I started portrait photography with the Sony a7 mirrorless camera paired with the 28-70mm kit lens. From my research, I learned pretty quick I needed to invest in a higher quality lens for my photography.
I wanted to get more into portrait photography so I needed to get gear specific to this genre.
I did my research and came across the Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 and the Sony 85mm f1.4 GMaster lens. Both had their advantages and disadvantages.
I’ve owned both for a few years now and I can tell you these are my favorite Sony portrait lenses.
Table of Contents
- My Favorite Portrait Lenses
- Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 Lens
- Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GMaster Lens
My Favorite Portrait Lenses
I rented a few lenses from online retailers for my TFP shoots when I was just starting to build my portfolio. This is how I built the majority of my portrait portfolio. I rented both zoom and prime lenses, and I narrowed down my favorite portrait lenses pretty quick.
The best lens from the first round of rentals was the Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8.
At the time, the only other lens that I wanted was a traditional 85mm but there were no options for Sony at that time. Later the Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 was introduced and the Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master would be released in the Sony lineup.
So I started with the good ol’ nifty fifty (five).
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Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 Lens
This lens is super sharp and didn’t come off my camera for the first year. 90% of my portrait shoots were completed with this lens when I was just starting out.
It is tack sharp, lightweight and pairs really well with my Sony a7. Also, with the lens being so small, I could stay rather inconspicuous in some indoor shoot locations with models.
It never really drew that much attention while I was in crowded public spaces. (You know that look you get when you are carrying a big camera and everyone is staring and wondering what your doing.)
Sample Sony 55mm f1.8 Portraits
What I love about the Sony 55mm Portraits
I read online that all photographers need a great nifty-fifty lens, and this was a winner for me. The focal length is a perfect starter length.
- Focusing is very fast, and the lens is tack sharp.
- The lens is very light-weight and has a very smooth focus ring.
- When paired with the Sony a7ii body, the combination is very light-weight and easy to use. Even with the newer Sony a7iii or Sony a7riii.
What I didn’t like
The price tag of the lens at the time. The price for a brand new Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8 is still hovering around $998, but you can now find used versions for around $700 or less.
I wish it was a f/1.4 instead of a f/1.8, but this is a small detail for me. The bokeh still looks great. No customizable buttons on the side of the lens like the G Master Lenses
- Chromatic Aberrations – Very prominent when shooting wide open, especially against the sun but can be fixed in post.
- No AF/MF switch – Must be done in camera. Not that big of a deal, just an fyi.
Final Thoughts on the Sony 55mm
Even with the price tag, and limited features, this lens truly is a great investment. I recommend it for photographers that are looking for a middle of the road versatile prime, especially for portrait photography. Not too wide, and not too close.
You can get some great lifestyle shots, and also some close-up shots with this lens. Keep in mind it is very sharp so if you are working with models, you will need to get good at editing skin details if you are shooting close up.
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GMaster Lens
It wouldn’t be until my 2nd year of shooting portraits that I would pick up my own Sony 85mm f1.4 GMaster. The lens is a pretty hefty investment, but it is a must for portrait photography work.
As one of the most expensive lenses that I currently own, I had a hard time deciding between this lens and the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8. Ultimately the 85mm G-Master won the race and I added it to my collection with pride.
What I like about the 85mm f/1.4
The 85mm is quick to focus on my Sony a7ii and provides me with extremely sharp portraits. With the addition of the custom side button on the lens, I have it set to Eye-Auto Focus and this makes it a perfect lens for portraits and capturing the eyes.
This is one of the biggest reasons it is one of my favorite lenses. You do have to be careful with the shallow depth-of-field at f/1.4 and making sure both eyes get in focus.
The bokeh is beautiful and very smooth, especially wide open at f/1.4. The colors are rendered vibrant and the overall look of the shots are great.
What I didn’t like about this lens
The 85mm runs for about $1,798 brand new online (as of this blog post). You can find good used versions for around $1,500 but this is still out of reach for many photographers.
I’ve been told the new Sony 85mm F1.8 Lens is a great alternative to the G-Master version, but I have yet to try it out. It is heavier than my Sony Zeiss 55mm f1.8, and it really looks like a full frame DSLR lens.
You will start to feel it in your arms when shooting for more than a few hours, especially if you have a camera grip added to your camera for extra weight.
Final thoughts on the 85mm
Many pro photographers have reviewed this lens and compared it to the Zeiss Batis 85mm, and the newer Sony 85mm F1.8 Lens.
To be honest, if you can afford this lens, you can’t go wrong. The G Master series is expensive for a reason and the quality just can’t be touched.
I am shooting more and more with the lens so I hope to have more examples for you guys very soon.
Big investments have made a big difference
You may not have the budget to get these lenses, but keep in mind there are now more great options on the market for Sony FE mount. I love prime lenses, and the look it gives my portraits when I shoot wide open.
I chose not to get the most expensive camera, and went the route of investing in really good glass. This was the consensus from recommendations that I read online from many professional photographers.
No matter what lens you have, just keep shooting and finding new ways to get inspired.
My Favorite Portrait Lenses: Which lens is right for you
The Sony mirrorless system has grown quite a bit since this article was written. There is now a larger selection of gear to choose from, so make sure you try out some other lenses so you can find the right fit.
I always recommend renting first or visiting your local camera store to check out the lens selections.
Products mentioned in this article
Keep budget in mind
The Sony 55mm f1.8 retails for around $1000. This is a pretty expensive nifty-fifty (five) lens but the quality is truly unmatched.
The Sony 85mm f1.4 G Master retails for around $1700 but you can find more deals on used equipment so don’t pay full-price.
Each lens is a hefty investment but I highly recommend having at least one of them in your camera bag for portraits.
Both of these lenses make great additions to your camera kit. I have built my portfolio of over 100+ model test shoots with both of these lenses by my side. You can’t go wrong with either, but you need to test and see which lens gets you the style you want.
Author - Jason The Creative
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