What is a Portrait Lens
Unlike centuries ago, you can get your portrait done in a matter of seconds with a phone or a camera nowadays. However, the process of creating a beautiful portrait with a camera can still be considered an art. And the fine art requires the right tools. To take a dramatic, expressive shot with DSLR camera, photographers use different lens types and effects. Among photographers, the 50mm focal length is considered a standard for portraiture.
The lenses with shallow depth of field are commonly used to emphasize the subject and separate it from the background. To achieve this, you need to open the aperture wide - and the unfocused objects will be blurred, while your subject will stay sharp and highlighted. Of course, some zoom lenses offer 50mm focal length, too. However, there are only a few of them that can provide you with the aperture large enough and even fewer that won't cost you the earth. So, the lenses with a fixed focal length and low F-numbers at f/1.8-2.4 are the prime choice for the portraits.
In this review, we'll point out the advantages of different lenses for the portrait photography. Right before we start, you might also be interested in our other lens guides for the best wide-angle lenses for Canon, zoom lenses for Canon and macro lenses for Canon as well.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
This is one of the most popular lenses for Canon SLRs. The first model was introduced in 1993 and quickly became so successful and widespread among photographers that the barrel design hasn't been changed since then. The "EF" mark tells us that it's compatible with all Canon EOS cameras, including Full-Frame DSLR. Note, if it's mounted on the APS-C sensor camera, the resulting field of view will be closer to 85mm due to the crop factor.
Anyhow, this 50mm lens is awesome for several solid reasons. The key features here are the diaphragm and aperture. At f/4.0 and larger, you are getting very shallow depth of field. As a result, even if there are some objects in the fore- or background of your subject, they will be effectively put out of focus and blurred. If you want to add a bokeh, just switch to aperture priority or set it manually to f/1.4 and the 8-blade diaphragm will swirl the light behind the subject and produce the round-shaped dots of light for you.
Overall, Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens is excellent for shooting waist-ups and full-length portraits. As for headshots, you should consider the fact that 50mm focal length shows a bit distorted perspective, compared to a human eye. So, it might take some training to get them right. In our experience, you can't always trust the autofocus in any lens when it comes to the light photos with shallow DoF. In this case, the Full-Time manual focus comes in handy as you can tune the sharpness closer or further away even when the AF is on. At any rate, try not to drop the lens or camera on the floor as the AF mechanism is reported to be a bit fragile, although this can be said about any lens. Anyway, if you are going to take photos outdoors on a shiny day, don't forget to grab the hood to reduce the sun glares. We recommend Canon ES71II Hood that was designed specifically for this lens.
All in all, Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens has already proved to be one of the best choices for taking portrait photos in bright and dim lighting conditions. At the same time, the Full-Time manual focus will allow you to fully immerse yourself into the process and capture the smallest details and the mood of a sitter.
Fujinon XF35mmF2 R WR
Fujinon is the brand of Fujifilm company for its photo and TV camera lenses. This one is designed for the Fujifilm mirrorless cameras of the X-series. In our opinion, 35mm focal length - even on the APS-C sensor - is best suitable for group photos, full-body and waist-up portraits. The blurring is sufficient to highlight the subject at the maximum f/2 aperture. However, sometimes the blur may not look soft enough. Thankfully, it is fully compensated by the diaphragm system, as the 9 blades produce smooth round bokeh that will give your pictures a beautiful aesthetic touch. The aperture can be controlled manually with the large corresponding ring placed closer to the camera - the same way as on the old-school lenses. It's a shame, other manufacturers opted not to install it anymore as it's way more comfortable to use the ring, considering the small body of the mirrorless cameras, where all of the sliders and buttons can be somewhat small. The next feature will excite extreme photographers: the lens can work at down to 14° F cold and features the moisture and dustproof barrel. You can take it with you on a ski resort and get amazing headshots in the snow.
Feel free to explore the real possibilities of Fujinon XF35mmF2 R WR Lens. It boasts a quick autofocus that will come in handy when you are taking family photos with the kids. However, the real potential of this lens can be fulfilled in extreme conditions due to the thought-through metal barrel design and its protective properties.
