Portrait Lens Comparison and Selection Tips

The lens you use in portrait photography will directly impact the output of any photograph. The lens affects the image quality, perspective and depth of field. In this article, we want to equip you with all the right knowledge on portrait lenses to choose a lens to suit your photography style. 

To learn more about portrait photography, check out our article Landscape vs Portrait Photography on the Camera House blog. 

What is Portrait Lens?

A portrait lens is designed to capture subjects in a portrait format, as the name suggests. It helps provide a comfortable distance between the photographer and subject to produce natural images with accurate proportions. There are a few different types of lenses you can use for portrait photography depending on your style, which we’ll explore more below. 

Types of Lenses for Portrait Photography

The style of lens you choose for portrait photography will largely depend on your style and budget. Here are some great lens options for portrait photography. 

Standard lenses 

With a focal length of around 50mm, the standard lens offers wonderful versatility for a range of portrait styles. With a focal length that resembles a human eye, you will be able to produce natural-looking images. A downside of the standard lens is that there's not a great range of flexibility in the focal length and aperture range. 

Zoom lenses

With a range of focal lengths to adjust to, zoom lenses are versatile to capture portraits in unique environments. To compare the styles, check out our article Zoom Lens vs Macro Lens

Prime lenses

The focal length of a prime lens is generally fixed at 85mm or 135mm which produces high-quality images with wide apertures. This will help make the portrait subjects stand out and be really clear in the centre of the image. The downside of a prime lens is that your magnification abilities can be restricted as you can’t zoom in or out to change the perspective. Check out our article Prime Lenses vs Zoom Lenses to compare the different lens styles. 

Telephoto lenses

With an even longer focal length, telephoto lenses generally sit around 70mm or longer to capture portraits from a far distance. As a con, telephoto lenses require a lot of space and distance between the subject and the photographer but can create some interesting perspectives and effects. Check out our article When To Use a Telephoto Lens to learn more. 

Macro lenses

For closer-range photography, macro lenses can capture intricate details that can be hard to see with other lens types. With this elevated sharpness, you can get more creative with your portrait styles and take interesting images from unique perspectives. The downside of a macro lens is the lack of flexibility to zoom out and take wide-perspective shots. It makes this lens an expensive investment for one type of portrait shot. Check out our article What is a Macro Lens Used For on the Camera House blog to learn more. 

Key factors to consider when choosing a lens for portrait photography

Before you choose the lens for your portraits, you need to consider the key factors and characteristics of the lens to ensure that it suits your photography style. Check out the key lens characteristics to look out for below. 

  • Focal length: The focal length plays a large role in how flattering the image turns out for the subject. Generally, a portrait focal length should sit around 50mm to 135mm.
  • Aperture: The aperture will affect the focus of the subject in your portrait. With a wide aperture setting, which is a lower f-stop value, you’ll create a smooth bokeh. The narrower the aperture in portrait photography will create a greater depth of field with your subject. To learn more about aperture, check out our article Understanding Aperture. 
  • Lens type: The lens type can change the style of your image. Above, we went through the pros and cons of each lens model for portrait photography and what might work for you. To learn more, check out our article Everything About Camera Lenses
  • Lens characteristics: It’s important to test or read reviews of a camera lens to get a complete understanding of whether it will be right for the portraits you’re looking to take. Pay attention to the focal length range, aperture range and lens type. These features will dictate how your portraits turn out, so it’s important to make sure your lens has the right characteristics. 

Tips for selecting the perfect lenses for portrait photography

Finding the perfect lens for portrait photography will take some research and consideration. There are many factors that will go into deciding what lens is right for you before you make the investment. 

The environment you will be shooting portraits in will be the first big factor to consider. Indoor and outdoor photography require different lens characteristics to capture crisp images. Outdoor photography may also allow for lenses with longer zoom ranges such as a zoom lens or a telephoto lens. 

Your budget for a portrait lens will also largely dictate the options you have. For more affordable lenses, zoom lenses and standard lenses are great options to start playing around with and figuring out how you like to take portraits. Once you’re ready to make an investment in a portrait lens, a prime lens is a great option to produce high-quality photographs. 

Finally, your skill level will also dictate what lens you will be able to get the most out of and learn from. Beginner photographers will probably find zoom or standard-type lenses easier to work and practise with. Professionals on the other hand may find these lenses too limiting and opt for prime lenses or telephoto lenses to experiment more with their diverse shooting options. 

For more information on selecting the perfect lens for portrait photography, check out our articles The Best Canon & Nikon Lenses for Portraits and Portrait Photography Equipment on the Camera House blog. 

Find your perfect portrait lenses at Camera House

Take advantage of Camera House’s knowledgeable staff in-store and online and ask them what portrait lenses are perfect for you! Check out our shipping information online and enjoy flat-rate delivery Australia-wide, or check out our store locator to visit a Camera House store near you. Explore more great articles on Camera House’s blog.