While full frame format mirrorless camera releases from Sony have been receiving a huge amount of attention, the smaller, cropped format of APS-C has had some very fine new cameras and lenses released recently.
There are also many current lenses introduced in previous months that are fine performers and excellent options for APS-C format mirrorless portrait photographers.
One of the camera groups that many photographers have moved to or purchased is the Sony E-mount APS-C A6XXX series of cameras.
Their A6600 and A6500 join the very budget friendly α6000 (ILCE-6000) and older A5100 cameras to give portrait photographers many choices.
These cameras are well suited for any style of photography, including portraiture, and use the Sony E-mount for their interchangeable lenses.
In this article, we will take a look at several great choices for E-Mount portrait lenses.
The term Nifty Fifty doesn’t exactly mean the same for APS-C format as it does for Full Frame, but Sony’s 50mm f/1.8 OSS lens is among the best lenses for portraits in the APS-C format.
What makes this lens stand out is optical performance.
Sony makes other 50mm lenses, including another 50mm with an f/1.8 aperture, but this particular lens is exceptionally sharp and has excellent color rendition.
Another valuable quality in this lens is the beautiful bokeh it produces.
These qualities taken all together make this a good choice for a portrait lens.
Remember also that a 50mm lens on the Sony APS-C format cameras is a short telephoto (75mm full frame equivalent), due to the crop factor.
The crop factor from Full Frame to APS-C is 1.5X. So, if you are used to the numbers involved in 35mm film photography, that means this lens will act on the smaller APS-C format the same way a 75mm lens would behave on the full frame format. For some of us it takes a little bit to get used to this number shift.
There are a lot of articles about this if it still seems confusing. I usually try to not think about crop factors and just accept what the lens shows me. On the Sony A6300, A6400, or A6500, this shows me a short telephoto lens view.
Size and weight of this lens is more than the other Sony 50mm f/1.8 lens. It’s a heavier duty lens, built for more rugged use. The OSS focus motor operates virtually silently and very quickly. So not only will it react very quickly within a portrait session, it is also a very good choice for recording video.
Price is relatively high for a lens of this focal length and aperture, but not so high as to make this a specialty lens.
It’s a a really good value portrait lens for your A6000 series camera.
Interestingly, this lens, though a little more telephoto and with a wider aperture than the Sony lens above, is actually about the same size, weight, and price.
What the short telephoto focal length coupled with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 does for portrait photographers is give them a greater ability to make use of selective focus techniques.
A characteristic of smaller formats is that focus depth increases the smaller the format if at the same aperture.
Which is why smartphones need an app to artificially create selective focus.
Their sensors are tiny compared to Full Frame or APS-C. So an f/1.4 short tele is quite useful in APS-C format.
Sigma has been a third party lens manufacturer for several decades in photography, and many of their lenses are every bit as good as OEM equipment from the major camera lines.
This continues to hold true with new lenses made for mirrorless cameras.
The 56mm f/1.4 lens has robust construction, suitable for heavy use in demanding conditions. As with most prime lenses, it is very sharp and has minimal distortion, even to the edges and corners. Any small distortion seen at widest aperture is virtually gone just two stops down.
Since it is a pretty fast telephoto, it is not exactly compact, but since it’s an APS-C lens, it isn’t huge either. Focusing is quick and fairly silent, making this usable for video recording as well as still imaging.
About the only drawback for this fine lens is that it has no built-in image stabilization. Since many of the newest cameras have that feature built-in, this is not a huge issue.
If used with a camera such as the A6600 or A6500, the fast f-stop and 5 axis camera stabilization should allow some interesting low light level use.
For portrait photographers wanting a faster, longer lens, the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 manual focus lens may fill their desire.
One of the things that makes this lens stand out is its lack of autofocus.
That’s right, it’s completely manual focus.
Everything else, such as aperture control and camera communication is the same as with Sony OEM lenses.
So you can still use all of the camera and lens setting controls for full auto, semi auto, or full manual exposure control.
Rokinon is a third party lens manufacturer that has made lenses in their factories for many years under the names of various other brands including house brands.
Which explains why the brand name may sound unfamiliar to some photographers.
