11 Best Nikon Portrait Lenses (…and 3 to avoid)

Creating stunning portraits where the subject pops and the background fades to beautiful bokeh can be tricky if you don’t have the right gear.

I’ve been a professional portrait photographer for years shooting Nikon, so I created this guide for you from my experience using these lenses and with the goal of showing you the tools you can use to create exceptional portraits.

If you want to skip all the details and get right to the top pick, it’s the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 (F-Mount) or the Z 85mm f/1.8 (Z-Mount). This focal length is my favorite for making portraits and these lenses will give you industry-leading sharpness and beautiful out-of-focus areas.

But keep reading to see my complete breakdown of these and to see more options that might be better for you based on your specific needs.

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Best Nikon Z Portrait Lenses (Z mount)

These are my top picks from the native Z mount lenses. Of course, you can always use an F-mount lens on a Z camera with the FTZ II Adapter.

Top Mirrorless Pick

1. Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8

85mm is a focal length you’ll find in almost every portrait photographer’s bag because of the great balance between compression and subject interaction it allows.

Many professional portrait photographers use an 85mm lens for most of their portraits. If you tend to shoot a lot of individual portraits then this may be the perfect option for you.

The longer focal length tends to be more flattering for portrait shooting. When you use a longer focal length, it creates what photographers call compression. Compression is the effect that happens with longer focal lengths where objects tend to look flatter.

Think about how faces become distorted with a wide-angle lens…the opposite happens with longer focal lengths. Without getting into the physics of compression…suffice it to say that it tends to make people look better.


  • Among the best in image quality and sharpness
  • 85mm is a great focal length for portraits


  • Prime lens can be limiting
  • 85mm might be too long in some settings, especially with groups

In addition to being the perfect focal length for portraits, this 85mm lens gives you excellent image quality. Optically, the lens is comprised of 12 elements in 8 groups, two of which are extra-low dispersion (ED) elements.

Typically wide aperture lenses are a little soft when shot wide open, but that isn’t the case with this lens. You’re getting near perfect optical performance across the aperture range.

In terms of bokeh (out of focus areas), they are soft and pleasing to the eye and the transition from in focus to out of focus areas is smooth.

If you tend to shoot a lot of individual portraits and are willing to spend a little more money, then the 85mm could be the right choice for you.

Upgrade Option: If you want a wider maximum aperture, then check out the Nikon Z 85mm f/1.2. It’s bigger, heavier, and more expensive but you’ll get stunning bokeh for your portraits and impeccable sharpness.

Runner Up

2. Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S

The 24-70mm is one of the most versatile lenses a photographer can have in the bag and lets you easily capture wide to short telephoto portraits and is exceptionally sharp.

Sometimes versatility is more important than perfect image quality. After all, if you miss the shot, it doesn’t matter how the background bokeh looks.

The 24-70mm lens is a favorite of professional photographers because it covers a range of focal lengths that are quite useful for portraits.

This lens even made the top of my list of the best Nikon lenses.

24mm is wide enough to shoot large environmental portraits and large groups and 70mm combined with the large f/2.8 aperture will give you that classic compressed portrait look for individual portraits.

Much of the same characteristics mentioned in the earlier sections apply to this lens as well. It does a great job of controlling things like chromatic aberration, coma, ghosting, and vignetting.

This lens also uses two autofocusing motors to help you achieve focus very quickly. Combined with the Z system’s excellent autofocus system this makes it so you can focus just about as fast as you can point the camera at something.

In addition, it is one of the quietest focusing motors I’ve used.

So if you want a one-stop-shop kind of lens for your portraits, then the 24-70mm f/2.8 should probably be the one. The fact that it covers multiple focal lengths makes the added cost easier to deal with since it takes the place of 2 or 3 primes.

But it is expensive, so if budget is a concern, then this next option may be for you…

Budget Pick

3. Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S

The 50mm 1.8 lens is one of the most affordable lenses in the lineup and delivers excellent image quality for portraits.

The 50mm 1.8, sometimes affectionately known as the “nifty fifty,” is often the first wide-aperture lens that a photographer will start with. That is mostly because it is the most affordable way to get a wide aperture.

