Are you interested in improving the quality of your portrait shots?
The composition, light and your talent matter a lot, but owning the right gear can make a huge difference as well.
Lenses that are suitable for portraits will improve the whole look of your shots; the sharp parts, background blur, contrast, colors and much more.
For this guide, we looked at everything available from Sony and this list below is what we came up with.
This guide is for E-mount cameras, which includes all A6, A7 and A9 models.
What makes a good portrait lens?
We asked ourselves the following questions:
1. Sharpness – How sharp is the lens, especially at its widest aperture?
2. Focal Length – Between 35mm and 200mm is ideal (from group shots, to tight portraits).
3. Quality – How much aberration, flare and vignetting is visible, and is the quality top notch?
4. Bokeh – Creamy, smooth bokeh makes your subject pop out and isn’t distracting.
5. Price – Do you have to sell your car to get it? The lens better be worth every dollar.
6. Autofocus – Is it fast and accurate, or is it more appropriate for still subjects.
The size of your DSLR’s sensor is also important, as APS-C cameras (any A6 model) have a 1.5x crop factor. This means that a 50mm lens on DX camera like the A6500 actually gives you the same field of view as a 75mm lens on full frame camera (just multiply your focal length x 1.5 = full frame equivalent).
So if you see us say that “50mm is great for full body shots on full frame”, you’d actually need a ~35mm lens for your APS-C to get the same field of view. You don’t have to worry about this too much though, as long as you’re in the 35 to 200mm range you’re good to go for portraits.
The Top Sony Portrait Lenses:
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1. Sony 35mm f/1.4 ZA
The Sony 35mm f/1.4 ZA is a brilliant piece of glass. It’s tack sharp, focuses quickly and has great image quality.
There’s 3 spherical elements inside, as well as Zeiss anti-reflective coating that improves contrast from center to the edges.
Due to its length, it’s great for wider portraits, landscape, indoors and group shots. The f/1.4 aperture makes it good to shoot in low light, while a 9 blade aperture will make that bokeh appear soft.
It’s quite big and expensive though, so if you’re against bigger lenses then this is not for you. Nothing abnormal of course, just, bigger than the average.
However, if you’re looking for the ultimate image quality, with very little distortion and chromatic aberration, the Sony 35mm f/1.4 ZA is the one.
2. Sony 35mm f/1.8
The cheaper brother of the lens above. The Sony 35mm f/1.8G OSS provides an excellent length for portraits, weddings, casual photography and low light scenes.
For low light photography, an aperture f/1.8 is always good to have. Compared to f/2.8, it lets in almost twice as much light and you’ll appreciate it when shooting in low light and trying to use a fast shutter speed, or keep the ISO low.
For achieving a shallow depth of field (blurred background), a big aperture is also a must, anything bigger or equal to f/2.8. This makes it great for portraits, weddings, pets and whenever you want your subject to pop out.
The lens is really light (5.5 oz/155g) and accepts 49mm filters. For shooting on to go, or traveling light, the focal length + weight make it an excellent companion. Its auto focus is quick and accurate although you can expect it to hunt a little bit in low light.
3. Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS
For portraits, you’ll always want to have a 50mm lens. The Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS is very affordable and the length makes it good for all types of photography; traveling, casual, indoors, you name it.
The 50mm length on APS-C is equivalent to a 75mm lens on full frame. It sits between the ‘standard’ and ‘telephoto’ range so it it’s good for both casual (but not wide) photography and weddings, concerts, any situation where you can’t always be too close to your subject.
It’s more or less like the 35mm above; same aperture, similar weight and size. The 50mm is around $150 cheaper though! Quality wise, it’s similar to 50mm f/1.8’s from other brands; usable and sharp at f/1.8, but by f/4 everything gets even better (including corners). But if you’re shooting in low light and want good results, you can expect them at f/1.8 so no worries.
If you’re just starting out and don’t want to spend a fortune yet, this is what you should get. However, if you already know you want even more, read further.
4. Sony 55mm f/1.8 ZA
For a few hundred dollars more, but still less than $1000, we have the famous Sony 55mm f/1.8 ZA.
