When shooting portraits with a full-frame camera, a 50mm focal length would be a classic choice as this is similar to what your eyes can see. Also, it’s a second choice after the kit lens for almost every photographer who is looking for an upgrade.
Compared to most kit lenses, a 50mm f/1.8 lens not only offers a brighter aperture, but it’s also affordable. Kit lenses, on the other hand, give you an aperture around f/2.8 or f/3.5, making the results darken as you zoom.
A 50mm lens will give you a 75mm equivalent focal length on an APS-C camera, making it an ideal lens for portraits.
As every photographer wants to get their hands on a good portrait lens, buying a same-brand lens from the camera manufacturer often seems difficult due to their outrageous price tag. In this discussion, we will look at some of the best third-party portrait lenses for every price range.
1. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Overall Winner)
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is a high-end third-party portrait prime that delivers incredible performance and employes a variety of technologies.
Featuring a lightning-fast f/1.4 aperture, this lens ensures exceptionally shallow depth of field and pleasing bokeh. The lens design uses 14 elements in 12 groups, having two big FLD elements, one anomalous partial dispersion/high-refractive index element, and one Aspherical SLD element.
All these sophisticated design elements combine to effectively minimize aberrations and produce crisp and clear images. Additionally, a Super Multi-Layer coating suppresses flare and ghosting.
To make up its aperture, this lens features nine curved diaphragm blades, which produce a buttery-smooth bokeh.
In terms of build quality and design, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 follows recent Sigma lenses. The lens barrel is constructed out of Thermally Stable Composite material, and therefore, it feels quite durable and solid while in hand.
2. Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art
The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art was designed with portraits in mind. It’s a fast telephoto prime that comes with bright and sophisticated optics and features excellent handling and design.
This lens utilizes 13 elements in 10 groups with two FLD elements and two SLD elements to control color fringing and chromatic aberrations, as a result, you get notable clarity in images.
In strong lighting conditions, the lens suppresses ghosting and flares for improved contrast and enhanced image quality, thanks to a Super Multi-Layer Coating applied to the lens elements.
The maximum aperture of f/1.8 along with a rounded nine-blade diaphragm helps produce a shallow depth of field and an incredibly smooth bokeh, making this an ideal third-party portrait lens.
3. Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD
The Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD offers image stabilization, edge-to-edge viewfinder brightness, and superior low-light performance. Its fast f/1.8 aperture gives you a perfect balance to separate the portrait subject from the background for a dreamy blur.
The optical design of the lens includes Low Dispersion (LD) and Extra-Low Dispersion (XLD) glass elements that keep color fringing to a minimum in order to achieve clear and sharp results with vivid colors.
Talking about the lens’ vibration compensation (VC) system, it pairs with a fixed focal length of 85mm, making it easy for you to take handheld shots in poor lighting scenarios. Also, it allows you to make use of slower shutter speeds without increasing the ISO settings of the camera.
As for the lens construction, Tamron claims it to be moisture-resistant, with several seals used strategically around the barrel. One is visible around the lens mount while others are arranged to protect the manual focus ring and control switches. In general, shooting outdoors with this lens in drizzle or light rain won’t cause you any trouble.
4. Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
The Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 comes with improved optical construction which delivers increased sharpness and contrast while keeping color fringing, flaring, and ghosting to a minimum.
For faster and more reliable performance the AF system has been improved and the lens features a Vibration Compensation system with up to five-stop effectiveness that has three switchable modes.
Like its competitor, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports, it comes with a tripod mount ring, however, it can be detached. Also, this lens is notably smaller and weighs about 300g less than its counterpart from Sigma. It’s covered with a full set of weather sealings while its front element features a fluorine coating.
The AF system is quick and works with great precision. You get the same image quality as the Canon’s EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, delivering similar outstanding sharpness, contrast, and enhanced bokeh performance throughout the zoom and aperture settings.
But beware that the Tamron is being offered a considerably lower price compared to the expensive Canon version.
5. Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX (Budget Winner)
Featuring a bright and fixed maximum aperture of f/2.8, the Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX is a standard telephoto-to-portrait-length zoom lens.
Designed for FX-format DSLRs, this state-of-the-art lens is suitable for almost any kind of photography niche, including landscape, travel, event, and portraiture.
The optical design of the lens includes three SLD elements and three aspherical elements, meaning aberrations are very well-controlled while the multi-layer coating effectively reduces ghosting and flares for enhanced color accuracy.
A silent AF mechanism provides fast and reliable performance for both stills and video recording, while a nine-blade diaphragm contributes to a smooth and beautiful bokeh blur.
You can use this third-party portrait lens on APS-C sensor cameras as well, where it gives a 38.4-112mm equivalent focal length. Throughout the zoom range, the f/2.8 maximum aperture shows consistent performance. The lens also operates well in challenging lighting conditions.
As for usability, a one-touch focus button allows you to quickly shift between autofocus and manual focus modes, and internal focusing ensures nothing moves externally during use.
Final Thoughts on Third-Party Portrait Lenses
While major camera manufacturers release exciting lens options for their DSLRs, they are quite expensive to buy. So here, third-party portrait lenses come into play, offering almost the same optical performance at quite a reasonable price point.
In our list above some of the best third-party portrait lenses are presented that will give you an incredible shooting experience with your DSLR. Pick any of these today and start shooting.