Guide to the best Portrait Lenses – Sony a7 series

We summarize our experience with all the native E-mount and a few legacy lenses in the 85-135mm bracket for the Sony a7 series to give you a compact and independent resource for choosing the best portrait lens for your needs.

We also have a guide to 21-35mm wide angle lenses and 10-20mm ultra wide angle lenses.

Unlike most other review sites we have no association with any lens manufacturer apart from occasionally loaning a lens for a review. No fancy trips and meals.

Before any short introduction we tell you how long we have used a lens and if we have borrowed it from a manufacturer. But in most cases we have bought the lenses new from retail stores or on the used market. If you want to support our independent reviews please consider using one of the affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you anything and helps us a lot.

If we have left any question unanswered please leave a comment and we will do our best to answer it.

Thanks to Simeon Kolev for helping out with nice sample images!

Native Prime Lenses

Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM

Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM gmaster portrait bokeh sharpness a7rII a7rm3 a7riii 42mp review flare gegenlicht contralight backlit backlight

Status: Bought and sold by Jannik. Bought and reviewed by Bastian, still in use.

  • Superior bokeh rendering thanks to optimized optical design (less cat’s eyes compared to competition) and XA elements (no onion ring structures despite usage of aspherical elements)
  • Slightly soft and gentle rendering at f/1.4, sharpens up considerably on stopping down to only f/1.6
  • Amazing contrast and resolution across frame stopped down
  • GM build quality with aperture ring and additional button
  • A bit big, heavy, quite expensive and not the fastest AF

This is not the highest resolving lens wide open on this list, but maybe the one with the most beautiful bokeh rendering.

825g | $1799 | full Review | aperture seriessample images

buy from amazon.com | amazon.de | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Sigma 85mm 1.4 Art

Status: Not reviewed by anyone in the team but reliable information is available.

  • Very high resolution and contrast already at maximum aperture (higher than Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM)
  • Bokeh not as smooth as Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM and Sigma 105mm 1.4 Art
  • Huge and heavy

If you want the highest resolution at f/1.4 in an 85mm lens this is for you.

1130g | $1199 | Review@lenstip

buy from amazon.com | amazon.de | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Sony FE 85mm 1.8

©Simeon Kolev

Status: Still in use by Jannik

  • Very sharp, even wide open
  • Bokeh is good but not excellent (especially compared to the FE 1.4/85 GM)
  • Shows some purple fringing wide open in harsh light
  • One of the fastest focusing Sony lenses, ready for action photography
  • Almost no distortion, ok vignetting & LoCA correction
  • Small size and weight, great price/performace ratio
  • AF/MF-switch, lens button and linear MF come in handy.
  • This lens does the 85mm portrait lens job for most of the Sony users really. Especially its very fast autofocus helps to get not only adults but also kids and animals in focus

Good image quality combined with very fast AF and small size/weight make it one of the best balanced choices for Sony portrait photographers.

371g | $570 | full Review | aperture seriessample images | Shootout Sony 1.8/85 vs. 1.4/85 GM

buy from ebay.de | ebay.com | amazon.com | amazon.de (affiliate links)

 

Zeiss Batis 85mm 1.8

Status: Not reviewed by anyone in the team, though David owns it and uses it. Used by Jannik in the past.

  • Superbly sharp across the range from centre to edge with high contrast. The best copies are better than the best Sony 1.8s in this regard. Excellent CA control, but not quite as good as Batis 135.
  • Excellent flare control.
  • Slightly more distortion than some of the competition, but resolution is high enough so there is no noticeable loss when corrected for architecture etc (not enough distortion to affect portraits).
  • Optical vignetting (catseyes) higher at f1.8 than faster lenses stopped down. But not more than other f1.8 lenses.
  • A little bit larger than, say, the Sony 1.8/85 but still very light.

David’s preferred travel portrait lens. Resolution and contrast are excellent from wide open. If you don’t mind the weight and cost the GM 85 is the better lens for portraits, with nicer and greater bokeh, but the Batis is smaller and lighter and can be purchased used at a good price – and for landscape etc use is in the same exceptional class. While the Sony FE 1.8/85 is a lot cheaper and and also very good, the Batis is somewhat sharper and more contrasty according to Roger Circala’s tests at Lensrentals, and handles flare a little better. 

452g | from $1000 new, less used | Lensrental MTF Comparison 

buy from amazon.com | buy from eBay | B&H (affiliate links)

 

Zeiss Loxia 85mm 2.4

carl zeiss loxia 85mm 2.0 sonnar sony a7 a7r a7r2 a7rm2 alpha alpha7 review portrait head shot black white

Status: reviewed and bought by Bastian, still in use. Bought and sold by Jannik. Bought and still in use by David.

  • gentle and unobstrusive Sonnar bokeh rendering
  • due to small lens diameter cat’s eyes are quite pronounced, if that bothers you have a look at FE 85mm 1.4 GM instead
  • Amazing contrast and resolution across frame at all apertures
  • Almost no distortion, good flare resistance, very nice sunstars
  • A bit on the heavy side and quite expensive

If you like manual focus and you are not after super shallow depth of field this lens offers a very gentle, unobstrusive bokeh rendering and still makes for a great landscape lens.

