Low cost portrait lenses

I think we won’t ever stop telling that a kit zoom lens, despite its universal nature, cannot demonstrate to a novice photographer the full range of photo equipment features. Nevertheless, we highly recommend getting acquainted with prime lenses, and then, perhaps, let this friendship grow into something bigger. While choosing a possible companion on the…

I think we won’t ever stop telling that a kit zoom lens, despite its universal nature, cannot demonstrate to a novice photographer the full range of photo equipment features. Nevertheless, we highly recommend getting acquainted with prime lenses, and then, perhaps, let this friendship grow into something bigger.

While choosing a possible companion on the photo equipment sellers’ sites, an amateur photographer can be discouraged and postpone buying a prime lens for an indefinite period. Prices for such lenses can be tens or even hundreds of thousands of rubles.

However, a ticket into the world of fast optics and beautiful bokeh can cost much less, sometimes less than $100 and even $50.

Shot with Nikon 85/1.8 D

Today we will pay tribute to one of the most popular genres in photography – portraits. Let’s try to consider available options of fast lenses for a portrait enthusiast.

To begin, let’s bring up why it is needed, and what are the advantages.

Firstly, without an ability to change focal length, the design of prime lens is simpler, lighter and more compact, and the quality of image is higher by all means.

Secondly, such a lens reduces less light, allowing you to shoot in darker areas (in the evening, indoors) without increasing ISO.

Thirdly, a wide open aperture is important for creating a shallow depth of field, which allows to convey space and control the viewer’s attention.

You can learn more about all this, as well as practice using portrait lenses, at our courses «All about portrait» and «Portrait outdoors».

From left to right – Nikon 50/1.8 D, Canon 50/1.8, Nikon 50/1.8G

So, the most obvious options on our list are the junior primes from Canon and Nikon with aperture f/1.8. Junior – doesn’t mean «worse», just there exist faster options. But if you compare these lenses with any of the most expensive and professional zoom models, then this prime will still win in terms of image quality. These lenses have autofocus, and Nikon options split in different generations (D – without an integrated focusing motor, autofocus will not work on a number of earlier Nikon cameras; G – modern generation with an integrated motor and improved optical characteristics). A focal length of 50 mm is suitable at both full frame for waist or height portraits, as well as for closer portraits on crop sensors. 85 mm is more attractive for owners of full-frame cameras, but on the crop it provides excellent opportunities for shooting portraits from great distances when separating an object from the background. Prices for these lenses start at $100 for 50 mm and go up to $400+ for 85 mm, which is already a serious investment.


From left to right – Nikon 85/1.8 D, Canon 85/1.8, Nikon 85/1.8G

And are there cheaper options? As it often happens, every popular original lens has at least one third-party alternative.

Yongnuo autofocus prime lenses for Canon and Nikon are even less pricey. When buying these lenses in Chinese online stores, you can save up to $50 on 50 mm lens and twice as much on an 85 mm lens.


From left to right – Yongnuo 85/1.8 and
Yongnuo 50/1.8

Along with a low price and an autofocus, you acquire a lower quality of optics. Such lenses will definitely not be the best choice for critically important photoshoots where the highest quality is required. However, for experiments, creative growth, photos for the Internet, Yonguo will be a very good combination of price and quality.

Another option for those who’d like to save money will be to research the possibilities of manual optics from the Soviet times, for example, Jupiter 37A with a 135 mm focal length and aperture f/3.5 will cost less than $50. Though, you either have to look for an already adjusted version for your camera, or buy an adapter.


Lens Jupiter-37А 135 mm f/ 3.5

Also, consider the market of used lenses. The desired lens can be found in excellent condition and at a significant discount. For example, our partner GetLens offers only tested equipment with the original manufacturer’s service guarantee on it! Save without risk.

Peter Pokrovsky

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