will often use wider focal lengths such as 50mm for full body portraits or 24mm for environmental portraits, and I prefer a longer focal length such as 200mm for tightly-framed headshot images.
A blurred background will make your portrait subjects pop. Longer focal length lenses will make blurring away a distracting background easier, as will wide apertures. The wide apertures will provide a reduced depth of field, so the depth of field vs. background blur must be considered. I like the mouth and both eyes to be in focus minimally.
If shooting in a studio with a background such as rolled paper and lighting with studio strobes, narrow apertures such as f/8 or f/11 will likely be in use, and all lenses have these options available. The sample portrait included at the top of this page was captured with a 135mm focal length and an f/1.4 aperture. The background is melting away, while a pleasing head and shoulders perspective has been captured.
With that background, move on to some recommendations. Remember that the suggested lenses are simply a selection of favorites for portrait photography, and a huge list of additional lenses can be used for this purpose.
The Best Sony Full-Frame Portrait Lenses
The Ultimate Telephoto Zoom Lens, Impressive Image Quality, Lightweight, Professional-Grade
The 70-200 f/2.8 image stabilized lens is one of the most critical zoom lenses in most photographers' kits. Professionals and amateurs alike typically have this lens in their hands with high frequency. Professionals use it because there is no better lens available for many jobs, and amateurs use it additionally because this is the longest focal length available in an affordable, conveniently-sized f/2.8 lens.
This completely professional-grade lens has impressive image quality, fast and accurate AF, and Optical SteadyShot in a solid, weather-sealed, fixed-size body. The wide f/2.8 max aperture allows action to be captured in low light and, combined with the telephoto focal lengths, allows the background to be blurred away. An added benefit is that this lens performs well with teleconverters, a great option for when you need even more focal length. This lens is not inexpensive, butthe version II lens is impressively lightweight.
Ideal Focal Length Range, Wide Aperture, Great Build and Optical Quality
While this lens is relatively large, heavy, and expensive, it makes up for those shortcomings by covering an ideal-for-portraits focal length range typically requiring two lenses. The speed of focal length access is an image quality factor. Having instant access to disparate focal lengths enables fleeting opportunities to be capitalized on. Thus, by its focal length range alone, this lens has the potential to capture a superior set of images from an event.
Despite the long focal length range, the Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8 Di III VXD Lens avails an ultra-wide aperture that is the widest or nearly so among zoom lenses at all focal lengths. The image sharpness produced by this lens will seal the deal for many portrait photographers.
Elite Grade Image Quality, Ultra-Wide Aperture, Strong Background Blur, Focal Length Suitable for Any Subject Framing
This lens has an ultra-wide f/1.8 aperture, and it produces wide-open aperture image quality that is better than most lenses can produce at any aperture. The results are simply outstanding. This focal length requires a moderate amount of working distance for full body portraits, but this angle of view provides a great perspective for even tight headshots. That background blur this lens can produce is awesome — ideal for portraiture.
The Made-For-Portraits Lens
Sony calls the lens "The ultimate portrait prime," and it is hard to argue against that statement. I've used wide-aperture 85mm prime lenses for entire senior portrait shoots, and the results this combination provides are outstanding. There seems always to be enough ambient light to use this lens handheld.
The Right Focal length, Ultra-Wide Aperture, Excellent Image Quality, Relatively Compact and Light, Affordable
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens is an aesthetically-beautiful, optically and physically high-performing lens in an ideal portrait focal length and aperture combination with a relatively small size, light weight, and low price. This lens delivers very sharp imagery, potentially with a strong background blur, without the burdensome size and weight of its predecessor and competitors, and with an affordable price.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens is a smart choice for portraits and other 85mm needs.
Impressive Image Quality, Extremely Wide Aperture, Useful Portrait Focal Length, GM Professional Grade Build
It was only a matter of time until Sony included a 50mm lens in the GM family. Offering that focal length and an ultra-wide aperture combination in the flagship lineup seemed a no-brainer.
"Speaking as an optical designer, it's no exaggeration to call this lens the pinnacle of the G Master series, with the ultimate in resolution and bokeh." [Atsuo Kikuchi, Sony]
Price is the only hurdle keeping the FE 50mm f/1.2 GM out of lens kits. However, because this focal length and extreme-wide aperture are so useful, it makes sense to ensure the best quality lens providing such is in the kit. The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens is that lens.
Useful Focal Length, Wide Aperture, Compact Lens, GM Quality, Moderate Price
The FE 50mm F1.2 was the first Sony 50mm GM lens, and the FE 50mm F1.4 was not far behind, bringing this ultra-popular focal length and aperture class into the professional GM lineup. The Sony ZA version of this lens set the performance bar high, but the Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM Lens cleared it.
This lens provides excellent f/1.4 image quality, and the Dual XD (extreme dynamic) Linear Motors deliver impressively fast and quiet AF with the accuracy needed to realize the potential image quality. This professional-grade Sony G Master lens is compact and lightweight, with a moderate price.
The utility of 50mm and f/1.4 in a high-performing package will make this lens one of the most used in the kit.
Useful Focal Length, Wide Aperture, Quality Build, Affordable Price
While the Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG DN Art Lens is not quite as sharp as the Sony FE 50mm F1.4 GM Lens, it offers the same focal length and aperture combination for a noticeably lower cost.
Remarkable Image Quality, Relatively Compact and Lightweight, Affordable, GM Professional Grade Build
Portraits do not always require telephoto focal lengths, and this lens's 35mm angle of view combined with the shallow f/1.4 depth of field can create outstanding portraits.
Offering the extremely popular 35mm focal length and ultra-wide aperture combination in the flagship GM professional-grade lineup seemed a no-brainer. The other no-brainer, at least to many, is the decision to purchase this extremely high performing, relatively compact, lightweight, and affordable lens. Its review-time best seller ranking attests to that statement. Just get this lens.
The Best Sony Budget Portrait Lens
If you are on a tight budget but looking for a good portrait lens, look no further. The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens has your name on it. The 85mm focal length is perfect for portrait photography, and the image quality is good. The size and weight of this lens invite long-term use, and the low price seals the deal. The Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens is a great value.
Compact, Light, Sharp, Affordable, Slightly Shorter Focal Length Range
Tamron continues to produce great mirrorless lenses, and the 70-180mm f/2.8 Di III VXD Lens is another big hit. Though this lens's focal length range falls short of the competing 70-200mm models, the range provided is perfect for portraits. This lens delivers great image quality from a compact and affordable package.
Visit the Sony Lens Recommendations page for more recommendations.