If we had to pick one prime lens that would be good for a whole lot of different things (weddings, portraits, low light, casual, travel etc.), this is what we would pick.
At f/1.8 it’s already really sharp, especially in the center. Stopping down to f/2.8 or f/4 delivers impressive results, but it’s good to know that you can actually use it at f/1.8. Vignetting and chromatic aberration at f/1.8 will be visible, but it’s still fairly well considering better 50mm’s cost a lot more.
It’s quite light and small, so it’s perfect for hours of photographing (hiking, traveling, weddings). Fits very well with the A7 bodies and won’t make your back hurt. Thanks to 9 diaphragm blades, bokeh looks really good too.
Simply put, for both outdoor and indoor work, unless you shoot wildlife, you’ll love the 55mm f/1.8. The length, sharpness and size make it one of the most versatile primes for any Sony body.
5. Sony 85mm f/1.8
85mm lenses are great for both FF and APS-C users. The Sony 85mm f/1.8 is quite cheap and delivers optically great images.
A 85mm lens, on any system, is a dream come true for wedding/portrait photographers. The length alone will make your subject pop out, let alone the f/1.8 aperture with 9 diaphragm blades.
It has a minimum distance of 2.63 feet (0.80cm), features an ED glass element that improves overall sharpness and shows rich colors. Its design is moisture and dust resistant, which at this price as a nice plus.
Auto focus is also very quick thanks to the Double Linear motor. Unfortunately, there’s no image stabilization which is a standard for 85mm f/1.8 lenses, regardless of the brand. If your Sony camera has OSS built-in then that’s great, if not, then that’s a disadvantage you’ll have to counter by shooting with a high ISO/bigger aperture/slower shutter speed.
6. Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM
If you know you want f/1.4 and aren’t happy enough with f/1.8, then the Sony 85mm f/1.4 GM is a more expensive, but better option.
First, it’s got 11 rounder aperture blades compared to 9 on the f/1.8, which results in even nicer bokeh look. It’s built from better materials and also feels better in hand when focusing or using the buttons. It simply feels robust and something you can use in tougher conditions.
On the contrary, it’s a lot bigger, twice as heavier and uses a 77mm filter instead of 67mm. Its auto focus is slightly slower and louder compared to f/1.8, but this is not an issue if you’re doing portraits. It’s not slow, just a tad slower than the lens above and not as usable for sports.
If you’re looking for the best deal for the money, the f/1.8 wins. What the f/1.4 version offers is a slightly bigger aperture, better color rendering and a lot better exterior design. If these features are worth the 3x higher price tag, then definitely go get it.
7. Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS
Sharpest macro for Sony, optically superb
The Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro GM OSS can be used for more than just bugs and other small subjects. You could use it for details, small subjects, portraits, close sports or pretty much anything that you shoot.
Like 99% macro lenses, the Sony 90mm is razor sharp and produces beautiful images with rich colors and contrast. If you occasionally shoot macro but want something for portraits, you might just fall in love with it. 85 to 135mm is usually the most preferred length for portrait photography, at least for isolating your subject or when you can’t get too close.
Not to mention the shallow depth of field you get with a short-telephoto lens paired with f/2.8. Its minimum focus distance is 0.92 ft (0.28 m) and as expected, it has a 1:1 magnification ratio. For quiet and accurate focusing, it uses DDSSM (Direct Drive motor) which helps a lot when you want to stay quiet.
The lens has OSS and combined with the A7’s series built-in stabilization, you can use it the lens with slower shutter speeds when not using a tripod. Great for those times when you want to travel light.
Best Sony Zoom Portrait Lenses
1. Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
This is a must lens! The Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM has the range, image quality and aperture size that make it perfect for wedding photography.
Not only that, it’s ideal for almost all other types of photography as well. Portraits, casual, food, travel, indoors, concerts etc.
This is why the price is higher than most other lenses on this list. It’s something you buy and never have to replace, and you get it because you know it will complement your shooting style. If you’re into weddings, then trust me, it will. The focal length (on APS-C and full frame) will get you covered for 90% of the shots. It allows you to be close to the action without being in the way, but also has the ability to zoom out to 24mm and capture a group shot.
