Are you looking to start portrait photography or to upgrade your equipment to improve your image quality? I’ve reviewed the most popular models on the market and after reading this article you will know the top DSLR, mirrorless and compact camera options.
What to Look for in a Portrait Photography Camera
Because portrait photography encompasses a number of different specific styles, you should consider the exact type of portraits you will be shooting. Are you planning to shoot corporate headshots? Maybe you want to take school pictures or picture a musician while they are performing.
This is important to know as there are a number of different lighting conditions that you could be shooting in which will dictate the exact camera that best suits your needs. No matter which type of portrait you are going to shoot you will want to get the best image quality and resolution you can. When shooting portraits you want to produce images with incredible detail.
If you are shooting fast paced scenes, like a sporting even, then you will also need to have a fast shutter speed, image stabilization, and a great burst rate. While image stabilization is usually handled by your lens, it is built into some cameras as well.
So with that out of the way, now let’s discuss the most important factor you need to consider. First you will have to decide if you will go with a full frame camera or a stop sensor model. Full frame cameras are the choice of most pros and they provide you will some exceptional image quality. Crop sensor cameras still offer good image quality if you get one of the top models. One important thing to remember about crop sensor models is that you need to remember to account for crop factor when shooting. This means that the focal length of the lens must be multiplied by 1.5 or 1.6 when shot with a crop sensor.
A crop sensor can be the way to go if this added focal length is necessary to get the shot you are after.
Studio Portraiture Photography
If shooting only in a studio you will need specific gear to get high quality images. One item you will need to use is a hotshoe. This is an attachment that lets you use a wireless flash.
Another common feature you may need is a camera compatible with a tether so you can show your images in real time via a connected monitor. This is a vital feature for studio portraiture as it allows you to make quick adjustments in your subjects poses or the scene. There are even some cameras that offer a wireless tether feature which is great if you shoot frequently in this style.
Environment Portraiture Shooting
If you shoot portraits out in the field then the size of your camera makes a huge difference in how enjoyable the experience is. If you are hauling around a heavy and bulky camera rig then it can make it more difficult to get those shots and when it’s more difficult it can effect our quality and motivation.
If this is a concern for you then you might be better suited shooting with a mirrorless camera. Mirrorless models are significantly smaller and weight a lot less than their DSLR counterparts. And the top mirrorless cameras offer great image quality and performance.
It probably should go without saying, but just to be clear, the camera you go with should work well with portrait lenses. And the lenses that go best in shooting portraiture offer a fast aperture. Usually f/1.8 or f/2. This will produce that beautiful bokeh background that is desired when shooting portraits.
Another important factor to keep in mind is the distortion level. Because every lens produces some amount of distortion. A fixed 50mm lens will produce the least amount of distortion and this may be a good lens for studio shots. But if you are shooting outside you may want to go with a zoom lens. Especially if you are shooting candid shots as this distortion is often desirable.
So the type of lens that will best suit your camera completely depends on the shooting environments you will be going.
Best Portrait Cameras
Top DSLR Cameras
Canon EOS Rebel T6i
The Canon Rebel EOS T6i is a great entry level model DSLR. It comes in at a low price point and enough features and performance for the beginner to portraiture. It offers 24.2MP with an APS-C sensor which offers decent resolution. It additionally comes with the 7560 pixel RGB and IR meter sensor. It has sensor based phase detection from the Canon hybrid CMOS AF III. This provides good focus speed and accuracy on your viewfinder. The 19 point autofocus system is a great performer for an entry level option.
This is another excellent DSLR option for the beginner or intermediate portrait photographer. It offers a solid 36.3 megapixels and a full frame sensor for excellent image resolution. This model offers a great ISO range that goes from 64 up to 12,800. This model offers a long battery life. It is rated to shoot up to 1200 images on a single charge. That makes this a great option for the photography who shoots in the field. Settings adjustments are simple and you can control your hue, contrast, sharpness, and saturation levels.
Canon EOS 5DSr
This is the top DSLR camera for the serious portraiture photographer. The EOS 5DS r was designed with shooting portraits in mind. This full frame camera offers an incredible 50.6 megapixels. It provides an advanced face detection system and a high quality optical viewfinder. It provides you the ability to take full control of your settings and a large LCD screen. This camera produces exceptional image quality and is easily my favorite DSLR option on the market.
Top Mirrorless Cameras
The DMC-GX8 is an excellent mirrorless option for an entry level camera. It offers advanced performance at a lower price point. It provides you with plenty of features, including wifi, an touchscreen, and image stabalisation. Image quality is very good especially when considering the very reasonable price tag. It offers a high speed continuous shooting mode as well. This is a great lightweight camera to shoot with.
This is a great option for those looking to go a step beyond an entry level model. The 24MP sensor provides great image resolution and it features an impressive 325 autofocus points, of which 169 are phase detection. The autofocus is quick and accurate and you can go with a burst mode at 8fps. Another great feature is the booster power grip that draws power from the batteries in order to shoot at 30fps. If you will need continuous shooting this is an excellent model to go with.
Sony Alpha A7R III
I like the Sony Alpha A7R III a lot. This is an amazing camera that can handle shooting in many different styles. It provides the best image quality you will find in a mirrorless camera body. At an impressive 42.4 megapixels you will get awesome image resolution. This camera can produce truly jaw dropping image quality. It comes with built in wifi and a tilt display screen. It can shoot up to 10fps and it is compatible with a ton of high quality lenses. This is one of my all time favorite cameras.
Top Compact Cameras
Sony Cybershot DSC-RX1
The Cybershot cameras are very popular due to their good performance and ease of use. This full frame model provides a solid 24.3MP and comes in a lightweight and compact body. This camera is a joy to shoot with and feels great in your hands. It offers face detection technology that does a great job at automatically adjusting your focus and exposure. This compact camera offers a one inch sensor which will allow you to get max ISO levels. This makes this an awesome camera if you plan to shoot in low lighting.
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II
The G7 X Mark II is Canon’s premium compact model. It provides some of the best performance you will find in a compact camera. This camera makes a great portrait option for those who want a model that is easy to transport but still provides great image quality. You can shoot Raw and there is no viewfinder. The live view LCS screen takes a little getting used to but once you do it is not an issue. At 20MP you get solid image resolution. This is a great option for those who place a premium on portability.
This is the top compact model you can get as a photography who shoots portraits. This exceptional camera comes with a micro four thirds sensor and an electric viewfinder that offers face detection. It provides built in wifi, which is not common in compacts. This makes uploading your images quick and easy. With excellent image quality, a lightweight build, and built in wifi, this is an impressive camera.
As you can see, there are a number of high quality camera options available for the portrait photographer. Once you know the exact style you will be shooting and your budget the cameras above will serve you very well. Whether a DSLR, mirrorless, or compact suits you best any of the top picks in each category will help you take your image quality to the next level. And as always, happy shooting!
For more portrait guides check out these articles