Best lenses for portraits: 5 sensibly priced options tested

Take great portraits without spending a fortune

Olympus 45mm

3. Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8

Great option of Micro Four Thirds

Lens mount: Micro Four Thirds | Maximum aperture: f/1.8 | Minimum aperture: f/22 | Lens construction: 9 elements in 8 groups | Minimum focus distance: 0.5m | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Filter size: 37mm

Sharpness ais outstanding
Great value
No focus distance info
Plastic finish

This lens is a tiny thing, weighing only 116g. From a distance, the lens barrel looks like high-grade metal, but it's actually made of plastic with a metal-like finish. Even so, build quality feels solid. The MSC (Movie & Stills Compatible) autofocus system is driven from an in-camera motor. It's practically silent and, in stills mode, as fast as the quickest ring-type ultrasonic lenses here. Sharpness is outstanding, even at the widest available aperture of f/1.8, though colour fringing is a little above average and pincushion distortion is slightly noticeable. Overall, the Olympus packs big portraiture potential into a tiny package.

Sigma 85mm

4. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM

Ultra fast portrait monster

Lens mount: Canon EF, Nikon FX, Sony A, Pentax K, Sigma SA | Maximum aperture: f/1.4 | Minimum aperture: f/16 | Lens construction: 11 elements in 8 groups | Minimum focus distance: 0.85m | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Filter size: 77mm

f/1.4 max aperture
Good value
Poor edge sharpness
No weather seals

We're big fans of Sigma's Art-line prime lenses and, for Canon and Nikon APS-C format cameras, the full-frame compatible Sigma 50mm f/1.4 A lens is our favourite portrait lens. This 85mm optic is an older design but nevertheless features aspherical and SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements, along with a ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system. The lens doesn't include weather seals, but it does have a well-rounded nine-blade aperture and Sigma's super multi-layer coatings to reduce ghosting and flare. Autofocus is fast and quiet, while centre-sharpness is excellent, even at f/1.4. Corner-sharpness is underwhelming at any aperture, but that's not normally a deal-breaker for a portrait lens.

Canon 85mm

5. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

Getting on a bit, but still good

Lens mount: Canon EF | Maximum aperture: f/1.8 | Minimum aperture: f/22 | Lens construction: 9 elements in 7 groups | Minimum focus distance: 0.85m | No. of diaphragm blades: 8 | Filter size: 58mm

Good build quality
AF is fast and smooth
Lens hood required
Starting to show its age

This 85mm is a compact optic and only requires a 58mm filter thread. That said, the front element that isn't recessed within the barrel, making the purchase of an optional ET-65 III lens hood (about $15/£25) all the more important. Build quality is good and the lens benefits from a ring-type autofocus system which is very fast and almost silent. The eight-blade diaphragm gives a well-rounded aperture, making this an ideal portrait optic for full-frame bodies and very useful for telephoto portraiture on APS-C cameras.