594g | $1399 | full Review | aperture seriessample images

buy from amazon.com | amazon.de | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Sony FE 90mm 2.8 Macro OSS

Status: Phillip owned it for about a year, David still owns it but uses  it mostly for macro photography.

  • This is a very sharp lens. From wide open you will get excellent results wherever you place you subject.
  • Bokeh is very smooth without onion rings. Some won‘t like the stronger cat-eyes. You are of course limited in how much you can blur the background by the moderate speed.
  • One of the bigger and more expensive lenses on this list. AF isn’t the fastest.

This is a good choice if you want to cover a wide range of applications. It works well enough for portraits but if your focus is on portraits, then other lenses are a better choice.

602g | $1098 | Review

buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.de | Ebay (affiliate Links)

 

Sony FE 100mm 2.8 STF OSS

Status: Guest review by Stephen

  • This lens uses an apodization filter to progressively darken the bokeh balls like a neutral density filter farther away from center. If the effect is used efficiently, the bokeh won’t have any hard edges and will look like gaussian blur that was applied afterwards.
  • Although this lens has a bright aperture of f/2.8, it has a very bad transmission (T5.6) and will behave like a f/5.6 lens in exposure. Therefore, this lens is more limited to good weather applications or tripod work.
  • This lens is very sharp, most optical errors are well corrected and it offers a maximum magnification of 1:4.
  • This lens is not cheap, you can get most of the other lenses of this list for its price.
  • The look of this lens is very special. Look closely at the sample images and make sure that you like it.

This is a special purpose lens with unique bokeh. Check out the samples in our review to decide if the look is for you.

700g | $1498 | full Review

buy from Amazon.com | Ebay.com | B&H (affiliate links)

 

Sigma 105mm 1.4 Art

Status: Not reviewed by anyone in the team but reliable information is available.

  • Similar design criteria to Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM with emphasize on smooth out of focus rendering and therefore called “Bokeh Master” by Sigma
  • cat’s eyes more pronounced compared to Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM
  • Very high resolution lens already at maximum aperture
  • Huge, heavy and expensive lens, make sure that 20mm more are worth it for you to choose it over the Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM

If weight is no concern and you really want 105mm and not 85 have a closer look at this one. Maybe the Sigma Art lens with the nicest bokeh rendering.

1640g | $1599 | Review@lenstip

buy from amazon.com | amazon.de | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Voigtlander APO 2.5/110 Macro

Status: Owned by Phillip since it was released in December

  • Since it is a manual focus macro lens, focus throw is a bit steep at portrait distances but still manageable.
  • Very smooth bokeh with average cat’s eyes. The aperture shape is decagonal stopped down.
  • One of the sharpest lenses in this guide. Not that it is important for a portrait lens.
  • Excellent CA correction.
  • Big and expensive.

Not a lens you buy first and foremost as a portrait lens but it is a fine portrait lens none the less. Also the only native manual focus lens in this list beside the Loxia 2.4/85.

771g | $1099 | review

Sony FE 135mm 1.8 GM

Status: Preordered by Jannik. Not yet on the market.

  • Quote from Roger Cicala on sharpness: “No lens we’ve ever tested has resolved 100 lp/mm this well at any aperture. […] What does this mean for you? Well, in a couple of years if you are shooting a 90-megapixel camera, this lens will be the one that wrings the most detail out of that sensor. Right now it looks at your 43 megapixels and goes, “that’s cute.””
  • Samples show smooth bokeh, low CA and moderate cat’s-eyes
  • Better AF than the E-Mount Sigma 1.8/135, especially in low light. (Manuel Ortiz)

The 1.8/135 GM could become the new gold standard for longer portrait lenses so we really look forward to testing it. 

950g | $1898 | Sample Gallery at DPR | OLAF-Test at LR

preorder at amazon.com | B&H (affiliate links)

 

Sigma 135mm 1.8 Art

Status: Not reviewed by anyone in the team but reliable information is available.

  • Class leading resolution and high contrast already at maximum aperture
  • Bokeh not as smooth as Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM and Sigma 105mm 1.4 Art but still on a high level
  • Huge and heavy.

This is a slightly smaller option compared to the Sigma 105mm 1.4 and a cheaper option compared to the GM 135mm 1.8. Many people are very happy with this one.

1130g | $1399 | Review@lenstip

buy from amazon.com | amazon.de | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Zeiss Batis 135mm 2.8

Status: Reviewed owned and still in use by David, and used by Jannik in the past

  • At f/2.8, Image quality is stellar. Extremely sharp and contrasty across the frame and low aberrations. Stopping down is only needed to increase depth of field. A way to get premium state of the art medium tele performance without the size and weight of faster premium lenses.
  • Bokeh is good but not as good as larger faster 135s when stopped down. Wide open it shows as expected, more cat eyes than an f2 class lens stopped down. Contrast is also higher in the bokeh area than the 2/135 Classic. No onion rings, no LoCA
  • Silent, fast and reliable AF, OSS, weather sealed,
  • Flare resistance is good
  • Quite large compared to classic simpler f2.8 lenses, but not too heavy
  • No lens accessories like AF/MF switch, button or aperture ring, non linear MF
  • Very good and very expensive option.

