It’s possible to shoot portrait photos with just about any lens that you own – you can even get good results with the standard kit lens that comes with your camera if you have good lighting, composition and subject matter.

However if you want to take your portrait photos to the next level and produce amazing looking photos then it will help to have a dedicated portrait lens in your camera bag. It needn’t be expensive to add one of these either, our best pick and a great budget lens is the first one on this list and thats the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM which is known as the new “nifty fifty” lens, it costs just $100 so we recommend that all photographer who use Canon should have one of these in their kit. For the price, it will allow you to take some great shots and get that blurred background “bokeh” effect which is important for portraits.

Best Canon Portrait Lenses

Take a look below at our other picks for the best Portrait lenses for Canon cameras in 2018 and let us know if you agree with our choices in the comments below.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

If you do not want to spend much on a professional camera but still needs to capture breathtaking photos using a portrait lens, then you might consider the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens, known as the new “nifty fifty“, It is popular among photographers thanks to its wide aperture and ability to blur backgrounds – perfect for portrait photos.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

Features

  • 50mm focal length
  • f/1.8 maximum aperture
  • Designed for portraits, nighttime and action photography
  • Can focus a minimum distance of 1.15 ft
  • Magnifies 0.21x
  • Offered with STM (Stepping Motor) which is silent and delivers consistent Move Servo AF for clear movies and smooth AF for great stills
  • 80mm focal length effective on ASP-C and 50mm focal length effective on full frame cameras
  • 49mm – thread size
Pros:
  • Fast shutter speed
  • Low f-stop for maximum lighting; performs better in low light
  • Wide aperture
  • Silent shots
  • Great price
Cons:

  • No image stabilizer
  • You will need a tripod stand at night
View Details

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

The Canon 85mm is a lens designed for creating great portraits even in low light conditions. The lens has been on the market for some time and is used by professionals as well as amateur photographers. As a portrait lens, it gives the photographers all the features you need for shooting great quality portrait photos.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

Features

  • Maximum aperture of f/1.2
  • Ring-model ultrasonic motor (USM)
  • 85mm focal length with a minimum focusing distance of 3.2 feet
  • EF Mount
  • Circular aperture to create shallow depth-of-field
  • Medium telephoto lens with high-speed AF
  • Focal length of 111mm for APS-H sensors, 136mm focal length for APS-C
Pros:
  • Compact design and lightweight
  • High shutter speed with minimal noise
  • Blurs background perfectly
  • Perfect shots in low light conditions
  • Expensive

Cons:

  • Lens not zoomable; must be close to the subject
  • Beginners may have trouble focusing the first time
  • Purple fringes when the sun is used as background hard to remove
View Details

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 Medium Telephoto Lens

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 Medium Telephoto Lens is another nice budget portrait lens on the market. If you have a larger budget, you can buy this instead of the 50mm. Besides the competitive price, this lens is easy to handle and get good results with – ideal for beginners. Its picture quality is sharp, and it has been designed to produce a beautiful background blur.  A 1 year warranty is included with the purchase when bought new.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 Medium Telephoto Lens

Features

  • Standard lens is 85mm with minimum focusing distance of 2.8 feet
  • Maximum aperture of f/1.8 for Canon SLR cameras
  • Ring-type ultrasonic motor (USM) for quick focus
  • Natural angle of view coupled with perspective makes this lens ideal for portraits
  • Weighs 15 ounces
  • 3-inch diameter, 2.8-inch long
Pros:
  • Quickly brings object into focus
  • Designed for portraits thanks to its perspective
  • Great price for its value
  • Compact and light in weight
  • Good background blur

Cons:

  • 85mm focal length means you have to be far from the object; not perfect for in-house photos
  • Not zoomable; must be close to the subject
  • You need a tripod stand for night use
  • Not good for moving objects
View Details

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II

The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II is a  camera lens produced by Canon with a larger price tag which comes feature packed to take great portrait pictures and ensure ease of use. Photographers will appreciate its solid build, its beauty, and its versatility. This lens is 3.2 inches in diameter, 4.2 inches long and weighs approximately 760g; great size and weight for ease of use.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II

Features

  • 35mm focal length with f/1.4 maximum aperture
  • 14 elements, 11 groups lens construction
  • 63-degree diagonal angle of view
  • AF focus adjustment with full manual
  • 28m minimum focusing distance
  • 8-inch filter size
Pros:
  • Great color and contrast
  • Fast shutter speed
  • Shoots sharp pictures
  • Great in blurring the background

Cons:

  • Relatively heavier
  • Pricier than other Canon lenses
  • Does not focus well in dimly lit rooms
  • Not good for in-house photos
View Details

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

Though the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 is a good lens for portrait pictures, its wide angle zoom allows it to take a range of other types of photos. Photographers can then have this as a one-in-all lens. It is not very expensive, and neither is it in the range of budget lenses making it a great choice for professional as well as beginner photographers. The lens weighs approximately 22.8 ounces with a 3.3-inch diameter and 4.4-inch length.