The same is true for the Nikon Z camera system. Their 50mm 1.8 lens is one of the most affordable lenses in the lineup. But the lower price tag certainly does not mean sacrificing quality in this instance.

The Nikon 50mm Z lens is incredibly sharp from edge to edge. Often when wide open (shooting at f/1.8), you start to see a little sharpness loss on the edges of the frame. I really did not detect that on this lens.

In addition, this lens does a great job of controlling vignetting. That means that even at the widest aperture (f/1.8), you aren’t going to see any darkening around the edges of the frame.

This lens also uses 2 Extra-low Dispersion (ED) and 2 Aspherical (AS) lens elements plus a Nano Crystal coating to control flare, ghosting, coma or chromatic, spherical and axial aberration.

Those are things that you usually don’t notice right away but become apparent in the right conditions and can occasionally ruin a photo. This lens does an excellent job of virtually eliminating those issues.

If you want to spend a little more and have a crop sensor camera like the Z50 or Zfc, then this next lens will be perfect for you…

Crop Sensor Pick

4. Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN | Contemporary

With a focal length that is the full frame equivalent of 84mm and edge to edge sharpness, this lens was designed for shooting portraits on a crop sensor camera.

This Sigma lens is relatively new but I couldn’t leave it off this list because it really fits perfectly here.

This is a really well made lens that handles great. It’s a simple lens with no switches on the outside.

Optically, this may be one of the sharpest crop sensor lenses I’ve tested. It’s razor sharp in the center even at f/1.4 and still pretty good around the edges. Once you stop it down just a little bit it’s perfectly sharp across the frame.

It has some pincushion distortion, but that can be fixed in post-processing fairly easily.

It also handles backlit images well and maintains good contrast on the subject, which is very important when shooting outdoor portraits.

Overall, this is a small and relatively inexpensive lens that really delivers and is a perfect option for crop sensor cameras.

Bokeh Master

5. Nikon Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena

Good enough to get a special name, this is a special lens and delivers amazing results that any portrait shooter would love.

This is the second lens that Nikon has given a name to. According to Nikon,

The Latin origin of Plena means full to the brim, almost overflowing — evoking the creative fulfillment that the groundbreaking optics of this lens offer for the first time.

It could also mean overflowing with bokeh, because this lens produces beautiful out of focus areas in your image.

The 135mm focal length and the f/1.8 aperture combine to make it very easy to get beautiful portraits with blurry backgrounds. This lens is exceptionally sharp even wide open. It’s as if Nikon designed it to be shot primarily wide open.

In addition to excellent sharpness and high contrast across the frame this lens has a gorgeous Bokeh with the unique property of producing almost no cat’s eyes and renders out-of-focus subjects in the foreground as smooth as in the background.

This is decidedly a professional portrait photographer’s lens and is priced accordingly.

If you want to go the other direction and shoot wide angle portraits, then check out the next pick…

Budget Pick

6. Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 S

A light, compact, and affordable prime lens that delivers big performance for shooting wide angle portraits.

This is a surprisingly well made, sharp, and compact little lens that is also very affordable.

I have been using the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 on my Zfc and have been very impressed with the quality of such a small and affordable lens.

The 28mm focal length and f/2.8 aperture is great for wider environmental portraits, especially if you don’t want to spend the big bucks for the 24-70 f/2.8 lens above.

Best Nikon DSLR Portrait Lenses (F-Mount)

Top DSLR Pick
Nikon AF-S 85mm f14G

7. Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G IF AF-S

The Nikon Z8 is arguably one of the best mirrorless cameras on the market today. It combines a 45.7 megapixel sensor with fast shooting frame rates and one of the best autofocus systems to make it an amazing camera for shooting sports.

The 85mm lens is very popular among portrait photographers and for good reason. The focal length is long enough to give a flattering look to subjects but not so long as to take the photographer too far from them.

Combine this focal length with a wide f/1.4 aperture and you have a lens that checks all the boxes for shooting beautiful, shallow depth of field portraits.

This 85mm lens is one of the best and most popular portrait lenses on the market today.

You’re going to get edge to edge sharpness that is great at f/1.4 and gets even better if you stop down the lens just a little.

The out of focus areas are very pleasing and the falloff from in focus to out of focus areas is smooth and gradual.

