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5 Of The Best Nikon Lenses for Portraits in 2021

best Nikon lenses for portraits

So, you want to get into portraiture, but you don’t know how to find the best Nikon lenses for portraits? This guide is going to run through the top 5 lenses for Nikon cameras. Portrait photography is all about capturing a moment in your subject’s life. These lenses will help you take your art to a whole new level. 

The best Nikon lens for family portraits is the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G. This 85mm prime lens is the go-to choice of pro portraiture artists the world over. However, it might not be the right choice for you. Let’s take a deep dive into Nikon’s best portrait lenses. 

AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8: Best Overall

Five Stars

Specs

  • Focal Length: 85mm
  • Size: 80 x 73 mm
  • Weight: 350 g
  • Sensor Type: Full-Frame
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.12x
  • Image Stabilization: No
  • Aperture: f/1.8
  • Autofocus: Yes

We’re starting off with one of the best portrait lenses out there no matter what lens brand you’re talking about.

Nikon’s Best Portrait Lens

So what makes this lens Nikon’s best portrait lens? It all comes down to its suite of features that are literally designed for taking ideal portraits.

That 85 mm focal length is widely recognized as being the ideal focal length for doing portraiture. Focal length isn’t all about the distance from your subject. Different focal lengths also distort the images you’re taking pictures of. That 85 mm focal length offers the most minimal distortion for the human form. 

It’s also going to generate some stunning bokeh.

Pros

  • 85 mm focal length is ideal for portrait photography
  • The F 1.8 aperture is going to generate some stunning bokeh
  • This lens is light and easy to carry around for an all-day photoshoot
  • The autofocus on this line of Nikon lenses is fast and quiet
  • 85 mm is also a good focal length for events and street photography if you want to dabble while you do portraiture 

Cons

  • There’s no telephoto zoom on a prime lens which means you have to stick with the old photographers saying: “you’ve got to zoom with your feet”
  • This lens might leave you wanting something a little more versatile down the road

AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR: Most Versatile 

Four Stars 

Specs

  • Focal Length: 16 to 80 mm
  • Size: 80 x 85.5 mm
  • Weight: 480 g
  • Sensor Type: Full-Frame
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.22x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • Autofocus: Yes

Maybe you’re just starting out in photography and you got an interest in portraiture, but you don’t want to go all-in with a lens like the Nikon 80 mm prime. This is where the 16 to 80 mm telephoto zoom lens comes in.

Now You’ve Got Options 

One of the biggest favors you can do yourself is to buy a lens that has a lot of versatility built into it. 

Prime lenses offer you unparalleled quality, but they are inherently limited in what they’re capable of. Telephoto lenses give you a wider range of options while still being able to generate a quality photograph.

These lenses let you switch up between portrait photography focal lengths, street photography, and even nature and landscape work. You can even experiment with using more radical focal lengths, such as 16 mm, when taking portraits.

This lens ranked so highly on our list because of the options that it gives you the photographer.

Pros

  • This telephoto lens lets you switch between 35, 50, and 80 mm focal lengths which are all popular amongst portrait photographers
  • A telephoto lens also simplifies your kit. You can take one lens with you instead of three
  • This lens also gives you the option of trying out different photography styles in between portrait shoots 

Cons

  • Telephoto lenses typically run into more mechanical problems than prime lenses
  • Dialing in the exact focal length you need is a little tricky and a skill only mastered Through Time
  • This lens is a little bigger than a prime lens which might take up too much space in your bag 

AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G: Best For APS-C Cameras

Four Stars

Specs

  • Focal Length: 35 mm
  • Size: 70 x 52.5 mm
  • Weight: 200 g
  • Sensor Type: APS-C
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.16x
  • Image Stabilization: No
  • Aperture: f/1.8
  • Autofocus: Yes

Sometimes you just want to try something a little bit more exciting. 35 mm is the focal length of film photography. If you’re looking to get a little artistic with your digital photography, this is the lens for you.

Art House Style on a Budget 

This 35 mm lens is designed for APS-C cameras. These are often  Nikon’s more affordable and entry to early career professional models. This 35 mm lens is going to allow you to take one of those cameras to a whole new level of photography.

