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Best Canon lens for portraits reviewed and compared

Updated on April 16, 2013

Improve your photography with the best Canon lens for portraits

If you want to know what the best Canon lens for portraits is you have come to the right place.

Many photographers consider lenses in the focal range of 70mm - 100mm the best for taking portraits so the best Canon lens for portraits is in this focal length range. lenses of 70mm - 100mm allow you to be far enough away from the subject to prevent distorting facial features but close enough to still be personal and intimate with your subject. This is fine if you want to be up close and personal but what if you want to take the portrait from a distance you will need a telephoto lens. In reality, lenses from 70mm and upwards are used for capturing portraits. Lenses with focal lengths less than 70mm are best avoided because they are too wide and will distort your subjects' features, which you don't want.

The speed of the lens, i.e. maximum widest aperture, is the determining factor when choosing a portrait lens and not the focal length. A lens with a wide aperture allows you to keep the subject tack sharp and throw the background out of focus, hence isolating it, which makes a pleasing image. Therefore the key feature of a portrait lens is the aperture. So the key is to buy the widest lens possible.

So, if you are looking for the best Canon lens for portraits for your digital slr camera take a look at the lenses below, all of which are top rated portrait lenses that will take your portrait photos to the next level.

Canon 50mm f1.4 lens

One of the best Canon lens for portraits available for canon digital slr cameras is the 50mm f1.4. "but hang on, the focal length is only 50mm" I hear you cry. Well, if you put this lens on a Canon dslr camera with a cropped sensor the effective focal length becomes 80mm, which pushes it over the 70mm. If you are using a full frame Canon camera, such as the 5d or 1d, this lens is a bit too wide for portraits and you are best to go for a lens with a longer focal length.

The Canon 50mm f1.4 is sharp at 1.4 but if you close it down a stop it becomes super sharp, and the image quality is simply superb. Colours are bright but still realistic and not at all over saturated, which is very important when taking portraits. Pin cushioning and distortion is well controlled and vignetting is not a problem at all.

The 50mm f1.4 is not an l grade lens, therefore it is not sealed and waterproof/dustproof. Despite this the Canon 50mm f1.4 is sturdy and more than capable of providing years of trouble free service, providing you look after it of course.

If you don't have the funds to buy a Canon 50mm f1.4 you should take a look at the 50mm f1.8, which is also a very good portrait lens. If you have a lot of spare cash around you should take a look at the Canon 50mm f1.2L, which is faster and better built.

Overall, the Canon 50mm f1.4 is the best value 50mm portrait lens, therefore it is only right it is number 1 on my list of the best Canon lens for portraits. It is not as well built and as fast as the 50mm f1.2L, but it is more affordable and the image quality isn't that much less.

Sigma 85mm f1.4 EX lens

Next on my ist of the best Canon lens for portraits is this offering from Sigma, the 85mm f1.4 EX. If you shoot a full frame Canon dslr the 85mm lens is the perfect "wide" portrait lens. If you shoot a Canon with a cropped sensor the effective focal length becomes approximately 135mm, which allows a bit more working distance from the subject.

Out of all the 85mm lenses available for Canon cameras the best is the Sigma 85mm f1.4. I usually only buy Canon branded lenses however with an 85mm 1.2L (which is very expensive) and an 85mm f1.8 (which isn't fast enough for me) to choose from I had to go elsewhere, hence I opted for the Sigma 85mm f1.4, which is an impressive lens.

The image quality of this lens is simply great and capturing a tack sharp subject against a nicely out of focus background is very easy. This lens is super sharp and distortion/vignetting and pin cushioning are all very well controlled. The image quality isn't as good as that of the Canon 85mm f1.2L but you have to go pixel peeping to tell the difference, so it really isn't a problem. Besides, when you compare the cost of the Sigma against the Canon the Sigma really is a no brainer.

The build quality of the Sigma 85mm f1.4 is awesome. It is made out of good quality materials, sturdy and definitely built to last. If you have any concerns over Sigma's build quality, don't worry about it.

I admit to being a bit of a lens snob and will buy Canon branded lenses over other brands wherever possible. However, I am definitely impressed with the Sigma 85mm f1.4 and it is an exceptional lens that is not only great for portraits but also for many other subjects.

