Having the best Canon lens for portraits can make your life much easier. Many elements need to come together for a truly powerful portrait photo. Having the right lens can make that tricky task much more likely to happen.
A good portrait is a blend of two key aspects. It’s an effective and pleasing technical execution of the task. And it captures the essence of the subject. Plus, you can make money from taking amazing portraits !
Our top pick for a Canon lens for portraits is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM . It’s fast, silent, and delivers super-smooth bokeh.
[Note: ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here ].
What is the Best Canon Lens For Portraits?
As a quick clarification, this review covers Canon portrait lenses with an EF-mount. They will fit directly into an APS-C Canon EF-S mount. They will also fit a Canon M-mount camera with an adapter. In both these cases, you will need to apply a crop factor of 1.6 to get the effective focal length.
Before we look at the lenses in detail, here is a summary of our recommendations.
- Fast and silent autofocus
- Image stabilization for sharp images
- Professional grade quality
- Ultra fast f/1.4 aperture for low-light shooting
- Compatible with full frame cameras
- Fast f/1.8 aperture
- Compatible with Canon EF-mount cameras
- Incredibly sharp optics
- USM motor for fast, silent autofocus
- Lightweight and compact design
- Super fast f/1.4 aperture
- Weather-resistant design
- 85mm focal length for flattering portraits
- Compatible with EF-mount cameras
- High-quality optical construction
- Fast and accurate autofocus
- High-quality image stabilization
- Professional L-series optics
- Durable construction
- Lightweight and compact
- Exceptional image quality
- Fast f/2.8 maximum aperture
- Smooth, quiet autofocus
- Optical image stabilization
- Compatible with Canon EF-mount cameras
- Image stabilizer for clear, crisp shots
- Lightweight design for on-the-go shooting
- Fast and quiet autofocus
- Superb image quality with 4.0L lens
- Versatile zoom range for close-up and distant shots
- Wide zoom range of 24-105mm
- Bright f/4.0 aperture
- Image stabilization for sharper shots
- High-quality L-series construction
- Ultra quiet USM autofocus motor
- Wide 24-105mm focal range
- Fast f/4.0 aperture for low-light photography
- Optimized image stabilization
- High-performance Hyper Sonic Motor
- Durable dust and splash-proof construction
- Professional-grade lens
- Constant f/4 aperture
- 24-105mm zoom range
- Image stabilization
- Ultra fast USM autofocus
- Fast and accurate autofocus
- Vibration Compensation technology for sharp images
- Constant f/2.8 maximum aperture throughout zoom range
- Fluorine coating for protection against water and dust
- Lightweight and compact design
- Professional-grade lens
- Constant f/2.8 aperture
- 24-70mm zoom range
- Image stabilization
- Ultra fast USM autofocus
Choosing the Best Canon Lens for Portraits
You’ll find mainly prime lenses here, but also some zooms. All of them will deliver pleasing images for your portraits.
1. Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Prime Lens
This Canon EF 85mm lens is one of only a few Canon portrait lenses. The L series of Canon lenses are not for the financially faint of heart. They are built for daily professional use. They feature dust and moisture resistance and have an impressive build quality.
The 1.4L was the first 85mm focal length Canon portrait lens to use image stabilization. This is rated at four stops and will help in many natural light shoots.
The 9-bladed iris makes attractive sun stars from bright points of light. It also means that the bokeh produced from the lens when stopped down is smooth.
Canon’s Ultrasonic Motor (USM) means whisper-quiet focusing. It’s renowned for its speed and accuracy.
You would expect glass elements from a professional lens. The Canon uses a molded glass aspherical lens with 14 elements in 10 groups. The front element has a fluorine coating to repel moisture and oil, which reduces smudging.
You’ll get great results from this lens in a whole range of situations. Image quality is reliable across the aperture range. The Canon EF 85mm is, without a doubt, one of the best Canon portrait lenses.
2. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 SLD Art EF HSM Prime Lens For Canon EF-Mount
This Sigma 85mm f/1.4 SLD Art is part of the Sigma Art range. They have a deserved reputation for great image quality. Aimed at the professional, Sigma Art lenses deliver sharp, true images. And the 1.4 DG HSM is no exception.
