Essentials: Recommendations for the Mirrorless Camera Portrait Photographer

Curious about what we recommend for portrait photographers these days? Have a look!  

Portrait photography is often the reason many people initially get into photography; taking portraits of their children or family, or simply just having an interest in capturing images of people. But regardless of the reason behind it, this has led to some serious information overload with all things related to portrait photography. You can find gear recommendations down to the brand and the portrait style niche. This is a blessing and a curse.

What if you are just interested in general portraiture and you want to get started with a decent kit that will be able to do various styles and forms of portraiture well? Look no further! Today we are sharing some of our favorite gear for general portraiture. We’ve got you covered with two lenses, two cameras, two bags, two lights, and two modifiers to get your kit started off right!

Recommended Portrait Cameras

These days there are more cameras capable of quality portraits than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that some aren’t better suited for the task than others. Here are two of our favorite camera recommendations for photographers who are looking for great all-around cameras for portrait photography.

Sony A7 III

The Sony A7 III is one of the best all around cameras for just about any purpose, and that is just as true for general portrait photography. It’s full frame sensor gives you some advantages over crop sensor cameras you may have used in the past and it’s packed full of features that have trickled down from Sony’s higher end A7R III and A9 cameras to make this just about the most compelling portrait camera on the market under $2,000. In our review we said…

“I genuinely think the Sony A7 III is a fantastic camera. Sony describes it as their “basic” option. For that, I understand the mentality. But for the professional photographer, I think the Sony A7 III has no real place in your bag. Instead, go for the Sony a7r III or the Sony a9. The Sony A7 III has great image quality, autofocus, decent build quality (with reservations), and is reliable. It’s not at all a bad camera.” [amazon_textlink asin=’B07B43WPVK’ text=’Buy One’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’cd68b8bf-6d9f-11e8-af2e-4f5f0d6c20e2′] (Read our full A7 III review)

 

Fujifilm X-T2

If you like a camera that is as stylish as it is capable then you may be interested in what Fujifilm has to offer with the X-T2. It doesn’t have a full frame sensor like the A7III, but thanks to Fujifilm’s excellent color technology and unique X-Trans sensor technology the X-T2 is also one of our favorite portrait cameras currently on the market. In our Fujifilm X-T2 we said…

“There is a whole lot to love about the Fujifilm X-T2. It’s got some of the best autofocus of any Fujifilm camera and is very reliable in most situations. The build quality is top notch and that adds to its reliability as we found after dropping the camera. The overall ergonomics will appeal to so many people, but not me. I prefer the rangefinder style camera body offerings. Then there is the image quality. Overall it’s fantastic. “ [amazon_textlink asin=’B01I3LNMAM’ text=’Buy One’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’6448fdac-6da0-11e8-a84a-9fbbbc0d1fb4′] (Read our Fujifilm X-T2 review)

 

PRO TIP: Really getting to know your gear is way more important than having the best gear. Cameras these days are capable of a lot and it’s easy to get caught up on specs. Take time to really get to know your camera, its features, its capabilities; many times this will improve your photography more than buying some new gear would.

Recommended Portrait Lenses

Honestly, your lens choice for portraiture is going to be much more important to your work in the long run than your camera will be. To that end, we have selected two of our favorite lenses (compatible with the cameras we mentioned above) for shooting portraits. These will give you great results and help you get your portrait photography kit started off right.

Sony FE 50mm F1.8

 

If there is one lens that is extremely versatile as a general portrait lens it is the 50mm focal length, and high on our list for Sony portrait photographers is the Sony FE 55mm f1.8. This lens isn’t the fastest ~50mm lens available, however it is built very well and maintains a relatively small and compact size. This makes it our top pick for beginning Sony portrait kits, though just as a warning it is expensive for a ~50mm f1.8 lens, but it’s sharpness and image quality more than make up for it in our opinion.