A premium lens with best in class image quality in a relatively compact body. The very high price tag, the lack of switches/buttons and the moderate speed may take away some of its appeal.

614g | $1500 | David’s full review

buy from amazon.com | amazon.de | ebay.com | B&H (affiliate links)

 

Native Zooms

Sony FE 70-200mm 2.8 GM OSS

Status: Not reviewed by anyone in the team but reliable information is available.

  • Good but image quality. Not quite as sharp as CaNikons equivalents though.
  • Mostly smooth bokeh but strong cat-eyes and onion rings.
  • Very flexible because of speed, zoom range and AF.
  • Very big and expensive.
  • It has pretty poor reliability and repairs are super expensive.

In a professional reportage setup you often need a lens like this and because adapted alternatives aren’t as fast to focus this is your only option then. 

1480g | $2598 | full Review | compared to CaNikon

buy from amazon.com | B&H | Amazon.de | ebay (affiliate Links)

 

Sony FE 70-200mm 4.0 G OSS

Status: Owned by Phillip for more than a year, since sold.

  • Good enough sharpness.
  • Decent bokeh but you are quite limited in isolating your subject by the slow speed.
  • This is a pretty large, heavy and expensive lens.

This is a jack of all trades which fills many roles well enough, portrait photography among them, but it doesn’t excel at any of them.

840g | $1498 | full review

buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.de | Ebay (affiliate Links)

 

Adapted AF lenses

Canon EF 135mm 2.0L

canon ef 135mm 2.0 l usm sony a7rii a7 7-series ilce-7 review detail bokeh portrait

Status: bought and reviewed by Bastian, sold to fund Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM

  • Very well balanced lens with a good combination of sharpness,  contrast (already at maximum aperture) and bokeh
  • correction of longitudinal CA not as good as Zeiss Batis 135mm 2.8, Sigma Art 135mm 1.8 or Samyang 135mm 2.0 but not bad either
  • Decently priced 135mm portrait lens with a fast maximum aperture of f/2.0 and autofocus

Still a great deal today with more than enough resolution, very smooth bokeh and all that at a reasonable size and price.

708g + adapter | $700 (used) | full Review | aperture series

buy from ebay.com | ebay.de | Amazon.com | Amazon.de | B&H (affiliate links)

 

Adapted manual focus lenses

Using manual focus for portraits requires some skill and won’t work for any subject, but you can save a lot of money or get special lenses if it works for you.

Canon FD 85mm 1.2 Aspherical

©Simeon Kolev
  • At f/1.2, the center has usable sharpness, the midfield and the edges are not sharp. This is rather limiting for portrait photograph where you often do not want your subject dead center. Because of spherical aberrations contrast is quite low. Still at f/1.2 you can create rather special atmospheric portraits with it.
  • The whole image sharpens up a lot at f/1.6, the center is very good as is the contrast from this aperture.
  • The bokeh is smooth at typical portrait distances but gets a bit nervous at longer distances
  • Flare resistance is bad.
  • Large size and weight, very good built quality.
  • The FD L is optically the same with one aperture blade less and coatings might be better.

It was a revolutionary lens in it’s day but today it is a little hard to recommend unless having a f/1.2 lens is very important to you.

756g | $600 used | full review

buy from ebay.com (affiliate link)

 

Samyang 85mm f1.4

©Simeon Kolev

Status: Bought and sold by Bastian and Phillip.

  • Good enough sharpness from wide open
  • Very smooth bokeh
  • Average flare resistance
  • Below average build quality, probably won’t last that long
  • Very affordable

If you feel like you need a f/1.4 lens and are on a limited budget this might be your lens since it offers an excellent price/performance ratio. You should be aware though that it might break one day.

480g | ~$290 new | comparison with other 85mm lenses | photozone review on Canon FF 

buy new from amazon (affiliate link)

 

Jupiter-9 85mm 2.0

jupiter 9 85mm 2.0 soviet bokeh portrait sony a7 review e-mount leica

Status: Bought and reviewed by Bastian, in use on special occassions.

  • Small low cost rangefinder portrait lens
  • Smooth Sonnar out of focus rendering (vintage like)
  • Sharp enough for portraits but not that great contrast and across frame resolution
  • Watch out for lens flares (or make use of them in your pictures)

Cheap, small, very smooth bokeh. But if you are looking for high resolution, high contrast and good flare resistance this is not for you.

318g + adapter | $140 | full review | aperture series

buy from ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Leica Summicron 90mm 2.0 pre Asph

sony a7s summicron-m 90mm 2.0 a7s portrait wedding men groom husband

Status: Bought, reviewed and sold by Bastian, replaced with Zeiss Loxia 85mm 2.4

  • Very nice contrast and resolution across most of the frame already wide open, corners need stopping down to f/5.6
  • Bokeh generally very nice, but not as smooth as some modern lenses (“Mandler bokeh”), slightly stopped down “crown cork” shaped highlights
  • Nicely balanced on mirrorless cameras
  • A bit on the expensive side due to red Leica dot

It is a bit expensive for what it is, but it is a joy to use and has very high contrast for such an old design.