Rokinon has developed a fine reputation in recent years under its own brand name.
Manual focus control makes this lens very interesting to use on modern cameras such as the Sony A6000 line of APS-C format digital cameras.
Manual focus is easy to accomplish because the longer telephoto focal length and very fast f/1.4 aperture lets you see exactly when the lens is in focus.
A term that comes to mind is that it “snaps” into focus. It also has a fairly long throw in the focus ring so you can fine tune your focus.
The electronic exposure control is not the only electronic communication of this manual focus lens with the camera. A chip also is linked to the focusing control.
When the lens is in focus according to the camera’s AF sensor, a focus confirmation indicator lights up. This gives you another form of input for determining focus, especially useful in lower light levels.
Another nice feature of this lens is that the focusing is all internal, meaning the lens barrel does not move while focussing.
This keeps the lens very well balanced on the relatively small sized A6000 series camera.
The front element doesn’t move either, so you can use specialty filters like a GND or C-POL on it without needing to reposition the filter.
Speaking of elements, one of the elements in the optical path is aspherical for controlling distortion and spherical and chromatic aberration.
With correction, chromatic aberration tends to increase with longer and faster telephoto lenses.
Not a problem here, the aspherical element does its job.
Despite its longer focal length and very wide aperture, the lens is not that much larger or heavier than several other lenses in this list.
The price is very budget friendly, too. If you can live with manual focus, it doesn’t get much better than this in this price range.
If you want to equal the maximum aperture of the f/1.4 Rokinon above with a Sony lens, you would have to purchase a lens that is 3 times the price of this one and weighs way more than an A6000 series camera.
Sony’s version of the 85mm focal length comes in two f-stops, an f/1.8 lens and an f/1.4 lens.
The FE 85mm f/1.8 is the more budget friendly version, but it isn’t cheap by any means.
It’s a very good value, though.
What makes this 85mm such a good lens for portraiture is its mix of quick autofocus, wide aperture, short telephoto focal length, and excellent optical quality.
It’s a little big and heavy on the A6000 series cameras, but it fits and functions flawlessly.
A plus for this lens is that you can cross it over to full frame coverage if you ever choose to change to that format.
The FE 85mm f/1.8 has very quick autofocus but it’s not a silent motor.
If you use it for video recording, motor noise may be recorded.
It does balance fairly well on the smaller APS-C cameras, but it’s still longer than you might first expect.
Optical quality is excellent, and the lens is fairly robust, just not as rugged as their pro line of lenses such as the f/1.4 version. Bokeh is very nice, as with most Sony brand lenses, and it is sharp corner to corner, outstandingly sharp is stopped down a stop or two from maximum.
The smallest and lightest of the Sony 50mm E-mount lenses, the FE 50mm f/1.8 has awesome optical performance, but is not as rugged as the OSS lens that is the first one listed here.
Focus is not quite as swift either, and the focus motor is not fully silent, a consideration if you shoot video.
An aspherical element helps control spherical and chromatic aberration when used at wide open aperture.
On an APS-C format camera, the bokeh produced is very nice, making it a great choice for portrait photographers making use of selective focus techniques.
For a fast prime lens, it’s fairly compact, barely larger than the kit lens that came with the camera, the 18-55.
A great advantage of this lens over the kit lens is that fast maximum aperture.
If you are working right now with your it lens but want more control over focus effects in your portraits, it’s hard to go wrong here.
Another plus factor of this lens is the budget friendly low price point. Stepping up into a fast prime doesn’t have to be costly, as this lens shows, I hope.
But you do not have to sacrifice any features or image quality by saving a little money.
Portrait photographers tend to gravitate toward prime focal length lenses, but many zooms have excellent features and quality for portrait and other styles of photography.
This is one of those zoom lenses.
The focal length range is similar to the standard kit lenses that can be purchased with most A6000 series cameras, namely the 16-50 f/3.5-5.6 power zoom lens.
But one of the best features of this zoom lens is the constant and fast for a zoom aperture of f/2.8.
Compared to the other lenses in this list, the 16-55mm f/2.8 G lens is big, heavy, and pricey.
