I am in the market for the best portrait/general purpose prime I can get for $500 or less. FWIW Here are the options I have seen, in case someone finds it useful in the future:
Nikkor 50mm 1.8D
It is cheap, small and sharp. Did I mention it was cheap? Buying this with a $500 budget would leave enough left over money for a student to buy an Adobe Creative Suite. (legally!) Unfortunately it also has donut bokeh which can be seen either a distraction or an element of the photograph. It is small.
Sigma 50mm 1.4
It is sharp, well built, produces vibrant colors as well as beautifully smoothed OOF areas and has a fairly speedy AF system. Looks like the perfect sub-$500 prime, ignoring the fact that all the above is untrue if you get a dud. The Canon version tends to have serious issues focusing adequately but as far as I have seen the problem is at least somewhat relieved in the Nikon version. The best price I could find was $470, awfully close to $500. /: It's fairly big and heavy.
Nikkor 50mm 1.4G
Same as the Nikkor 50mm 1.8D except for the cheap part. It is also newer and renders OOF areas slightly better. Unfortunately it is also a G lens. I won't spend too much time on it as there is already /tons/ of discussion on it in other places. Related: the older Nikkor 50mm 1.4D It's fairly normal-sized.
Voigtlander Nokton 58mm 1.4
Wins the award for the coolest lens name in this list. Excellent handling and build but lacks AF, probably very hard to capture fast-moving objects without practice with the manual focus. Bokeh looks a bit smoother than the Nikkor 50mms, but there is still a slight doughnut issue. It's fairly normal-sized. Looks like this lens was designed with hopeless romantics in mind.
Nikkor 85mm 1.8D
Beautiful OOF, somewhat downplayed because it plays second fiddle to it's three-times-more-expensive cousin, the 85mm 1.4D. Pretty kool build quality, especially by todays standards it seems. Color rendition is pretty okay but seems a bit more muted than the others the list. Although there are plenty on sale, they are getting somewhat harder to find new. No integrated AF motor which means if you have a body that is lower-end than the D90 you are (un?)screwed. It's pretty big.
Samyang 85mm 1.4
This lens certainly has the 'what' factor going for it. It's really cheap ( Somewhere in the ballpark of $300, I believe. ) for an 85mm 1.4, has surprisingly good build quality, good color contrast, is sharp, has good bokeh and goes by a thousand different names. Unfortunately it has no automatic controls (FWIW they say manual focus at 1.4 is extremely hard) and is pretty large. It has a tendency to underexpose. It is somewhat sharper than the 85mm 1.8D but I arrived at that conclusion myself so don't quote me on that. There is relatively little information on this lens online in the english language. But seriously, who has heard of this wierdo-beardo lens?
Did I miss anything? ¯\(°_o)/¯
Size and weight are not important to me. Some might say 85mm is a little long for DX portraits but I have adapted to it quite well. I an comfortable taking portraits with pretty much anything within the 40-90mm focal length range. Because I am going to be taking a lot of portraits, OOF areas and color rendition are important to me, but not at the expense of speed and sharpness.
With all due respect, please do not give opinions such as 'buy the 50mm 1.8D and then save up for a proper 85mm 1.4D' or 'just rent something really nice for special occasions' I would probably do something like that if I could but unfortunately that is not an option for me! I am taking a trip to see friends and family at the end of summer and if I waited until I had enough money for a spectacular lens the vacation will have passed.
If you have gotten this far, thank you so much for taking the time to read this long rant. Opinions are greatly appreciated! (c: