What is Your Favorite Portrait Lens?

What is Your Favorite Portrait Lens?

There are many ingredients in the recipe that make a good photographic portrait—foreground, background, setting, pose, expression, color, lighting, and so on—but one element that can be as important to the result as the portrait sitter is the lens used to capture the portrait and help create the art. 

Technically, any lens can be used to take a portrait with your camera, and there are traditional focal lengths for “portrait lenses” like 85mm and 105mm, but I asked my fellow B&H photographers, as well as our B&H Creative partners and affiliates, to share with us their favorite portrait lens. 

Dennis Livesey, B&H — @liveseyimages  

“In 2008, I sold a lot of stuff on eBay to buy the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM lens. After a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens I had owned for about a year, this was my second Canon L lens. That 17-40mm showed me the benefit of L glass over entry-level Canon lenses. However, I was surprised by my new 70-200mm f/4. I had a career as a motion picture camera assistant and using $100,000 zoom lenses was all in a day's work. I was very happy to use the finest lenses by Panavision, Zeiss, Cooke, and Angenieux. All of them were amazing. But the color and clarity of my new lens blew me away. It was astonishing that this lens, a pittance compared to the $20,000-and-up lenses I had been using, could take photos that looked so good and photographed colors I fell in love with. I thought it a good omen when the first time I ever got a prize for a photo, it was with this lens. 

“Fast forwarding to now, my style has changed and I mostly use a Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary—an excellent lens in its own right. However, I got called for a portrait session recently and I pulled out my only lens that does 85mm to 105mm. You know which one I am talking about. While I am not able to share the client I shot, here is a test shot and it is of yours truly. It has turned out to be my current favorite headshot. I am sure you see why; only my favorite portrait lens could make me look good.” 

Taken with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Dennis Livesey 


Bridget Haggerty, B&H — @bhaggertyphoto 

“My favorite portrait lens is a used zoom for my Nikon. Bought out of desperation and necessity, I grew accustomed to using it and now prefer it when shooting family portraits. It is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens. It came out in the early 2000s and I bought it used eight years ago. After losing my kit lens that zoomed to 200mm, I went in search of something that would give me that extra length for event work. My photography and business were still budding so I went for cheap rather than drop two months’ rent on a 70-200mm f/2.8. I remember the 80-400mm was priced under $500 and it covered all the in-between focal lengths that I wanted for portraits. My intention was to upgrade eventually, but now I don’t want to.   

“I love a good portrait prime, don’t get me wrong. This lens works for me, though. It has more than paid for itself and I know the lens so well, so the confidence I have when shooting with it is an added benefit. I know how my depth of field will look, the compression I’ll get, how the AF and VR perform. I am grateful for learning early on I don’t need the most expensive gear to make photos clients and I love.”  

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens

The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens

Levi Tenenbaum, B&H — @ibelevi 

“The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM—“Thrifty Fifty”—is one of the most underrated portrait lenses. Most probably because it came out during a time when everything was moving to crisper edges and cleaner bokeh. This lens, which I got brand new for $99, has lasted a solid 10 years! During that time, its imperfections, its softer corners, its creamy, even mushy bokeh, and its weird falloff have given my photos such a unique look. Just like there is no single perfect lens, this doesn’t work for every portrait. But for the images it does work for, there are few lenses that compare. 

“Additionally, I think there are two underrated portrait lenses: 1) Any of the 24-105mm f/4 lenses are great all-purpose lenses, and with a longer reach than the 24-70s, they can make more interesting and compressed portraits and, 2) Tilt-shift lenses—thanks Gregory Heisler!—are the easiest way to mimic the effects of a view camera with a simple 35mm camera.” 

Images from the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Levi Tenenbaum

Katherine Hoskins, B&H — @kathbhoskins 

“My favorite portrait lens is the Minolta 50mm f/1.4 Rokkor-X MD. I use it with my Minolta SRT-201, which was my first film camera—a family heirloom previously owned by my uncle Jim and used throughout the ’70s and ’80s on photojournalism assignments for my grandfather’s local Kentucky newspaper. My connection to this camera and lens gives me a lot of inspiration and I love using it as my carry-everywhere camera setup, especially for impromptu portrait sessions. The smooth, slightly swirly bokeh and sharp focus give this lens an ethereal quality I adore. I like to carry as minimal a kit as possible for long photo walks, so this lightweight lens combined with its dreamy characteristics make it a perfect choice every time.” 

