In portraiture, lenses have the potential to make or break your photos. The focal length, maximum aperture, optics, build quality, and even ease of use can all impact your ability to capture amazing images, so it’s important that you choose a lens carefully.
If you’re a Nikon shooter, you have dozens of options, including some great primes and flexible zooms. I’ve spent hours carefully researching some of the best Nikon portrait lenses, and in this article, I unveil my nine favorite models for F-mount and Z-mount cameras so you can start capturing stunning images!
The Best Nikon Lenses for Portrait Photography:
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Best Nikon F-Mount Portrait Lenses
In this section, I’ll focus on lenses designed for Nikon’s DSLR camera lineup, starting with the number one pick:
1. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G
The 85mm f/1.4G offers gorgeous optics, an excellent maximum aperture, and a perfect portrait focal length.
If you’re after the best Nikon portrait lens money can buy, look no further than the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G, which combines terrific optics, solid build, and speedy AF into a single package.
In many ways, the 85mm f/1.4G is the ultimate portrait photography lens, beating out other stellar picks such as the 70-200mm f/2.8 (on this list) and the 50mm f/1.8 (also on this list).
The 85mm focal length is right in that all-around sweet spot: wide enough that you can capture full-body photos but not so short you can’t do headshots. And when paired with the f/1.4 maximum aperture, the bokeh is jaw-droppingly gorgeous; it’s what gives professionals that sought-after, buttery-smooth background, especially when used with careful technique.
The 85mm f/1.4G doesn’t include Nikon’s Vibration Reduction, though low-light performance is still good thanks to the ultra-wide maximum aperture. Really, the biggest drawback is the price – at over $1500 USD, the 85mm f/1.4 certainly isn’t cheap, but for the serious portrait photographer looking for that one perfect lens, it’s worth every penny.
2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is impressively inexpensive yet still offers strong image quality.
The Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G is a great buy for beginning portrait photographers, and while it doesn’t offer top-of-the-line bokeh or sharpness, it’s a surprisingly capable little lens for the bargain price.
The 50mm f/1.8G is compact, perfect for sticking on a camera all day or during a shoot, and thanks to the 50mm focal length, the lens doubles as a great street photography lens, family photography lens, and more. At under $200 USD, you’re not going to get cutting-edge optics, but the 50mm is decently sharp at f/1.8 and becomes sharper as you stop down to f/2.8 and beyond.
For low-light photography – such as when capturing indoor portraits – you’ll appreciate the f/1.8 maximum aperture, and bokeh is nice, especially in headshots. Sure, the 50mm f/1.8G is outperformed by the 85mm f/1.4G, but it’s also over $1000 USD cheaper, and it’ll do just fine for portrait beginners looking to hit the ground running.
3. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR
It’s the most versatile portrait lens on the market; you can shoot environmental images, standard shots, and more.
Few lenses are as versatile as a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom, and Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR is no exception, making it a top portrait lens for working professionals (though its prowess can certainly be appreciated by hobbyists, as well!).
Thanks to the wide zoom range, the 24-70mm can capture just about any type of portrait you can imagine, from environmental shots at 24mm, full-body shots at 50mm, and even headshots at 70mm. And the f/2.8 maximum aperture will ensure comfortable shooting in low light (think weddings), plus it’ll help you capture excellent bokeh, especially at 50mm and beyond.
As a bonus, Nikon packed in Vibration Reduction, which lets you shoot handheld in dim conditions. It’s not useful for fast-moving subjects but should be a big help for late-evening portrait sessions. And action shooters will love the lightning-fast autofocus; when paired with the right camera, you’ll be able to track dancers, gymnasts, and more.
You do pay for the f/2.8 maximum aperture, but if you’re a professional seeking a do-everything lens, the 24-70mm f/2.8E is the way to go.
4. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
It’s long and expensive, but if you’re after tighter portraits, the 70-200mm f/2.8 is the way to go.
In many ways, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II is a specialist’s lens; you can’t use it for intimate full-body portraits, nor is it great for environmental shots. But where it works, it works brilliantly, and it’ll give you the half-body photos and headshots you’ve always dreamed of, featuring tack-sharp subjects, beautiful colors, and dreamy bokeh.
If you’re a beginner portrait photographer and you don’t already own a 50mm or 85mm prime, look there first – but if your goal is to improve your headshot and/or long-distance portrait photography game, then the 70-200mm f/2.8G is the lens for you. And it is a great lens; the optics are gorgeous, and the f/2.8 maximum aperture lets you photograph indoor weddings and other dark events, especially when combined with the Vibration Reduction.
As with pretty much all 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, this Nikon version is big, bulky, and conspicuous. It’s certainly not a stellar walkaround option, but when paired with a Nikon full-frame DSLR, it should feel decently well-balanced. Ultimately, the 70-200mm f/2.8G isn’t for everyone – but if you’re a low-light portrait shooter in need of a longer lens, it’s an excellent choice.
5. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED
The 35mm f/1.8G is compact, well-priced, and perfect for wide-angle portraiture.
If you prefer more environmental, even documentary-style portraits, then the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED is the lens to beat. After the 24-70mm zooms, it’s the widest lens on this list, featuring a perspective that’s loved by uniquely artistic photographers, though it does come up a little short for natural-looking headshots.
On APS-C cameras you can expect a 50mm field of view, which works well for standard portraits, but it’s on full-frame cameras that the lens really shines. You get an interesting perspective, and thanks to the f/1.8 maximum aperture, you can even produce some bokeh for a touch of artistic flair. Plus, since the 35mm f/1.8 is wide and wide apertured, you can handhold it in the toughest of situations, including beautiful blue-hour light.
