Best Z Lens For Portraits

Christina Perez
• Monday, 16 November, 2020
• 15 min read

This means that in order to take advantage of some of the best lighting conditions for portraiture, you will do well to invest in lenses with a fairly fast maximum aperture. One way of achieving this is to create a shallow depth of field by using a wider aperture setting.

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Before spending thousands of dollars on Nikon’s incredible 58 mm f/0.95 S Not lens (above), ask yourself whether it would really be worth investing all this money when in most cases the end result is likely to be photos with such a shallow depth of field that literally nothing but the person’s eyeballs are in focus. That may look fine on your smartphone, but an image so devoid of sharp detail may not hold anyone’s attention for long when viewed much bigger than this.

True, standing a little further back for a full length portrait could produce good results, with both the foreground and background fully blown out. Nonetheless, there does need to be somewhere sharp for them to alight their gaze; a few islands of terra firma in an otherwise swirling sea of buttery both.

Some lenses will reduce backgrounds to a smooth and highly attractive swirl; while others will capture out of focus details in a much busier and more distracting manner. And with such large swathes of a portrait likely to be blurred, clearly it’s important that these areas look good.

Normally you would also do well to check if the lens in question offers genuine manual focusing or instead “focus-by-wire” operation; as many find the latter system to be less reactive. As it is though, the Z -mount lenses that use the focus-by-wire system actually perform exceptionally well in this area, and for portrait photography at least, they are unlikely to cause any inconvenience.

Meanwhile, photographers looking to create somewhat more animated and candid portraits will likely consider autofocus essential. Those who also plan on shooting video will need the focus motors to be silent, and basically everyone will want AF operation to be fast and accurate.

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But in an area of photography that is primarily about creating an expressive image that captures the sitter’s personality, a lens that picks up every pore and skin blemish in astonishing detail should probably not be too high on anybody’s list of priorities. Look at it this way; nobody has ever won (or indeed lost) a portrait photography award due to the optics of their lens.

Great if you can combine both fantastic content and exemplary optics, but if the absolute top-of-the-range lens is out of your budget, don’t for a minute think that this will stop you from producing stunning portrait photos. While it’s certainly true that a portrait could be taken on any focal length of lens you want, there’s good reason why wide-angle lenses are generally not recommended for the task.

With its exaggerated perspective, you might think that the portrait you just shot on a 20 mm lens looks cool; but as nobody wants to see themselves with a gigantic nose, bulging eyes, or a disproportionately large forehead, your subject is unlikely to agree with you. In contrast, a longer focal length lens will have the effect of flattening perspective, resulting in a more flattering likeness of your subject.

However, aside from the fact that you’d still not be photographing the sitter in the most flattering manner, it will also be quite difficult to get much separation between subject and background at either of these focal lengths. Of these, fast maximum aperture and both we’ve already looked at above, meanwhile the third criterion is typically that the lens in question has a focal length of between 80 and 105 mm.

What’s more, if we specifically look at headshot portraits, then a slightly longer focal length of say 110 to 180 mm could also be a good option. This will permit even greater separation of the subject from the background, making the image about the person’s face and nothing else.

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In any case, all other things being equal, the differences between a prime and a zoom are unlikely to be so great as to cause any major problems in practice. You can certainly purchase fairly fast zooms, but they will almost always cost more than a comparable prime lens with the same maximum aperture.

To summarize, then, if you’ve got plenty of money to spend, and don’t need anything faster than, say, f/2.8, there are certainly some very good zooms available for the Nikon Z series of cameras. Easy in the sense that the Z -mount line-up is still rather limited, so there simply aren’t that many lenses to choose from when compared with the vast range available for the brand’s Girls.

The Z version of Nikon’s nifty fifty brings image quality improvements' courtesy of the new Z mount. Their 50 mm 1.8 lens is one of the most affordable lenses in the lineup and easily the least expensive 1.8 max aperture Lens.

The 50 mm makes the top spot because of the affordability combined with the versatile nature of the 50 mm focal length. But the lower price tag certainly does not mean sacrificing quality in this instance.

This larger mount and shorter flange distance (the distance from the camera sensor to the rear glass element of the lens) allows for a much more advanced lens in terms of image quality. Often when wide open (shooting at f/1.8 you start to see a little sharpness loss on the edges of the frame.

