- What to Look for in Best Canon EF Portrait Lenses
- Desired Characteristics of a Canon Portrait Lens
- The Surprise Choice as Best Lens for Portraits - Low Cost 50mm
- Fast Short Telephoto as Best Canon EF Portrait Lens - 85mm
- Two Fast Zooms as Best Canon EF Portrait Lens Options - 24-70mm and 70-200mm
- Best Canon EF Portrait Lens Runner Ups
- Should You Get a Full Frame or Crop Sensor Camera?
- Family Photo Ideas
- 4 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Used Lens
photo by lucky-sky via iStock
The best Canon EF portrait lenses can be used on Full Frame format cameras as well as on APS-C format cameras. With the crop factor applied to lenses used on APS-C cameras, they represent a surprisingly lower cost option as a Canon portrait lens.
In this guide, you’ll learn about Canon portrait lenses, what to look for, and where to get them without breaking the bank!
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What to Look for in Best Canon EF Portrait Lenses
"Canon EF 85mm f/1.8" by Håkan Dahlström is licensed under CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/?ref=openverse
As I was thinking about what might win as the best Canon EF portrait lens, I quickly realized there will be multiple choices available. Many photographers might want or need various options depending on the portrait images they’re trying to create, so you could end up with a couple of new lenses in your bag.
When I say “new lenses,” I actually mean new to you since some of the best values for the best Canon EF portrait lenses can be found when you buy used. One of my first places to shop when I need to upgrade or replace cameras and lenses is the online platform MPB.
MPB specializes in used photography gear of all types, and on any given day, you may find a huge array of fine cameras and lenses from which to choose. Every item on MPB is hand inspected, and the item condition is clearly explained. MPB offers warranties for almost everything they sell for six months, and most of these items also qualify for a generous seven-day return or exchange window.
On top of that, you can trade-in gear you no longer need or want and put the value of that gear towards offsetting the cost of something you actually need. You can also sell your old gear on MPB and choose to get money in return or apply a credit towards a purchase. It’s a win-win!
Whatever Canon portrait lens you choose as your next piece of gear, you can save a lot of money by opting for a fine quality used lens over a comparable brand new item.
Desired Characteristics of a Canon Portrait Lens
photo by nazileom via iStock
That takes care of our budget issues. What else should we consider when deciding on our own best Canon EF portrait lens? I mostly look at two characteristics: focal length and lens aperture.
A short telephoto lens is often touted as the best lens for portraits for a few good reasons. The short telephoto focal length gives a pleasing apparent perspective, there is virtually no facial feature distortion even when focusing up close, and their usually fast maximum aperture supplies opportunities for selective focus techniques.
A normal focal length lens can also qualify as the best lens for portraits for the same reasons: natural perspective, fast apertures, and very little distortion when used carefully. Zoom lenses that incorporate these focal lengths within their ranges can also be very useful, although most won’t have quite as fast a maximum aperture.
The Surprise Choice as Best Lens for Portraits - Low Cost 50mm
Well, here I am again, touting the awesomeness of the Nifty Fifty, the standard or normal focal length 50mm lens for Full Frame 35mm format. There are lots of good reasons for me doing this.
The actual focal length for a normal lens in Full Frame format would be closer to 43.5mm, but the advantages of the 50mm focal length (which includes 55mm, 58mm, and even a 60mm macro lens) are that the optical formula is simple to design and produce as a superbly sharp, speedy, high-performance lens. And it provides a 1:1 ratio for the naked eye viewing the scene or subject versus what’s seen in the camera viewfinder.
That’s for cameras in the Full Frame format, of course. A surprising advantage for many users of Canon EOS APS-C format cameras is that the crop factor of 1.6X (or 1.5X on many other camera brands) results in an equivalent field of view of a short telephone lens. Be sure to learn exactly what crop factor means, as it can be a little confusing at times.
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II is the champion all-around best lens for portraits with its fine optical performance, fast aperture, and small size. As a bonus, at MPB, it costs less than some high-capacity memory cards!
This lens is super sharp, has excellent correction of optical aberrations, and it can be focused as close as 1.15 feet or 1/3rd of a meter. The focus motor is virtually silent and very swift as well.
Fast Short Telephoto as Best Canon EF Portrait Lens - 85mm
Now let’s go to an all-time favorite focal length range that many photographers enjoy as the best lens for portraits: the 85mm, 90mm, 100mm, and 105mm short telephoto lenses.
My vote for best Canon EF portrait lens in a short telephoto lens is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8mm USM lens.
It is one of three Canon EF lenses in this focal length. The others have maximum apertures of f/1.4 and f/1.2, but these lenses are almost double the price of the f/1.8 version without a huge gain in light-gathering ability. If you really want or need the extra speed, though, go for it, those are excellent lenses as well.
The f/1.8 lens aperture, combined with the short telephoto apparent perspective and a close focusing distance, can give you head and shoulder portraits with a completely blurred background.
Meanwhile, the bokeh (out of focus quality) of this small, lightweight lens is gorgeous. You won’t make a mistake opting for this lens as your personal best Canon EF portrait lens.
Two Fast Zooms as Best Canon EF Portrait Lens Options - 24-70mm and 70-200mm
Zoom lenses are great choices for many photographers as the all-around best Canon EF portrait lenses because they provide a range of focal length options from which to choose without carrying a huge pack of multiple lenses.
There are two main issues keeping many zoom lenses out of the running as the best Canon EF portrait lenses. First, some have a slow maximum aperture, and second, some have less-than-perfect correction of lens aberrations. Both of these issues are taken care of by Canon EF L-Series zoom lenses.
Canon L-Series lenses are professional-caliber lenses with rugged build quality and excellent optical corrections. These two lenses have a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8, which is fast enough for low-light shooting or selective focus.
The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM zoom lens in Full Frame format is wide-angle to medium telephoto, which also incorporates normal focal length and close focusing. On an APS-C format camera, this focal length range is normal to medium telephoto.
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM telephoto zoom lens varies from short telephoto to longish in Full Frame format, and medium to very long on an APS-C camera.
Both lenses use virtually silent operation USM motors, and either one (or both) could be labeled as your personal best Canon EF portrait lens.
Best Canon EF Portrait Lens Runner Ups
Or should that be Runners up? Hey, photography is my first job, grammar rules don’t follow logarithms! Anyways, here are a few alternatives for the title of Best Canon EF Portrait Lens.
Short telephoto fans may want a dual-use lens in the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro lens. It focuses all the way down to full 1:1 lifesize and has image stabilization. It has a minimum aperture of f/32, which could provide some interesting depth of field tricks at medium distances.
Portrait shooters using any of Canon’s fine APS-C format DSLRs should examine the advantages of the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. It’s a good all-in-one type of lens for portraits and general photography.
While the maximum aperture is somewhat slow at the telephoto end of the zoom range, this lens could be used as an alternative to the kit lens originally purchased with your camera. If you’re buying your next DSLR on MPB, simply forego the 18-55mm altogether and get this instead, perhaps also adding the 50mm f/1.8 STM lens.
There is a good sampling of any of these ideas for the best Canon EF portrait lens on MPB on a fairly continuous basis, so check back regularly if you’re searching for a specific lens choice.