Portraits are probably up there as one of the most popular photographic subjects but a high-quality lens with a bright aperture can cost hundreds, or even, thousands of pounds which not all of us can afford/justify. So, what does that leave us with? Well, you’ll be happy to hear that there are some lenses which are particularly good value for money and still offer good image quality and decent apertures so you can still get the all-important bokeh backgrounds when shooting wide-open.
Of course, there’s not as much choice when you want to spend under/around £300 but the lenses which are available won’t disappoint.
Photo Joshua Waller
We’ve separated the lenses into different mounts, so you can find a lens that works with your camera, and all of the lenses have scored 4 stars or above so you know you’re purchasing a lens of good quality.
If you don’t see your favourite portrait lens on this list it’s either too expensive, didn’t score high enough or we haven’t reviewed it yet.
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Budget Portrait Lenses For Full-Frame Digital SLR Cameras
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G might be an old lens but it is still an excellent lens for the money. Optically, it is very good and it handles well. Build-wise, the quality is excellent which means we can easily describe this lens as ‘outstanding quality at a very reasonable price’.
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro –
The Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro Lens produces sharp images with low distortion at an excellent price point. So long as you don’t require life-sized magnification, for which the optional life-size converter will be required, this lens is ideal.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM –
Canon’s ‘Nifty Fifty’ represents great value for money thanks to its good build quality and high levels of sharpness it produces. Overall, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens is lightweight, quiet and delivers very good sharpness.
Budget Portrait Lenses For APS-C Digital SLR Cameras
Samyang 35mm f/1.2 ED AS UMC CS –
The Samyang 35mm f/1.2 ED AS UMC CS lens for APS-C and MFT formats, this being a “35mm equivalent” of around 50mm and 70mm respectively, is a little over the ‘around the £300’ mark but as it’s not my much and it’s a really good lens, we thought we’d sneak it in.
The Samyang 35mm f/1.2 ED AS UMC CS is yet another cracking good lens from Samyang, offering fantastic performance at a very reasonable price. The manual focusing is much easier than many ultra-bright lenses and is possibly more accurate at f/1.2 than some AF systems might be capable of. There really is little to fault with this design and will be a tempting proposition for many mirrorless users.
SMC Pentax-DA 35mm f/2.4 AL –
‘Low cost, high quality and very useful’ is how we describe the SMC Pentax-DA 35mm f/2.4 AL lens. A standard lens is still a good place for photographers to start before decisions are made as to whether wider or longer lenses are needed. Plus, there is a certain discipline in using a fixed focal length and you also get very high image quality.
SainSonic Kamlan 50mm f/1.1 –
KamLan has a simple, ambitiously specified lens for a very low price. It is well made, performs well and, within the limitations of manual focus and lagging edge quality, it is still a lens that delivers something very useful. The bright f/1.1 aperture is one thing and the gorgeous bokeh is another. The SainSonic Kamlan 50mm f/1.1 is not technically perfect, but it does have excellent photographic, creative qualities that could be used to advantage.
Budget Portrait Lenses For Micro Four Thirds Cameras
Panasonic LUMIX G 42.5mm f/1.7 ASPH. –
As far as the performance of the LUMIX G 42.5mm f/1.7 ASPH. lens is concerned, there is little to find fault with. Sharpness is outstanding from maximum aperture, falloff, distortion and fringing are all well controlled too. Plus, Panasonic camera owners will appreciate the optical stabilisation.
Olympus 45mm f/1.8 Zuiko –
The low price may be a little misleading at first glance, as the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 Zuiko lens is a very capable optic. It focuses quickly and is capable of producing outstanding levels of sharpness. The lightweight and good build quality are also assets.
Those looking for a fast aperture prime lens for portraits, photography in low light, or for greater control over depth of field will not be disappointed.
Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 ED –
This lens is certainly capable of producing excellent quality images, with sharpness being excellent in the centre of the frame from maximum aperture. It’s well built, lightweight and reasonably compact.
Overall, the Olympus M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 produces excellent quality images in a compact, lightweight and well-built body.
Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 ASPH –
Much of the performance of this lens is exemplary, especially considering the modest cost. The only real drawback is the susceptibility to flare, which is very evident in shots taken into the light. If this can be accepted then the lens is, without a doubt, an excellent proposition.
Budget Portrait Lens For Sony E Mount Cameras – Sony NEX 50mm f/1.8 OSS –
Sony has created a belter here with this 50mm lens. It’s reasonably priced, produces sharp, contrasty images and has the added luxury of optical stabilisation and a fast maximum aperture. The only fly in the ointment is the high level of CA towards the edges of the frame at fast apertures, still, even this flaw is easily overlooked taking into account this lens’ positive attributes.