If you are shooting Lifestyle or Documentary images – in other words capturing your everyday life – which lens is the best for you to use? Well, that is a pretty big question as there a number of options available to you, and each have their own plus and minus points, or things they are best suited for. This is one reason why many people will have two or three (or more!) prime lenses, or a couple of zooms, so that they have a range of lenses that they can pull out to give a different look. That, or they have a small lens addiction 😉
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Of course, sometimes you just don’t know which lens would be best suited to you, or for a particular look/job, so I’ve listed some focal lengths below that will give you an idea of which each lens would be good for, and when I personally pull each one out of my own (too large) stash to use.
To go along with this post I’ve also created a “Which Lens Kickstarter Guide” which gives you example images from different lenses, and details which focal lengths you should use for different types of lifestyle, portrait and documentary photos, so you know exactly which lenses will give you perfect results. Go here to grab it.
Wide Angle (such as a 28 or 35mm)
This really is such a great focal length for indoor lifestyle / documentary photographs! A wide angle is definitely my go-to lens for using inside, as I can capture the subject and some of their surrounding environment too. It can also make a great lens for including several members of the family in a group shot, and although perhaps not the most flattering for head shots – due to the slight distortion wide angles produce – it still can be used quite effectively for lifestyle head shots on children as the distortion can add a quirky element that actually works quite well with kids!
It’s also great for outdoor shots where you really want to show the environment – beach or field shots for example – anywhere where you want to include some of the landscape.
A wide angle is also an inclusive lens, which makes you feel more like you are standing right in the middle of the action when you view the photo.
Some suggested lenses:
Canon 28mm / Nikon 28mm
Canon 16-35mm / Nikon 16-35mm
Sigma 35mm (both Canon and Nikon Versions)
Canon 24-70mm / Nikon 24-70mm
Tamron 24-85mm (both Canon and Nikon versions)
The Standard 50mm
The 50mm Lens is a camera bag staple, and rightly so due to it’s huge versatility. You can use it in- doors and outdoors, and it can be used for both lifestyle and portraits due to the fact there is no or little distortion. A 50mm prime is generally also very lightweight and easy to carry, so it’s perfect for popping into your bag to take with you. I use this indoors for times when my 35 is just allowing just too much of the environment in, and I don’t want to have to get right up to my subject, and also for shots outdoors. It’s just a fab all rounder for a focal length – a Canrue workhorse!
Some suggested lenses:
Canon 50mm F1.8
Canon 50mm F1.4
Nikon 50mm F1.8
Sigma 50mm F1.4
Generally, I use this lens for times when I am outdoors with my subject, and I want to allow them to have some space to move away from me. The longer length gives wonderful compression too, which helps give you those super blurry backgrounds. It’s also very useful for taking detail shots – for example, little hands on the paint brush or tying their shoes, without you having to go right up to them! It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous length for a portrait lens – it gives a very slight slimming affect on the face which is uber-flattering.
Some suggested lenses:
Canon 85mm F1.8
Nikon 85mm F1.8
Telephoto (85mm +)
Longer lenses give fabulous compression, and therefore are wonderful for giving images a dreamy feel and really help to isolate the subject from the background. You know those images that look like their subject is “popping” off the background? That’s usually down to using a telephoto.
They are generally too long to be used for indoor lifestyle (Although I have certainly used them indoors, when I am in full super-sleuth mode and trying to capture something without having anyone groan and moan at me, and of course have enough space to back up!) but can be invaluable for outdoor shots, or things like plays or sporting events when you have no choice but to have some distance between yourself and the subject. I use my 85mm for most outdoor shots, so my 135 and 200 are rarely used actually, except for sports and areas where I can allow my subject can get quite far away from me safely – for example a beach. (As a side note, I really should part with one of these since they are quite similar with the look they give, I just can’t decide which one to get rid of!)
Some suggested lenses:
Canon 135mm F2.0 / Nikon 135mm F2.0
Best Sony Lenses for Portrait Photography (Updated for 2021)
Learning to take a good portrait photograph is one of the first thing aspiring photographers learn. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to capture a person’s essence, personality and uniqueness in a photo. There are a few factors that affect how a portrait turns out, such as light conditions, your camera, and the lens you use with it. Having some good glass to back up your technical knowledge can make all the difference when taking a portrait. We’ve taken a look at the five best Sony lenses for portrait photography to give you all you need to know about them. Plus, we’ll explain what to look for when buying one.
Best Sony Lenses for Portrait Photography: Top Five
Why it’s great:
- 85mm full-frame prime lens with f/1.8 aperture.
- Outstanding image sharpness and lovely soft bokeh.
- Quick and near-silent autofocus.
Sony designed their EF 85mm f/1.8 to work with full-frame mirrorless cameras, but it’s also a good option for APS-C cameras. Despite its fairly modest cost compared to competitor’s 85mm lenses, it offers excellent performance in nearly all areas. The 85mm angle of view is perfect for portraiture, and image sharpness is outstanding throughout the frame. Thanks to the wide maximum aperture of f/1.8, the EF 85mm is capable of creating a wonderful soft bokeh, or background blur, to really emphasize the subject of your shots. Optically this lens performs really well in all areas; it’s consistently good throughout its aperture range, and controls chromatic aberration very well. Overall, this is one of the best available Sony lenses for portrait photography.
- There are no depth of field or distance markers on the lens, which will frustrate some users.
Why it’s great:
- Long focal length range with f/2.8 constant maximum aperture.
- Robust and durable construction.
- Excellent image sharpness across focal length range.