Images from the Minolta 50mm f/1.4 Rokkor-X MD Katherine Hoskins

Liza Roberts, B&H Creative — @lizabetroberts 

“I love the simplicity of the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM! It's my go-to for fantasy and dreamy portraiture. It's the first lens I got for my Canon R6 and it's never failed me. I get dreamy, but crisp and clear images every time.” 

Images from the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM Liza Roberts

Josh Brown, B&H — @xxjoshbrownxx  

“I love the Voigtländer Nokton Classic 40m f/1.4 MC for Leica M mount and use it on APS-C cameras. It’s not your typical portrait lens. It doesn’t flatten, but it also doesn’t distort faces either. I like it for casual portraits of friends and family in tight places while hanging out. It’s small, unintrusive, and fast.” 

Image from the Voigtländer Nokton Classic 40mm f/1.4 MC and the lens Josh Brown 

Ange Fitzgerald, B&H — @angelinashoots 

“I used the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS USM for years when I would shoot portraits almost every weekend. I always loved the super-wide angle and how close you could get to your subject. It was great for selfies, too!” 

Images from the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS USM Angelina Fitzgerald

Raymond Parker@raymond_parker 

“‘A Long-Term Love Affair’ 

“I've always loved the 105mm focal length for portraits. That's probably because the first portrait lens I bought was the Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AI-s, in 1982. It was one of a few 35mm lenses in my bag when I began my commercial career around that time. I’ve made hundreds and hundreds of portraits with it over the years. 

“And what a lens that was (and still is). Tragically, mine met its end on the concrete floor of my studio three years ago. I cried! 

“These days, I use the Nikon Z system and have been replacing my F-mount lenses with Z-mounts. I was eager to get my hands on the NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S lens when it was released last summer. It hasn't disappointed. Nevertheless, if I come across a copy of the old f/2.5 in good nick, I'll definitely grab one; there's something special about the rendering of that vintage beauty.” 

Image from the Nikon NIKKOR 105mm f/2.5 AI-s and the lens Raymond Parker

Thomas Simms, B&H 

“When I shot on a full-frame Nikon camera, my favorite traditional portrait lens was the Nikon Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8D (latest version: Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8 IF-ED). It wasn't too flat or too wide, it was just right, which is usually what you want in a headshot.  

Image from the Nikon Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8D on a Kodak Pro-SLR/n. © Thomas Simms

Image from the Nikon Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8D on a Kodak Pro-SLR/nThomas Simms

When I switched to an APS-C sensor camera, the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens became my portrait lens. It's a bit wide, but even when I use it ‘close,’ I like the fresh, three-dimensional look.” 

Image from the Canon 60mm f/2.8 Macro on a Canon 7D. © Thomas Simms

Image from the Canon 60mm f/2.8 Macro on a Canon 7DThomas Simms

Todd Vorenkamp, B&H — @trvphoto 

“Traditionally, my favorite portrait lens was the hidden gem, and recently discontinued, Nikon AF DC-NIKKOR 105mm f/2D that I got second-hand from someone departing the Nikon system. I still use the lens, adapted to my FUJIFILM cameras, for manual-focus portraits and astrophotography. 

Images from the Nikon AF DC-NIKKOR 105mm f/2D Todd Vorenkamp

“As I had migrated to FUJIFILM, I picked up the FUJIFILM XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR lens and it has become my portrait lens of choice. Ironically, it doesn’t get exercised as much as it should as my favorite portrait subject is a 2.5-year-old who is always on the move—he’s not much of a ‘portrait sitter.’ Capturing him, I usually am armed with the FUJIFILM XF 35mm f/1.4 R lens that gives me a bit more flexibility with composition and an additional stop of light when indoors. Depending on what we are doing and his mood, I sometimes reach for the 90mm f/2 and inevitably get a keeper or two that I love. 

Images from the FUJIFILM XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR Todd Vorenkamp

Share Your Thoughts  

Now it’s your turn! What is your favorite portrait lens and why? Tell us in the Comments section, below!  