475g + adapter | $850 | Review | aperture seriessample images

buy from ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Olympus OM 100mm 2.0

Status: Owned by Phillip for several years, recently sold.

  • Sharp across the frame with good contrast from f/2 so you can place your subject anywhere in the frame
  • Average flare resistance
  • Very smooth bokeh
  • Moderate size and weight, very good handling
  • Rather rare and pretty expensive

If you enjoy manual focus for portraits then this could be your lens. It gives excellent results and is very enjoyable to handle since it is very well balanced.

520g | $750 used | full Review | aperture series

buy used from ebay.com (affiliate link)

Minolta MD 2.5/100

Status: Owned by Phillip for several years.

  • At f/2.5 it is sharp across most of the frame.
  • Bokeh is smooth with some CA and average cat’s eyes.
  • CA is quite strong but for portraits that is not much of an issue.
  • Prone to flare.
  • Small size and weight, average built quality.
  • Good price/performance ratio.

A very well balanced legacy lens and a good lens to get started on a budget.

310g + ~80g for the adapter | $120 | full review

buy from ebay (affiliate link)

Carl Zeiss APO Sonnar T* (ZF2) 2/135

Status: owned and used by David when AF not needed but a faster lens is.

  • Superbly sharp and ultra low CA at every aperture. When first released many thought it the  best  full frame lens for any mount. Still very competitive.
  • Beautiful lower contrast bokeh in comparison to focal plane.
  • Low optical vignetting for a 135mm lens
  • Good flare performance. Milvus version of the same design is even better in this regard, but probably not worth the extra money.
  • Nice handling, though not light.
  • Best purchased used.

If manual focus for portraits is something you are comfortable with, this is a gorgeous rendering and very sharp lens that you can probably get used for a lot less than the very promising new GM

930g | from $1000 used

buy from eBay | amazon.com | B&H (Milvus version) (affiliate links)

 

Samyang 135mm 2.0

Status: used by Jannik in the past

  • At f/2 already very sharp, almost no chromatic aberrations
  • Good bokeh despite of some cat eyes wide open
  • Quite prone to flare
  • Different color cast compared to Sony or Zeiss lenses (slightly warmer)
  • I never heard of broken samples due to bad quality (In contrast to the Samyang 2.8/14) but the build quality still feels not great.
  • Excellent lens. Optically, you get 90% of the Zeiss Batis 2.8/135 performance at a very low price. Keep in mind that AF is useful for some portrait scenarios.

A high end lens in a budget body with a budget price.

830g + adapter (native 900g) | $400 | review | sample images

buy from ebay.com | ebay.de| Amazon.com | Amazon.de (affiliate links)

 

MS-Optics Aporis 135mm 2.4 MC Fluorit

hong kong portrait butcher asia wet market

Status: Bought and reviewed by Bastian, still in use.

  • Very compact and lightweight for what it is and superior color correction (especially compared to legacy lenses) thanks to Canon made CaF2 front element
  • Bokeh can be adjusted to taste from soft to harsh by using the SA (spherical aberration) adjustment ring
  • Handling needs getting used to as the whole lens rotates when you focus
  • Veiling flare can be an issue with the sun in or close to the frame
  • Very rare as only produced in limited quantity and therefore not cheap

It is a shame this lens is so rare, in my opinion it is Miyazaki’s masterpiece.

360g + adapter | $1200 | full Review | aperture seriessample images

buy from ebay.com (affiliate link)

 

Sony 135mm 2.8 [T4.5] STF

Status: Used by Jannik in the past

  • This lens uses an apodization filter to progressively darken the bokeh balls like a neutral density filter farther away from center. If the effect is used efficiently, the bokeh won’t have any hard edges and will look like gaussian blur that was applied afterwards.
  • Although this lens has a bright aperture of f2.8, it has a very bad transmission (T4.5) and will behave like a f4.5 lens in exposure. Therefore, this lens is more limited to good weather applications or tripod work.
  • To increase the efficiency of the apodization filter, this lens has neither mechanical nor optical vignetting. Bokeh balls are perfectly round.
  • This lens is very sharp. It can show some purple fringing in harsh light.
  • It is an MF only lens and quite cheap these days
  • The look of this lens is very special. Look closely at the sample images and make sure that you like it.

A unique portrait lens that is special in positive and negative ways. Those who like the look, manual focus and focal length won’t find anything better than this.

730g + adapter | $700 | sample images | more information

buy from ebay.de | ebay.com | recommended adapter (affiliate links)

 

Canon nFD 135mm 2.8

Canon FD 2.8/135

Status: Phillip has reviewed it but not used much since then.

  • At f/2.8 it is sharp across the frame with pleasant bokeh, vignetting is present but not really a problem. When enlarged a lot you will notice that modern lenses are sharper but most of the time this will matter very little.
  • CA is quite strong but for portraits that is not much of an issue.
  • prone to flare.
  • Small size and weight, average built quality.
  • Great price/performance ratio.

