The 3 Best Affordable 35mm Lenses for Portrait Photography

The 35mm lens is one of the best portrait lenses to make the viewer feel like they’re there.

We’ve tested a bunch of 35mm lenses over the years. The good news is that they’ve become progressively better for portrait photography. Photojournalists and editorial photographers use them these days. 35mm lenses deliver a look that makes us feel like we’re right there in the picture. Bringing people into the photo makes it that much more exciting. So we dove into our Reviews Index to find some of the best 35mm lenses for portrait photography. More importantly, we made sure that they were affordable.

The Phoblographer’s various product round-up features are done in-house. Our philosophy is simple: you wouldn’t get a Wagyu beef steak review from a lifelong vegetarian. And you wouldn’t get photography advice from someone who doesn’t touch the product. We only recommend gear that we’ve thoroughly reviewed. If you’re wondering why your favorite product didn’t make the cut, there’s a chance it’s on another list. If we haven’t reviewed it, we won’t recommend it. This method keeps our lists packed with industry-leading knowledge.

Pro Tips on Using a 35mm Lens for Portrait Photography

Here are a few things you should know about using a 35mm lens for portraiture.

  • Generally speaking, shoot in the landscape format (horizontal). This is the way humans actually see. No one walks around sideways.
  • Keep your subject as close to the center as possible. This prevents distortion, which is a big problem in portrait photography.
  • 35mm lenses are fantastic for showing a person in the context of their environment. Specifically, environmental portrait photography tells something about the person. Imagine a chef in a kitchen. The best way to capture the chef and their surroundings is with a 35mm lens. Photograph them in the act of cooking for the best effect!
  • Modern 35mm lenses prevent lens flare. If you want that look, try removing the lens hood. It will help.
  • Don’t get too close to your subject. You’ll probably end up making their nose look larger than it is.
  • Use Face and Eye detection on your camera. Combine this with continuous autofocus if you’re going to shoot more than just one photo.

Sony 35mm f1.8 FE: Affordable Portrait Photography

In our review, we said:

“The real beauty of the Sony 35mm f1.8 FE comes out when you use a flash. It’s able to deliver a lot of detail in the photos shot wide open while balancing the sharpness with the lens’ fantastic bokeh rendition. On the Sony a7r III, it’s obviously going to be sharper than results you can get from any other Sony FE camera at the moment of publishing. I’ve talked often about the price point, and I need to let that hit home again here. For a lens at this price point, you’re getting outstanding sharpness.”

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Canon RF 35mm f1.8 IS: Bokeh Like No Other

In our review, we said:

“While folks will go on and on about the colors that Canon can produce, I often lock my white balance to daylight or tungsten. The colors that the Canon RF 35mm f1.8 USM IS can render aren’t super saturated like a Zeiss or Sigma offering. But instead, they’re only a bit more so. I like the colors and with some editing, you can do even more with them. Straight out of the camera though and with the way that the Canon sensors work, I’d suggest overexposing your images just a tad. It isn’t as awful as the Canon 5D Mk II needed, but it needs more light. You’ll really see this with portraiture that you want to do with the Canon RF 35mm f1.8 USM IS.”

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Nikon 35mm f1.8 Z: Just the Right Amount of Pop

In our review, we said:

“Most photographers will find the bokeh produced by the Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f1.8 S to be pleasing, thanks to the lens design that features 11 elements in 9 groups coupled with 9 aperture blades–therefore allowing you to separate your subject from the background nicely. Some will argue that the bokeh produced by this lens lack character, but that’s honestly a matter of personal preference.”

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.