For more information on the B&H Creative Partnerships Team, email us at [email protected]. 


Bought My first Nikon (an F3) in 1982, in Saudi Arabia of all places. Prior to that I had a Konica Autoreflex T3n with Hexanon AR 1.7/50mm (which was quite nice camera and sharp lens). My favorite portrait lens in the 80s & early 90s was my Nikkor 105mm F1.8 AIs.  The shallow DOF from f2.8 to f1.8 was fantastic as were the blurred backgrounds (I don't think we called that bokeh at that time and we certainly didn't pixel peep). I used that lens on my F3 & FA until the early 2000s, when I bought a beautiful F5 (used).  I still used the 105 Ais until I obtained a pair of Nikkors in the early 2010s with "Defocus Image Control"(DIC), the 105mm f2 D & the 135mm f2 D. Both of these lenses were/are incredibly sharp with the Defocus at neutral but the subtle effect of blurring the background or the foreground was great to use.  Of course, with film, it was subtle enough to need fairly large prints to notice.  I still use both of these lenses today on a D850, and it is much easier now to see the effect immediately, although still subtle, on the magnified view screen.

I now also use my AFs Micro Nikkor 105mm F 2.8, although without the same extent of background blurring and of course no foreground blurring. The AFs is easier to use due to the fast and accurate autofocus compared to the turning screw D lenses.

I was missing my old 105mm f1.8 AIs and mounted it up (as often do with my wide angle 24mm f2 & 28mm f2), only to find that the focus ring on the 105mm was very hard to turn. The optics are still crystal clear and the aperture still clicks easily but decidedly and no oil visible on diaphragm leaves.  Does anyone have experience with and can recommend a good camera lens repair shop in the Manhattan or North Jersey area, or even can be mailed to, that might properly address this issue?  It's my bad that this lens sat for a couple of decades before I noticed this but it's simply too beautiful a jewel to just let it go.

Back when I shot a lot of portraits with my Nikon F2, I usually chose my Nikkor 135. Wide open at f/3.5, it blurred out the background nicely and gave me a working distance of about 9'/3m from my subject. My "normal" lens, a 55mm micro-Nikkor was too wide for the portrait framing I preferred.

Thanks for sharing, Don! That is a great lens for portraits!



I am in agreement with Livesey, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is my favorite portrait lens. In fact favorite for everything, except for those cases where space is limited and I cannot back away from the subject to fill the frame.

Forgot to add that I also have the f/2.8 version, but it is much heavier, hence less practical when you have to carry it around. It is fine in the studio, sometimes parked on a sturdy tripod. There is no doubt that pixel peepers, and precise Fourier Transform measurements agree that prime lenses are often sharper than these zoom lenses, but is corner to corner sharpness the most important issue for creative artistic images?

Practical issues, like weight and the time to swap lenses is an important factor when you are not in studio. A really good zoom lens lets you frame really fast without taking a step, and finally there is always the cost factor.

Hi Dan,

Keeping company with Dennis is good company to keep!

Thanks for sharing your experiences with the 70-200 and thanks for reading!



Ah, the Nikon 105mm 2.5 of yesteryear.   The best portrait lens ever.   I think the physics of the elements was always best suited to a become a 105.   The Olympus 100 mm was quite good too.

That is a legendary lens!

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Ron!



There are simply too many fine options available to say any one is better than another. line all up together and no one could tell which one was used. All the examples below are terrific. I use Nikon and love the results. I still have my 105mmAI  purchased in the year 1969 and get great results. I also get wonderful photos with the Z mount lens I recently purchased for my Z8 camera. 

Hi Ted,

Thanks for sharing! Keep rocking that 105 on the Z! What Z lens did you get?



I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Nikon AF-S 105mm f1.4E lens... which is a portrait lens I can spend all day shooting with. This lens is designed for F-mount lenses but when I'm working at f1.4 I've found I get the best performance using this lens with an FTZ adaptor on an Z-series camera... the eye-detection really nails the focus every time to deliver stunning results. I have never really been a fan of the 85mm focal length, and 135mm is just a pinch too long for me, so 105 is the magic sweet spot.... now I think I will just be waiting for Nikon to create a 105mm f1.4 lens in the Z-mount. 

