I started portrait photography with the Sony a7 mirrorless camera paired with the 28-70mm kit lens. From my research, I learned pretty quick I wanted to invest in a higher quality lens for my photography. I wanted to get more into portrait photography so I needed to get gear specific to this genre of photography.
My Favorite Portrait Lenses
I rented a few lenses online for TFP shoots. This is how I built my photography portfolio. I rented both zoom and prime lenses, and I narrowed down my favorite portrait lenses pretty quick. The best lens from the first round of rentals was the Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8.
At the time, the only other lens that I wanted was a traditional 85mm but there were no options for Sony at that time. Later the Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 was introduced and the Sony 85mm f1.4 G-Master would be released in the Sony lineup. So I started with the good ol’ nifty fifty (five).
Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 Lens
This lens is super sharp and didn’t come off my camera for the first year. 90% of my portrait shoots were completed with this lens when I was just starting out.
It is tack sharp, lightweight and pairs really well with my Sony a7. Also, with the lens being so small, I could stay rather inconspicuous in some indoor shoot locations with models.
It never really drew that much attention while I was in crowded public spaces. (You know that look you get when you are carrying a big camera and everyone is staring and wondering what your doing.)
Sample Sony 55mm f1.8 Portraits
What I love about the Sony 55mm
I read online that all photographers need a great nifty-fifty lens, and this was a winner for me. The focal length is a perfect starter length.
Focusing is very fast, and the lens is tack sharp. The lens is very light-weight and has a very smooth focus ring. When paired with the Sony a7ii body, the combination is very light-weight and easy to use
What I didn’t like
The price tag of the lens at the time. The price for a brand new Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 is still hovering around $998, but you can now find used versions for around $700 or less. I wish it was a f/1.4 instead of a f/1.8, but this is a small detail for me. The bokeh still looks great. No customizable buttons on the side of the lens like the GMaster Lenses
Chromatic Aberrations – Very prominent when shooting wide open, especially against the sun but can be fixed in post. No AF/MF switch – Must be done in camera. Not that big of a deal, just an fyi.
Final Thoughts on the Sony 55mm
Even with the price tag, and limited features, this lens truly is a great investment. I recommend it for photographers that are looking for a middle of the road versatile prime, especially for portrait photography. Not too wide, and not too close.
You can get some great lifestyle shots, and also some close-up shots with this lens. Keep in mind it is very sharp so if you are working with models, you will need to get good at editing skin details if you are shooting close up.
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GMaster Lens
It wouldn’t be until my 2nd year of shooting portraits that I would pick up my own Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GMaster. The lens is a pretty hefty investment, but it is a must for portrait photography work.
As one of the most expensive lenses that I currently own, I had a hard time deciding between this lens and the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8. Ultimately the 85mm G-Master won the race and I added it to my collection with pride.
What I like about the 85mm f/1.4
The 85mm is quick to focus on my Sony a7ii and provides me with extremely sharp portraits. With the addition of the custom side button on the lens, I have it set to Eye-Auto Focus and this makes it a perfect lens for portraits and capturing the eyes.
This is one of the biggest reasons it is one of my favorite lenses. You do have to be careful with the shallow depth-of-field at f/1.4 and making sure both eyes get in focus.
The bokeh is beautiful and very smooth, especially wide open at f/1.4. The colors are rendered vibrant and the overall look of the shots are great.
What I didn’t like about this lens
The 85mm runs for about $1,798 brand new online (as of this blog post). You can find good used versions for around $1,500 but this is still out of reach for many photographers.
I’ve been told the new Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 is a great alternative to the G-Master version, but I have yet to try it out. It is heavier than my Sony 55mm f/1.8, and it really looks like a full frame DSLR lens.
You will start to feel it in your arms when shooting for more than a few hours, especially if you have a camera grip added to your camera for extra weight.
Final thoughts on the 85mm
Many pro photographers have reviewed this lens and compared it to the Batis 85mm, and the newer Sony 85mm f1.8. To be honest, if you can afford this lens, you can’t go wrong. The G-Master series is expensive for a reason and the quality just can’t be touched.
I am shooting more and more with the lens so I hope to have more examples for you guys very soon.
Big investments have made a big difference.
You may not have the budget to get these lenses, but keep in mind there are now more great options on the market for Sony FE mount. I love prime lenses, and the look it gives my portraits when I shoot wide open.
I chose not to get the most expensive camera, and went the route of investing in really good glass. This was the consensus from recommendations that I read online from many professional photographers. No matter what lens you have, just keep shooting and finding new ways to get inspired.
My Favorite Portrait Lenses: Which lens is right for you
The Sony mirrorless system has grown quite a bit since this article was written. There is now a larger selection of gear to choose from, so make sure you try out some other lenses so you can find the right fit. I always recommend renting first or visiting your local camera store to check out the lens selections.
Checking out new Gear
If your interested in starting your own photography journey, I recommend checking out some of these great resources and gear!
Great Sony Full-Frame Cameras for Portrait Photography:
My Sony A7riii Mirrorless Camera – High resolution Sony Mirrorless Camera
The Sony A7rii – High resolution Sony Mirrorless Camera (2nd Generation)
Sony a7iii Mirrorless Camera – 3rd Generation Sony Mirrorless Camera
Sony a7ii Mirrorless Camera w/IBIS – 2nd Generation Sony Mirrorless Camera
The Sony A7 Mirrorless Camera – Great full-frame starter camera for beginners
Sony Full-Frame Lenses for Portraits: (e-mount)
Sony 85mm f1.4 G-Master – Best 85mm portrait lens
Batis 85mm f1.8 – Lightweight 85mm portrait lens
Sony 85mm f1.8 – Smallest 85mm portrait lens
Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 – Small, sharp, lightweight portrait lens (my favorite lens)
The Sony 50mm f1.8 – Cheap starter nifty fifty
The Sony Zeiss 35mm f1.4 – Great wide option for portraits and lifestyle images
Sony 24-70 G-Master f2.8 – Sharp and versatile zoom lens
Sony 24-105 G Lens f4.0 – One of the best zooms for Sony
Wide Angle 16-35mm F2.8 – G-Master wide angle lens
The Sony 70-200 G-Master Lens f2.8 – Long range telephoto zoom
Great Sony Starter Cameras for Portraits: (crop-sensor)
Sony a6400 Mirrorless Camera – Amazing eye auto-focus detection
Sony a6300 Mirrorless Camera – Sony mirrorless camera (2nd generation)
The Sony a6000 Mirrorless Camera – Great affordable interchangeable lens camera
Sony a6500 Mirrorless Camera w/IBIS – Amazing photography and video camera
Affordable Crop Sensor Lenses for Portraits: (e-mount)
Sigma 30mm f1.4 – Great for blurry backgrounds
Sony 50mm f1.8 OSS – Made for crop sensors and shallow depth of field
Sigma 16mm f1.4 – Amazing lens for Vloggers and video
Sony 35mm f1.8 – Super walk around lens for travel