While not up to modern standards results are usually close enough to those of modern lenses and it only costs a fraction of those. A good lens to get started on a very tight budget.

398g | $60 | full review | sample images

buy from ebay (affiliate link)

 

Bonus coverage: Super Fast Tele lenses

As Bastian is keen on those super fast 170-200mm lenses we decided to include a few of those as bonus coverage. Some people say these lenses are the holy grail for portrait photography as they draw the smoothest and most beautifully blurred background bokeh. But they are not easy to handle and usually very expensive.

Canon EF 200mm 1.8L USM

canon ef 200mm 1.8 l usm review sigma mc 11 mc-11 sony a7r2 a7rii a7rm2 mark2 markII

Status: Bought, reviewed and sold by Bastian.

  • Absolutely gorgeous bokeh rendering and at the same time super high resolving
  • adapts well to Sony cameras, on gen 3 cameras you even have eye AF
  • super heavy, very expensive, unclear spare parts situation

An absolutely amazing portrait lens. Apart from the high weight and price the real issue is that these are hard to get repaired these days.

3020g + hood + adapter | $3000 (used) | full Review | aperture seriessample images

buy from ebay.com | ebay.de (affiliate links)

 

Olympus OM Zuiko Auto-T 180mm 2.0

olympus om zuiko auto-t 180mm 2.0 flare review sony digital modern camera high res resolution

Status: Bought, reviewed and sold by Bastian.

  • Bokeh rendering not as great as the 200mm 1.8 but still amazing
  • Small and lightweight for what it is
  • Very complex and modern design for its age with superior minimum focus distance and sharpness at all distances
  • Extremely rare and super expensive

Extremely rare and therefore super expensive. I wish and doubt we will ever see a lens like this again.

1700g + tripod collar + adapter | $2500-5000 (used) | full Review | aperture seriessample images

buy from ebay.com(affiliate link)

 

Carl Zeiss Jena Visionar 168/183mm 1.9

carl zeiss jena visionar 183mm 1.9 projector lens cinema sony a7rii a7rm2 review sharpness bokeh supertele fast cheap

Status: Bought, reviewed by Bastian. 168mm still in use.

  • Amazing bokeh rendering
  • no aperture diaphragm, no focus ring (see reviews for further information)
  • portrait specialist and great choice for Brenizer/Bokehpanorama
  • somehwat rare but comparably cheap

The handling needs getting used to, but these lenses offer bokeh rendering of lenses usually 10 times as expensive (see the two before).

2500-3000g | $300 (used) | full Review 168/183 | sample images 168/183

buy from ebay.com (affiliate link)

 

Editor’s Choices

All of us have used many lenses and we all have bought and sold some of them for whatever reason. Nevertheless there are a few lenses that simply stick, so we decided to let each of us pick one of the aforementioned lenses and tell you why we like it and/or keep using it.

Bastian’s Choice: Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM

As you can see from the list on top I have used many portrait lenses. And this list does not even contain the ones I was using on Nikon cameras (including AF-S 85mm 1.4G and AF-S 200mm 2.0G VRI).
But of all these the Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM really stands out to me as it has an outstanding optical design. The spherical aberration is oh so slightly undercorrected which leads to an amazingly smooth bokeh rendering which you rarely see in modern lenses. But unlike many older lenses it is still more than sharp enough already wide open.

Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM gmaster portrait bokeh sharpness a7rII a7rm3 a7riii 42mp review flare gegenlicht contralight backlit backlight uv light ultraviolet

On top of that the cat’s eyes effect is the lowest of any fast 85mm lenses so far which makes the bokeh look more natural to me.
Being able to use eye AF makes it easy to focus despite the shallow depth of field (AF is not the fastest though).
Because of all this I think the at first sight high price is more than justified and easily forgotten after using the lens and looking at the resulting images.

Jannik’s Choice: Sony FE 1.8/85

Although not being cheap in absolute terms, this lens won’t cost you an arm and a leg in comparison to the premium FE offerings. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good performer. Optically, it has very balanced properties without being particularly excellent like the Sony FE 1.4/85 GM. Nevertheless, I personally chose the Sony FE 1.8/85 over the latter because I greatly prefer to have its very fast and virtually silent autofocus packed in a very small and handy lens. Being a proud family father in first and a photographer in second, these properties are a blessing for me. The good MF implemenatation, lens button and the AF/MF switch on the lens are the icing on the cake for me. The new FE 1.8/135 GM will complement this lens on the long end and has some potential to rival the FE 1.8/85 as my favorite portrait lens.

