(Editor’s Note: Ryan Hill is a product specialist at Lensrentals.)
Having recently written an article for Digital Photo Pro about the best portrait lenses for Canon photographers, I hope I haven’t given the impression that Canon is the only option out there for portraits. In the past handful of years, Sony has either caught up to or surpassed both Canon and Nikon in just about every metric by which one could measure popularity with photographers, and that’s no happy accident.
Sony has gotten there by pushing imaging technology forward more than any other manufacturer, introducing incredible new camera feature after incredible new feature, and leading the inevitable march toward mirrorless.
However, Sony does arguably still lag behind their competitors when it comes to lens design. It’s not that the lenses they’re putting out are bad. In fact, some of them are truly great. It’s just that they don’t have the decades of history behind them that, say, Canon and Nikon do, so it can be difficult to determine which lenses stack up and which don’t.
With that goal in mind, here are five lenses I consider to be the “best” for portrait photographers working on a Sony E-mount system. I’ll lead with the same caveat, though, that I led the Canon list with: “best” is obviously subjective. No list like this will ever be able to cover every need for every photographer. Instead, think of this as a guide for where to start looking.
As you can see from their representation on this list, Sigma makes lenses that are just as sharp, well-built, and feature-rich as those from first-party manufacturers like Sony. In Sony’s case this is especially true because, while they’ve developed some truly awesome lenses, they don’t have the decades upon decades of optical design expertise held by older firms like Canon or Nikon. In many cases, Sigma can either match or beat the first-party manufacturers, often for far less money.
Case in point: the 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art. While Sony’s offering, the 85mm f/1.4 GM, is no slouch, the Sigma version holds its own in just about every way. Both lenses are plenty fast, tack sharp, and offer eleven-blade apertures for rounded bokeh. Even a carefully trained eye would have trouble telling the difference between photos taken with each lens, and either would make for a supremely capable portrait tool.
All that said, the Sigma is about 600 dollars cheaper at retail, so I know which one I’d choose. The Sigma also features a switch to de-click the manual aperture ring, which is a nice touch for videographers.