If you’re shooting portraits with a shallow depth of field, then this is the lens to put on your Nikon DSLR.

Runner Up

8. Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2

The 24-70mm f/2.8 is a “do-it-all” lens and if you plan to upgrade to full-frame soon, this Tamron is one of the best options on the market and a fraction of the cost compared to the Nikon version.

To begin with, this lens covers arguably the most used focal lengths with a range of 24-70mm and it has a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8 that is useful for shooting portraits with a shallow depth of field.


  • Excellent image quality
  • More versatile than a prime
  • Less expensive than other 24-70mm options


  • 85mm prime is going to give you better image quality, more compression, and wider aperture

It also boasts excellent image quality with sharpness across the focal length range and minimal distortion. Even when shooting wide open at f/2.8 there is minimal edge softness. As a result, your images are going to be sharp whether you’re shooting portraits at 70mm and f/2.8 or landscapes at 24mm and f/10.

Lastly, it’s about half the price of its 24-70mm Nikon counterpart, so you’ll be getting tremendous value for your dollar with this lens.

Upgrade Option: If you want the best of the best then go for the Nikon 24-70 E ED lens. You’ll pay almost double but get improved build quality and optical performance.

Budget Pick

9. Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G

The 50mm f/1.8 is the lens many photographers start with and is still one of the classic and most useful lenses you can own.

The 50mm f/1.8 (also known affectionately as the “nifty fifty”) is one of the most widely used lenses in photography because of the combination of low cost and exceptional image quality.

If you are looking for your first upgrade from the kit lens that came with your camera, then this should be the one. It’s the least expensive way to start shooting portraits with a wide aperture and shallow depth of field.


  • Excellent image quality
  • Very affordable
  • Light and compact


  • You may want a longer focal length for portraits

In fact, I started my portrait photography business with this lens and a Nikon crop sensor camera. The 50mm focal length is just wide enough to make it a good option for shooting family portraits with Nikon.

Crop Sensor Pick

10. Nikon AFS DX 35mm f/1.8

The 35mm f/1.8 lens is a perfect upgrade from the kit lens. The wide max aperture will unlock opportunities to use shallow depth of field in your photography and shoot in low light conditions.

I recommend that all my students start with a mid-length prime lens like this 35mm lens. On a crop-sensor camera the effective focal length is 52.5mm.

The wide maximum aperture of f/1.8 also allows you to use a shallow depth of field to create background blur in your portrait photos or to shoot in lower light. This alone actually makes it much more versatile than most kit lenses with a maximum aperture of f/4 or f/5.6.


  • Excellent image quality
  • Versatile…can be used for a variety of types of portraits
  • Wide max aperture of f/1.8


  • Might be too wide for some
  • Will need a new portrait lens if you upgrade to full-frame

I also like the 35mm (52.5mm equivalent) focal length as a first upgrade from the kit lens. It’s a middle-of-the-range focal length and a great one to start learning how to compose an image with more skill.

For Wide Portraits

11. Sigma 28mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

28mm is an excellent focal length for environmental portraits. This Sigma Art lens is exceptional in terms of sharpness and color and the f/1.4 max aperture is perfect for shooting wide-angle portraits.

Environmental portraits are a lot of fun because they combine elements of landscape-style photos into portraits. Generally, you would want a wider angle lens for these types of portraits so that you can showcase the environment around your subject (although you can use any focal length lens).


  • Exceptional sharpness even when wide open
  • f/1.4 max aperture is rare for 28mm lens
  • Can be used for other types of photography as well


  • Not great for other types of portraits
  • Large and bulky for a 28mm prime

I chose the Sigma 28mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens (F-mount) as my top pick here for a few reasons.

The 28mm focal length is right in the sweet spot of being wide enough to feature the environment but not so wide as to introduce much distortion into the image.

Additionally, when you are shooting wider, it becomes more difficult to get the shallow depth of field that you may want for a portrait. The f/1.4 max aperture of this lens helps you get there and the bokeh is very pleasing, especially for a wide lens.

Add to this the overall quality and sharpness of the lens and you will be very happy that it’s in your bag.

Of course, if you don’t want to add a lens specifically for wide portraits, then the 24-70mm lens above is a great way to get everything you need in one lens.

