Last Updated on March 16, 2021
If you are a Nikon photographer looking for the best portrait photography lens then this is the review for you. I have looked at the most popular Nikon portrait lenses on the market and after reading this article you will know the top rated recommendations.
What to Look for When Selecting a Nikon Portrait lens
When choosing a lens for portrait photography there are a handful of elements you must keep in mind. Nikon offers some exceptional models perfect for portraits and here are the features to keep in mind.
Distortion is a fact of life and is present to some extent with all lenses. Even the high end options have some distortion, but when shooting portraits you will want to achieve minimal image warping, which will prevent the faces of your subjects from becoming distorted.
Image sharpness is particularly important in portrait photography as blur is easily noticed in human subjects. All of the top rated Nikon lenses below will offer you sharp image quality to help you achieve excellent image quality.
Utilizing a Bokeh effect is a very important technique when shooting portraits. It allows you to effectively separate the subject from the background. Each of the top rated picks allow you to create a bokeh background, where the subject is in focus while the background is out of focus. The slightly fuzzy look of the background is easy to achieve with the right lens.
The size and weight of your lens will impact how long you can comfortably shoot in a single session. Smaller and lightweight lenses tend to be easier to shoot with but some situations require a larger lens. Another factor that effects weight is the build quality. Generally, a more durable lens will be made of metal and therefor weight more than a plastic body lens.
It is important to keep in mind that high quality portrait lenses generally cost a decent amount. There is a wide range of prices and you will see lenses ranging from just a few hundred dollars all the way up to multiple thousands. If you intend to be a professional photographer then you should expect to invest in a great portrait camera and lenses that allow you to excel in your field.
Here are the top rated portrait photography lenses for Nikon for every budget.
Top Rated Nikon Portrait Lens
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
If you are looking to get serious about shooting portraits then the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 is an excellent starting point. This Nikon lens is relatively low cost and is in most photographers budget range. It is a very solid performing lens for the price point. This lens is very versatile and is popular with photographers worldwide. It offers a short focal length, allowing you to get up close with your subject while being long enough to prevent image distortion like you will get with a 35mm lens. The reason this lens comes in so low is due to the weaker build quality. It is constructed from plastic and it is not weather proof. If that does not worry you, this is an excellent option.
- Excellent image quality
- It offers a max aperture of f/1.8 which will work well even in low light
- This lens is small and lightweight making it ideal for travel
- While it minimizes distortion, it does have more than more expensive models on this list
- You cannot achieve extreme closeups
- The bokeh effect is not as strong as other lenses on the list
Nikon 24-85mm F/3.5-4.5G
This is a great lens for those who are either beginners to portraits or those who just want the flexibility of a zoom lens. The Nikon 24-85mm is a step up from a standard kit lens but still a very affordable option for those just getting started. It is easy to use but it is not ideal for low light conditions due to the max aperture of f/3.5. It does have a decent amount of distortion as well. But with it’s relatively low price tag and general versatility makes it a solid entry level option. It is best to shoot this lens in the 50 to 85mm range when taking portrait photographs. It comes in at under 500 dollars and is quite popular by beginner photographers.
- This is a very easy lens to use making it great for beginners
- It offers a decent focal length range for portraiture
- It is lightweight and easy for traveling
- Plastic body build is not highly durable
- The optics quality is not as good as a high end prime lens
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
If the 24-85mm range is not enough for you and you require more versatility then the Nikon 70-200mm is an excellent option. This high end portrait lens is a legitimate professional quality lens. It is a big step up in price, but it is also a big leap in performance. This is definitely one of the best zoom lenses for shooting portraits on the market. This lens is durable and very well built making your investment one that will last. It is great at minimizing distortion as well as producing a beautiful bokeh effect. This is a great lens for the professional or the aspiring pro photographer.
- This zoom allows you to effectively shoot from multiple distances
- It offers a maximum aperture of f/2.8 which works for low light conditions
- It has an excellent build quality
- It is quite long and fairly bulky making it tough during long shoots
- The focus ring has an unusual placement which can be off putting for long time Nikon photographers
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G
The Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is one of my absolute favorite portrait lenses for Nikon. It offers you the perfect focal length so that you can capture great facial shots with minimal image distortion. You can shoot from close up to a decent distance and still achieve great image clarity. This lens also creates some of the best bokeh images you can get from a Nikon. It is a breeze to keep you subject clear with the background fuzzy, which is ideal for portraits. Your portraits will really pop with this 85mm. This lens is also relatively lightweight and easy to travel with. This lens is very popular with wedding and portrait photographers around the world.
- Excellent weather proofing allows you to shoot in any conditions
- Excellent design is a joy to shoot with in hand
- Exceptional image quality with almost no distortion
- The autofocus is not the fastest making it possible to miss some shots
- It is not compatible with all manual cameras as it does not have an aperture ring
- The fixed focal length will not be suitable for all shots
Nikon 135 f/2 DC
I really like this lens for portraits where a bokeh effect is needed. It features a Defocus Control feature which allows you to manually create a bokeh effect as needed. If you are a fan of creating those creamy bokeh backgrounds then this is the lens for you. There is no other lens from Nikon like this one and almost everyone will want it eventually. It is surprisingly affordable considering the great performance level. The Defocus Control ring lets you adjust the focus of the forground or the background. You can also turn it off if you don’t want it for a particular shot. When disabled this lens performs like a standard lens. This is a great option for the professional photographer.
- This lens is ideal for tight portrait shots
- The Defocus Control ring gives unparalleled control over your images
- It provides a nine blade diaphragm for a beautiful bokeh effect
- There is a slight learning curve for the Defocus Control feature
- Older lens design does not offer optical stabilization
- Heavy due to an all metal construction build
I am a huge fan of shooting portraits with my Nikon and as you can see there are a number of great lens options for your Nikon. There are options for every budget making sure that you can get the best performance for your money. The entry level lenses are fine and will serve you well as you grow as a photographer, and the pro models will help you take your image quality to the next level as soon as you are ready to invest in one.
For more Nikon lens guides check out these articles