In our review of the Sony FE 55mm f1.8 we said…

“The Sony 55mm f1.8, like its shorter brother, has earned our Editor’s Choice Award for sheer performance. If this lens is any indication, the future is bright and creamy for the A7, A7R and whatever will come next. When paired with the A7, you’ll enjoy smooth focusing both manually and automatically. With the A7R, you’ll get far greater resolution. Whether you go for the A7 or the A7R, know that you’ll get great results with the 55mm f1.8.” [amazon_textlink asin=’B00FYOF61K’ text=’Buy One’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’1383f849-6f2c-11e8-a881-751e0818f801′] (Read our Sony FE 55mm F1.8 Review)

A Few Sony 55mm Samples

julius motal the phoblographer sony a7 image 02

julius motal the phoblographer sony a7 image 03

 

Fujifilm 35mm F1.4

Due to Fujifilm’s APS-C sized sensor, the equivalent focal length for a full frame 50mm field of view on the Fujifilm system is 35mm. To that end, our pick for a great starter portrait lens on the X-Series is none other than one of the very first lenses that Fujifilm introduced the system with, the 35mm f1.4. This lens offers excellent build and image quality as well as superb low light performance and shallow depth of field that is great for general portraiture. There are other more traditional portrait lenses in the Fujifilm lineup, such as the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00HK8Z9AG’ text=’56mm F1.2′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b24b454b-6f34-11e8-8171-276ecde8d22e’] or the [amazon_textlink asin=’B01MS6WINK’ text=’50mm F2′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’bacefd9a-6f34-11e8-8e4e-31d150263d17′], but these lenses won’t give you the versatility in any environment that the 35mm will. Since you are starting a kit, we prioritized versatility here over straight up portrait capabilities.

In our XF 35mm f1.4 review we said…

“Paired with this lens, it looks just like the images came out being used with Zeiss glass. I say that because their rangefinder glass doesn’t have as much microcontrast as their DSLR glass, but it is still noticeable. And the Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 does have some microcontrast indeed to make subjects pop.” [amazon_textlink asin=’B006UL00R6′ text=’Buy One’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9e813493-6da1-11e8-bca9-8d084a134e54′] (Read our Fujifilm XF 35mm F1.4 Review)

PRO TIP: If a versatile prime lens like Fujifilm’s 35mm f1.4 isn’t your cup of tea, then another lens you could give a try is their 16-55mm f2.8. This is a great all around fast aperture lens that is an excellent choice for both wide and tight portrait shooting.

Recommended Portrait Lighting

In portraiture, your lighting is everything. Not simply how much of it you have, but also how you use it to your advantage to accent the scene or highlight your subject. Thankfully, these days quality lighting options are as affordable as ever, giving you some serious options to craft beautiful images without needing to rely solely on the sun.

Godox Thinklite TT685S

Speedlights are the bread and butter of portrait photographers and they have been for years. These small and portable battery powered lights allow you the freedom to create the light you need anywhere, and these Godox Thinklite TT685 speedlights are amongst our favorites right now on the lighting market. In our review we said…

“Let me state this: there isn’t a single reason why this flash shouldn’t receive the Editor’s choice award. The Godox Thinklite TT686S TTL flash is reliable, compact, and simply works. Not only that but it gives the user a whole load of options. You can do slow sync with Sony, second curtain flash, first curtain, it doesn’t matter. You’ll get it and more importantly you’ll get it at a damned affordable price point.” [amazon_textlink asin=’B01DVKBQEY’ text=’Buy One’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’3b6abad7-6da2-11e8-9b9b-15909391e054′] (Read our Godox Thinklight TT685 review)

Sample Portraits Shot with the Godox Thinklite TT685

Chris Gampat Portraits quickly on Greenpoint (1 of 3)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 1.4

Chris Gampat Erica Lourd portraits 2016 Spring extras (6 of 6)ISO 1001-125 sec at f - 2.0