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Those are things that you usually don’t notice right away but become apparent in the right conditions and can occasionally ruin a photo. If you like to shoot video as well, the lens also provides 5-axis image stabilization when combined with a Z6 or Z7 camera and has excellent autofocus.

I picked this one as the runner-up because it is slightly less versatile than the 50mm, but it does create beautiful portraits. Compression is the effect that happens with longer focal lengths where objects tend to look flatter.

In addition, the 1.8 maximum aperture on a longer focal length means that you can achieve an even more shallow depth of field than the 50 mm. So the cost combined with the more specialized focal length makes it a very solid runner-up.

If you tend to shoot a lot of individual portraits and are willing to spend a little more money, then the 85 mm could be the right choice for you. For the versatility to grab the shot without changing lenses, a 24-70 mm zoom lens has been the go-to option for pro photographers for decades.

The 24-70 mm lens is a favorite of professional photographers because it covers a range of focal lengths that are quite useful for portraits. It does a great job of controlling things like chromatic aberration, coma, ghosting, and vignetting.

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The fact that it covers multiple focal lengths makes the added cost easier to deal with since it takes the place of 2 or 3 primes. With a wider field of view but not too wide to distort your image…plus a 1.8 max aperture, the 35 mm is ideal for portraits where you want to capture more of the scene.

Crop Sensor Side Note: If you are looking for a portrait lens for the Z50, then this would probably be my top pick over the 50 mm. What I like about using a 35 mm f/1.8 as opposed to other wide-angle lenses is that it is right at that sweet spot focal length where you can get a lot of the environment in the frame, but aren’t quite getting any of that unsightly wide-angle distortion.

Also, you get less background blur at wide angles, so the 1.8 maximum aperture will be an advantage over the 2.8 of the 24-70 mm. One thing every portrait shooter wants (needs) at their disposal is the ability to shoot with a wide aperture.

A wide maximum aperture is what allows you to both let in a lot of light and create a shallow depth of field. Overall image quality is a major factor when selecting a lens of any type.

You have to look for things like blurry edges, lens distortion, vignetting at wider apertures, and overall sharpness and contrast (which tend to go together. Nikon’s hasn’t sat quietly after launching the Z -mount system and the initial set of lenses that came with the Z6 and the Z7 cameras.

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Nikon Z 24-200 mm f/4-6.3 VR Versatile all-in-one zoom, best for landscapes, architecture, and lively street photography; Highly comprehensive lens for Nikon Z series kit.

Optically stunning and the 1.8 aperture is perfect for background blur. Nikon Z 50 f/1.8 S 50 mm lenses are excellent all-rounders, this lens is no exception to that rule.

Nikon Nikki 24-70 mm f/2.8 S powerful mid-range zoom, fast, bright, stunning! The lens is composed of a number of aspherical and ED elements.

Plus, the engineers at Nikon have applied ARNO and monocrystal coating as well. ARNO coating is helpful in combating the effects of ghosting and flares.

The lens features an impressive five stops of vibration reduction. The only thing that probably does not go in favor of this lens is the maximum aperture range.

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That said if you are looking for better optical quality in with a comparable zoom range, check out the next lens on this list. I.e., better portraits, action, sports and a little of wildlife and birding.

But the new ARNO and monocrystal coatings are a very important selling point. Not to mention the fixed f/2.8 aperture and the superior image quality.

However, you can set this to control aperture or adjust exposure compensation. This 85 mm prime is the best mount lens for shooting portraits.

Nikon has used stepper motor technology in the design of the auto-focusing mechanism of the lens. But then you can change it and set it to control exposure compensation or manually adjust the aperture.

The weight of the lens is a shade over 1 pound, so it’s not too heavy that you’re unable able to hand-hold for long periods of time. The 85 mm fixed focal length plus the f/1.8 aperture and the new stepper motor makes a beautiful combination.

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It is optically stunning and the 1.8 aperture is perfect for creating background blur in your images. The 35 mm f/1.8 is a standard prime designed to be the mainstay of street and journalistic style photographers.

A prime lens has a fixed focal length, which can be limiting for some photographers. Being a standard focal length you can use this lens for a lot of everyday photography requirements.

Street photography is a specialty genre that works well with a 35 mm prime. In addition to street photography, you can use the lens to shoot indoors, architecture, a bit of environmental portraiture, as well, along with group shots and weddings.

