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How to Choose the Best Camera for Portrait Photography

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When it comes to choosing the best camera for portraits, there’s a lot of different factors to consider.

Our list here will show you the best options in DSLR, mirrorless, and compact camera choices.

A overhead shot of 13 different types and brands of camera on grass - best camera fro portraits
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What Makes a Camera Great for Portrait Photography?

First of all, you need to think about what kind of portraits you are going to capture. Portrait photography is a vast, all-encompassing photography genre. You might be photographing a politician’s headshot, and then shooting a musician on stage.

Lights and settings will change, so there are a few things your system will need. Quality and resolution are your main concerns, as you want the images to have as much detail as possible. Remember, these images could be for use in a magazine for a lifestyle or advertising spread.

You can also capture portraits through sports photography. Here, you might need a rapid shutter speed, fast burst rate (fps), and image stabilisation. The latter usually comes from the lens, but some cameras have it in-camera.

One of the most important things you need to consider first is a crop sensor or full-frame. There are benefits and drawbacks to each system, namely the cost. Full-frame cameras are more expensive, and they treat the lens as you see it. A full-frame lens of 50mm is just that on a full-frame sensor. But, place it on a Canon crop sensor body, and it gives you an 80mm focal length (50mm x 1.6).

Something like this helps get closer to your subject, but you lose the lens’ qualities. The relative aperture changes, along with the focal length.

It is true that bokeh from very wide apertures is a lens attribute and has nothing to do with the camera. But, there are features your camera should have to be suitable for portraits.

A young woman in a hat in front of a white background

Studio Portraiture

If you shoot or plan to capture portraits in a studio, your camera needs to have a hotshoe attachment. This attachment allows you to use flash units via a wireless transmitter.

One thing you might consider is how you capture. If you are working with clients or others through collaboration, tethering might be needed. This allows you to capture shots that then connect to a screen or computer. This connection allows for quick previews and helps you change the scene or pose as you see fit.

Some cameras have a wireless tether connection, meaning you don’t need a long cable limiting your movement. These are usually professional cameras and the best cameras for professional photography.

Environmental Portraiture

Lugging around a huge camera is no joke. You can quickly get annoyed and frustrated and stop using it altogether. The best camera is the one you use. It’s no good sitting in your hotel room.

Many people turn to their smartphones to capture portraits. Mobile phones have vastly improved, allowing you to capture above 48MP through an array of lenses. My MI 9 will enable me to shoot telephoto and wide-angle if need be. It also gives me a portrait setting that allows me to change the depth of field.

You might capture architecture, street photography, and events, alongside portrait photography. Therefore, you need a good all-rounder. A smaller mirrorless camera might be your best bet.

A camera such as the Sony A7R III is smaller than a DSLR, lighter, and packs a punch with its 42.4MP resolution.

A group of people enjoying a festival

Lens Possibilities

We previously mentioned that a camera for studio portrait photography should have a hotshoe for wireless flash units. The best camera for portrait photography is the one that can work with portrait lenses.

When we talk about portrait photography, they are usually shown with a fast aperture and a small depth of field. You need a lens that can offer that. A faster aperture, such as f/1.8 or f/2, will also give you that creamy bokeh in the background.

On top of that, you need to consider distortion. Every lens you use has varying degrees of distortion in your scene, particularly around the edges.

A standard lens such as 35mm or 50mm will give you the least amount of distortion. Some people prefer telephoto lenses as they also help to keep an attractive look to the people you capture. You might use these anyway if you are capturing portraits at a street festival, let’s say.

A wide-angle will include a lot of your scene, yet it will distort the person or people you capture. Your choice will depend on what you capture. As a portrait photographer, you should look at the lenses first, and then the body that goes with it.

You might love the new Canon EOS R or Nikon Z7. But, as they are new cameras, they might only have four possible lenses. An older camera, such as the Canon 5D Mark III has many more lenses to choose from.

A side angle image of a band during a concert

Best Cameras for Portraits

DSLR Cameras

3. Canon EOS Rebel T6i

The Canon Rebel series is an entry-level budget DSLR for those on a tight budget.
You can’t grumble at the 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor. And it comes coupled with a new 7560 pixel RGB + IR metering sensor.
Canon’s new Hybrid CMOS AF III uses sensor-based phase-detection points. This leads to increased focus speed and accuracy in live view.
Its Hybrid CMOS comes close to the performance of the 7D Mark II, without the price tag.
If you are looking to get the 19-point autofocus system, the Canon EOS Rebel T6i is perfect.
Overall: ★★★☆☆
A Canon EOS Rebel T6i best camera for portraits

2. Nikon D810

The Nikon D810 is somewhat of a hybrid. Its ease of use makes it perfect for beginner portrait photographers. And its 36.3-megapixel full-frame sensor is excellent for professional photographers.
One thing you will notice is the impressive ISO range. It starts from 64, goes to 12,800, and even expands to 51,200.
The picture control system allows you to adjust sharpening, contrast, saturation, and hue. Another plus point is battery life: it can reach up to 1200 shots before needing to be changed. Bonus.
Perfect for the on-location situations in low light, you can’t go wrong with the Nikon D810.
Overall: ★★★★☆
A Nikon D810 camera for portraits on white background