Let’s deal with cost first. The price of this excellent lens is about the same as the new A6500 camera.
So, it is easily 3 to 4 times as much as most of the lenses in this list.
Compared to the same type of lens for full frame cameras, though, it’s still a relative bargain.
It is large and heavy, too, but its features help to make up for that. For instance, the focus motor is extremely rapid and virtually silent in operation.
This makes it great for environmental portraiture as well as for video use.
Another feature is the superb optical quality of this lens. Many old school portrait photographers still have a prejudice against zoom lenses, thinking they can’t be sharp or without distortion.
A zoom lens like this one proves that mindset wrong. The 16-55mm f/2.8 incorporates aspherical elements and ED glass in order to make this a great optical performer.
The f/2.8 aperture gives great bokeh and selective focus capability, especially at the 55mm focal length.
That fast maximum aperture stays constant throughout the zoom range, too, unlike the kit lenses many of us have.
Don’t get me wrong, kit lenses are great, often very sharp, but their slow and variable maximum aperture can be an issue in certain situations or applications.
Close focus capability, or macro, is very good with this lens as well.
Very close focus makes this lens very versatile, to do close-up portaits like eye shots, as does the wide through normal to short telephoto focal length range.
For the extra money, size, and weight, this Sony lens is a premium choice for an all around lens that works great for portraits.
Yes, this is a kit lens. Yes, I know that some photographers look down on kit lenses.
But one thing kit lenses don’t skimp on is optical quality. Kit lenses are sharp, very good performers.
Where they differ from other choices is often in their less rugged build and definitely in their slow maximum apertures.
Those apertures get even slower at the longer, telephoto end of the zoom range.
With those limitations in mind, you can use your existing kit lens as a high quality portrait lens. You just have to work within the apertures available.
At 50mm the f-stop is slowish f/5.6, but you can get very pretty portraits with that aperture.
For selective focus technique, it helps if you position the subject with a simple blank background.
One of the things I liked best about this lens was its size. Mounted on an A6000 series camera, the combination is scarcely larger than a full featured bridge camera.
The price is extremely budget friendly, too.
They’re not giving them away, but the cost of a camera and lens kit together can be a lot lower than you might think.
Yes, a kit lens can be used for great portrait photography.
Try yours out on friends or family and see how well it performs.
Neewer 35mm F1.2 Large Aperture Prime
Talk about a budget friendly wide aperture prime lens! This normal (on APS-C) focal length lens could be a nice choice for you. It’s certainly a fun choice.
Neewer is a brand name umbrella, as it were. They manufacture many of their own products but they also farm out and have other companies as suppliers for some items.
The Aluminum in the lens’s name lets you know this is not a cheap plastic toy. It’s a real lens.
A normal focal length can be used for portraits, as long as you don’t get so close to the subject that unflattering proportion and perspective effects come into play.
With this focal length, environmental portraits and ¾ to full length poses can be captured very well.
Since it has the amazingly wide maximum aperture of f/1.2, you can still get a lot of selective focus effect out of this focal length.
The only issue that is of any concern is that it is a tad soft at full aperture, and edge sharpness falls off. Light transmission does somewhat as well.
Used creatively, even these issues can create a nice portrait.
Stopped down about 3 stops, virtually all issues disappear, so it’s also a good all around use lens, within its limitations. It’s manual focus and you change aperture on the lens itself, not through the camera. So you are limited to manual exposure or aperture priority automatic.
It has some heft to it for its small size, a testament that it really is a mostly metal lens barrel.
My primary reason for including this is because of how fun it is to use for an old school approach to portrait photography.
Using the Neewer 35mm f/1.2, I feel like I’m using my Dad’s old Minolta SRT film camera and a fast normal lens, but having all the advantages of RAW and JPEG digital file creation.
With a price near what some large capacity memory cards cost, I highly recommend this lens.
Any of these 8 lenses are capable of producing good portraits with your A6000 series camera.
Which one is best for you is a decision you’ll have to make on your own.
This list of 8 is not all the lenses out there for Sony A6000 series camera portraits, either, but I think you will enjoy any of these candidates.