Last Updated on February 14, 2022 by Devaun Lennox
People are interesting subjects. And capturing a portrait is an excellent way to highlight the quirkiness that lies in us all or share someone’s story. But, when it comes to posture and each sub-genre that exists, not all lenses are appropriately apt to tackle this medium. And while most photographers agree the 85-200mm focal range is ideal, there are several sub-genres where these focal lengths are necessarily challenging.
And not every lens provides the ideal perspective, working distance, framing, and required versatility. Additionally, Nikon has an enormous collection of potential lenses fitting the bill. With that, we’ve compiled a list of the best Nikon lenses for portraits, where all have distinct advantages for all the various types of portraiture.
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10 – Sigma 105mm F/1.4 Art
Sigma’s 105mm is the current Art series flagship and the lens they deem the “bokeh master.” This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 105mm filter, weather sealing, and weighs 1,645g. Unsurprisingly, at 3.62 lbs, this lens is quite heavy. Thankfully, it makes up for the heft with an unrivaled optical design. In this case, it features an uncommonly large prime lens construction consisting of 17 optical elements. This combination produces outstanding wide-aperture performance with minimal chromatic aberrations, vignettes, flares, or ghosting. Instead, it delivers incredible resolution well suited for high-resolution full-frame cameras like the D850. And its longer focal length does indeed produce beautiful bokeh that’s immediately satisfying to the eye. As such, this lens is a must for outdoor photographers wanting more range than a standard 85mm. And those who prioritize image quality above all else.
9 – Nikon 35mm F/1.4G
Nikon’s 35mm F/1.4 is a go-to for wedding photographers and photojournalists shooting portraits on location. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 67mm filter and weighs 600g. The 35mm focal length delivers a natural angle of view that closely mimics the human eye. And it does so with minimal barrel distortion, flares, and aberrations. Yet, with an ultra-fast aperture of F/1.4, this lens is primed to deliver stunning imagery in any lighting condition. And it’s especially useful on location given its Silent Wave (SWM) and Rear Focusing (RF) motors, which provide fast and quiet autofocusing. As such, it’s a must for photographers wanting a versatile, high-performing lens for journalistic applications. Or those who enjoy the class natural field of view only a 35mm prime lens offers.
8 – Nikon 105mm F/1.4E ED
Nikon’s 105mm is a unique marvel in their ecosystem, given its ultra-fast aperture and long focal length. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 82mm filter, and weighs 985g. Nikon dramatically overhauled this lens over the outgoing F/2 DC. Now, it debuts with an ultra-fast F/1.4 aperture, making it the world’s first. They’ve also refined the optical configuration, which boasts nearly double the elements of its predecessor. But, crucially, it now houses a Nano Crystal Coat and three Extra-Low Dispersion glass elements to reduce chromatic aberration, flares, and ghosting. Together it delivers razor-sharp details, perfect for emphasizing small textures in the skin or makeup. But, it does so with an interesting 3D-like effect, making it quite a standout and optically similar to Zeiss Otus in this regard. As such, it’s a must for photographers who want a highly unusual lens that offers mostly unobtainable images given its focal length and speed.
7 – Nikon 50mm F/1.4G
Nikon’s 50mm F/1.4 is the definitive go-to for portraits. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 58mm filter, and weighs 280g. With its F/1.4 aperture, it offers beautifully smooth bokeh and remains perfectly fit for low-light scenes. But, with a focal length of 50mm, it delivers a standard angle of view, great for both APS-C DX or full-frame FX cameras. And it’s the ideal everyday carrying lens, equally suited for both headshots or environmental portraits. And it’s a must for photographers wanting a versatile general-purpose lens.
6 – Nikon 35mm F/1.8G ED
Nikon’s 35mm F/1.8, like the F/1.4, is the go-to lens for photojournalists shooting on location. But, given the price difference, it’s the better value option for beginners. This lens features a 7-blade diaphragm, a 52mm filter and weighs 200g. The 35mm focal length is a long-time favorite, given its versatility. And it’s the ideal focal length for capturing large groups or telling environmental portraits. But, at 1/3rd the weight and price of the 1.4 variant, it’s a must for new photographers wanting a travel-friendly lens that offers superior value.
5 – Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 G2
Tamron’s 24-70 currently remains unmatched by the competition and outdoes even the first-party offering. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, an 82mm filter, image stabilization, weather sealing, and weighs 900g. The 24-70 focal range covers everything from large groups to tight headshots. And it hits a sweet spot in the zoom range, coveted by many photographers, especially those shooting weddings or events. But with a constant aperture of F/2.8 and a largely similar optical configuration, it offers better value at half the price of the Nikon variant. Yet, it does so providing superior image stabilization, ready to deliver 5-stops of shake compensation. As such, it’s a must for photographers wanting an all-in-one lens with class-leading versatility.
4 – Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 G2
Tamron’s 70-200 also remains unmatched by the competition and outpaces the first-party option. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 77mm filter, image stabilization, weather sealing, and weighs 1,485g. Like the 24-70, this second-generation lens brings substantial improvements to the line, leaving photographers wanting little if anything now. Namely, it gets better image quality, updated stabilization, improved AF speed, and a refined design. Now, image quality excels at wide-open apertures across the entire focal range. And images are sharp and detailed given its impressive optical configuration boasting 23 elements, closely matching Nikon’s F/2.8E in raw performance, which costs twice the price. Yet, it also offers formidable stabilization, ready to handle 5-stops of handshake. As such, it’s a must for photographers wanting a powerful 70-200 to shoot far-reaching portraits in high fidelity.
3 – Sigma 85mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art
Sigma’s 85mm updates the Art lineup. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, an 87mm filter, weather sealing, and weighs 1,130g. Yes, at 2.45 lbs, it stands as the largest 85mm on the market, and it’s pretty hefty and not particularly compact. However, it makes up for its size with outstanding imagery. In this case, it offers 14 elements, including three exclusive low-dispersion elements. And this combination delivers outstanding resolving power, well suited for high-resolution cameras like the D850. It also obtains Sigma’s HSM (Hyper Sonic) AF motor for snappy and near-silent autofocusing, making it a great option for candid portraits. As such, this lens is ideal for photographers wanting high-end optical fidelity that don’t mind the added weight that accompanies.
2 – Nikon 50mm F/1.8G
Nikon’s 50mm F/1.8 is their beloved nifty fifty and the default staple for most new photographers. This lens features a 7-blade diaphragm, a 58mm filter, and weighs 185g. The 50mm focal length is the perfect all-rounder ideal for any from walk-around candid street photography to intimate studio portraits. And it sits in a sweet spot with enough compression to make subjects attractive but wide enough for group shots. Despite its price though, this lens still offers excellent image quality along with Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) for quiet autofocusing. And it does so with a lightweight, travel-friendly size and a useful aperture of F/1.8. As such, it’s the perfect option for new photographers wanting a versatile classic portrait lens.
1 – Nikon 85mm F/1.8G
Nikon’s 85mm F/1.8 is the company’s best value portrait lens. This lens features a 7-blade diaphragm, a 67mm filter and weighs 350g. This focal length produces excellent compression that makes the subject look immediately life-like and flattering. And its F/1.8 aperture lends it to capturing great images, even in low light scenes, with image quality that matches the higher-end F/1.4 in several aspects. Yet, it does so while remaining significantly lighter, smaller, and 1/3rd the price too. Like the 50mm, though, it also obtains Nikon’s SWM AF motor for accurate and quiet autofocusing. But, it has a more complex optical construction, further eliminating distortion, flares, and chromatic aberrations. As such, it’s a must for portrait photographers, given its value, compact size, and overall image quality.