Portrait photos are an amazing thing. They capture our most cherished moments, preserved for generations to come. In fact, without even thinking about it, you take lots of these photographs on a daily basis.
Kids running around, grandma and grandad sat together, even photos sent off to be used in driving licences and passports are portrait pictures.
Put simply, portrait photography involves capturing images where a human face or animal face is the main subject.
Even though you capture many of these pictures daily, you may be unsure of where to start when taking better portrait pictures. You may have bought a new camera or even a new camera bundle.
However, fear not.
This article helps to break it down for you by guiding you through the must-have Nikon lenses if you’re looking to take your photography to the next level.
I’ve covered all bases, from budget bargains all the way up to professional-grade lenses, so regardless of your price point you’ll be able to grab a lens that works for you.
If you’re looking for a quick list to select from, I’ve included a summary of the article below and a list of links to order your lens off Amazon.
Quick Summary of the best Portrait Lenses for Nikon Users
If you’re a Nikon shooter, you have a plethora of lenses to choose from, each with their strengths and weaknesses. If you want to save time on reading the whole post, take a look at the list below.
What is a Portrait Lens?
A portrait lens is a lens used to capture portraits. However, you may be surprised to hear that there isn’t really a dedicated portrait lens.
Yes, it’s true.
Lenses aren’t manufactured with a particular genre in mind (perhaps except for macro lenses), otherwise that would be too limiting.
Instead, a good portrait lens has a few key characteristics that make it ideal for snapping those all-important moments with your loved ones:
- A tight crop/focal length (typically anything above 50mm keeps distortion to a minimum and the face fills the frame)
- A wide aperture to get that all important bokeh effect (F/1.8 is usually the widest you can go and lets in lots of light while giving you a lovely, blurred background)
- A sharp lens to capture the finer details in all their glory
All the lenses featured in this post will do the trick but each of them have their own unique differences which may make them better suited to you depending on what your looking for.
What are the Benefits of Using a High-Quality Portrait Lens?
Using a high-quality lens will make your portraits look crystal clear and sharp.
This is particularly important if you’re trying to snap those precious moments of your children or loved ones or if you’re looking to make some extra cash with a studio session.
A great example of this is the nifty-fifty – a 50mm F/1.8 prime lens.
The fixed 50mm focal length makes for a sharper picture because the glass doesn’t have to adapt to capturing at different focal lengths.
In addition, if you edit your pictures in post-production (Lightroom or Photoshop), having a sharp photo in-camera will save you time on sharpening your snaps.
The wide F/1.8 maximum aperture lets you shoot in different lighting scenarios.
The best Portrait Nikon Lenses Money can Buy
Best Nikon F-Mount Portrait Lenses
To start with, I’m going to go through the best F-Mount lenses on the market. The F-Mount is the older mount system used by Nikon before the introduction of their mirrorless Z-Series.
The key difference between this and the Z lenses are the price points and the quality. The F-mount lenses are excellent if you’re looking for a high-quality lens without breaking the bank.
Although, it is undeniable that the mirrorless Z-mount lenses are the future of Nikon’s lens lineup and their increased price brings with it an increase in sharpness and colour quality. If that’s what you’re looking for, the increase in price may be worth it.
Nikon AF-S 85mm F/3.5
First up we have the 85mm lens. This is an excellent lens because the focal length is a sweet spot for portrait photography. You can take full-body or portraits with the shoulder-upwards included if you wish, however you’ll easily fill the frame with the subjects face, no problem.
In addition, the Nikon VR II image stabilisation lets you capture crystal-clear photographs in a variety of lighting conditions without needing to bump up the ISO, adding noise to your shot.
However, to keep costs down, the lens body is made of plastic rather than metal, so it is obvious some corners have been cut. Also, the maximum aperture of F/3.5 isn’t as wide as some other lenses so less light will be let into the sensor and the background will feature less bokeh.
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm F/2.8
Sporting a broad focal length range, this lens is versatile and will work well in a variety of shooting situations. Unlike the 85mm lens, you have a lot of flexibility.
You can zoom in and out of your portrait subject to your hearts content. The flexibility and wide F/2.8 aperture makes this lens a go-to for professional snappers, although hobbyists can appreciate it too.
Closer to the 24mm focal length you may find it to be a bit too distorted and wide to properly fit your subjects face into the scene – though zoom in to around 40mm and upwards and this won’t be much of a problem.
Be careful not to become too complacent, however. Zooming in and out is not ideal if you’re looking to improve your creativity skills – you’d be better off looking around your subject to see what would work well in-frame.
Nikon AF-S 50mm F/1.8
Ah yes, the nifty fifty.
It wouldn’t be a portrait lens guide without mentioning the 50mm lens.
This prime lens is an absolute steal and I highly recommend EVERY photographer gets their hand on one at some point.
This is a particularly useful lens for you if you’re a beginner because the sharpness and broader aperture range blows any kit lens out of the water.
The maximum F/1.8 aperture makes for excellent bokeh in the background and you can shoot in dimmer lighting conditions with ease. The only real negatives are that
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm
Unlike many other lenses, this bad boy provides you with an exceptional focal range while retaining that tack-sharp look out of the camera. Some common uses for this lens include fast-action sports, action shots and landscape photography.
The wide F/2.8 aperture will give you that creamy bokeh background and, combined with the vibration reduction technology, better images in lower lighting conditions.
The only real sticking point is that the lens is big and bulky, unlike many prime lenses such as the 50mm. This pushes the centre of gravity away from the camera and so handling will feel a bit uncomfortable at first.
To summarise, this is an excellent choice if you’re looking to push the boat out with your photography and take a step-up from a nifty fifty or another prime lens.
Nikon AF-S 35mm
Moving back to prime lenses, 35mm is an excellent focal length for nature photography and even documentary style portraits. However, unlike shooting at a 24mm focal length, it is not so wide that you end up with distortions in your photo.
Best Nikon Z-Mount Portrait Lenses
It’s been around 60 years since Nikon first introduced the ‘F’ mount on it’s SLR and DSLR cameras. Since then, Nikon has successfully produced over 100 million lenses for this mount without needing to change any of the physical dimensions – this is really handy for compatibility between different cameras.
With the introduction of full-frame mirrorless cameras, Nikon introduced a new ‘Z’ mount which differs in size, compatibility and dimensions to the ‘F’ mount – you’ll need to take note of this.
If you’re using a mirrorless Nikon camera, a ‘Z’ mount lens would definitely be a better choice and it future-proofs your camera system as DSLR’s are only going to be around for so long.