No, the 35mm f/1.8 isn’t for everyone; unless you’re specifically drawn to the wider field of view, I’d recommend sticking with the 50mm f/1.8 (or, if you can afford it, the 85mm f/1.4). But for photographers who love the wide look, there’s no better option on this list, and certainly not for such a reasonable price.
Best Nikon Z-Mount Portrait Lenses
Nikon’s Z-mount lens lineup is still expanding, yet mirrorless portrait shooters already have plenty of excellent options, including several reasonably priced primes and a powerful zoom.
6. Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S
It’s well-priced, plus it features outstanding optics and an f/1.8 maximum aperture. For hobbyists, the 50mm f/1.8 can’t be beaten.
It’s ultra-sharp, it can focus fast, and it’s significantly under $1000 USD – in other words, there’s not much to complain about on the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S, a portrait lens that packs a lot of power into a low-priced package.
As discussed above, 50mm is an outstanding focal length for portrait photography. On a full-frame camera, you can capture full- and half-body portraits all day long, though you may find the lens a hair short for headshots and other tighter crops. On a Nikon APS-C mirrorless camera, you’ll get a very nice 75mm focal length, which is perfect for portraits of all kinds.
Optically, the 50mm f/1.8 S goes toe to toe with most – if not all – of the lenses on this list. Sharpness is superb, both wide open and when stopped down, so despite the $600 USD price tag, the lens should satisfy even the most demanding of pixel peepers. And autofocusing is top-notch, making the 50mm f/1.8 an excellent choice for dance and other types of action portrait shooting.
The biggest drawback of the 50mm f/1.8 is the lack of an ultra-wide maximum aperture, but f/1.8 is still decent, and it gives exceptional bokeh (you get lovely, creamy backgrounds) and low-light capabilities (open the lens up to f/1.8, and you can shoot long into the night). For a beginning portrait photographer or even a serious shooter after a compact, versatile lens, the 50mm f/1.8 is the best glass on the market.
7. Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S
The 85mm f/1.8 is a powerhouse of a lens; if you like tighter portraits, you won’t be disappointed.
For serious portrait shooters – including professionals – the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S is the best Z-mount glass Nikon has to offer, and it’s very reasonably priced given the quality.
I’m a huge fan of 85mm lenses for portrait photography, and the Z 85mm f/1.8 brings the goods. Image quality is excellent, and the bokeh performance stands out as one of the best on this list.
At 85mm, you get a slightly longer-than-standard field of view, which is perfect for pretty much every form of portrait photography (save for environmental portraits; for that, see the 35mm f/1.8 S, discussed below).
The f/1.8 aperture is nice for low-light shooting, though I would’ve liked to see Nikon pack in its image stabilization technology; while you can gain several stops of low-light shooting on an image-stabilized camera body, if you use a non-stabilized body, you’re out of luck.
Honestly, if you have the budget for this lens and you want to shoot tighter portraits, just get it. The exception is if you’re prepared to pay an arm or a leg for the 24-70mm f/2.8 S featured below, but for the vast majority of photographers, the 85mm f/1.8 S is an unbeatable option.
8. Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
It’s expensive, but the 24-70mm f/2.8 offers heaps of flexibility for the professional portrait shooter.
The Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is insanely expensive, but it’s also insanely capable – so if you have the budget and you love the idea of a versatile zoom for portrait photography, the 24-70mm is worth a look.
As with the 24-70mm f/2.8E, above, this lens’s focal length spans that perfect portrait range. You can capture everything without missing a beat: beautiful wide-angle portraits, detailed headshots, and so much more. Plus, for the multi-genre shooter, the 24-70mm f/2.8 S doubles as an excellent street photography, landscape/astrophotography, and event photography lens.
While the bokeh and low-light performance can’t match the faster primes on the list, the 24-70mm f/2.8 S still does well, and sharpness is outstanding, even at the focal-length extremes. I wouldn’t hesitate to use this lens for ultra-detailed commercial work, so if you demand the highest quality from your photos, you’re bound to be impressed.
9. Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S
It’s relatively cheap, and the focal length is great for candid and environmental portraits. If you like the 35mm perspective, go for it!
Some portrait shooters ignore the Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S due to its wide focal length, but I think that’s a mistake; while 35mm certainly isn’t a portrait classic, you can use it to capture beautiful environmental portraits, not to mention interesting close-ups from high and low angles.
And the Z 35mm f/1.8 S, in particular, does a superb job, from its unbelievable optical performance (you get through-the-roof sharpness) and its fast autofocus (you can shoot moving subjects, do street photography, or even photograph animals in action) to its lightweight body. You can stick the 35mm f/1.8 on the end of your camera and leave it there while doing casual portraits at family get-togethers, events, family activities, you name it.
As with the F-mount 35mm f/1.8, bokeh is decent when photographing your subjects up close, but weakens as you move back. If you’re after lots of creamy bokeh, the 85mm f/1.8 S is probably the better option, but the 35mm f/1.8 brings other strengths to the table – for one, the wider focal length is more handholdable in low light, plus the 35mm f/1.8 is a better walkaround performer.
Really, when choosing between the 35mm f/1.8 S, the 50mm f/1.8 S, and the 85mm f/1.8 S, it’s a question of focal length, bokeh, and price. Each lens promises stellar optics, identical maximum apertures, and fast autofocus performances, so it’s up to you to determine what matters most and pick accordingly.
Pick a Great Portrait Lens!
Selecting the perfect lens for portrait photography is no easy task, but I hope this article helped simplify the process! When considering your different options, pay careful attention to your budget and think about whether specific features – such as an ultra-wide maximum aperture – really matter to you.
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