David’s Choice: Zeiss Batis 1.8/85

In fact the majority of portraits I take are with slightly shorter focal lengths, typically 50-75mm, and sometimes with moderate wides. But I also like the classic portrait lengths, and when I was thinking about which classic lens I’d take as my choice it was the Batis Sonnar 1.8/85. I will review it soon: but it’s my choice because it’s such an amazing allrounder. I have access to some pretty special glass which I never take with me, so it’s my dogs and those who live nearby who get photographed with that. But the Batis 85 comes with me on long trips, and doubles as an absolutely outstanding landscape/cityscape lens with remarkable contrast and saturation. Its commercial problem is that, in the AF 85mm market, it sits between two other good choices. The GM 1.4/85 has lovelier bokeh, especially wide open and even at f1.8. But it’s bigger, heavier, and more expensive. The Sony FE 1.8/85 is very much cheaper, and while it does not have quite the same contrast and resolution, is itself excellent (and better than any older 1.8/85s I know of). It’s Jannik’s choice and I see why. But for me the Batis is a perfect combination. It’s a no-compromise lens for stopped down use, and it renders very nicely and is very sharp for portraits while travelling.

Phillip’s choice: Voigtlander 2.5/110 Macro

I don’t shoot many portraits at the moment so I don’t maintain a dedicated portrait lens. When I need to take portraits I usually use my Voigtlander 2.5/110 Macro which I bought mostly as a nature and landscape lens. It isn’t super fast and manual focus can be a challenge for portraits but I usually get along with it quite fine.

Closing Remarks

Yes, we didn’t include a bunch of interesting lenses. We have reviewed many lenses but there are far more lenses we haven’t reviewed yet and we prefer to know what we are talking about. So with time the list will grow, but have some patience with us 🙂

Articles like this require many hours of work. If you found it helpful, you can support us by:

  • Using one of our affiliate links if you buy a lens (or anything else), won’t cost you anything extra but helps us a lot.
  • If you own an interesting and/or exotic lens and you would lend it to us for a review, just leave a note.
  • It also helps a lot if you share this article on social media and with your friends.

Thanks! Juriaan, David, Jannik, Bastian and Phillip

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The Team

The team, that are four gearheads: Bastian, Jannik and Phillip from Germany as well as David from Australia. All like to use manual lenses and have a passion for the outdoors. None the less they are specialized in different areas so they can provide you with a wider perspective.

55 thoughts on “Guide to the best Portrait Lenses – Sony a7 series”

  1. I’m a bit surprised you don’t mention the Minolta 100mm f/2.5. I bought it based on the review on this site (“bokeh among the best I have ever seen”) and have been happy with it. The bokeh is indeed very creamy. MF is hard, still practicing…

      1. I wanted to point out exactly that lens. After Phillip’s review I bought MC version to check it out and later the latest 49mm MD version which is even more compact while delivering the same image qualities. It’s my #1 choice for portraits, and I also like the a bit more crop and compression of 100 mm vs 85. Thanks for the recommendation.

        Btw. I love these kinds of “user guides” or personal summery. What greater award can a lens have then being bought by the photographer with his own money and still being in actual use. This kind of information is very valuable for me. That’s why I prefer your long-term reviews over any kind of review anywhere else. You can’t just qualitatively talk about a lens after spending just some hours or days with it. I rather prefer an trustworthy in-depth review months or even years after release over any same-day non-sense. Thank you, guys!

          1. I can recommend some excellenr vintage lenses that wasnt in the review, and thats understandable because there are so many vintage lenses.
            Anyway here are they:

            Super-Takumar 85mm f1.9 (m42)
            Nikkor 85mm f1.8
            Nippon kogaku nikkor-p auto 105mm f2.5
            Minolta mc Rokkor 100mm f3.5 macro
            Canon fdn 135mm f2
            MC Carl Zeiss jena Sonnar 135mm f3.5 (m42)

  2. As usual a very good overview!
    For portraiture I also like the 50mm lenses, especially for handheld portraiture a rather small and not heavy FE 55 f1.8 is very nice to walk around with.

  3. How does the Voigtlander 110mm APO Macro do in the portrait category? Eagerly awaiting the review and thinking of using it as my go-to lens for portraiture and macro (currently without a macro and use Sony 85 for portraits).

    1. It is actually the portrait lens I use the most at the moment. But since it none would buy it just as a portrait lens I didn‘t include it here. It is super sharp with pleasant bokeh. Downsides are average cat‘s eyes and a short but not too short focus throw.

      1. Looks like you’ve updated the review with a little info- thanks! I would buy this lens today if I could find it here in China.

  4. Great write up as usual. Funny to see that the 85mm is the lens choice of all 3. But I can see the compromise of size/weight and quality makes the 85mm the choice focal length.

    Curious why the “bokina” didn’t make it? The 90mm f2.5 Tokina seems to make a lot of other lists for a great portraits lens.

    1. The Bokina is probably too slow for a 85/90mm lens. And the focus throw is a little bit too short at portrait distances.
      Although I use mine often for portraiture.

    2. I think the bokina is more of a multi purpose lens. Its good for landscape (very sharp), for macro (1:2 ratio) and for portrait (smooth bokeh) but it doesn’t excel at any discipline. For macro there is no 1:1 ration, for landscape the flare resistance isn’t the best and for portrait it lacks the speed of dedicated portrait lenses. That beeing said its often in my bag when I go outside to shoot because its just a very versitile tool.

      I’m interessted to see which lens Phillip will pick as his favorite portrait lens.