Then there’s the f/2.8 aperture at all lengths. Since you’ll be shooting indoors, every extra aperture stop helps. For beautiful portraits with creamy bokeh, such a large opening is also a must!
On the inside it has 1 x Extreme Aspherical element (XA), 2 x Aspherical elements, 1 x Super ED and 1 x ED element. You’re looking at 18 elements in 13 groups so the size and weight are no surprise (31.25 oz/885g)
Yes, it’s big and heavy (31.25 oz/885g), so if these two are your main concerns then an f/2.8 zoom will probably never be a part of your kit. It’s also expensive, sitting at $1000 more than the f/4 version.
The auto focus is really fast and accurate thanks to DDSSM and it’s perfect for locking on fast moving subjects. All of that comes with a big price tag, but it’s worth it.
2. Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS
Another must for weddings. While there is a cheaper, f/4 version available, we again felt that f/2.8 is a key component here. The Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS is a more expensive, but for certain photographers the advantages are super important.
At weddings, you’ll often be situated away from the “action” part itself in order to not attract any unwanted attention. With short zooms, you’ll be okay most of the time, but having a telephoto is a backup you can’t afford to not have. Plus, the 200mm length can make portrait shoots look absolutely stunning with such shallow depth of field.
While image quality is very similar to the f/4, the f/2.8 version features 11 vs 9 diaphragm aperture blades, slightly shorter minimum focus distance, bigger magnification (0.25x vs 0.13x). Fast and accurate auto focus and great colors even at f/2.8.
Any issues? As you’d expect, it’s heavier and bigger than the f/4 version. It could easily be too heavy if you’re using the A6 series and aren’t used to bigger lenses.
Due to f/2.8 and big zoom, this is also appropriate for other types of photography such as concerts, journalism, sports, some simple wildlife etc.
Which Portrait Lens To Buy?
1. Zoom or Prime?
Many professional portrait photographers prefer prime lenses due to the fact that they’re usually sharper and have a way bigger maximum apertures. The difference between f/1.4 and f/4 is enormous, in both the shutter speed and ISO settings you need to use to get the desired shot, as well as in bokeh. We suggest a minimum of f/2.8, but if you’re after those creamy backgrounds, get yourself a prime.
With a zoom lens you don’t have to move all the time, which is sometimes a big plus as you don’t want to distract anyone. If that’s important to you, then a zoom might be a better choice, but if for portraits you usually have enough space to move as you wish, you’ll easily see the benefits of prime lenses.
2. Focal Length
The most important factor! With a wideangle lens you need to be really close to your subject, which ultimately distorts their faces. For portraits, stick to 35mm to 200mm and your clients will be thankful as their faces and bodies will look normal.
35mm lenses are great for showing more than just your subject isolated (perhaps their workplace, the environment, streets, nature and so on).
50mm lenses are ideal for full body shots and casual shooting
85mm lenses have the perfect combination of focal length and bokeh, and are also most usable for head shots
135-200mm lenses are best for when you can’t be too close to your subject, or you’re looking for the most background blur and flat faces due to such long lengths.
Most photographers use a 50mm and/or a 85mm lens, so any of these two will be great if you’re still confused. If you can’t decide what length to go with, use whatever zoom you currently have and stick to one single length for a few days to get the feeling.
3. Auto Focus
Unless you prefer manual focusing, you want AF that you can count on. Shooting with large apertures is tricky since your focus needs to be spot on. If you accidentally focus on the nose instead of the eyes at f/1.4, that might just ruin the shot. You always want to make sure your lenses don’t have front/back focus issues and that they’re as accurate as they can be. If you never did any tests before, check out the video explaining you how here.
All lenses on our list except for the 85mm f/1.2L are pretty fast and will handle both stills and action well.
4. Optical SteadyShot
Having OSS is always a big plus, but unless your subjects are always completely still, you won’t actually benefit from it here. This is why you shouldn’t worry so much if a prime doesn’t come with OSS, that big aperture makes up for it.