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The Top 4 Lenses for Portrait and Wedding Photography

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The Top 4 Lenses for Portrait and Wedding Photography

top 4 lenses

One of the most often heard questions on the Shoot Me: MCP Facebook Group is: “what lens should I use for (insert specialty) photography?”  Of course, there is no right or wrong answer, and there are an exponential number of external factors that play into this decision: what is the space like, how much room will you have, is there enough light, and how many people in the frame, and what type of photography are you doing, just to name a few.  So, we took this to MCP’s Facebook Page and asked users their favorites. The following is a very unscientific compilation of their real world experience and preferences when it relates to portrait photography. We’ll also mention a few other types of photography along the way… We aren’t brand specific since that would be a much longer article.


Here are the top 4 lenses (as you can see we kind of snuck in a few more since we included 1.2, 1.4, and 1.8 versions on a two of the primes).  A little sneaky.


50mm (1.8, 1.4, 1.2)

One of the most talked about lenses, and a great intro to primes is the 50mm 1.8 (most brands have one). A 50mm does not produce much distortion, is lightweight, and can be purchased starting around $100 or so. This means that this is a great lens for portraits, and it is used by many newborn photographers. Shot at an aperture from 2.4-3.2 will show off this lens’s sharpness and bokeh. This is a “must have” lens for both crop and full frame camera bodies. For more advanced hobbyists and professionals, they may opt for the pricier versions in 1.4 or 1.2 (not available for all manufacturers).

85mm (1.8, 1.4, 1.2)

True portrait length on a full frame. The sweet spot, or aperture that is generally most sharp, is around 2.8. This lens is a favorite among many portrait photographers because it is not too long (allowing you to maintain a close proximity to the subject) while producing a creamy and rich bokeh. Again, the 1.8 version will be least expensive, climbing to higher prices in a 1.4 or 1.2 version (when available in a specific brand).

24-70 2.8

An excellent all around lens. This is the go-to focal range for a walk-around zoom lens, or for tight, low-light, spaces indoors (yep, back to those newborn photographers).  Sharp wide open, yet even sharper around 3.2, this lens is perfect for both full frame and crop sensor camera bodies. Most brands have this length, including some manufacturers like Tamron, who make them for a number of camera brands. I personally have the Tamron version of this lens.

70-200 2.8

The wedding and outdoor portrait photographers dream lens. A great low-light lens that is also fast. Sharpest from 3.2-5.6. This lens consistently produces creamy backgrounds with tack sharp focus due to image compression at longer focal lengths. I love this focal length.  I have both the Canon and Tamron versions of it and they both are super sharp and amongst my favorite lenses. When at your next sporting event, look to the sidelines.  Every sports photographer I know has at least one or more of these, in addition to their longer telephoto primes.

Honorable Mentions

  • 14-24mm – Great for Real Estate and Landscape photography
  • 100mm 2.8 – a great macro lens. Super sharp at f 5. Also good for wedding and newborn detail shots.
  • 135mm f2L Canon and  105mm f2.8 Nikon –  Two favorite portrait primes. Amazing results.

Deciding to purchase a new lens can be overwhelming with all of the options available. And many are confused at the cost difference from a 1.8 to 1.4 to 1.2 aperture, which can be the difference between a $100 lens and a $2000 lens! The larger the maximum aperture, the more expensive and heavier the lens becomes. This is because of the lens components needed to create sharp images while the lens and sensor are wide open. However, you do not need to spend thousands of dollars on a lens to produce a great photograph. Understanding the exposure triangle and strong composition are  the most important factors in consistently producing great photographs.

Now it’s your turn.  What are your favorite lenses and why?

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  1. February 8, 2014 at 8:57 pm —

    I am having difficulty with that crisp clear photo. Opened up, closed down, ISO, shutter, just bummed.. Upgrading to full frame and my first purchase is the 24-70.. I felt though, until I mastered what I have, upgrading is not really going to benefit.. I have a D5100 Nikon and 35mm 1.8, nifty fifty,50mm1.4, and 18-200 5.6 advise?

  2. March 4, 2014 at 8:44 pm —

    We have photostudio business.I need ur advice for what lenses d best for my d600, d800 in portraiture?

  3. March 23, 2014 at 9:04 am —

    Has anyone tried the Sigma 150mm f2.8 macro lens? Which do you prefer…the Nikon 105mm or the longer lens…I have a full frame Nikon D600.

  4. March 23, 2014 at 10:51 am —

    I love prime lenses!!!! I use the 50/1.4, the 85/1.2 & 135/2.0 but I also use my 24-70/2.8 the most when I need versatility. All 4 lenses give me terrific results that I can count on.

  5. March 23, 2014 at 6:08 pm —

    With the 70-200mm 2.8 lens, you said you have both the Tamron and Canon versions – my question is regarding your Canon version: is that an L-series lens? I am curious as to the quality (sharpness, focusing, etc) of on non-L-series lens (2.8) at that general focal length range! I already have the 24-70mm 2.8L and the 85mm 1.8 prime for my Canon 6D, so although I’m interested in going telephoto, I don’t have the budget for another L-series lens!

    • March 23, 2014 at 7:30 pm —

      Matthew, The Canon is an L lens, version II.

      The Tamron is very close in quality and is $1,000 less I believe. Definitely a lens to consider if you want quality but are on a budget. I will say, it is NOT cheap. Be sure if you want the really good one that you get the one with VC. It is retail $1,500 I believe.

  6. March 23, 2014 at 8:50 pm —

    I have 3 if the 4 & I use them all specially weddings.

  7. March 24, 2014 at 8:22 am —

    I don’t shoot weddings – but I have 3 of those 4 lenses on this list. And I use them. Only one I am missing is the 24-70 – but I have that covered in the 24-105. Almost always use the 85 1.2L for portraits in studio, and outdoors use the 70-200 to compress the background. Love the bokeh from those two lenses

  8. November 1, 2014 at 9:12 am —

    Thank you very much, Jodi, for sharing your experience on the selection of best lenses for portrait photography. Provision of some sample images from each of these lenses would have helped us in selecting the right lens for us.

    Thanks a gain for sharing your insights with us. 🙂

  9. March 9, 2015 at 10:45 am —

    The holy trinity from canon 🙂 these are the best options.
    I have 16-35, 24-0 and 70-200 all L II.
    I think i will buy 100 macro L – great portrait and macro lens.
    What do you think?

  10. Jerry
    November 25, 2015 at 10:32 am —

    I wanted to buy nikon 24mm-70mm f2.8 but just can’t afford it so I’m opted for 28mm-70mm instead. Is that lens good enough to substitute the 24-70mm?

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The Top 4 Lenses for Portrait and Wedding Photography