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

Features

  • 17-55mm wide angle zoom
  • f/2.8 max aperture designed for Canon DSLR cameras
  • Fitted with AD and Aspherical elements for high image quality throughout the zoom range
  • Minimum focusing distance; 1.15 feet
  • Image Stabilizer lens for quick image focus
  • Great for nighttime photos
  • Large circular aperture that gives out a shallow depth-of-field
  • Ring-type ultrasonic monitor (USM)
Pros:
  • Great as a portrait lens thanks to its sharpness
  • Can double as a video lens
  • Great focus in dimly lit rooms
  • Makes fast shots

Cons:

  • Not weather sealed; can let dust into the lens
  • Not great for fast moving objects
  • Purple fringing hard to remove especially when shooting in dimly lit conditions
  • Relatively heavier thus difficult to carry around
View Details

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens

This is a great lens which is Razor sharp at all focal lengths and apertures –  a maximum aperture of f/4 should not be viewed negatively;modern cameras can bump up the iso and this lens will deliver great results with a cheaper price tag than going for the f/2.8, even professional photographers are switching to this model to save money. If you are looking for L grade lens, this might be a good first one. This lens weighs 25 ounces with a 3-inch diameter and 6.8-inch length.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens

Features

  • 70-200mm zoom
  • f/4 max aperture designed for Canon SLR cameras
  • Inner focusing system
  • Ring-type ultrasonic monitor
  • Fast and quiet auto-focusing
  • Compatible with a number of tripod collars
  • 9 feet minimum focusing distance
  • Compatible with circular polarizing filter
Pros:
  • Great price quality ratio
  • High image quality during the day
  • Fast shutter speed
  • Great for portrait photos thanks to its high zooming power

Cons:

  • Beginners will need to learn before using
  • No image stabilization
  • Not perfect for dimly lit room photos but a few settings can rectify this
  • Will need a tripod stand at night
View Details

Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 Lens

The Tamron AF 28-75mm was created to offer high-quality shots but costs less than many lenses in its quality category. In optical quality, you can compare this lens to the Canon 24-70mm which costs more than $2300. However, this is a model that goes for less than $500. It is a great macro lens; something you will not find in some high-end lenses in the market. The lens is popular with professional photographers and thanks to its price, it is becoming a favorite to beginners and other individuals who take portrait photos for fun.

Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 Lens

Features

  • 28-75mm autofocus zoom
  • f/2.8 max aperture
  • 28-75mm focal length with a minimum focusing distance of 13 inches
  • Rotation-type zoom
  • Designed for Canon digital SLR cameras
  • Weighs 18 ounces
  • 9-inch diameter, 3.6-inch length
  • 6-year warranty
Pros:
  • Bigger diameter aperture makes it great in low light conditions
  • Awesome price for its quality
  • Easy rotation style zoom
  • Wide range of beautiful colors and contrasts
  • Lightweight and compact

Cons:

  • Zoom ring could have been smoother in movement
  • Slow shutter speed; not suitable for fast moving objects
  • Autofocus is slow
  • Needs a tripod stand when using at night
View Details

Bower SLY85C High Speed 85mm f/1.4 Telephoto Lens for Canon

Bower is a third party lens ideal for photographers who are on a budget but still want the feel of a professional lens and great quality photos. The main selling point of this camera is its fast f/1.4 aperture. In quality, you can rank this lens slightly lower than the Canon 85mm f/1.8. Nevertheless, this camera may disappoint when a photographer needs to capture objects in motion; with 2/3 stop faster, you may need a better lens to take fast moving objects. Overall, this being a budget lens, it offers great optical quality.

Bower SLY85C High Speed 85mm f/1.4 Telephoto Lens for Canon

Features

  • Mid-range 88mm focal length which is high powered
  • High max aperture (f/1.4) enables photographer to shoot in dimly lit rooms
  • High index
  • Multi-coated, low-dispersion optical glass for reduced flare
  • Closest focusing distance of 3.3 feet
  • 72mm filter thread
Pros:
  • Well damped manual focus ring
  • Great price value
  • Great bokeh with minimal edge interference
  • Wide open chromatic aberrations

Cons:

  • Plastic construction feels flimsy
  • Not good for fast moving objects
  • No Image Stabilizer making autofocus hard
  • Not completely weather sealed
View Details

Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens

With an aperture of 1.4, this lens is ideal for all kinds of portraits. You can use it to picture just about anything thanks to its high optical quality. It is a mid-range lens that costs half the high-end lens and doubles your common budget lenses. The main strength of this lens is in its incredible bokeh that allows it to create beautiful portraits. Again, it was created with beginner photographers in mind as it is offered easy to use. This lens weighs 8 ounces with a 2.56-inch diameter and 1.69-inch length.

Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens

Features

  • 35mm focal length
  • Not zoomable
  • 5mm focal length on APS-C cameras and 56mm on Canon APS-C cameras
  • f/1.4 max aperture and f/16 minimum aperture
  • Ring-type ultrasonic AF motor with manual focusing
  • 67mm filters
  • 81 inches minimum focusing distance
  • Incredible quality for dimly lit conditions
  • Uses in-camera SuperSteady Shot stabilization to minimize blur and provide fast autofocus
  • Circular aperture for low light conditions
Pros:
  • Great for nighttime photo shooting
  • Quick focus thanks to Image stabilization
  • High optical quality
  • Reasonable Performance/price ratio

Cons:

  • Autofocus is poor at long distances
  • A tripod stand may be needed for better focus
  • Construction feels flimsy
  • Warranty relatively poor
View Details

Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens

This lens may be heavier than other lens models but this should not be a limiting factor as the lens has some great features that will override that. Again, this is a mid-range lens in terms of price and will save you money if you are a professional photographer and needs to have professional quality pictures. The lens has a sharp quality and sells as a quality portrait lens. This lens has been created to offer versatility; though it stands great as a portrait lens, it can still be used to take other types of images in the event that one day you are tired of portraits.

Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Lens

Features

  • 50mm focal length
  • 75mm focal length on ASP-C cameras and 80mm on Canon ASP-C cameras
  • 4 max aperture and F16 min aperture
  • Ring-type ultrasonic AF motor with manual focusing
  • 77mm filters
  • 7 minimum focusing distance
  • 3 special lo-dispersion elements
  • Large diameter and floating system design
  • Sigma USB Dock compatibility
Pros:
  • High shutter speed
  • High image quality
  • Great price/quality ratio
  • Fit for beginners and low light conditions

Cons:

  • Lacks image stabilization
  • Does not feature chromatic aberrations
  • Not great for objects in motion
  • You may need a tripod stand
View Details

Buyer's Guide

A few things to look for in the specifications of your chosen lens.

  • Mount type -This is something you will need to check as different types of cameras have different mounts ( where you attach the lens to the camera body). Canon has three different types currently: EF for full frame bodies, EF-S for APS-C and EF-M for Mirrorless. You should probably go with an EF lense as you can also use this with EF-S mounts with an adaptor.
  • Aperture – This is the f-stops such as f/1.8 to f/2.8 and will allow you to alter the background of your image, blurring it or bringing it into focus.
  • Chromatic aberration control – This can be an issue in high-contrast images so you need a lens that bring this under control
  • Weight – The weight of a lens can be an issue if you are shooting with the camera in your hand so consider how you will be using it and don’t pick one which is too heavy for your needs.
Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s take a look at some of the common questions when looking at portrait lenses.

  • What is Bokeh? – Bokeh comes from the Japanese word which means “blur” which pretty much describes this popular effect. Bokeh is basically the quality of the blurring, out of focus parts of a photo and is popular in portrait photography as when the background is blurred you can focus on the subject matter more clearly. Bokeh is rendered by the lens, not the camera, and different lenses will produce differening amounts of Bokeh. Lights in the background of an image look great when you use a lense which produces good Bokeh – I’m sure you have seen the beautiful “circle” patterns these make.
  • Which Aperture should you use? This will depend on whether you want your subject to be isolated against the background of your photo or if you would rather include it in the image. If you wish to blur the background to increase the focus on your foreground subject matter then a wider aperture is required such as f/4 or f/2.8 (or if you’re using a fast prime, f/1.8 or f/1.4). If you wish the background to be in focus, then a narrow apperture such as f/22 will be better.
  • Which Focal Length should you use? For portrait photography, most people go with either a 50mm or 85mm lense witl the consensus that 85mm is probably the best option for capturing the subject. The 50mm can distort an image but for this reason, some photographers will choose it and use this to their advantage for example, by shooting the subject lower down and looking up at them in can make them look taller or slimmer.
  • What is chromatic aberration? This is something you want to avoid and is a problem that a lens causes when colors are incorrectly refracted (bent) by the lens, resulting in a mismatch at the focal point where the colors do not combine as they should. This results in fringes of color being visible in the image.
Conclusion

Posted by Oliver Dale

Editor-in-Chief of Parameter and founder of Kooc Media, A UK-Based Online Media Company. Believer in Open-Source Software, Blockchain Technology & a Free and Fair Internet for all.


oliver@parameter.io
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One Comment

  1. I am pretty new to photography so I haven’t spent a lot on lenses yet. This was the first lens I bought outside the kit lens which came with my Canon. I have to say I love it – I have created some great looking portraits with it so far, I can’t believe how cheap it is compared to others! For someone who doesn’t have over a thousand to spend on one lens its a great option.
    The only downside is it feels a little flimsy so I give it 4 stars.

    Reply

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