Portraits on a Budget: These Affordable Portrait Lenses Are Must-Haves

Some affordable portrait lenses on the market are priced well below their incredibly high levels of performance.

The above statement is true; there are lenses on the market that perform so well that one would think they should be priced higher than the lens makers charge. When it comes to portrait photography, you don’t have to break the bank to get optics and performance that will wow you and your clients. All the affordable portrait lenses in this roundup are fast, well built, the bokeh is dreamy, produce images sharp enough to cut, and cost well under $1,000 (and we mean way under $1,000). If you’re on a budget and want portrait lenses that produce pro results, these are the lenses you need to check out.

Captured with the Sigma 56mm f1.4

Thanks to third party lens manufacturers, prices on both first and third party lenses have dropped drastically over the last few years. And thanks to improved manufacturing processes, the quality of these affordable portrait lenses has gone through the roof. Whether you shoot with Full Frame, APS-C, or Micro Four Thirds cameras, there are affordable portrait lenses in this roundup that will impress to no end. Check out our top picks below.

Samyang /Rokinon RK50M-FX 50mm F1.2 AS UMC

When it comes to ‘bang for your buck’ lenses, the Samyang/Rokinon RK50M 50MM f1.2 may be one of the best options for portrait photographers who shoot with APS-C cameras. If you don’t mind manual focus, this 75mm (100mm on M4/3) equivalent focal length lens will blow you away thanks to its incredible optics. Here are the pros and cons from our full review:

Pros

  • Very, very sharp image delivery
  • Beautiful bokeh
  • Smooth focusing ring
  • Lightweight design
  • Affordable price point

Cons

  • We really think it’s time for Rokinon and Samyang to give their lenses a metal body/exterior

Buy now Canon M ($399): Amazon

Buy now Fuji ($379): Amazon

Buy now Micro Four Thirds ($399): Amazon

Buy now Sony E ($399): Amazon

Canon 85mm F1.8 USM

If you are a Canon shooter, you have a lot of options to choose from when it comes to portrait lenses, but one of the very best affordable portrait lenses is Canon’s own 85mm f1.8 USM. The 85mm f1.8 is about as close as you can get to an L series lens without shelling out big bucks for the famed red ring. You’ll get fast focusing, sharp images, and beautifully rendered colors. Here are the pros and cons from our full review:

Pros

  • Solid build quality for this price point
  • Lightweight and easy to handle
  • Bokeh that will make you say ‘wow’
  • Fast to focus and quiet
  • Gorgeous image quality

Cons

  • No weather sealing
  • Slight purple fringing issues

Buy now Canon EF: $349

Nikon 85mm F1.8 G

The Nikon 85mm f1.8 G is a very sharp lens, which makes it ideal for portrait work. The silent wave motor makes quick, quiet work of autofocusing, while the maximum aperture of f1.8 makes it suitable for shooting in low light situations. Image quality, bokeh, and color reproduction are all excellent. When it comes to affordable portrait lenses, the Nikon 85mm f1.8 G is easily adaptable to be used on Nikon’s mirrorless cameras and should definitely be in your lens library. Here are the pros and cons from our full review:

Pros

  • Beefy, with a textured finish which makes it easy to handle
  • Quick and deadly accurate autofocusing capabilities
  • The bokeh is to die for

Cons

  • Renders colors a tad too warm

Buy now: $426.95

Fujinon XF50mm F2 R WR Lens

Fujifilm users will be happy to hear that there is a fantastic affordable lens for portraits. The Fujifilm 50mm f2 R WR is a great all-round performer; it’s small and compact, and it features excellent weather sealing. The optics are great, images are super sharp, and produces bokeh pleasing to the eye. Color rendition is also very good with this lens, and chromatic aberration is nonexistent. Here are the pros and cons from our full review:

Pros

  • It’s very affordable
  • Weather sealing
  • Fast autofocus performance on the newer cameras
  • Sharp optics and image quality
  • Nice bokeh
  • Only gets sharper when you use a flash
  • Pretty compact
  • Nice build quality

Cons

  • Not much, honestly

Buy now: $449

Captured with the Rokinon 135mm f2

Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to use off-camera flash to help light your subject. Using strobes and monolights is not as complicated as some may lead you to believe, and it’s a vital skill to learn if you want to be a great portrait photographer. Being able to control light during your shoots will open up many doors. If you’re not sure how to go about adding off-camera flash to your workflow, check out this incredibly affordable guide. The new skills you’ll learn along with the new portrait lenses will set you up for success.