  5. I’ve accumulated a set of old manual focus 1970s ish Nikkor primes which I mount to my a7 family cameras with a Metabones F to E adapter. These used lenses are high IQ, fast and cheap.

  6. Some notes on the Canon FD 85mm f/1.2:

    1) For best performance, it needs a thin sensor stack conversion. There’s a dramatic difference in sharpness across the frame from the standard sensor stack and a thin stack conversion. The circle of usable sharpness in the center is much larger as a result of a reduction in astigmatism.

    2) Since it’s a floating element design, having an adapter with the right register distance matters.

  7. Correction:
    Canon 135/2 = 750 grams

    Thanks for the write up.
    There is a race going on for big and heavy, resolution be damned !!

  8. Also, you can change the title of the article from “user guide to portrait lenses: for a7 series” to “user guide to portrait lenses: 85 to 135mm”,

    I think, and many others do, that 50mm is the best portrait lens 🙂

        1. Actually, it’s the distance between camera and subject that matters. Less than 1.5 m / 5 ft, and you’ll get big noses. You can use any focal length you like, as long as you keep that distance. Take a wide angle, and you’ll get an environmental portrait.

    1. You could shoot portraits with any focal length, right? But the classic focal lengths are between 85 – 135 mm. That is covered here+ bonus section. Expanding this to 50 mm neither cover all portrait lenses nor are there only a few 50’s to add.

  9. Thank you for this interesting review as always. Regarding the comparison between the three native 135mm (Sony FE 135mm 1.8 GM, Sigma 135mm 1.8 Art, Zeiss Batis 135mm 2.8), my first thought is: speed, weight, price: pick two. You say the Batis is expensive, which is true, but still cheaper than the Sony.

  10. Just a side comment. I dont get the current obsession with bokeh. These are not portraits to me but nice pictures of faces with blurred backgrounds. Where’s some kind of *setting*? Background, story, idea? These all look the same to me.
    I blame you (revievers) for that bokeh focus too 🙂
    Busy cat eyes, onion rings, that is just plain silly.
    But I get it. Lenses became so good these days you have to invent something new to brag about. Cheers.

  11. what about the Canon FD 85mm 1.8?
    Its not the same bargain as the FD 135mm 2.8, but for people on a budget looking for a 85 its in my opinion a more available and reliable option compared to the Jupiter9

  12. Thank you for this interesting review.
    What do You think about Canon EF 100mm f2, Canon EF 135mm f2.8 and Contax Zeiss 135mm f2.8? They are relatively small, light and inexpensive. Thanks in advance.

  13. Has anybody of you tried the Nikon 85mm f1.4 AI-S?
    I’m recently into analog photography (with Nikon and Minolta bodies) and the Nikkor 85mm 1.4 AI-S has a great reputation and has somewhat of a legendary status.
    I would be interested if that is justified or merely another internet myth (like the Contarex lenses – your article was something of a myth buster).

    Thank you and keep up your great work!

  14. suggestion for “adapted AF lenses”: Canon EF 1,8 / 85 : quite cheap, even new – at least, if an adapter is already in house.
    Interested in getting my example for some time ?

    Thx for your reviews !

    1. Wile not as good as the Sony it is certainly a solid and affordable option. Since there are many reviews out there and we are well enough covered I don’t think any one of us would have a use for it but thanks for the offer.

  15. Too bad that you seem to rule out Nikon.
    Of course you tried so many different lenses for this comparison, yet the Nikon 105mm is not among them.
    I guess I‘m not the only one who is praising this lens specifically for it‘s fantastic abilities concerning portraits.
    I would go as far as to claim it is an ideal lense for portraits in quite every regard.
    For manual lenses I think the Milvus 85mm is one of the best out there!
    However- thanks a lot for all your work here on this site.

    1. I guess you are talking about the AF-S 105mm 1.4G?
      Unfortunately one needs that Commlite adapter to use this lens on a Sony camera
      and unfortunately my experiences with Commlite adapters have been seriously bad.

      1. Klar – das 105e 1.4 meinte ich.
        Da gibt es scheinbar verschiedene Versionen des Commlite Adapters. Bei Fredmiranda gibt es da aber einige vielversprechende Beispiele, u.a. von jefonyx ( hat großartige Portrais auf seiner Webseite unter jef-quach.com, wo er für viele Portrais sehr erfolgreich das 58mm 1.4 von Nikon, und auch das 105mm 1.4e an Sony a7iii benutzt).
        In Diskussionen scheint der Tenor dahin zu gehen, das sich die neueste Pro – Version dieses Adapters für einige dieser Nikon-Objektive schon lohnen kann, allerdings wohl nur für diejenigen, die jene Linsen bereits im Arsenal haben und neben Nikon auch Sony alpha nutzen.
        Seit der Z6 und Z7 gibt es da ja Alternativen, nur das man da jetzt nach Adaptern für die besten Sony e-mount Objektive sucht , bzw. für sämtliche Objektive von Fremdherstellern für das Sony e-mount System.
        Sehe mich jedenfalls schon mit adaptierten Voigtlander oder Zeiss MF-Linsen an einer Nikon Z6.
        Schon verrückt, diese Entwicklung…

  16. I have Samyang 135mm f2.0 and I use it mostly for deep space astrophotography and portraits. Its amazingly sharp

  17. Hi

    Thanks for the very nice and almost exhaustive comparison. Really appreciated but why none of Nikon’s manual focus lenses are among these?
    Nikkor 135 AI-s F/2.8 or f/2 or f/3.5? Or Nikkor Ai-s 105mm F/2.5?
    Some of these lenses are very highly praised and even adored and other sites but it seems that Nikon doesn’t go well on this site…

  18. There are so many lenses on this range, that it’s even hard to cover all the possible favorites of everyone, or be fair to make great portrait lenses, especially old.

