People are the most valuable subjects around. And capturing a portrait is a telling way to share someone’s story or highlight a certain uniqueness to us all. But, when it comes to portrait photography and the many sub-genres, not all lenses are ready to tackle this purpose. Sure, most photographers would agree that the 85-200mm focal length is ideal for portraiture.
But, there are many sub-genres of portraiture where these focal lengths make it unnecessarily challenging. And not every lens delivers the proper perspective, framing, working space, and desired versatility. With that, we’ve compiled a list of the best canon lenses for portraits. All of which offer distinct advantages suited for anything from environmental portraits to tight beauty photography.
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- 10 – Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM
- 9 – Canon EF 100mm F/2.8L Macro IS USM
- 8 – Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD
- 7 – Canon EF 35mm F/1.4L II
- 6 – Sigma 85mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art
- 5 – Canon EF 85mm F/1.4L IS USM
- 4 – Canon EF 70-200 F/2.8L IS III USM
- 3 – Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM
- 2 – Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM
- 1 – Canon EF 85mm F/1.8 USM
10 – Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG HSM
Sigma’s 50mm remains the 50mm to beat. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 77mm filter, and weighs 815g. With a maximum aperture of F/1.4, the lens is relatively heavy compared to other 50mm’s. But, it makes up for the added heft with impressive resolution and optical performance. Namely, it offers a more complex optical configuration, consisting of 13 elements with three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. Combined, this results in minimal flares, chromatic aberration, or ghosting and produces outstanding contrast and sharpness. And it remains among the sharpest 50mm lenses released to date, outdoing even the first-party offering. Sigma also added their HSM (Hyper Sonic) drive motor, which delivers quick, smooth, and near-silent autofocusing. And this configuration makes it an excellent option for candid portraits. So overall, this lens is a must if you want unrivaled image quality and a high-end design that stands apart amongst the 50mm crowd.
9 – Canon EF 100mm F/2.8L Macro IS USM
Canon’s 100mm Macro is usually overshadowed, but it’s their most powerful lens for beauty photography. And it’s also quite a substantial update over the already impressive 100mm IS USM macro. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 67mm filter, image stabilization, weather sealing, and weighs 625g. With this refresh, Canon refined the optical formula and added a brand-new Hybrid image stabilization unit that compensates for 4-stops of motion. And the updated design improves its fine detail, overall sharpness and minimizes chromatic aberrations. But, in particular, the stabilization substantially improves its usability when shooting handheld, especially at 1:1 magnification distances. And with a minimum focusing distance of 30cm, you can confidently capture close-up features, like lips or eyes, with outstanding detail and fidelity. And it’s a must if you want to shoot this style of beauty photography.
8 – Tamron SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD
Tamron’s SP 85mm combines solid optical performance with exceptional value compared to the first-party offering. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 67mm filter, image stabilization, and weighs 700g. And with a maximum aperture of F/1.8 rather than F/1.4, the lens offers a more lightweight build than the competing Sigma Art variant. Yet, it offers a robust, weather-sealed design and a front fluorine coating to help make cleaning a breeze. This lens also provides an excellent image stabilizer, which compensates for 4-stops of handheld shake. And this addition makes it great for capturing portraits wide-open handheld. But, ultimately, as a stabilized 85mm, it offers outstanding value compared to the alternatives with this particular feature. And it’s a must if a stabilized 85mm prime lens is at the forefront on your list.
7 – Canon EF 35mm F/1.4L II
Canon’s 35mm raises the bar at this focal and substantially improves its 17-year-old predecessor. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 72mm filter, weather sealing, and weighs 760g. The 35mm format is a keepsake in a photographer’s arsenal as the ideal general-purpose lens with a natural perspective. And it’s wide enough to capture a large group within an interesting scene. But not so wide that it readily distorts facial features. And paired with its F/1.4 aperture, the lens offers many creative possibilities, especially within event or wedding photography. In addition, it now features a more complex optical arrangement consisting of 14 elements. And it delivers Canon’s Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics and an SWC (Subwavelength Coating), both significantly reducing chromatic aberrations and flare. As such, it’s a must for those wanting to photograph large groups or capture environmental portraits with a natural perspective.