There are 14 elements in 12 groups. They include an aspherical lens and two elements made from Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass. This is Sigma’s own technology that is designed to reduce lens flare .
The AF motor is a Hypersonic Motor—the “HSM” in the name—which has proved to be quick and quiet in operation. Like the L Series of Canon portrait lenses, Sigma Art lenses are designed to withstand dust and moisture.
This Sigma Art 85mm lens will provide outstanding image quality at a lower price than the Canon portrait lens. I have a friend whose wedding and portrait photography is breathtaking. And she uses nothing but Sigma Art lenses on a Canon body.
3. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Prime Lens
This Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 is a non-L Series lens. It won’t look as impressive on your camera. And it doesn’t offer the same level of environmental sealing. But the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM does offer 9 elements in 7 groups and an Ultrasonic Motor (USM) .
Bokeh will be affected slightly by the eight diaphragm blades. However, at the full range of apertures, it’s pretty good. Wide open, it’s a thing of beauty. The plastic lens body is not as robust, but it is light.
At about 1/3 the cost of the L Series lens, this is still quite a lot of money. But it will repay the investment with great image quality and accurate rendition. It is notable for its lack of spherical aberration and pin-sharp focus. The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 is a good portrait lens and great value for money.
4. Samyang 85mm f/1.4 WR Prime Lens for Sony E-Mount
Depending on where you live, this Samyang 85mm f/1.4 is branded as Samyang or Rokinon. It’s not a name that immediately springs to many minds. But Rokinon is building a fan base with its well-made lenses.
At a similar price to a cheaper Canon portrait lens, the Rokinon boasts a nine-blade iris and weather sealing. It even looks like an L Series lens with a red ring around the body. Although it’s made of plastic, the Rokinon has a quality feel to it.
That’s all very well, but how does it perform? Focusing is quick and accurate. The manual focusing ring only works when the camera is awake. Sharpness from f/2.8 is excellent but less so up till that point.
Bokeh is really impressive at all apertures, as is contrast. If anything lets the Rokinon down, it’s some pincushioning and dropping off of sharpness away from the center.
Overall, this Samyang 85mm f/1.4 is a good lens with reliable image quality if portrait photography isn’t your main gig. Or if your budget is tight.
5. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens
As the name tells us, this Canon EF 100mm is also a macro lens. Some argue that a 100mm focal length is a little short for macro. But this lens at least opens up some possibilities for you. It’s also a decent length for portraits. You’d need a pretty big studio to use it. But if you’re shooting outdoors, that’s not a problem.
It has 9 blades on the iris, which means that down to f/5.6, the aperture is round. Even after that, it’s pleasingly smooth. The lens contains 15 elements in 12 groups. Image stabilization and a USM make this a well-specified lens.
The bokeh produced by those 9 blades is excellent across the aperture range. Sharpness is also excellent, with some falling off at the edges when it’s wide open. The image stabilization will help reduce camera shake and motion blur .
The build quality is excellent, as you’d expect from an L Series lens. It is a little unfortunate that the body is plastic. I feel the same about my L Series 16-24mm lens. It somehow seems wrong. But after shooting a 12-hour wedding, I’m actually quite in favor of plastic!
This is a great lens with excellent image quality. It is useful if you want to try some macro but also need a portrait lens.
6. Sigma 105mm f/2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM Prime Lens for Canon EF-Mount
This is about as long a focal length as you want for portrait work. The Sigma 105mm f/2.8 boasts image stabilization, a 9-blade iris, and 16 elements in 11 groups. It is not weather sealed, but that’s not surprising at this price point.
The build is good. And the image quality is excellent. At wider apertures, edge definition fades away quite a bit. High f-stops are not handled as well as the Canon L Series. But this is a much cheaper lens.
The image stabilization is switchable for static and panning modes and is rated for four stops. That’s very useful in an f/2.8 lens. This is a solid choice if you can cope with the 105mm focal length. Especially if macro photography is appealing to you.