    Jupiter 8.5cm f2 is covered. However, this is a copy by KMZ or Arsenal, made through over 3 or 4 decades, which extreme variability on quality and very high sample variety, of the original Zeiss 8.5cm f2 first developed in the lat 30s, later ported to Exakta mount, and finally, the finest expression of this lens in Contarex form around 1962+. The Contarex version is the best built portrait lens ever to see the light of day. A (classic) Sonnar and usually dismissed as just ok.

    However, it is the most refined of all classic Sonnars (those with 7 elements in 3 groups that follow a formula with only 3 air/glass transitions, and having been perfected for the smoothest rendering of almost all 85mm, and 8 blades for very smooth creamy bokeh, is underappreciated by most). It follows the same principle as the Sonnar f1.5 in Contax RF mount.

    It’s broadly seen by those that have never used it, to be an expensive collector item. However, it’s not. It’s a very high resolution lens, one of very few that have almost perfect reduction in microcontrast as you increase lp /mm, with tangential and radial lines almost overlaid, which is not exactly the same as the 85/2 Exakta nor 85/2 Contax RF.

    So the effect is an extremely very gradual reduction in microcontrast as it gets closer to the edges, never going below 40% lp /mm at 40 lp /mm thus not at all low resolution, but actually extremely high, but smothly transitioning, unlike most and many lenses recommended here.

    Actually, I have seen very little attention posted by any of the posters, regarding how mid and corners can be drastically different in taste, and anything is only described in a way that’s akin to thinking of ketchup, tomato dip sauce and tomato paste as if they where the same. The softness around the edges are extremely different depending on what causes it, and if it’s a result of astigmatism, and the degree present of type, vs field curvature, vs chromatic aberrations caused it.

    I think this is an area of opportunity, since I’ve seen too often that the Phillip, Bastiak, etc. do not seem to be able to characterise or describe anything about how a lens transitions to less sharp areas of lenses, except in blunt terms (“softer”, “weaker”, etc), and “see for yourself”. Again, this contrast in being able to describe, with words, the quality of the bokeh.

    I have direct experience a Jupiter (Arsenal made), a CRF 8.5cm, a Contarex 85/2 and Rollei 85mm/f2.8 and can say they all render differently. The 5 elements C/Y 85/2.8 is also one of the most lightweight portrait lenses you’ll ever found. The Minolta Rokkor 85mm (but MC 1.7 and MD 2.0 versions) are very solid portrait options, and so is the Varisoft one, who’s effect can never be reproduced by any post processing. The older Nikkor 10.5cm is also fantastic for portraits, found in CRF, Nikon-S and F mounts (not to be confused with the 105mm f2.5 with Planar design which has a lot more aberrations even if a sharper lens wide open).

    The Rollei 85/2.8 is also another very remarkable lens. it weights a little over 200 grams, is smaller than a typical 50mm lens, uses a modern Sonnar design (perfect for an f2.8 lens) which makes it one of the sharpest high micro contrast lenses of all times, and defined the modern look of lenses. It features new kinds of materials and it completely new and different from the 7 element Sonnar that preceded it. It’s sharper by many accounts, even wide open, than the QBM or CY 85/1.4 launched around 1975 (Planar). This lens has instead of 7 elements, only 4, being the only lens that I know that can achieve such remarkable sharpness, ridiculous sharp for a lens launched in 1970. While it’s not important to discuss if it has more or less elements, a good copy has extreme contrast in lieu of having so few surfaces on which light can scatter and bounce, and a huge lower requirement to make all the lenses perfectly centered. I found this one the best lenses for non dreamy, harsh brutal contrast, strong personality portraits. The C/Y sibling renders exactly like it, featuring one extra element possibly improving very slightly corner performance. However, this lens features new style, that has radial lines extremely linear (retaining contrast all the way to the extreme corners) sacrificing tangential contrast. This bodes well for a strong portrait rendering, but makes this degradation of contrast be more like that of modern lenses. Which for me, it’s not the best scenario for a portrait lens.

    The missing Minolta 100mm f2.5 is also a great portrait lens, lovely in every way in terms of rendering. The coating by Minolta mean that color rendition is more cold. And another fantastic portrait lens is the Nikkon Ai-S 105mm f2.5, built like a tank.

    1. I think this is a chance for you to start a blog and publish your findings ;). You obviously care greatly about these smaller differences we don‘t find that important from our own experience but mI guess some people will care about them as much as you and will be happy to find a source.

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