Best Canon Portrait Lenses

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.

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.

PS – remember when mounting any of these lenses on a Canon body with a cropped APSC sensor, the field-of-view is reduced by 1.6 times. That’s why I’ve included the EF 50mm f1.8 STM, as while it’s a little short on full-frame, it becomes equivalent to 80mm on cropped bodies which is ideal for portraits. Also note all of these lenses can be successfully adapted to Canon’s mirrorless cameras, although I’ve also added some native suggestions too.

 

 

Best Canon Portrait Lenses

Sigma 105mm f1.4 Art review

With the 105mm f1.4 ART, Sigma has produced one of their finest lenses in their acclaimed Art line: it's extra sharp and has the most beautiful Bokeh I've ever seen. Plus it's the only f1.4 105mm lens you can get for your Canon DSLR or Sony mirrorless camera. It might be on the large and very heavy side and has no optical stabilization but its optical performance makes the new Sigma replace the Nikon 105mm f1.4E as the reference large aperture 105mm lens. Thus the Sigma 105mm f1.4 Art easily earns a Highly Recommended.

Check prices on the Sigma 105mm f1.4 Art at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, or Wex. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!

Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art review

The Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art is a bright mid-length telephoto lens available in mounts for Canon, Nikon and Sigma DSLRs with full-frame sensors and can also be used with Sony E-Mount bodies using Sigma's MC-11 mount converter. I think this lens is Sigma's best yet in their Art line: extra sharp, with only minor color aberrations and a beautiful bokeh. In addition it's the only f1.8 135mm lens you can get for your Canon or Nikon DSLR. It might be on the large and heavy side, has no image stabilization, and it definitively is not cheap but all-in-all the Sigma 135mm f1.8 Art earns a Highly Recommended.

Check prices on the Sigma 135mm f1.8 ART at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, or Wex. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM review

Canon's EF 50mm f1.8 STM finally upgrades the 24 year old EF 50mm f1.8 II with smoother focusing, more rounded aperture blades, closer focusing and a tougher lens mount. Like its predecessor, it'll gather over eight times more light than a typical kit zoom, making it great in low-light, deliver a shallower depth-of-field for attractive blurred backgrounds, and capture sharper results too. Meanwhile the low price makes it the most affordable lens in Canon's catalogue and the closest you'll find to a no-brainer, whether you own a DSLR or intend to adapt it to a mirrorless body. Mount it on a cropped-frame / APSC DSLR or mirrorless camera and it also becomes equivalent to 80mm, making it perfect for portraits. Bottom line? It should be in every Canon owner's collection.

Check prices on the Canon 50mm f1.8 STM at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, or Wex. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!

Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art review

The new Sigma 85/1.4 Art finally brings Sigma's 85mm prime up to the performance one can expect from a modern lens designed with 36+ MP sensors in mind: It offers the best performing FF/FX-corners and the softest Bokeh of any 85mm lens I know. Plus it is astonishingly resilient against strong contra-light. And although it is not the sharpest in the center, has a little more longitudinal CAs than others, and is a huge and heavy beast of a lens I'd award Sigma's new 85/1.4 Art a Highly Recommended. But this is under the caveat that the AF-issues are singular problems with my copy of the lens.

Check prices on the Sigma 85mm f1.4 Art at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, or Wex. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!

Tamron 85mm f1.8 VC review

The Tamron 85mm f1.8 VC is a unique lens, combining very good optical performance with image stabilisation at a reasonable price. In fact it was the first stabilised large aperture 85mm prime for Canon and Nikon users, and while Canon has since released its brighter EF 85mm f1.4L IS USM with stabilisation, the Tamron is half the price. Its autofocus is reliable (after some tweaking) and the package is not too large or heavy to become intimidating. As an overall package it earns a Highly Recommended.

Check prices on the Tamron SP 85mm f1.8 at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, or Wex. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!

Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM II

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 events from group shots to 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 short telephoto primes, but still delivers nice blurred backgrounds and as an ‘L’ model it features excellent build quality and smooth manual focusing. The Mark II version delivers superior quality to the original and is preferred, but it's a shame there’s still no optical 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. Owners of Canon's cropped-frame / APSC DSLRs may be interested in the older but still attractive EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM, while owners of Canon's EOS R full-frame mirrorless system with a higher budget could go for the upcoming RF 24-70mm f2.8L IS USM both of which include image stabilisation. If you really want to push the boat out on something special though, EOS R owners can splurge on the RF 28-70mm f2L USM, the brightest full-frame general zoom albeit at a very high price.

Check prices on the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L II at Amazon, B&H, or Adorama. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!

Canon EF 85mm f1.8 USM

Canon’s EF 85mm f1.8 USM is an affordable classic portrait lens for both full-frame and cropped bodies. The 85mm focal length allows you to stand a little further away than 50mm models, while accentuating 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 getting on now, but remains the most affordable Canon prime with a large aperture and delivers good results for the money. If your budget is higher, consider Canon's newer EF 85mm f1.4L IS USM which is fairly unusual in the short telephoto market for having built-in optical stabilisation. Owners of Canon's full-frame EOS R mirrorless bodies may also be interested in the upcoming RF 85mm f1.2L USM, although this is a much more expensive option.

Check prices on the Canon 85mm f1.8 at Amazon, B&H, Adorama, or Wex. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!

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