Best Portrait Lenses for Sony E-mount Cameras

What is a portrait? The word ‘portrait’ seems to cover all manners of sins, where many believe a portrait is simply any image where the subject is a person, or alternatively, a headshot. Really, however, a portrait is a deliberate representation of a person where they are aware it’s being captured, so a portrait should sort of say or demonstrate something about them that they express. Additionally a portrait should focus on the face, expression, and even distinct facial features. 

So what does this mean for portrait lenses? 

Well, since we know what our goal and focus is, we have to figure out a way for that to stand out. Using a lens that will render the face in the most flattering way and somewhat isolating the subject from the background is a pretty good approach, and that means you want a lens that has some compression, which is often anything from 50mm and longer (35mm equivalent), so we’ll be focusing on that group here. 

1. Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens

This is a brand new lens from Sony and their first 50mm in the G-Master line. It is smaller, lighter, and faster than its contemporaries from Canon and Nikon. With linear motors and weather sealing it is able to keep up with the best Sony camera autofocus and Eye-AF, and its rendering is simply beautiful with natural non-distracting bokeh and smooth fall off, as well as accurate colour and skin tone rendering. It’s aperture of 1.2 means you can have a razor thin plane of focus, and truly obliterate the background if you choose, even from a good distance from your subject. This will become the wedding photographer’s and 50mm-lovers’ lens of choice in no time.


Key Features

  • E-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
  • Aperture Range: f/1.2 to f/16
  • Three XA Elements
  • Nano AR II and Fluorine Coatings
  • Four XD Linear AF Motors, Internal Focus
  • Focus Hold Button, AF/MF Switch
  • Physical Aperture Ring; De-Click Switch
  • Dust and Moisture-Resistant Construction
  • Filter Diameter: 72mm
  • Rounded 11-Blade Diaphragm

2. ZEISS Batis 85mm f/1.8 Lens for Sony E-mount

One of the great things about the Sony E-mount is that it is open, which means that anyone can make a lens for that mount, and that means more options, and more competition to drive quality up and prices down…potentially. Perhaps the best third-party lenses for Sony E-mount come from Zeiss, with whom Sony has had a long standing relationship and partnered on many Sony-branded lenses. 


The Zeiss Batis 85mm 1.8 is a truly one of the best 85mm lenses out there, and in recent years 85mm (which is a short telephoto) has become the go-to for legions of portrait photographers due to size, price, and look.  The portrait-friendly Zeiss 85/1.8 is an easy lens to love, and we recommend it even over the faster and more expensive Sony 85mm 1.4 GM, which is heavier, slower to focus, and lacks in micro-contrast. Images from it are crispy, contrasty, and full of pop. When working in low light conditions, the integrated OLED display on top of the lens shows the distance and the focal plane from the camera as well as the depth of field range making zone and manual focusing much faster and easier. Beyond that, it’s the gorgeous design and image quality that have that characteristic Zeiss look that makes any subject look beautiful. 


Key Features

  • E-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
  • Aperture Range: f/1.8 to f/22
  • Three Low Dispersion Elements
  • Sonnar Optical Design
  • ZEISS T* Anti-Reflective Coating
  • Optical Image Stabilization
  • Floating Elements System
  • OLED Display for Focus Distance and DoF
  • Linear Autofocus Motor
  • Dust and Moisture-Resistant Construction

3. Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens

A macro lens for portraits? Absolutely! And this one is fantastic. The Sony 90mm macro lets you get up close and personal with the 1:1 magnification ratio, and as a G series lens, it beautifully balances sharpness and bokeh with highly detailed images. With smooth out-of-focus areas and absence of aberrations, this is a portrait and beauty-photography dream. In fact, you’ll often find macro lenses like this on the cameras of beauty photographers in-studio because macro lenses are super sharp, and 90mm is a lovely short telephoto length for facial features. The lens also boasts a fast f/2.8 aperture for controlling depth of field and working in less-than-ideal light as well as a Nano AR coating that help eliminate ghosting and flare.


