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]. 


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!



I love my old classic Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF-D. 

Hey David,

Great lens...although I did love the crinkle metal finish of the f/1.4 version!

I used to own the f/1.8 lens and often regret saying goodbye to it. For some reason, I didn't use the lens very often and, interestingly, my FUJIFILM 56mm is probably the least-used of my FUJIFILM lenses. I have to give that some thought for a while!

Thanks for reading!



thanks for your comments about the 70-200 f4. i'm thinking about replacing my 2.8 with that lighter weight version.

I carried a pair of Canon 7D Mark-2 cameras all over the world with a pair of lenses.  I chose the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens as my long focal length lens over the f/2.8 version because of its lighter weight and smaller size.  When I switched to Sony gear, I chose the Sony 70-200mm f/4L IS lens over Sony's f/2.8 G-Master because of the smaller form factor.  The fact that the f/4 G is a great deal less expensive was just an added bonus!

Hey Richard,

Thanks for adding to the discussion here! I am a big proponent of long f/4 glass for many reasons—cost, size, weight, and even performance. My Nikon 300mm f/4 has been a workhorse for me at air shows and at surfing contests and it has never let me down. I wouldn't dream of carrying (or even affording) the f/2.8 version!

Thanks for reading!



Hey James,

On behalf of Dennis, you are very welcome!

There is always something to be said for carrying lighter gear. And, with today's high ISO performance, the loss of a stop of light might not be a big deal at all as you can compensate for that...but cannot for the slight loss of DOF.

Thanks for reading!



i have a sigma 50 1.4 that is stunning with a small chip camera like a 70d.

Hey James,

So good! I, too, find the 50mm focal length lenses to be exceptional portrait glass for cropped sensor cameras!

Thanks for reading!



Giving my age away? In 1979 I went out shopping and brought home a Canon A1 (later replaced by a T90) and a number of lenses. Not on the shopping list was an extravagant love-at-first-sight - the f1.2 85 mm AL. Portraits by candle light or window shopping at night, concert photos - you name it. It was part of a conspiracy by the old to keep me away from the new. Who needs EF lenses when you learned to focus? But eventually I couldn't justify rolls of 36 exposures in the face of SD cards holding a few thousand images. The solution? Eventually I found an M43 body and an adapter. At a theoretical 170mm this lens still serves me very well, and who knows, maybe some day I will stumble upon a full frame mirrorless body and my favourite lens will be a portrait lens again.

(By the way, an advantage of the mirrorless approach is this: When you stop down the lens manually to see the depth of field, the viewfinder will compensate for the loss of brightness - and the automatic can provide the shutter speed for you, for you to approve.)

(And a warning - or a hint: using this lens in a macro setting using a ring or two, the focal plane is anything but a plane, more like a paraboloid, which can also be used for some interesting effects - no need for a ND filter with gelatine smeared all over it ...)


Hello Gerd, I had the same problem, used the FD 1.2/85mm AL with F-1 and others and had no chance to use them with AF confirmation an Digital bodies (with film I used the AL-1 under critical conditions and full opening). Since Canon released the EOS R series I can use all my old Canon lenses (screwmount, Canomatic R , FL, FD, FDn) by the help of third party adapters and still full frame and focusing to infinity with focus confirmation. Wonderful. Regards, Thomas.

Thanks for reading and joining the discussion, Thomas!

The real magic of mirrorless, in my mind, is the ability to use almost any lens on almost any mirrorless camera—such cool times to be a photographer in!



Hey Gerd,

Very cool stuff!

As Thomas chimes in below, you can definitely pick up a full-frame mirrorless body and adapt that lens these days. But, if you love your Micro Four Thirds setup, then keep on shooting and don't sweat the full-frame stuff!

By the way, I am old enough that I could have, with permission, gone out shopping in 1979. :)

Thanks for reading and sharing your experience with the 85mm/170mm lens!



My favorite portrait lens is probably my Helios 44-2 58mm f/2. This is an ancient, dusty clunker of a lens, with an M42 screw mount and a weird purple optical coating. Even at f/8 this lens is a little soft, but to shoot at f/8 is to miss the funky charm of the swirly bokeh the Helios can create. Unsuitable for corporate headshots or any sort of "formal" work, the Helios is for charming, personal portraiture. The 58mm focal length means this lens is ideal for portraits on APS-C cameras, and the APS-C sensor crops out the most rococo swirls on the outer edges.

(I commented on Cory Rice's article last month that the Pentax DA* 55m f/1.4 was my favorite fast prime for portraits, but upon reflection the DA* is my "best" portrait lens but not my favorite. The DA* is the sharpest lens I own, it was designed exclusively for APS-C portraiture, and the soft bokeh bubbles it creates are perfect—but the silent wave motor is appallingly slow for a modern lens. And yeah, the Helios is manual-focus only, but it oozes antique charm, has no pretensions, and cost me 1/8th of what I paid for my "professional" portrait lens.)

Hey Artie,

Great stuff! I have found that there are a lot of vintage lenses that give a unique feel to a portrait that can never be replicated in many of today's clinically sharp optics. No one (aside from Lensbaby) is going to make lenses with vintage character anymore as they know they'd get slammed in online reviews. It is awesome that the mirrorless market has breathed new life into some old glass—keeping them out of landfills and off of dusty shelves!

Thanks for reading!



Hi Todd:

Far be it from me to doubt another Artie M. in public, but was Arthur Moss answering the same question as the other respondents? His answer seems a bit bird-centric. :)

Hey Artie,

Long lost twin with the same name? :)

Yes, Mr. Morris was given the same query and it seems his preferred portrait sitters have feathers, beaks, and hollow bones!

Thanks for reading!