Nikkor AF-S FX 50mm f/1.8G
One for All
Nikkor is the Nikon company's brand for their lens products. So it's kind of obvious that this lens is designed for the Nikon Full-Frame sensor cameras, although it also works with APS-C format. Note, that if it's mounted on a cropped sensor camera, the angle of view will be equivalent to the 75-80mm lens on a Full-Frame camera. Speaking of the optic qualities, the diaphragm has f/1.8 F-number - a common standard for portrait 50mm lenses. With it, you will easily accentuate the focus on a subject by blurring the background due to the shallow depth of the field. One of the strong points of this lens is the Silent Wave Motor. It is a special focusing mechanism that universally works with any Nikon DLSRs. Also, by switching the slider from the manual to M/A mode, you will be able to tune the focus any time you want, similar to the Full-Time Focusing mode in other cameras. When you let the focusing ring go, the AF will kick back in and continue its work.
The lens comes with a hood and a pouch for transportation. However, the list of accessories can't be complete without a UV filter. As this Nikkor AF-S FX 50mm f/1.8G is only available with a polarizer filter on Amazon, you can grab Tiffen's 58mm one to protect the glass from the dust and the camera sensor from the hazardous UV rays. Also, it reduces the blue hue on the photos as well. In other words, it's imperative to have such a filter for each of the lenses from your collection.
Concluding, this camera can be recommended not only for advanced users but for beginners too. It will provide you with the perfect-looking portraits while the universal lens mount will ensure that you can use in the long run, even if you buy a different Nikon DSLR camera.
Sony SEL50F18/B 50mm f/1.8
Sony 50mm f/1.8 Lens is designed for the mirrorless cameras from Alpha NEX series. With the 50mm focal length and f/1.8 diaphragm, it is a solid choice if you are looking for the lens to shoot portraits with a Sony body. Still, it has a couple of peculiar details that made us include it in this review. First of all, the lens has the built-in image stabilization system called Optical SteadyShot. It's incredibly useful in any conditions as sometimes a light tremble in your hands can smear the shot. But with this lens, you can set the higher F-number to increase the in-focus range. The second thing to note is the housing of the lens - the barrel is made of the light aluminum alloy. When you touch it, the cold metal feels like a really expensive and high-quality device. By the way, the focus ring is a lot bigger in proportions to the barrel when compared to the other lenses, which is good when you need to quickly tune a focus just a bit.
As for the package, along with the usual caps, you also get the lens hood that reduces the lens glares. However, it adds about 70% of the lens size.
After all, Sony SEL50F18/B is one of the best portrait lenses for Sony Alpha NEX-series cameras. In a matter of seconds, you can get clear, sharp shots of your model thanks to the wide focus ring and the built-in image stabilizer.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
Sharp and Smooth
In 2015, Canon presented a new 50mm lens with f/1.8 aperture, designed for a Full-Frame sensor and also compatible with the APS-C cameras. Although the company already had a similar and popular EF 50mm f/1.8 II model, this one features a special STM focusing motor. When your camera hunts for a subject, it produces almost no sound. Moreover, even in AF-mode, you can grab the ring and adjust the focus at any moment. The STM also smoothens the transition from subject to subject, so it's a great choice if you want to shoot a video with your camera, too.
The increased amount of the diaphragm blades is yet another advantage over its predecessor. The 7 blades create a small circular blur at the max aperture. The SuperSpectra glass coating diminishes the lens flares and improves the overall picture quality. Still, if you are looking forward to using it on a sunny day, you might need a hood. In this case, the ES-68 Lens Hood by Canon is exactly what you need.
Also, the lens itself is ultra-light. Despite having the metal mount, it weighs only 0.36 lbs. So, if you prefer handheld shooting or just don't own a tripod yet, then it will be a real catch for you. It is fast, sharp, and, above all, comes at an affordable price.
At the end of the day, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is the universal portrait lens for beginners and amateurs who own a Canon DSLR. Thanks to it, you'll be able to capture all face expressions and the smallest details of your beautiful models. Try it out and you'll be pleased with the results.
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