6 – Sigma 85mm F/1.4 DG HSM Art
Sigma’s 85mm refines the Art lineup. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 87mm filter, weather sealing, and weighs 1,130g. Like their 50mm Art, this F/1.4 lens is also hefty and not particularly compact. And it’s currently the largest 85mm on the market to date. Even so, it too makes up for the added heft with outstanding optical performance. Namely, it offers 14 elements in 12 groups, with three exclusive types of low-dispersion glass elements. Together, it delivers exceptional resolving power, ideally suited for 50MP high-resolution cameras. And it does so with minimal flares, ghosting, and chromatic aberrations. It also features Sigma’s HSM (Hyper Sonic) drive motor for nimble and near-silent autofocusing. And this configuration, too, makes it an excellent option for candid portraits, but with an even better range than the 50mm. As such, this lens is ideal if you want the highest resolution and optical fidelity available in this segment. And you don’t mind the added weight that accompanies.
5 – Canon EF 85mm F/1.4L IS USM
Canon’s 85mm L is a standout amongst this crowd. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 77mm filter, image stabilization, weather sealing, and weighs 950g. While on the heavy side, the 85mm L makes up for its heft with a superior build. In this case, it offers 14 elements and an ASC (Air Sphere Coating), reducing ghosting and flares. It was also Canon’s first medium telephoto lens combining a fast 1.4 aperture with an image stabilizer. Yet, it’s also quite effective and provides 4-stops of shake reduction, making it perfect for run-and-gun photos. And it’s a must, given its high-end design, outstanding optics, and image stabilization.
4 – Canon EF 70-200 F/2.8L IS III USM
Canon’s 70-2000 Mark III refines this professional standard. This lens features an 8-blade diaphragm, a 77mm filter, weather sealing, image stabilization, and weighs 1,440g. It delivers a constant F/2.8 aperture across the entire range for gorgeous background blur at any focal length. And Canon’s further improved its clarity by adding ASC and Super Spectra coatings to reduce flare and improve contrast. Yet, it delivers an optical image stabilizer, ready for 3.5-stops of shake reduction. Together, these changes take this particular lens lineup to new heights. And it’s a must if you want to capture the far-reaching portraits that only the 70-200 provides.
3 – Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM
Canon’s 24-70 is an incredible performer that brings outstanding versatility to a fan favorite. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, an 82mm filter, weather sealing, and weighs 805g. With a constant aperture of F2.8, this lens brings this standard focal length to a professional level. And it does so with Canon’s latest advancements. Namely, it houses a complex optical arrangement of 18 elements with several UD (Ultra Low-dispersion) elements and two aspherical lenses, combating spherical and chromatic aberrations throughout the entire zoom range. And is ready to replace both a 24 and 70mm prime lens, with better image quality to boot. As such, it’s a must for portrait photographers wanting utmost versatility for close-ups and large groups.
2 – Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM
Canon 50mm F/1.8 is the ideal go-to lens for beginners. And it’s one of the company’s best-selling releases to date. This lens features a 7-blade diaphragm, a 49mm filter and weighs 160g. Sure, it only offers a maximum aperture of F/1.8 rather than F/1.2 like the L variant. But, even so, it’s over 1/3rd its weight. Yet, it still offers solid imaging given its updated lens arrangement, better coatings, and a quieter STM (Stepping) motor. And it remains among the most affordable lenses for portraiture. As such, it’s a must for beginners looking for something capable yet unbeatable in value.
1 – Canon EF 85mm F/1.8 USM
Canon’s 85 F/1.8 offers the best value bar none and remains a staple in their lineup. This lens features an 8-blade diaphragm, a 58mm filter and weighs 425g. Sure, it only offers a maximum aperture of F/1.8 too. However, it delivers exceptional background blur and a stellar optical configuration. In this case, it obtains Canon’s Super Spectra Coating, improving contrast and reduces flare and ghosting. And it’s also over half the weight of the faster F/1.4 lens. So it’s a far better traveling companion and one unlikely to weigh you down. So if you can look past the missing weather sealing and image stabilization, you’ll obtain Canon’s best value portrait lens. And it seems that it’s been this way since 1992.