Flashpoint Xplor600 Monolight

The other popular type of lighting for portrait photographers are monolights. These used to be big and bulky lighting units that you would find in studios, but these days they have been shrunken down and given battery packs that allow you to have incredibly powerful lighting options at your disposal virtually anywhere. The Xplor600 Monolights from Flashpoint are some of the most affordable on the market and are compatible with virtually every system. In our review we said…

“The Flashpoint Xplor600 is a very awesome light overall. It outputs consistently accurate TTL lighting, offers manual control, fast flash durations, has incredible battery life, superb build quality–it’s just incredible. Plus it does all this at a very affordable price. It’s hard to beat that.” [amazon_textlink asin=’B01F21CM20′ text=’Buy One’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’d6c8bf67-6da2-11e8-9c24-a11c23760386′] (Read our Flashpoint Xplor600 Monolight Review)

Sample Portraits Shot with the Xplor600 Monolights

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Adorama Flashpoint Xplor600 monolight sample extras (8 of 12)ISO 1001-2000 sec at f - 4.5

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Adorama Flashpoint Xplor600 monolight samples (9 of 13)ISO 16001-25 sec at f - 2.8

 

Recommended Portrait Lighting Modifiers

As noted above, how much light you have for your images is only part of the equation. Being able to control and modify that light to fit your needs is just as important as the lights themselves. But also having the ability to mold natural light sources is key too, so below we have one recommended modifier for your lights and one for natural sources.

Pictools 47in Folding Beauty Dish


The Beauty Dish is often a go-to tool for portrait photographers thanks to the unique lighting style it produces. However, traditional beauty dishes can be quite large and difficult to travel around with. So we recommend this folding beauty dish that you can also use as an octabank if you don’t install the innner reflector that gives it that signature beauty dish lighting look. Buy One (Read our Pictools 47in Folding Beauty Dish Review)

5-in-1 Reflector

Yes, the 5-in-1 Reflector is something every general portrait photographer should have in their bag. This is an incredibly versatile lighting modifier that you can use to flag light from hitting your subject, and add more light onto your subject by bouncing light. What’s also great about these guys is that they are very affordable. [amazon_textlink asin=’B000NFIW98′ text=’Buy One’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’75bee976-6da4-11e8-bc89-c7e3107b9075′]

PRO TIP:  You don’t always have to use huge light modifiers just because you have them. If you use TTL or know how to meter your image correctly sometimes the simple reflector dish that comes with your light will produce the results you are looking for.

Recommended Bags to Carry It All In

So, if you have all this new gear for your portrait kit you are going to need something to carry it all in. Finding the perfect bag for you is a never-ending dilemma for a portrait photographer, as your needs may change depending on the job you are headed out on. But that said, we think the following two bags are excellent choices for any kit starting with the above-mentioned gear.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack 30L

The Peak Design Everyday Backpack 30 L is not only a well designed and stylist looking packpack that doesn’t scream, “I’m full of expensive photography equipment”, but it is also a great all around packpack that can be used for a variety of purposes beyond just your portrait photography. So if you are wanting a bag that can be used for mulitple purposes, we recommend starting your search here. [amazon_textlink asin=’B01M6C2Z91′ text=’Buy One’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’907fb582-6da5-11e8-8660-9f2d600552a5′] (Read our Peak Design Everyday Backpack 30L Review)

Tenba DNA 15 Backpack

Another excellent backpack style bag for general portraiture, the Tenba DNA 15 will be able to help you transport all of your portrait photography kit around town with ease — all while remaining to be stylish, functional, and held to the high standards photographers have come to know Tenba bags for. [amazon_textlink asin=’B077DMMSQR’ text=’Buy One’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’f6385b93-6da5-11e8-a69b-c1374a9ef7bf’] (Read our Tenba DNA 15 Review)

So there you have it, some excellent gear recommendations for the general portrait photographer in you. These picks are an excellent place to start any portrait photography kit and will be able to stay with you as your experience and skills grow.

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.