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  Recommended Canon lenses for portrait, wedding and low-light photography
 
 

The classic portrait shot places a flattering view of the subject against a blurred background. This is very easy to achieve with the right lens and all the models below will do the trick.

The key behind a blurred background is having a lens with a large aperture, indicated by a small f-number. The best portrait lenses have an f-number of 2.8 or smaller, and the lower this figure, the more blurred you can make your background. Lenses with smaller f-numbers also gather more light which makes them ideal for taking photos in dim conditions without resorting to flashes or increasing the camera’s ISO sensitivity. See my Portrait Tutorial for more details.

 

The flattering view is achieved with a lens sporting a slightly magnified view, which typically means having an equivalent focal length of between 70 and 135mm. Shorter focal lengths can give unflattering results with single-person portraits, although are ideal for group shots, while longer ones force the photographer further from the subject, although this may be preferred for discreet, candid shots. Longer focal lengths also accentuate the blurred background effect. A zoom lens which includes both wide angle and short telephoto will be ideal for events like weddings where you need to capture groups and single person shots.

Almost every photographer will benefit from having a good portrait / low-light lens in their collection and for many it’ll be the second lens they’ll buy. Large aperture lenses can be expensive, but there are a few exceptional bargains. Here are the models I recommend.

Note when I mention full-frame bodies I'm referring to models like the EOS 5D Mark III and 6D. When I mention cropped-frame bodies, I'm referring to models like the EOS 1000D, 650D, 60D, 7D and the entire range of Digital Rebels. If you’d like to learn more about lens specifications, from focal lengths to f-numbers, please see my lens guide. If you find the information here useful, please support me by shopping at the stores below and if you have any questions about lenses, feel free to ask in the forum!



   
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II review


Specifications

Focal length:
50mm
Aperture: f1.8
Lens mount: Canon EF
Equiv on EF-S: 80mm
FF compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: Micro Motor
Closest focus: 45cm
Filter thread: 52mm
Hood: Optional ES-62
Optics: 6 el. / 5 groups
Diaphragm blades: 5
Weight: 130g
Size: 68x41mm

     
Canon’s EF 50mm f1.8 Mark II is an ideal choice for portrait and low-light photography on a budget. The 50mm focal length is a little short for classic portrait work on a full-frame camera, but mount it on a cropped-frame model and it becomes equivalent to 80mm, a perfect length for portraits. Meanwhile, the f1.8 aperture can deliver a blurred background and gathers more than eight times as much light as the EF-S 18-55mm kit lens when zoomed-in. Truly the thrifty-fifty.


   
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Specifications

Focal length:
50mm
Aperture: f1.4
Mount: Canon EF
Equiv on EF-S: 80mm
FF compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: USM
Closest focus: 45cm
Filter thread: 58mm
Hood: Optional ES-71 II
Optics: 7 el. / 6 groups
Diaphragm blades: 8
Weight: 290g
Size: 74x51mm

Canon’s EF 50mm f1.4 USM is another ideal portrait lens for cropped bodies and a step-up from the f1.8 model above. The higher price gets you a brighter aperture which at f1.4 can gather 16 times more light than the EF-S 18-55mm kit lens when zoomed-in. You also get USM focusing which is quicker and quieter than the f1.8 model, not to mention easier manual focusing and superior build quality. If you can afford it, it’s worth spending the extra.



   
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM


Specifications

Focal length:
85mm
Aperture: f1.8
Lens mount: Canon EF
Equiv on EF-S: 136mm
FF compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: USM
Closest focus: 85cm
Filter thread: 58mm
Hood: Optional ET-65III
Optics: 9 el. / 7 groups
Diaphragm blades: 8
Weight: 425g
Size: 75x72mm

Canon EF 85 mm f/1.8 USM Canon EF 85 mm f/1.8 USM Canon EF 85 mm f/1.8 USM
     
Canon’s EF 85mm f1.8 USM is a classic portrait lens for both full-frame and cropped bodies. The longer focal length allows you to stand a little further away than the 50mm models, and also accentuates the blurred background effect. The f1.8 aperture is sufficiently large to achieve very blurred backgrounds and the USM focusing is quick and quiet. It’s the most affordable Canon prime with a large aperture and delivers superb quality.



   
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM review


Specifications

Focal length:
17-55mm
Aperture: f2.8
Lens mount: Canon EF-S
Equiv on EF-S: 27-88mm
FF compatible: No
Anti-shake: Yes
AF motor: USM
Closest focus: 35cm
Filter thread: 77mm
Hood: Optional EW-83J
Optics: 19 el. / 12 groups
Diaphragm blades: 7
Weight: 645g
Size: 84x110mm

     
Our first zoom for portrait and low-light work is the EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 USM. As an EF-S model, this will only work on cropped-bodies, where it delivers an equivalent focal length of 27-88mm – ideal for capturing group shots and single portraits. The f2.8 aperture may not be as large as the primes above, but is still sufficient to deliver a nice blurred background, and there’s Image Stabilisation to iron-out any wobbles. An ideal wedding lens for cropped bodies. It's also interesting to note the equivalent lens for full-framers, the 24-70mm f2.8, remains an unstabilised model, so this is one range where cropped-frame owners enjoy an advantage.



   
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM


Specifications

Focal length:
24-70mm
Aperture: f2.8
Lens mount: Canon EF
EF-S Equiv: 38- 112mm
FF compatible: Yes
Anti-shake: No
AF motor: USM
Closest focus: 38cm
Filter thread: 82mm
Hood: EW-88C
Optics: 18 el. / 13 groups
Diaphragm blades: 9
Weight: 805g
Size: 89x113mm

     
Canon’s EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM is a favourite of pro portrait and wedding photographers, and is now more popular than ever in an improved Mark II version. It delivers a perfect range on full-frame bodies for group shots and single portraits, and is also great for cropped bodies if wide-angle isn’t important. The f2.8 aperture may not be as bright as the primes above, but still delivers nice blurred backgrounds and as an ‘L’ model it features excellent build quality and manual focusing. The Mark II version delivers superior quality to the original and is preferred, but it's a shame there’s still no stabilisation; also beware the wider 82mm filter thread on the new model. Note Canon also offers a newer 24-70mm with stabilisation, but with a slower f4 aperture which makes it less attractive for portrait and low light work.



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