If you don't have the funds for the Sigma f1.4 I suggest you take a look at the Canon 85mm f1.8. If you want to spend a lot of money on an 85mm lens I suggest you take a look at the Canon 85mm f1.2L. If, however, you want an 85mm lens that is affordable and capable of capturing some stunning portraits I highly recommend the Sigma 85mm f1.4. You won't be disappointed.

Canon 70 - 200 f2.8L IS USM lens

Zoom lenses are seldom considered the best Canon lens for portraits, however this is not the case. If you want to capture portraits from a distance you are going to need a telephoto lens and the best one is the Canon 70mm - 200mm f2.8L IS USM lens. This lens has a maximum aperture of 2.8 throughout the entire focal range and whilst this may seem a bit poor compared to the other portrait lenses, f2.8 is very good for a zoom lens. Besides, the out of focus effect increases as the focal length gets larger therefore you don't need such narrow apertures for the same effect.

The Canon 70 - 200 f2.8L IS USM lens is an l grade lens which means it is made out of the best materials and components and it is fully sealed, so it is waterproof and dustproof. This lens is built to last and can only be described as bullet proof.

The 70mm - 200mm f2.8L IS USM lens has image stabilisation technology which means you can capture super sharp shots at slower shutter speeds, which is a great feature.

The image quality of this lens is simply superb and it is possible to capture some stunning images. There is sharpness from the centre to the edges, colours are bright and vibrant, and distortions. Vignetting and pin cushioning are all well controlled. The image quality really is that good.

The Canon 70 - 200 f2.8L IS USM isn't cheap but it is worth every cent, especially when you consider how versatile this lens is. The 70 - 200 is great for many other types of photography in addition to portraits including sports photography, low light photography, landscape photography and street photography to name just a few.

If you don't have the funds to buy the Canon 70mm - 200mm f2.8L IS USM there are alternatives such as the Canon 70mm - 200mm f2.8L (the same lens without image stabilisation) or the Canon 70mm - 200mm f4L (either with or without image stabilisation).

Overall the Canon 70mm - 200mm f2.8L IS USM is an awesome lens and one I highly recommend. It is not cheap but it is well made and sturdy, versatile and the image quality is awesome.

Canon 135mm f2L USM lens

Another one of the best Canon lens for portraits is this Canon 135mm f2L Lens and for a slightly longer portrait lens the Canon 135mm f2L is an excellent choice. Just remember that if you shoot a Canon with a cropped sensor the effective focal length is 216mm, so you will get quite a bit of working distance with this lens.

The f2 maximum aperture may seem a bit narrow, but as the out of focus effect increases as the focal length gets longer f2 is more than good enough to get a tack sharp background against an out of focus background.

The Canon 135mm f2 L is a professional grade lens therefore it is made out of the best materials and components. It is also fully sealed making it weather proof and dust proof, so it is built to last.

Like all Canon l lenses the image quality of the Canon 135mm f2L is simply stunning and so sharp, even when used wide open. As well as this, colours are punchy and vibrant but not oversaturated and distortion and pin-cushioning are well controlled.

The Canon 135mm f2L is an awesome lens and is perfect for full frame cameras. If you shoot a cropped sensor digital slr it may be a bit too long, but discount it before taking some sample images. The Canon 135mm f2L is tough and sturdy, tack sharp and capable of capturing some stunning images. Whilst it is not cheap, it is an affordable lens.

Full line up of Canon lenses

If you want to view the entire range of Canon lenses, both prime and zoom, in one convenient place please click here

zoom lens or prime lens for portraits?

Some photographers argue a prime lens is the best lens for portrraits whereas others argue a zoom lens is best, but what side of the fence do you sit on and more importantly why?

What is best for protraits - A zoom lens or a prime lens?

What is your favourite portrait lens?

See results

If you have any comments, rants or raves please feel free to note them here. Similarly, if you know of any other top portrait lenses for Canon cameras please feel free to share them here.

Your comments are welcome

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    • profile image

      wendyfinn 5 years ago

      Brilliant lens. It's great to get some personal insight as you clearly know your stuff.

    • profile image

      Bubbajuju 5 years ago

      If it's at all possible save up for the 50mm f1.4. The 50mm f1.8 is a bargain and a great starter lens but just the same. (it's a bit too cheaply made)

    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind 5 years ago from USA

      good, authoritative lens, thanks.

    • profile image

      mosaic-tiles 5 years ago

      Thank you for the lens. I'm always on the look out for great camera tips.

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