Best of all, it’s small and it’s light. You can pack this 35 mm lens into any photography kit. This way you can pull out a 35 mm lens to do some impromptu portraiture no matter what shoot you’re on.

This is also a great lens to pick up if you’re looking to try out more styles. Because 35 mm is the language of film, this focal length is good for essentially everything. 

Pros

  • There’s really nothing that a 35 mm focal length isn’t good for
  •  This is the best pic on our list for someone using an APS-C camera
  • You can expect Nikon’s high-quality to be in this lens just like they’re more expensive models 

Cons

  • Full-frame camera photographers can expect to spend a significantly higher amount of money on their 35 mm lenses
  • 35 mm might be a little wide for certain portraiture conditions such as doing portraits on a busy Street

AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR: Best For Established Photographers 

Three Stars

Specs

  • Focal Length: 24 to 70 mm
  • Size:  88 x 154.5 mm
  • Weight: 1070 g
  • Sensor Type: Full-Frame
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.27x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • Autofocus: Yes

What should you do if you’re an established photographer in another niche? The 24 to 70 mm telephoto lens is the ideal choice for landscape photographers, event photographers, and any other photographer looking to test the waters of portraiture.

Test the Portraiture Waters 

Portraiture is one of the most alluring types of photography. It’s also a great opportunity for photographers of other styles to improve their skills. This can be a great way to improve your artistic abilities as well as the income that your photography business brings in.

So, why the 24 to 70 millimeter lens? It’s because it’s a pro-level lens that fits in with every style. If you usually work landscape photography, the 24 to 70 millimeter lens is going to be right at home in your kit, but it will also give you options when it comes to portraiture.

This lens is also a great choice for people who take a lot of dynamic photography. It’s a good option for street photography as well as events. You can quickly pull that focal length to something more appropriate for portraiture and snap an incredible memory right there in the moment.

Pros

  • This is a go to lens for all different styles of photography
  • It’s a professional lens which means it’s built with the highest quality
  • This is the best way for established photographers at to see if portraiture is right for them 

Cons

  • This is not the lens for you if you’re just getting started with photography in general
  • The price point on this one is a little high, but experienced photographers will be able to make use of it no matter what

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens: Best First Portrait Lens

Four Stars

Specs

  • Focal Length: 50 mm
  • Size: 72.1 x 52.4 mm
  • Weight: 180 g
  • Sensor Type: Full-Frame
  • Maximum Magnification: 0.15x
  • Image Stabilization: No
  • Aperture: f/1.8
  • Autofocus: Yes

This is exactly the lines that you need if you’re looking to purchase your first lens and get a great lens for portraiture while you’re at it. 50 mm is such an underrated focal length. Let’s take a closer look at why this is a great choice for first lenses and portraiture. 

Buy This Lens First

Are you still rocking those kit lenses that came with your camera? If you’re looking to make your first lens purchase, and you want to get into portraiture, 50 mm is exactly the focal length for you.

50 mm is widely recognized as one of the best focal lengths for general photography. It’s a great option if you are just moving out of the world of kit lenses and you want something a little bit more sophisticated.

50 mm gives you the opportunity to determine the frame and scope of your subjects. You’ll be zooming with your feet so you can decide what their presence in the frame looks like. 50 mm has gone on to become digital photography’s version of what 35 mm is for film photography.

It’s hard to find a photographer today that has something against 50 mm lenses. In fact, even some of the best photographers in the world keep a 50 mm lens in their kit just in case. 

Pros

  • If this is your first lens purchase, this 50 mm two lens is going to be by your side for as long as you’re taking pictures
  • 50 mm gives you a lot of versatility when it comes to deciding what you’re portraiture is going to look like
  • This is a lens you can grow into. You’ll be able to start off with the basics and use this in professional settings later on

Cons

  • This won’t be the last lens that you ever buy. While every good photographer has a 50 mm lens in their kit, it’s often playing back up to other focal links that they discover later on
  • 50 mm focal length has become so common that they are pictures tend to look a little generic unless you go the extra mile to make them look astounding 

How to Buy the Right Nikon Portrait Lens for You

How can you figure out which lenses are the best Nikon lenses for portraits? This is often a very personal decision. There’s a lot that goes into picking the right lenses for your situation, your style, and your budget.