Many photographers love this lens. Its wide focal length range of 70-200mm lends itself well to a wide variety of photography, including sports, wildlife, weddings, and portraits. The reason it’s so good is the fact that the optical performance is fantastic across its focal length range. No matter how far you zoom with it, images will come out sharp and clear. The autofocus on the FE 70-200mm is incredibly fast and accurate, and you’ll barely notice the sound it makes when doing so thanks to the SSM (supersonic motor) that drives the autofocus. A focus limiter means that the lens is less prone to focus hunting, making it well-suited for fast paced shooting. The glass and elements are dust and moisture sealed, meaning it’s the perfect lens for taking out into the field.
Sony has included their excellent Optical Steady Shot (OSS) technology on the 70-200mm. This is essentially image stabilization which compensates for any shaking or movement that may be produces when shooting with it.
- This isn’t a budget lens by any means. If you’re just starting out with portrait photography, or are on a tight budget, this will likely be too expensive.
- The lens is quite prone to flare.
3. Sony FE 50mm F/1.8
Why it’s great:
- Inexpensive yet high-quality lens.
- Fast f/1.8 maximum aperture.
- Low chromatic aberration and lens flare.
50mm lenses are enjoyed by photographers everywhere. They’re often inexpensive, lightweight, and deliver great results in a range of different situations. Portrait photographs will often use a 50mm, or ‘nifty fifty’, when conditions for the shoot are a little cramped. They have a slightly wider field of vision than an 85mm, and capture at a range comparable to the human eye. The f/1.8 maximum aperture of the Sony FE 50mm allows for shooting in low-light conditions and good control over the depth of field and bokeh. Subjects are incredibly sharp in images, while the softness of the background can be controlled easily. Both manual and autofocus perform well and are easy to use, and the design is straightforward and lightweight.
- There is some noticeable chromatic aberration towards the edge of the frame.
4. Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
Why it’s great:
- Wide-angle to short telephoto range with constant f/2.8 aperture.
- Exquisitely manufactured lens.
- Excellent sharpness, low flare and chromatic aberration.
This is another versatile lens that portrait photographers will love. Its 24-70mm range covers wide-angle to short telephoto ranges, giving an incredible amount of flexibility. What’s more, it performs excellently across this range. The constant f/2.8 aperture gives a good amount of low-light performance, as well as image sharpness and bokeh. Sony have gone to great lengths to try and eliminate unwanted optical defects. They’ve included a Nano AR coating on the glass which almost eliminated lens flare and chromatic aberration. It’s an incredibly well constructed lens, and although it’s heavy, you’ll be able to depend upon it in any situation, as well as capture some stunning portraits.
- The price tag of the Sony FE 24-70mm may rule it out for anyone but the professional.
- It’s quite bulky and heavy, not suitable for travelling light.
5. Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 (Full Frame E Mount)
Why it’s great:
- Maximum aperture of f/1.4.
- Zeiss T anti-reflective coating for fantastic flare and ghosting reduction.
- SSM autofocus motor for quick and quiet autofocus.
35mm lenses are ideal for a wide range of photography and particularly excel at portraits. The f/1.4 aperture of this Sony Zeiss lens means that you can create a nice soft background to frame your subject, and also allows you to capture great shots regardless of lighting. Sharpness of the images it captures is excellent, and will be up to the standard of even the most scrutinous of eyes. There are a lot of features to like about this lens; it has an advanced optical design that includes aspherical and advanced spherical lens elements that drive the fantastic resolution. It also has a Zeiss T coating which reduces flare and ghosting. Overall this is another fantastic lens in the range of Nikon lenses for portrait photography.
- This is another pricey lens on the list. Again, it’s worth the cost but it may be out of most budgets.
- There’s no image stabilization, which you may find detrimental when shooting hand-held.
Sony Lenses for Portrait Photography: Buying Factors
Now that you know some of the great options you have available, it’s time to look at what it is that makes these choices so good, and what factors will influence your buying decision. There are five main considerations you should make when choosing the right portrait lens. These are: focal length, sensor size, bokeh, choosing between zoom and prime, and how much available space you’re working with. Let’s look at each on in more detail:
You’ll notice from our list of lenses that there’s quite a variety of focal lengths on show, from 35mm up to 70-200mm. Your choice will depend on a few factors. For example, the amount of space you’ll have may limit or broaden the focal length you can use. 35mm will capture a lot in your portraits, whilst 85mm will have a narrower focus. It also depends how close you want to be to your subject; a telephoto range allows you to be further away. The focal length you choose depends on your preferences and situation.
Your camera’s sensor size will also greatly affect the type of lens you choose. If you have a crop-frame camera, the equivalent focal length of your chosen lens will change. For example, a 50mm on a crop frame camera will equate to around 75mm in a full-frame sense.
Bokeh is a term that refers to the quality of the unfocused areas of a picture. The softly blurred background that makes a portrait look truly amazing. This is largely controlled by the aperture of the lens; the wider the aperture the greater the background blur is.
Having a wide maximum aperture also means that you’re capable of shooting in lower light. As the aperture is wider, it allows more light to enter the sensor. This means you don’t have to increase ISO, resulting in less image noise.
Zoom or Prime
This is another factor that somewhat comes down to personal preference. A zoom lens gives you the benefit of flexibility in your shots. You can change positions and get a variety of different types of portrait shots when using one. You don’t have to swap out lenses either, meaning there’s less to carry around with you. Prime lenses are often a lot smaller, and their optical performance can be a lot better. They usually have wider maximum apertures, and really make you work with the space and angles you have.
If you’re shooting in a wide open space, you can choose a lens that allows you to work with all the room you have to work with. An 85mm or 70-200mm lens would serve you well in this situation. However, if you’re slightly more constrained, you should choose something with a wider angle of vision, such as a 35mm or 50mm.