7 Incredible Modern Portrait Lenses Under $1,000

Portrait photography is and remains one of the most popular reasons that people pick up a camera and get into photography. But as we all well know, top quality lenses bring with them budget breaking price tags. Luckily, portrait photography can be pretty forgiving, and you don’t need the most expensive lenses in order to get great results.

Today we are going to focus on the best modern lenses (released within the last 4 years) for portraiture that come with a normal price tag under the $1,000 mark – making them relatively attainable for most photographers. Also note, towards the end of last year we did feature a similar listing, of modern portraiture lenses under $500, so in that under $500 category today we will only be noting lenses that have been released since that post, making the majority of this post in the $500-$999 spectrum.

Okay, lets get into it.

Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC review product images (4 of 8)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

In our official review we said:

“The Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD is very, very great. It’s under $1,000 and you get a load of awesome things in this small package. This lens has sharp image quality, fast autofocusing, great bokeh, a unique look to its contrast and saturation and best of all you’ll get weather sealing. It’s lightweight and can do well in the hands of amateurs, enthusiasts, semi-professionals and professionals alike.” – Read the Full Review

As you will no doubt have heard if you have been a photographer for long, but 85mm has long been a favored focal length for its compression and flattering features in portraiture. This offering from Tamron is quite possibly the best option for you if you shoot a full frame DSLR and don’t want to spend more than $1,000.

Purchase a Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 from Amazon today for just $749.

Extremely soft light.

Extremely soft light.

Tamron SP 35mm F/1.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 35mm f1.8 Di VC product images (5 of 5)ISO 1001-800 sec at f - 2.0

In our official review we said:

“Beyond this, the lens has incredible color quality, beautiful bokeh that will make you want to shoot wide open all day; until you realize that the lens is softer than most wide open and you’ll have fringing issues that you’ll need to eliminate in post.” — Read our Full Review

If you are looking for a budget 35mm prime for your full frame DSLR, this one from Tamron is an absolutely killer option. Just make sure to thoroughly test your copy after purchasing to confirm it performs to your standards, Tamron has come a long was with quality control, but issues have been known to crop up with this lens (as well as its 45mm sibling).

Purchase a Tamron SP 35mm F/1.8 from Amazon today for just $599.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Tamron 35mm f1.8 Di VC review photos (1 of 29)ISO 4001-800 sec at f - 1.8

Sigma 35mm F/1.4 Art

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma 35mm f1.4 product photos (3 of 6)ISO 100

In our official review we said:

“For quite a while, I loved my Canon 35mm f1.4 L USM. But after some time, I started to believe that the company needed to update it with sharper optics. In my opinion though, they’re taking a bit too long and when I used the new 24-70mm f2.8, I was very disappointed. With that said, Sigma offers users not only a better and more affordable option, but one that you’ll end up proudly carrying around with you all the time.” — Read our Full Review

If you are looking for a fast 35mm prime for your full frame DSLR, Sigma’s Art 35mm is likely the model you should consider. Similar lenses from Canon, Nikon, and other notable brands are quite a bit more expensive, and this lens put Sigma on the map, showing that third party lenses could in many ways out perform their brand name cousins.

Purchase a Sigma Art 35mm F/1.4 from Amazon today for just $849.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer FlashPipe LightCraft Workshop DigiPro HD filter review PocketWizard Plus X review (20 of 21)ISO 1601-50 sec at f - 5.6

Sigma 50mm F/1.4 Art

Chris GampatThe Phoblographer Sigma 50mm f1.4 sample images product (1 of 1)ISO 2001-100 sec at f - 5.0

In our official review we said:

“Sigma’s 50mm f1.4 Art DG HSM is an exceptional lens. Starting with the design, it very much is in line with the company’s 35mm f1.4 Art optic. The outside feels and looks like something that Hasselblad might make. It feels just so great in your hands that you’d never want to let it go. In fact, if you’re a big fan of the 50mm field of view you might never want to give it up.” — Read our Full Review

We all know that 50mm is a great focal length for a wide variety of photographic uses, and portrait work is for sure one of them. For full frame DSLR shooters, this Art offering from Sigma is likely one of the highest performing lenses ever under the $1000 price point and is definately worth considering if you want nothing but the best – even if it is a bit of a premium over brand name 50mm F/1.4 offerings.

Purchase a Sigma Art 50mm F/1.4 from Amazon today for just $949.

Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art

Rokinon 135mm F/2

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Rokinon 135mm f2 review product photos (3 of 6)ISO 4001-125 sec at f - 2.8

In our official review we said:

“The Rokinon 135mm f2 is a lens that belongs in the hands of every aspiring portrait photographer. It will teach you things about composition, focusing on details, being very careful with the elements of a scene, etc. Plus, it’s pretty affordable at $549. It’s a beautiful lens and it’s highly capable of delivering beautiful images. But for what it’s worth, my major complaint has to do with Rokinon’s build quality. I’d really like metal to be part of the exterior.” — Read our Full Review

Another favorite focal length among portrait artists is the 135mm, and coming in well under our $1000 price limit is the Rokinion 135mm F/2, an outstanding manual focus only lens available in many mounts that will do well in any portrait photographers hands.

Purchase a Rokinon 135mm f2 from Amazon today for just $549.

Model: Hugh Brownstone

Model: Hugh Brownstone

Rokinon/Samyang 50mm F/1.2

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Samyang 50mm f1.2 product images (4 of 7)ISO 4001-125 sec at f - 2.8

In our official review we said:

“This lens is razor sharp, has a decent build quality, a very smooth focusing ring, gorgeous bokeh and has a fantastic price attached to it. If you’re an APS-C camera user, then you’ll be hard pressed to find something better for portraits; but get ready to scale back a bit on post-production.” — Read our Full Review

Another killer option from Rokinon/Samyang is the ‘designed for APS-C’ 50mm F/1.2, which is an absolutely killer lens for the value with crop sensor shooters who don’t plan on moving to a full frame camera any time soon.

Purchase a Rokinon 50mm f1.2 from Amazon today for just $549.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Rokinon 50mm f1.2 portraits of Asta (2 of 4)ISO 2001-1000 sec at f - 1.0

Sony 50mm F/1.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 50mm f1.8 first impressions product images (1 of 8)ISO 4001-50 sec at f - 2.8

In our official review we said:

“Considering that this is a standard Sony lens, you’re essentially slapping the lens on, focusing and shooting. It’s very straight forward as it has been with Sony’s products for a while. To that end, you may not even really be paying attention to the focusing ring unless your in DMF mode when shooting… the image quality is very impressive for a 50mm f1.8 lens.” — Read our Full Review

Sony full frame users should really consider the Sony 50mm F/1.8, for just $249 it is likely the most affordable native Sony lens that we can recommend for portraiture on the FE mount. Sure, the Sony/Zeiss co-branded 55mm 1.8 is a killer lens as well, that also falls under the $1,000 price point, but given the performance and price its hard to recommend that one over this for those working with a limited budget.

Purchase a Sony 50mm f1.8 from Amazon today for just $249.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 50mm f1.8 first impressions portrait samples (7 of 9)ISO 2501-1000 sec at f - 1.8

So there you have it. 7 killer options for portrait photographers looking to improve or grow their kit with lenses under the $1000 price point. Hopefully this will help those of you on the lookout narrow down your search a bit and provide some ideas for those thinking about how their next kit upgrade.

Anthony Thurston

Anthony is a Portland, Oregon based Boudoir Photographer specializing in a dark, moody style that promotes female body positivity, empowerment, and sexuality. Besides The Phoblographer, he also reviews gear and produces his own educational content on his website.