Just like the other S lenses in this series, the Z 35 mm f/1.8 S comes with a programmable physical control ring. And of course, you can set it to control exposure compensation and aperture instead of focus.

And apart from the different genres that we discussed at the top the lens is also suitable for shooting movies. A Z -mount nifty fifty 50 mm lenses are excellent all-rounders, this lens is no exception to that rule.

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The lens is optically sound, giving you amazing shots no matter what. Being a standard prime you can shoot a wide range of different genres with this lens.

Additionally, there are two Extra-low Dispersion (ED) elements which take care of chromatic aberrations. We were pleasantly surprised when we compared this lens with some of its more illustrious competitors.

Even when shooting wide open, aberrations and distortions are well suppressed. The Standard prime for your Z mount camera Fast wide lens.

For example, you can try opening the lens aperture all the way on a sunny day (albeit with the help of a 4-6 stop ND filter). Doing so allows you to completely obliterate the background and produce nice both even on a sunny day.

The Z50 is an APS-C camera (crop sensor powered) and that gives you an additional advantage. The crop factor extends the effective focal length and makes it a 75 mm lens (35 mm format equivalent).

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But even with the 50 mm focal length the lens is a versatile shooter with lots of applications in various genres of photography. Needless to say, the wide aperture comes in handy when shooting in low light as well.

Such as when you are shooting street photography at night or doing macrophotography or anything in a low light situation. In terms of construction the Z 50 mm f/1.2 S is composed of 17 elements arranged in 15 groups.

Wide-angle lenses such as these come into their own when we take them to shoot interiors, architecture and vast sweeping vistas. There is a bit of vignette at the corners when shooting at the wide focal length.

Additionally, a fluorine coating has been added to ensure that the lens front element is able to resist dirt and fingerprints. Best lens for landscape and architecture for the Z mount Great image quality.

With the less weight you have more working time and fewer chances of injuring your arm wielding a heavy lens and camera combination. Together, these elements are responsible for suppressing lens various aberrations and distortions, thus producing high quality images which are sharp and with accurate color rendition.

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Apart from these elements the lens also comes with ARNO and NATO crystal coating. These two can have a serious impact on your images especially when working in difficult lighting conditions.

The Z mount lens comes with the latest Nikon Stepping Motor technology. Usually when the number of aperture blades are higher both quality is also better.

While you know it is a great lens for shooting certain genres, you might hesitate to take it to a concert or an indoor event. Also, the Z 24 mm f/1.8 S suffers from some amount of vignette especially when shot wide open.

That’s good enough for shooting a wide variety of photography genres. In terms of construction the lens consists of 14 elements arranged in 11 groups.

As you are aware these elements are responsible for suppressing lens flares and ghosting. They also improve the overall color reproduction as well as contrast and sharpness of the images.

So you can program it to control aperture or even set it to adjust exposure compensation. The fast wide aperture of the lens is composed of nine rounded blades.

The standard zoom lens that serves most purposes that you can come across on an everyday basis. The internal construction of the lens consists of a total of 17 elements arranged in 15 groups.

Together these elements take care of a number of aberrations and distortions that normally plague your photos. On top of that the lens also features Nikon’s ARNO and NATO Crystal coatings.

Additionally, these lenses feature what Nikon states is their multi-focus system. The result is extremely fast autofocus lock, something that you would normally not associate with Stepping Motor technology.

Just grab the programmable control ring, and you would be able to manually focus the lens. Because that is the ideal foal length for shooting portrait photography.

Well, Nikon makes both full-frame and crop-sensor mirrorless cameras for their latest Z -mount series. And the 85 mm is the perfect focal length for shooting portraiture if you are using the Z6 or the Z7 or even the latest Z5.

But generally speaking you would love to create those soft out of focus effects for your portrait images. The other benefit of a fast wide lens is definitely when shooting in low light conditions.

As soon as you change to a prime lens you get the advantage of being able to collect extra light. A total of 9 elements arranged in 7 groups make up for the construction of the lens.

This element takes care of aberrations improving the image quality overall. This lens won’t autofocus on any of Nikon’s Z mount cameras.

So you will have to rely on the Eye-Detection AF technology of your mirrorless Z mount camera in order to have some degree of control over where it is focusing. In any case if you are shooting genres like macrophotography or capturing long trails of light, image stabilization is not going to do you any good.

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