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  Recommended Nikkor / Nikon lenses for portrait, wedding and low-light photography
 
 

The classic portrait shot places a flattering view of the subject against a blurred background. This is very easy to achieve with the right lens and all the models below will do the trick.

The key behind a blurred background is having a lens with a large aperture, indicated by a small f-number. The best portrait lenses have an f-number of 2.8 or smaller, and the lower this figure, the more blurred you can make your background. Lenses with smaller f-numbers also gather more light which makes them ideal for taking photos in dim conditions without resorting to flashes or increasing the camera’s ISO sensitivity. See our Portrait Tutorial for more details.

 

The flattering view is achieved with a lens sporting a slightly magnified view, which typically means having an equivalent focal length of between 70 and 135mm. Shorter focal lengths can give unflattering results with single-person portraits, although are ideal for group shots, while longer ones force the photographer further from the subject, although this may be preferred for discreet, candid shots. Longer focal lengths also accentuate the blurred background effect. A zoom lens which includes both wide angle and short telephoto will be ideal for events like weddings where you need to capture groups and single person shots.

Almost every photographer will benefit from having a good portrait / low-light lens in their collection and for many it’ll be the second lens they’ll buy. Large aperture lenses can be expensive, but there are a few exceptional bargains. Here are the models I recommend.

Note when I mention FX bodies I'm referring to full-frame models like the D600 and D800. When I mention DX bodies, I'm referring to cropped-frame models like the D3200, D5200 and D7000. If you’d like to learn more about lens specifications, from focal lengths to f-numbers, please see my lens guide. If you find the information here useful, please support me by shopping at the stores below and if you have any questions about lenses, feel free to ask in the forum!



 

Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.4G review

Specifications

Focal length:
50mm
Aperture: f1.4
Lens mount: F-mount
Equiv on DX: 75mm
FX compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 45cm
Filter thread: 58mm
Hood: HB-47
Optics: 8 el. / 7 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight: 290g
Size: 74x54mm
     
The Nikkor AF-S 50mm f1.4G is an ideal portrait lens for DX bodies. The focal length is a little short for classic portraits on an FX body, but mount it on a DX and it becomes equivalent to 75mm, a perfect length for portraits. The f1.4 aperture can deliver a blurred background and gather 16 times more light than the DX 18-55mm kit lens when zoomed-in, ideal for dim conditions on any Nikon body. It'll also autofocus on all Nikon DSLRs, including the entry-level models, but also consider the f1.8 version below.


 

Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G review

Specifications

Focal length:
50mm
Aperture: f1.8
Lens mount: F-mount
Equiv on DX: 75mm
FX compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 45cm
Filter thread: 58mm
Hood: HB-47
Optics: 7 el. / 6 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight:185g
Size: 72x53mm
     
The Nikkor AF-S 50mm f1.8G is another ideal portrait lens for DX-format bodies, and a general-purpose option for the FX-format. The main difference with the f1.4G model above is the maximum aperture of f1.8. This gathers two thirds less light when fully-opened, but that's still over eight times more than the 18-55mm kit lens at 50mm. So it's still great in low light and for achieving out-of-focus effects, and crucially it's much cheaper than the f1.4G. PS - the optical quality and focusing speed are better too.


 
Nikkor AF 50mm f/1.8D

Specifications

Focal length:
50mm
Aperture: f1.8
Lens mount: F-mount
Equiv on DX: 75mm
FX compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: requires AF motor in DSLR
Closest focus: 45cm
Filter thread: 52mm
Hood: HR-2
Optics: 6 el. / 5 groups
Diaphragm blades: 7
Weight:155g
Size: 64x39mm

     
The Nikkor AF 50mm f1.8D is an ideal choice for portrait and low-light photography on a budget. Again the focal length is a little short for portraits on an FX body, but just right on DX models. The f1.8 aperture may not be as bright as the f1.4 versions, but still allows blurred backgrounds and is great for dim conditions on any Nikon body. Note this lens does however require a DSLR with a built-in AF motor to autofocus; on the D40(x), D60 and D3000 it becomes manual focus only.



 
Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.8G review

Specifications

Focal length:
85mm
Aperture: f1.8
Lens mount: F-mount
Equiv on DX: 128mm
FX compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 80cm
Filter thread: 67mm
Hood: HB-62
Optics: 9 el. / 9 groups
Diaphragm blades: 7
Weight: 350g
Size: 80x73mm

     

The Nikkor AF-S 85mm f1.8G is an affordable short telephoto lens that's ideal for portraits on both FX and DX bodies. Like the 50mm models above, it's the less costly option of two modern 85mm lenses from Nikon, and again in terms of aperture you're looking at f1.4 on the expensive model and f1.8 on the cheaper one here. Once again that's two thirds of a stop difference, and if you're a bokeh fanatic, you will notice the benefit of the f1.4G thanks to this and its 9 aperture blades. But as you'll see in our review, the difference in out-of-focus effects can be subtle and for most people, the f1.8G will be more than sufficient. Better still, the actual quality across the frame is superior on this cheaper lens, which makes it a perfect choice for anyone who wants a superb portrait - or general purpose short telephoto - lens without breaking the bank.




 
Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.4G review

Specifications

Focal length:
85mm
Aperture: f1.4
Lens mount: F-mount
Equiv on DX: 128mm
FX compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 85cm
Filter thread: 77mm
Hood: HB-55
Optics: 10 el. / 9 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight: 595g
Size: 87x84mm

     
The Nikkor AF-S 85mm f1.4G is a superb portrait lens with excellent quality on both DX and FX-format bodies. The focal length is flattering for portraits and the f1.4 aperture delivers silky smooth out-of-focus effects. The AF-S focusing is quick, quiet and works across all Nikon DSLRs and the weather-sealed build quality is excellent. The only downsides? High price and no Vibration Reduction, but it's the ultimate Nikkor portrait lens none-the-less. Budget buyers should consider the cheaper AF-S 85mm f1.8G above, which in some respects is actually superior.



 
Nikkor AF-S DX 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED

Specifications

Focal length:
17-55mm
Aperture: f2.8
Lens mount: DX
Equiv on DX: 26-83mm
FX compatible: No
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 36cm
Filter thread: 77mm
Hood: HB-31
Optics: 14 el. / 10 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight: 755g
Size: 86x111mm

     
Our first zoom for portrait and low-light work is the DX 17-55mm f2.8G. As a DX model, this will only work on DX bodies, where it delivers an equivalent focal length of 26-83mm – ideal for capturing group shots and single portraits. The f2.8 aperture may not be as large as the primes above, but is still sufficient to deliver a nice blurred background, although sadly there’s no VR to iron-out any wobbles. An ideal wedding lens for DX bodies.



 
Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED review

Specifications

Focal length:
24-70mm
Aperture: f2.8
Lens mount: F-mount
Equiv on DX: 36-105mm
FX compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: SWM
Closest focus: 38cm
Filter thread: 77mm
Hood: HB-40
Optics: 15 el. / 11 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight: 900g
Size: 83x133mm

     
The Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8G is a favourite of pro portrait and wedding photographers. It delivers a perfect range on FX bodies for group shots and single portraits, and is also great for DX bodies if wide-angle coverage isn’t important. The f2.8 aperture may not be as bright as the primes above, but still delivers nice blurred backgrounds. There may not be VR stabilisation but the superb quality will still win you over.



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