The Best Modern Portrait Lenses Under $500

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Some lenses are just designed to give better image quality than others, and some lenses do that while also keeping the price tag down. For years, the Phoblographer has been reviewing lenses in real life situations, and the Reviews Index has lots of those reviews in one spot.

After pooling through the index, the site has rounded up a number of great portrait lenses under the $500 price point for those of you on a budget. These lenses are modern, and are readily available on the market brand new from many trusted photography retailers. If you’re looking for something cheap with solid performance, these are the Phoblographer’s tried and true favorites.

Rokinon 85mm f1.4

Rokinon 85mm f1.4

In our review, we state:

“Focusing is all done manually using the giant focusing ring. Photographers that have complained about the focusing rings on Canon lenses being “wimpy” (and you know who you are, and so will all those that read forums often) will feel right at home with a lens like this. The focusing is smooth but not too dampened. It is still possible to get through the entire focusing range of this lens very quickly and with fair accuracy.”

Buy Now $267.99: Amazon | B&H Photo | Adorama

Sigma 30mm f1.4 Art

Sigma 30mm f1.4 Art

In our review, we state:

“The colors from this lens reminded me of something else. I really couldn’t put my finger on it at first as I thought it was Zeiss-like, but then I really looked closely. The Sigma 30mm f1.4 delivers a color rendition that reminded me of the older Canon 35mm f1.4 L. If you’re a Canon lover, then this shouldn’t be a problem at all. But it’s amazing that Sigma can deliver such color rendition at a significantly more affordable price–even if it isn’t a full frame lens per se.”

Buy Now $449: Amazon | B&H Photo | Adorama

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer 85mm vs 50mm portrait test Sigma 50mm f1.4 other (1 of 1)ISO 2001-640 sec at f - 2.8

Pro Tip: I generally don’t recommend anything below 85mm properly for portrait shooting. But with average to thin body types, you won’t have too much of an issue that may anger a potential portrait subject. Of course, to each their own though.

Sigma 50mm f1.4 (Version 1)

SIGMA_50mm_F1.4__4d92dcef52caa

In our review, we state:

Bokeh: This is where the Sigma really kills the competition. Besides the Canon 50mm f/1.2L, I don’t think bokeh in this focal length gets better than this. Yes, the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 has “unique” bokeh, but I think most photographers prefer the Sigma’s super smooth and creamy bokeh. Also, thanks to the 9 bladed diaphragm, bokeh balls are nice and round, no hexagons here.”

Buy Now $449: Amazon | B&H Photo | Adorama

Nikon 50mm f1.8 G

Nikon 50mm f1.8 G

In our review, we state:

“The colors are nice and are balanced nicely through the image. Skin tones come out nicely. This lens will handle portraits well.”

Buy Now $216.95: Amazon | B&H Photo | Adorama

Canon 50mm f1.8 STM

Canon 50mm f1.8 III

In our review, we state:

“Canon’s 50mm f1.8 STM is an overall great lens for what it is: a cheap lens that is aimed at a specific consumer. It’s not going to deliver the best image quality and it’s not going to give you the looks that many third party manufacturers give you now. But what it will surely do is give you a starting point to work with.”

Buy Now $125: Amazon | B&H Photo | Adorama

Olympus 25mm f1.8

Olympus 25mm f1.8

In our review, we state:

“So what do we have to say to the overall image quality from the Olympus 25mm f1.8?

It’s pretty damned amazing. Olympus said to us that they basically took the same formula for the 45mm f1.8 and modified it to work with the 25mm focal length. And it seemed to have worked. The 45mm f1.8 is one of the sharpest and most affordable Micro Four Thirds lenses that we’ve tested, so it’s only natural then that the 25mm f1.8 is right up there.”

Buy Now $349: Amazon | B&H Photo | Adorama

Fujifilm 35mm f2 R WR

XF35mmF2_black_flat

In our review, we state:

“Let’s start these conclusions with the absolute truths about this lens. It is the fastest to focus Fujifilm lens to date and finally makes candid street photography with a Fujifilm camera really viable when it comes to using autofocus. For this reason alone, many photographers will greatly, greatly appreciate this lens and just how quickly it can perform.”

Buy Now $399: Amazon | B&H Photo | Adorama

Pro Tip: Most modern lenses can handle backlighting with ease. Do it, it gives portrait subjects a beautiful glow.

Pro Tip: Most modern lenses can handle backlighting with ease. Do it, it gives portrait subjects a beautiful glow.

Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN

60mm 28 020413sigma

In our review, we state:

“Now this is one of Sigma 60mm’s strong suits. Autofocus is blazingly fast and quiet to boot. From taking street portraits which allowed me to take my time to walking down the street and shooting from the hip, the Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN kept up quite well. Focusing was accurate for the most part, but not as consistent as I would have liked. I found myself either very pleased or disappointed with pictures in Lightroom. Even if the camera says you have the focus nailed, I found several shots were either a tad soft or either missed slightly. However, when it hits, it hits and I was generally pleased with the results.”

Buy Now $209: Amazon | B&H Photo | Adorama

Sony 50mm f1.8 OSS

Sony 50mm f1.8 OSS

In our review, we state:

“I was extremely impressed with the NEX 50mm f1.8. Of all the lenses I’ve tested so far, it by far has the best image quality for the system. The fact that I was able to use it for a professional product shoot also blew my mind away. Generally, I leave all of that to my 5D Mk II but the fact that I did it with this little camera makes me thrilled for the mirrorless future. Additionally, it also makes me wonder how many people may already be shooting professionally with mirrorless cameras already.”

Buy Now $248: Amazon | B&H Photo | Adorama

Olympus 45mm f1.8

Olympus 45mm f1.8

In our review, we state:

“But what about portraits: the subject matter that this lens was designed to photograph. Well, the above portrait (in the actual review) and the two following were subject to little to no editing. Matt’s face was photographed wide open at f1.8 and it started to get blurry at the ears. Many details of his face are visible and his beard really sticks out.”

Buy Now $349: Amazon | B&H Photo | Adorama

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