Good stuff, Anthony!

Thanks for sharing and thanks for reading! Save your pennies...I bet that Z 105mm will be expensive!



Great lens! Thanks for sharing, Craig!



My personal favorite is the Canon 100 2.8 macro (non-IS version) and the 70-200 f2.8 mark 2.  I've used the 85mm 1.2 but I feel it don't have enough foreshortening that I like.  I've tried a 200mm but it's the other end of the spectrum - too long for correct perspective IMHO. 100-135 is the "sweet spot" for me.

Good choices, Ross! Interesting about the 85mm...but I bet you'd get more foreshortening with that lens on an APS-C camera...if you dare! :)

Thanks for reading!



VINTAGE ZEISS CONTAX  85MM F1.4 PLANER use with Sony A7Rll + Novoflex Zeiss yc to Sony E very precision adapter.

The reason I like this lens is due to it's speed, very flexible for background bokeh. 

Also, it's overall general performance.  

Ron K


Great lens there, Ronald! Thanks for sharing!



i like any 85mm or 135mm lens wide open


Hi Greg,

I am sure you can find some Vivitar 85mm's at garage sales for cheap! :)

Thanks for reading!



i use a nikkor 135 f2.8. it gives a bit more stand off for out in the world shooting, and the 2.8 has a bit of softness due to more glass than the 3.5 which is razor sharp and i use for more technical stuff.

Hi Lou,

Its sometimes nice to embrace lenses that aren't the world's sharpest for the way they render subjects. Thanks for sharing!



Nothing beats the Nikon 105mm f/2.0 DC for portraits with a DSLR camera. With a mirrorless camera the best lens available is the revolutionary Sony 100mm f/2.8 STF GM OSS lens. The Sony lens is a digital version of the mechanical defocus control found in the Nikon DC lenses. It is in a league of its own for portrait work.

Hi Bruce,

Thanks for backing up one of my votes!

And, nice pick with the Sony, too!



Using the RF 85 mm F/2.0 macro lately for most portraits on a R5.  It's more than sharp enough at f 2.0 or 2.8, beautiful bokeh and 20% of the cost of the RF 85 mm F/1.2 and 40% of the weight!  Also having great results for candid monochrome street portraits with the Viltrox 75 mm F/1.2 on a Sony a6700, an amazing lens.

You aren't too far out in left field here, Nicholas! Many portrait-length macro lenses make great portrait lenses, too!

Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences!



Old Nikon 105mm f2.5 (non ai) 

Best portrait lens I've used. 

I've had it for almost 40 years now (along with the classic Micro 55mm f2.8) on a Nikon FM2.


Yes Daniel, just that 105 2.5 is the greatest!

A legend! Nice, Daniel! Thanks for reading!



There is simply no comparison to the Nikon 105 f2 DC.  I don’t know how it does what it does, and it does require a bit of manual setting, but there is nothing like its ability to produce creamy backgrounds on portraits.  Alas, I think you can only get them used now.

I do love mine! Thanks for seconding one of my choices, Forrest!



First I am surprised no one mentioned Medium Format. For film photography medium format allows for easier retouching. I was a big fan of the 150MM lens on my Pentax 645 bodies for portraits on film. For DSLR small format I like the 50mm f1:1.4 Pentax or the 85mm f1:1.4 Pentax both FA lenses. On my full frame Pentax K-1ii I am loving an older 100mm f1:2.8 M series Pentax lens right now. I also use the 85mm with good results and am experimenting with an older 200mm f1:2.5 Pentax k lens. TBH on the K-1ii I mostly leave the 28mm - 105mm 'kit lens' on it for most of my event work including the impromptu portraits which happen in those situations. 

Hi Norman,

If I shot medium format, I would have definitely mentioned it. And, if someone wants to buy a medium format system for me, I am all in! :)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!



The Zeiss Sonnar 50mm 1.5 (current version of a classic design) is one of my favorites on the Leica M10.  Another is the Voigtlander 75mm Color Skopar 2.5 (no longer in production).

Great choices, Michael! Thank you for sharing and thanks for reading!