Rokinon 135mm F2 ED UMC

Rokinon’s 135mm f2 lens is perhaps one of their finest lenses, period. Not only is this lens incredibly affordable, but it also delivers some of the most beautiful images you’ll find. The Rokinon 135mm f2 ED UMC is a manual focus lens, but those who stick with it will be rewarded with breathtaking results. The lens is sharp, the bokeh is gorgeous, and the colors are a delight. Here are the pros and cons from our full review:

Pros

  • Stunning image quality on every front
  • Very precise focusing ring

Cons

  • Kind of big, but that’s natural for a lens like this
  • Rokinon needs a new exterior. We’d pay extra for metal

Buy now Canon EF: $499

Buy now Nikon F: $499

Buy now Fujifilm: $499.95

Buy now M4/3: $479

Buy now Pentax: $499

Buy now Sony E: $491.51

Olympus 45mm F1.8 MSC

Portrait lenses

This small, fast prime from Olympus is a pure gem for portrait shooters. As you should have guessed by now, this lens is affordable, especially for a lens that will act as a 90mm equivalent on M4/3 cameras. The F1.8 MSC is sharp wide open, the bokeh that can be produced is lovely (as with most other Micro Four Thirds lenses), it’s fast to focus, and most importantly, it renders the true to life colors vital in portraiture. Here are the pros and cons from our full review:

Pros

  • Small and well balanced on all M4/3 cameras
  • Very sharp wide open
  • True to life color rendition
  • Gorgeous bokeh

Cons

  • We wish the build quality were a little better, but for the price you can’t complain too much

Buy now: $279.99

Sony 85mm F1.8 FE

Portrait lenses

The Sony 85mm f1.8 is a stunning lens that would feel at home in the hands of new and seasoned portrait photographers everywhere. For under $600, you’re going to get one of the best portrait lenses on the Sony E platform. Gorgeous bokeh, terrific colors, incredible AF, sharp optics, and great build quality (including some weather sealing): this is what you’ll get for your money. Here are the pros and cons from our full review:

Pros

  • Great image quality
  • Fast-focusing with the Sony a7r II and, in good lighting, it will focus quickly with the Sony a7
  • Nice feel, though not as great as the G Master 85mm f1.4 lens
  • Weather resistance built-in
  • Compact size

Cons

  • Honestly, not a darn thing

Buy now: $598

Rokinon 85mm F1.4 AF FE

Portrait lenses

Sony shooters are spoiled for choice when it comes to affordable portrait lenses. The Rokinon 85mm f1.4 is another excellent example of a lens that should not be overlooked. This superfast lens is one of Rokinon/Samyang’s new autofocus lenses that also feature much-improved build qualities over their older lenses. Don’t let the low price fool you as this lens is very, very good. For under $600, you’re getting a lens that produces pleasing colors, bokeh that melts away the background, and excellent autofocus performance. Here are the pros and cons from our full review:

Pros

  • More affordable than Sony’s higher-end option: it’s $699
  • Good image quality
  • Smooth bokeh
  • Sharp image quality
  • Nice colors (it reminds us of Portra colors)

Cons

  • We wish there were a little more weather sealing

Buy now Sony E: $599

Captured with the Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD

Pro Tip: Portrait photography is exciting as it allows photographers to capture the essence and tell the story of the person whom with you’re working. It’s not as easy as it looks, though. If you’re new to portrait photography or need some new ideas to keep your shoots fresh and exciting, you should continue your education not only by shooting but by investing in training materials and guides from some of the best around. Lindsay Adler is one of the most successful portrait photographers of our time and her guides are legendary. Her portrait photography posing guide is just a must-have if you want to better yourself.

Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary

Portrait lenses

Sigma created a trio of f1.4 lenses for APS-C and Micro Four Thirds cameras, and the 56mm f1.4 is their fast, yet affordable portrait lens. On Sony APS-C cameras, this lens will have an equivalent focal length of 84mm, on Canon’s EF-M mount cameras like the M6 II the equivalent focal length would be 89.6mm, and on M4/3 cameras it would be 112mm. When we reviewed the lens, we loved how sharp it was, the bokeh, it’s small size and weight, and how fast and accurate the autofocus was. It’s hard to go wrong with this lens. Here are the pros and cons from our full review:

Pros

  • Excellent sharpness
  • Gorgeous bokeh
  • Lightweight and compact design
  • Fast and accurate autofocus
  • One of three widest maximum aperture (f1.4) lenses currently available for Crop Sensor Sony E Mount (besides Sigma’s own 16mm and 30mm offerings)
  • Dust and splash-proof design with a rubber gasket integrated found around the lens mount
  • 35mm equivalent focal length of 84mm very nearly matches the 85mm focal length preferred by many portrait photographers

Cons

  • Lacks optical stabilization
  • Pincushioning is especially noticeable in RAW files, although correctable during post-production

Buy now Canon EF-M: $360.09

Buy now M4/3: $382.01

Buy now Sony E: $429

Tamron 85mm F1.8 Di VC USD

portrait lenses

The Tamron 85mm f1.8 Di VC USD is the most expensive of the affordable portrait lenses in this list, but, man, what a great lens it is. We were blown away by its performance when we reviewed it. It’s beyond sharp, has lightning-fast AF speeds, is weather-sealed and stabilized, and the colors are simply fantastic. If you’re looking for a cheap portrait lens to adapt to a Canon RF or Nikon Z mount camera, or if you still shoot with Canon and Nikon’s older DSLR cameras, check this lens out. Here are the pros and cons from our full review:

Pros

  • Super sharp image quality
  • No focusing issues with the Canon 6D or other Canon SLR cameras
  • Fast focusing
  • Weather sealing
  • Nice feel in the hand
  • Vibration compensation built in is a godsend
  • Fantastic color
  • A unique look that makes everything seem like it’s got quite a bit of Clarity in Lightroom increased
  • Beautiful bokeh

Cons

  • Quite honestly, not a single thing is wrong with this lens

Buy now Canon EF: $749

Buy now Nikon F: $689