1. Canon EOS 5DSr

The Canon EOS 5DSr is the top-of-the-line choice in DSLR. It is built with capturing portraits in mind, which it does beautifully. It is full-frame and comes with an impressive 50.6 Megapixel sensor.
Other impressive features are the optical viewfinder and face detection system. And a large 3.2-inch display. Like all Canon systems, there is a wide range of lenses to choose from.
If that isn’t enough, you can tweak every setting as you see fit. The Canon EOS 5DSr is the best DSLR if you are serious about portraiture.
Overall: ★★★★★
Canon EOS 5DSr on white background - portrait cameras

Mirrorless Cameras

3. Panasonic DMC-GX8

The Panasonic DMC-GX8 is a smart looking camera, indeed. This camera is for those who want to get a little more serious about their photography.
It is sophisticated and comes with a wide range of features, enough to make you happy in your choice. WiFi is built-in, image stabilization as standard, and an articulating touchscreen display.
It will give you a high-quality image, even from its incredibly high-speed continuous shooting mode. Capture as fast as the model or person reacts to their scene direction.
Choose the Panasonic DMC-GX8 and get out there!
Overall: ★★★★☆
Panasonic DMC-GX8

2. Fujifilm X-T2

The Fujifilm X-T2 is the update on their top-level DSLR shaped APS-C camera.
Inside, you’ll find the 24-megapixel sensor, along with 325 AF points. 169 of these offer phase detection. Along with the autofocus, you also get 8 fps continuous shooting. Neat!
The image quality is stunning. The contrast and phase-detection system help you capture that scene in an amazing way.
On top of this, a booster power grip allows you to draw power from multiple batteries, letting you hit 30 fps. Great for moving subjects. The Fujifilm X-T2 is a perfect choice for fast-paced portraiture sessions.
Overall: ★★★★☆
A Fujifil xt2 camera for portrait photography

1. Sony Alpha A7R III

The Sony Alpha A7R III is a beast offering DSLR quality images within a lightweight camera body. A stunning 42.4 MP sensor at a 35 mm equivalency.
This camera is the way to go for all portraits, especially those you need to print in high resolution. Inbuilt WiFi, a wide range of compatible lenses, and a tilt-able 3-inch display make this camera sit well above all other options.
It will even take over 10 images a second. This is perfect for capturing those minute changes in the models’ expressions.
Overall: ★★★★★
A Sony Alpha A7R III camera for portrait photography

Compact Cameras

3. Sony Cybershot DSC-RX1

The Cybershot is a wise choice in compact cameras. It has a full-frame sensor and comes with 24.3 megapixels, wrapped in a small and lightweight body.
Its ergonomics allow portability for those shoots you need to do away from home. Face detection is a nifty setting. It will enable the camera to adjust the focus and exposure automatically.
The one-inch sensor is a rare choice in the world of compact cameras, which means your ISO reaches a high maximum.
For low light conditions, go for the Sony Cybershot DSC-RX1.
Overall: ★★★☆☆
A Sony Cybershot DSC-RX1. on white background - best camera for portraits

2. Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II

The Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II is part of Canon’s premium range of compact cameras. It offers you a high level of control and image quality while slotting into your pocket.
This is great as a travel portrait camera, or for those on-location shots for your next lookbook.
Shooting RAW is a welcome addition. The lack of a viewfinder is what makes it so compact. You don’t miss it once you get used to the live view from the LCD screen.
Autofocus is set from using the touch screen. With a 20 megapixel sensor, the images are as high as most other cameras here, but this one is more portable.
For those on the move, choose the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II.
Overall: ★★★★☆
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II on white background

1. Panasonic DMC-LX100

The Panasonic DMC-LX100 is a great little compact camera choice for portrait photography. This is a high-end camera with a micro four-thirds sensor.
It comes with an electronic viewfinder and face detection setting. But, the best thing about this little beast is Wifi connectivity. It allows you to share the images instantaneously.
This feature is excellent if you have a client to impress or a plethora of retouchers waiting for the images to come through.
If you are looking for a compact camera, with the control of a mirrorless system, look no further. The Panasonic DMC-LX100 is the digital camera for you.
Overall: ★★★★★
A panasonic DMC-LX100 on white background - best camera for portraits

Conclusion

There are many different styles of cameras that are perfect for shooting portraits in super high quality. The only difference being size, weight, and budget.
You can do without many of the fancy features, especially if you find yourself on a budget.
Your choice will depend on your style and genre of portrait photography. We have cameras best for low light conditions, others with a wide aperture that won’t break the bank.
Look to see what you need first, and then come back to our list to find your soulmate and work partner.
We have a great article on the best settings for portrait photography you should check out too!

Take a look at this video review of the Panasonic Lumix LX100  whilst you’re here!

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2 comments
  1. What about the quality of portrait type photos available by being taken with some of these smart phones. A couple of years back my daughters photos of the kids birthday party were clearer and brighter than mine which were taken on an entry level power shot.

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