I have two favorites. I have a Nikon 50mm f/1.2 D and a Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED AF(72) both I use with a Nikon Df.  I always wanted a nikon 85mm f/1.4 D but haven't got one yet. I use the 50 for tight quarters shooting and the 180 for more space.   

Hi James,

Good stuff here! Check out the 85 f/1.8D....it is an amazing lens and quite the sleeper!



Second favorite choice for portraits is the Canon 400 mm f/2.8, which is especially valuable for candid portraits:  subjects rarely notice the photographer, despite the bulk of this lens, and (as with the 85 mm f/1.2) the subject's facial features alone are razor-sharp; all else is a soft blur that keeps attention on the subject's face. 

The lens also provides a whole-body workout to haul around.

Hi Kent,

Full-body workouts are a fun part of photography sometimes!

Thanks for reading!



Hands down choice for portraits of human subjects is the Canon 85 mm f/1.2.  Advantages are razor sharpness exactly where I want it, beautiful transition to smoothness elsewhere, and a depth that I cannot find in images where I used other lenses.

Of course, the subject had better not be moving, because the autofocus is glacially slow; but is it ever worth the wait!  And the weight. 

Another great suggestion! Are you the same Kent A. with the 400mm? :)

Thanks for sharing your experience!



I LOVE the Canon EF 135 F2 adapted on my R series cameras! It gives me beautiful portraits! I’m really interested to see what Canon would do with an RF 135 F1.8 version and if it will even be worth upgrading to that one. 

Hey Orlando,

Awesome to still rock the EF lenses on your R. I know many people do, but many are also running for the new R lenses. I think there is a place in the world for "vintage" glass!

According to one rumor website I just saw, there might be a RF 135mm f/1.4 in the works, but I cannot confirm nor deny. Some manufactures are forthcoming with their "lens roadmaps" but Canon does not seem to be.

Thanks for reading!



My favorite portrait lens is the Canon EF 1.8/85mm besides the EF1.2/50mm (indeed, you hate or love it) and the EF 2.8/100mm Macro. For portrature the macro lens seems a little bit to sharp,  depending on the object. Since the beginning Canon made wonderful 100mm lenses (their first owm lenses were 50 and 100mm). Since Canon makes the EOS R mirrorless cameras I am able to use all old lenses and I am rediscovering the FD 2/100 , FD 1.2/85mm, FD 1.2/55, FL 1.2/58, FL 1.8/85mm and M39 2/100mm and others.  I will have to see which one serves still today delivering a vintage look.

Hey Thomas,


Funny that you mention "to sharp" in regards to portraiture. Almost everyone wants clinically sharp lenses, but, when it comes to portraits, sitters want the eyes sharp and all of their blemishes smooth or blurry! :)

Definitely circle back to let us know if you find a magic Canon portraiture lens with those classic beauties!

Thanks for reading!



I am a retired Navy Master Chief Photographer's Mate with 32 years service.

My two favorite portrait lenses for my Sony mirrorless cameras are the Sony 85mm f/1.8 and the Sony 70-200mm f/4 G.  I use these two lenses on both my full frame A7iii and crop sensor A6600 cameras.  When I shot Canon gear my favorite lenses were (not surprisingly) the Canon 85mm f/1.8 and Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS on both the full frame 6D Mark-2 and the crop sensor 7D Mark-2.

The 70-200mm lenses provide nice subject separation from the background (even at f/4 or f/5.6) while the subject separation of the 85mm f/1.8 (which I most often shoot wide open) is absolutely awesome.

I do enjoy the Eye Auto Focus of the Sony cameras for both people and dogs.  

Hey Master Chief,

Thank you for your service. I think you chose the best enlisted rate in all the branches!

I am a former CH-46D, UH-3H, and MH-60S driver myself...then flew the HH-65C in the lesser sea service. :)

You have some great optics for your Sony gear. Nice! There is really something to be said for the f/1.8 and f/4 lenses out there...as long as you can take the barbs from the f/1.2-1.4 and f/2.8 snobs!

Thanks for reading!



Hi Todd

I flew around Southern Japan in the back of HH-46A models for a couple of years! 

Making the most of the lenses you do have is more important than pining for the ones you don't! 




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