If you’ve stumbled across this article looking for the best third-party portrait lenses for Nikon cameras, then we’re presuming quality subject shots are your thing. We are also making the assumption that you wouldn’t mind knowing what the third-party makers have to offer before you slap down your hard-earned cash.
The main reasons for checking out third-party options is usually either down to budget or features. You may only have a certain amount of money to play with or the same-make versions don’t cut the mustard. Either way, third-party portrait lenses have come a long way in recent years, providing optics which in some cases can surpass the same-make versions.
Depending on who you ask and which way the wind is blowing, quality portraiture can be achieved from a 50mm-200mm focal length. However, the longer focal lengths usually provide a more compressed look which is more flattering to us humans. This generally means that certain focal lengths are a prime choice.
Therefore, we will give you a selection of what are considered the most relevant third-party portrait lenses for Nikon at the most popular focal lengths. Plus, the examples which are generally considered the ideal candidates with a good mix between optical quality, large apertures, and rounded features.
1. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Overall Winner)
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is personally a no-brainer for taking the number one spot in the third-party portrait lens stakes. Sigma has poured all their efforts into the optical quality of this lens. There are a few caveats, but on the whole, you can’t do better at this focal length and price.
The lens itself is equally capable on the DX-format, providing an equivalent focal length of 127.5mm which might actually be a preference to some as it provides a narrow view and more compression. The f/1.4 aperture is wonderful in low-light conditions for keeping those shutter speeds and ISO levels as low as possible. The optical arrangement consists of a good deal of glass, wrapped around 14 elements in 12 groups.
The included Hypersonic motor is respectively quick and quiet for both stills and video work, with full-time manual override. Plus the nine-blade rounded diaphragm makes it super easy to achieve high-quality bokeh.
As far as ultimate resolution and detail go, this lens is wonderfully sharp at f/1.4 and only starts to tail off after f/16 due to diffraction. Color rendition and contrast are extremely natural-looking straight out of the camera, making the Sigma a wonderful portrait lens for the price.
However, the lens isn’t fully weather-proofed, weighs in at 1130g, and exhibits chromatic aberration at f/1.4 (stopping down to f/2 alleviates the effect). I’ve worked with this lens for over two years and its plus points far outweigh the caveats. If you’re happy with its price point, you need to look no further.
Tamron has their own version of the 85mm lens in the form of the SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD. This lens also provides a 127.5mm equivalent focal length on the DX-format with a slightly less wide aperture of f/1.8 than the Sigma above.
The Tamron encompasses 13 elements arranged in nine groups with a Low Dispersion and Extra-Low Dispersion glass elements. Plus a healthy application of eBAND and BBAR coatings have been applied to the lens elements to reduce reflections and to increase color and contrast.
Where the Tamron stands out is in offering image stabilization with up to 3.5 stops of compensation and a moisture-resistant construction. It may be a touch less sharp than the Sigma above, having its sweet spot at f/2.8, but it’s slightly less expensive to balance out proceedings.
For the most all-round versatility and usefulness, you can’t beat a 50mm prime lens. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art benefits from three Special Low Dispersion and one molded glass aspherical element, along with a Super Multi-Layer coating and a very useful f/1.4 aperture.
Just like the rest of the Art range, a Hyper Sonic Motor handles autofocusing duties with full-time manual override. It also has a nine-blade rounded diaphragm and a Thermally Stable Composite lens barrel.
As with the rest of the Art lens lineup, this is a heavyweight offering coming in at 815g, and just like the rest of the Art lens range, the sharpness is on point at f/1.4, It produces wonderfully smooth bokeh at its widest aperture.
A touch under $1000 for a 50mm prime lens may seem expensive to some, but once you’ve experienced the image quality from the 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art, you’ll see that this lens is worth every penny.
I wanted to add the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports as a portrait lens option for a number of reasons. These being that the 70-200mm focal length is a great medium telephoto zoom, its versatility, f/2.8 aperture, and professional level optics.
As the lens covers the 70-200mm range, you can play to your hearts content with whatever focal length you deem fit for a certain subject. Although the aperture doesn’t go as wide as a prime lens, longer focal length lenses can still produce wonderful bokeh and have good low-light capabilities.
With a lens this versatile it can cover a lot of photography bases. This means if you aren’t fully decided on a particular focal length, this lens is incredibly good value considering what it offers.
5. Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 F (Budget Winner)
It only seems a few years ago where I would have gotten strange looks if I had recommended a Samyang lens as a high-quality offering. Not anymore, as shown by the Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 F, which has a very wide and bright aperture, quick autofocus motor, and solid build quality.
For an 85mm lens, it’s quite lightweight at only 480g, while still having a healthy-sized front filter of 77mm and an optical arrangement of nine elements in seven groups.
Considering this lens is almost half the price of our top spot Sigma, it produces excellent results at f/1.4 with just with a touch less ultimate definition and finesse at f/1.4 than the Sigma. Ultimately, if you still need high-end optics at this focal length without breaking the bank, the Samyang is an excellent choice.
Summing up the Best Third-Party Portrait Lenses for Nikon
All the third-party portrait lenses for Nikon we have listed above will provide professional-level results, which won’t let you down on your next photoshoot. The 85mm focal length is a great choice for portraits, but if you want complete versatility, image stabilization, and variety, you can’t go wrong with the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8.