Best portrait lenses: 8 tested

Take great portraits without spending a fortune

Best portrait lenses 8 tested

Suitable for portraiture on full-frame bodies such as the Sony Alpha a99, as well as for tightly framed portraits on APS-C cameras, this 85mm lens is the cheapest here.

It's light in weight but feels a bit flimsy and only has a plastic mounting plate. It's also the 'slowest' lens in the group, with a maximum aperture of a mere f/2.8. Sony does also make an 85mm f/1.4 lens but, typical of this focal length and aperture combination, it's nearly six times the price.

As a 'SAM' lens, it features a built-in Smooth Autofocus Motor. In practice, autofocus is fairly quiet but slow. You can manually override autofocus but, as with the Pentax lens, operation is uncomfortably stiff unless you switch to manual focus mode. It's a shame the small focus ring isn't textured but at least it has a distance scale printed on it.

The inner barrel extends at shorter focus distances but the front element remains well recessed at all focus distances. Sony also supplies a hood with the lens. Thanks to a seven-blade construction, the diaphragm is quite well rounded.

The maximum aperture of f/2.8 is entirely usable as sharpness is excellent from corner to corner of the frame, and contrast is impressive. However, this is a plus point we'd expect from a lens that offers a relatively small maximum aperture.

There's a little pincushion distortion, whereas colour fringing is worse than with any other lens in the group.

Sharpness test

Best portrait lenses 8 tested

Corner-to-corner sharpness is excellent even at the largest available aperture, although this is a relatively disappointing f/2.8.

Fringing test

Best portrait lenses 8 tested

Colour fringing can be quite noticeable towards the edges and corners of the frame, increasing at medium to small apertures.

Distortion test

Best portrait lenses 8 tested

It can't quite match the near-zero distortion of the Canon and Nikon 85mm, but there's precious little pincushion to be seen.

Image test verdict

All aspects of image quality are very impressive, with the exception of colour fringing, where the Sony comes bottom of the group.