Lenses To Avoid

There are tons of excellent lenses to choose from for your Nikon camera no matter whether you are using a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

But not every lens is good for portrait photography and some popular lenses aren’t worth spending much money on at all!

Here are some of the lenses I’ve seen recommended for shooting portraits with Nikon that you may want to think twice about…

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 (F Mount & Z Mount)

First off, almost all of the 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses out there are exceptional lenses, whether you choose the very expensive Nikon version or the more affordable Tamron version (which is the one I use).

But, I don’t recommend this lens for portraits. Once you get much further than 100mm on the zoom range, you’re going to end up being quite far from your subject.

Of course, this is only my personal opinion, but good portrait photography is much less about optical extremes that can be created by shooting at 200mm and f/2.8 and more about interacting with your subject to capture true emotion and expression.

You just can’t interact with them when you’re far enough away to frame them at 150mm and up. I even made a video covering this exact issue…

Samyang 85mm f/1.4

I am surprised to even be mentioning this lens in the article at all but I saw it recommended on another site so I wanted to warn you that this is a manual focus lens and the quality is far below that of the other options on this list.

You may like using manual focus for portraits and if you want to save a little cash with this lens then go for it. But the first time you try to shoot a photo of a hyper child with this lens you’ll miss the autofocus. Manual may work for landscapes and still studio portraits, but it’s not great for most portrait photography.

If budget is a concern, skip the 85mm lenses altogether and go with the 50mm f/1.8.

Lensbaby Lenses

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these lenses, but you need to be aware that they are specialty lenses that create a “soft-focus” look. So you will not be able to get normal-looking images with this lens.

All of that is fine if you want to have one of these in your bag for a different look now and then, but I’ll warn you…it gets old after a while. In addition, you can get mostly the same effect with a little bit of photoshop skill.

I shot this with the Nikon 85mm at f/2.2

What To Look For When Choosing A Nikon Lens For Portraits

Some lenses are just better suited for some cameras and while all Nikon F-mount lenses would fit onto the D5600, there are some things you should consider before choosing one.

Maximum Aperture

The f/x.x number listed with any lens is the maximum aperture for that lens. A smaller number means a larger maximum aperture and, generally speaking, a larger aperture is better for shooting portraits because it allows you to have more control over blurring the background.

You can still reduce the aperture size if you want less background blur, but having the ability to open it up allows you to shoot portraits in locations that might otherwise have distracting backgrounds simply by blurring the background out.

I typically prefer using prime lenses with max apertures of f/1.4 or f/1.8 but zoom lenses with a max aperture of f/2.8 are good as well.

Image Quality

Portraits will always look better when the eyes are in sharp focus, so having a sharp lens will help you create portrait images that stand out.

You have to look for things like blurry edges, lens distortion, vignetting at wider apertures, and overall sharpness and contrast (which tend to go together.

Overall, the Z series lenses are a very high caliber of lenses. You really don’t need to worry about poor quality with any of these lenses listed above.


Depending on what kind of portrait shooting you do, you may need to adapt quickly. Sometimes you don’t have the time to swap out lenses before you need to get that next shot.

Some lenses are more versatile than others.

Of course, zoom lenses are going to be your most adaptable lenses. The ability to change the focal length on the fly without changing the lens can be a very valuable


Higher quality lenses, zoom lenses, and wide aperture lenses will typically be more expensive but there are lower budget options like the 50mm lens above. So you can usually find a lens in your price range.

What I look at when evaluating these lenses is whether you are getting a good value for the money you spend. That’s why some of the options here are from third-party lens manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma.

These companies make exceptional lenses that are often much less expensive than their Nikon counterparts. So you’ll be getting a lot more value when you buy them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of Nikon lens is best for portraits?

While you can shoot portraits with a variety of lenses, I recommend an 85mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens for the best quality portraits. The combination of the longer focal length and wide maximum aperture helps to make your subject look more flattering and also creates a shallow depth of field to help draw the viewer’s eye to them.

Are 50mm lenses good for portraits?

50mm lenses are great for portraits, especially if they have a maximum aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.8. The f/1.8 versions are typically very sharp but also quite affordable making them a perfect choice for anyone shooting portraits.

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