Here are a few of the key considerations but you should make one looking for the best Nikon portrait lenses. 

What to Look for in a Nikon Lens?

There’s a couple of things you want to look for in any Nikon lens. This is just as true for portrait lenses as well as lenses for landscape, street, and other types of photography. You can think about these as the key elements of a good lens.

Clean and Clear Glass – This is the biggest thing when looking for any plans. You want to make sure that the glass is free of scratches, molded, or anything else that might obscure your photography

Tight Seals – There are plenty of seals inside and outside your lens. This is especially the case for weatherproof lenses. You want to make sure that they’re in good shape 

Comes with Accessories –  Your lens should come with the front and back cover as well as a carrying case for larger lenses

Autofocus is Crisp – If your lens has an autofocus feature, it should be responsive, quick, and quiet 

The Advantages of Nikon Lenses

There are plenty of reasons to choose Nikon lenses. Their images are sharp which is a must-have for any photographer. They also offer a wide range of lens styles which gets you covered for anything from 300 mm telephoto photography to ultra-wide photography. 

What Sets Nikon Apart from the Rest

There’s plenty of competition out there for your photography dollar. You’re going to be able to find countless options for updating and upgrading your selection of lenses. Whether this is your first portrait lens or your 50th, Nikon has a lot of advantages for you.

Some of the biggest advantages of Nikon are their quality and reliability. That Nikon lens that you bought is going to last you for a long time. If you properly take care of a Nikon lens, there’s almost no ceiling on its lifespan.

You’re also going to get some high-quality images. Nikon makes professional photography lenses. These lenses are just as at home helping you take great family portraits in your backyard as they are at sporting events and fashion shows.

As you’ve seen throughout this best of Nikon lenses article, there’s also a lot of diversity with Nikon lenses. You’ll be able to find everything from high-end prime lenses all the way down to some of the best kit lenses in the digital photography world. 

How to Use a Nikon Portrait Lens

Now that you’ve got the right Nikon portrait lens for you, how are you going to use it? Here are a few quick tips for making the most out of your new portrait lens.

If you’re just starting out, one of the best things you can do for yourself is master the basics. Learn about lighting, the rule of thirds, and how to pose a portrait photography subject. Nailing these basics will unlock both a higher artistic capability as well as better odds that people will come to you for their portrait photography. 

The Truth About Nikon VS Canon

Now let’s talk about the big controversy. Is a lot of debate about who makes better camera lenses: Nikon or Canon. However, what if we told you that this debate was more hype than reality?

The truth is that Nikon and Canon both make some great photography lenses. There are different features to look for, but some basics like image stabilization, weatherproof lenses, and high-end options appear across both brands.

One of the biggest reasons people stick with Canon or Nikon is based on what they already have. If you already have a bunch of Nikon cameras and lenses, it just makes sense to stick with Nikon.

The deciding factor often comes down to a few key features. Each brand makes the same basic range of lenses at different focal lengths. However, there are some specific features here which can swing your decision in either direction. 

How Much Should You Spend on a Nikon Lens?

Buying the best Nikon lens for family portraits doesn’t have to mean going broke to take great pictures. How much you spend on a Nikon lens often comes down to what you’ve already got. 

The quality of the pictures you are able to take with your Nikon lens is going to depend more on your skill than it does on the gear you’re using. Buying a used lens or buying a lens that’s closer to an entry-level doesn’t have to mean compromising on your art.

The more expensive lenses offer a greater level of sophistication, but you can find countless examples of people shooting on budget equipment and getting award-winning results. Don’t let your gear Define your photography style.

So, how do we answer the question about how much money to spend? The answer is simple. You should spend however much money you need to in order to get out there and start taking more photographs. Whether that’s buying Nikon’s most expensive portrait lens or getting a budget option, you want to spend money on a lens that’s going to help you take more photos. 

Conclusion 

These are the best Nikon lenses for portraits! 

The overall best Nikon lens for family portraits is the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8 with its crystal clear prime lens and it gives you a chance to jump right into portraiture. The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens and the AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR are great runner-up options for photographers who want something a little less committed to portraiture. 

Now that you know the best Nikon lenses for portraits, which one are you taking on your next shoot?

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