Key Features

  • E-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
  • Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22
  • 1:1 Magnification Ratio; Internal Focus
  • Aspherical, ED and Super ED Elements
  • Nano AR Coating
  • Direct Drive Super Sonic Wave AF Motor
  • Optical SteadyShot Image Stabilization
  • Sliding Focus Ring for AF/MF Selection
  • Focus Hold Button; Focus Range Limiter
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 11″

4. Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM Lens

Roger Cicala from LensRentals–considered to be the authority on lenses–had only praise to give the 135 GM, and said it is the sharpest lens ever tested at LensRentals. That alone is an incredible accolade, but there’s more to the 135 GM than just  sharpness, it’s the speed, strong build, and incredibly fast aperture of 1.8. Shooting at 1.8 at 135 is truly incredible as it lets you shoot in low light and completely isolate your subject even from a good distance away. 


135mm is also probably the singular prime focal length we go to when we want to have a predictable and gorgeous portrait – there’s just no thinking about it: you pick it up, point, shoot, and fall in love. The compression at 135mm seems to suit most faces perfectly from about 15-20 feet away  It also happens to be a sport photographer favourite. If you go to NBA games you’ll see this lens on the cameras of photographers who are perched right behind the net. 


Key Features

  • E-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
  • Aperture Range: f/1.8 to f/22
  • XA Element, Super ED and ED Elements
  • Nano AR and Fluorine Coatings
  • XD Linear Motor AF System
  • AF/MF Switch; Internal Focus
  • Two Focus Hold Buttons
  • Physical Aperture Ring; De-Click Switch
  • Rounded 11-Blade Diaphragm
  • 82mm Filter

5. Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

If we had to choose one lens on this list it would have to be the 70-200 2.8 GM, and if for no other reason than versatility. 70-200 2.8 lenses have long been the coveted mantlepiece of all kinds of photographers, and fashion, wedding, portrait photographers included. This Sony version is absolutely beautiful at all focal lengths in the range, and with a constant 2.8 aperture throughout the range it allows for low-light shooting, and beautifully blurred backgrounds. 


From 70 to 200 you will cover almost every favourite focal length for portraits and you can use that range to find what fits your subject best in various environments, and the flexibility of the zoom means you don’t always have to move your body, and can work within small areas if needed. It’s not uncommon for portrait photographers to shoot all the way up to 200mm and with this lens it’s sharp but forgiving racked out, with brilliant colour rendition as well. This lens can truly do it all.


Key Features

  • E-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
  • Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22
  • One XA Element & Two Aspherical Elements
  • Four ED Elements & Two Super ED Elements
  • Nano AR Coating
  • Dual Linear & Super Sonic Wave AF Motors
  • Optical SteadyShot Image Stabilization
  • Focus Hold Buttons; Focus Range Limiter
  • Dust and Moisture-Resistant Construction
  • Eleven-Blade Circular Diaphragm

BONUS!!!

Sony Sonnar T* 135mm f/1.8 ZA Lens

This lens is the stuff of legend, and those who have it and continue to use it will get knowing nods from other photographers who really know their stuff. It is a Sony A-mount lens for their older camera mounts, but fortunately it can be seamlessly adapted to fit new Sony E-mount cameras like the A1, A7RIV and so on, with Sony’s new LEA5 adapter. And boy is it worth it. For those around when A-mount was still the main Sony mount, they might know that this lens alone caused people to switch to Sony, and those that had it have kept it even thought they might have moved on to E-mount. 


There is something truly special about this lens in how it handles contrast and colour, and it’s unlike any 135mm out there today, with it’s closest counterpart being the Zeiss Batis 135mm 2.8 for E-mount, but still this just hits different. As it’s older it won’t focus very fast and it doesn’t quite feel as primo as the new 135mm GM, but it has character in spades, so if you’re not looking for clinical quality exactness, and looking for something unique this is a fantastic option!


Key Features

  • A-Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
  • Aperture Range: f/1.8 to f/22
  • Two Extra-Low Dispersion Elements
  • Zeiss T* Anti-Reflective Coating
  • Auto Clutch Mechanism
  • Focus Hold Button; Internal Focus
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 2.4′
  • Nine-Blade Circular Diaphragm

Which lens do you think is best for you? Let us know at [email protected]