Now, what if you can’t devote the cash to a lens just for portrait work? Here are some suggestions for zoom lenses that will also work.
7. Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS STM Zoom Lens
The performance of this Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 is excellent all across the board. Sharpness, vignetting , and distortion are all superb. Bokeh is as smooth as with a specialist prime lens, and image stabilization runs to five stops. That opens up a whole lot of possibilities.
Everything about the lens is great. Weather sealing helps to protect it, and the build quality is excellent. It will work well year after year, and the focal length range gives it so many uses. You’ll see many wedding photographers using these lenses to get stunning, intimate shots without being intrusive. It will consistently deliver high-quality images.
It’s a pretty steep price, but the EF 70-200mm f/4 is a versatile lens. It could be the best Canon lens for portraits for you if you’re willing to spend the money.
8. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0L IS II USM Prime Lens
I have the Mark I version of this Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0L lens, and it is my go-to. It has some shortcomings, especially in distortion at the wide end. But you can fix this with presets, and it produces wonderful, bright, and clear images.
The Mark II fixes the shortcomings and improves the strengths. For example, it has improved the coatings on some elements and a 10-blade iris.
Bokeh is superb at all apertures, and sharpness is generally good. It is stronger at the shorter ranges of the zoom but never unsatisfactory. Weather sealing is what you’d expect from a professional lens.
The 24-105mm focal length range is a great lens to have on your camera. A 24mm lens is probably my favorite prime lens. With this lens, I have that as well as standard, plus portrait. The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0L is a great performer, but pricier than some options.
9. Sigma 24-105mm f/4.0 Art DG OS HSM Zoom Lens for Canon EF-Mount
This Sigma 24-105mm f/4.0 Art is another one of Sigma’s Art lenses that offers very similar specs to the Canon. It has the same focal lengths and aperture. Although the main body isn’t metal, it is a composite material with a very solid feel. It helps make the lens feel like it belongs in the professional league.
Sigma’s HSM focusing is a good match for Canon’s in speed and accuracy. And the image stabilization performance is about the same.
In tests, the Sigma seems sharper in the middle of the frame. But this advantage is reversed as you go to the edge, especially the corners. Pincushion and barrel distortions are broadly similar between the Sigma and the Canon.
This is another lens that will give great flexibility and impressive performance. Choosing between this Sigma 24-105mm and the Canon might come down to handling and personal preference with the results.
10. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Zoom Lens
This Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens is a bit of an outlier. It doesn’t get up to that magic 90mm focal length figure. And it’s expensive. But it is loved by many professionals as their everyday lens. It hits the 24mm and standard lens targets, plus a little bit extra. And it does it all with a constant f/2.8 aperture.
And the results it returns are excellent. They’re at least a match for equivalent prime lenses. The bokeh is consistent and smooth and works across the whole range of apertures and focal lengths.
Perhaps the only shortcoming is the lack of any image stabilization. Perhaps the professional’s practiced hand and steady eye is less in need of it. But it certainly feels lacking in a lens of this quality and at this price.
As a Canon lens for portraits, the argument is a tad weak, except for that exceptional clarity, smooth bokeh, and fast maximum aperture. But as an everyday lens that can take occasional portraits, the Canon EF 24-70mm is definitely a top contender.
11. Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Zoom Lens for Canon EF-Mount
The Tamron SP 24-70mm offers a cheaper option as a counterpoint to the Canon. It is well-built and has fast and quiet autofocus. And it has the advantage of 5 stops of image stabilization.
Images are sharp and contrasty. Three glass molded aspherical elements and a front element fluorine coating are all signs of a premium product. Bokeh is smooth and pleasing across all apertures and focal lengths.
The sharpness of the images from the Tamron is exceptional. But there is some vignetting on full frame, wide-open shots.
There is a substantial price difference between this and the best Canon portrait lenses. A tighter budget might lead you to choose this. Or you might prefer the pictures it takes or the way it handles. Whatever the reason, this Tamron 24-70mm would be a sound choice for a general lens that can stand in as a portrait lens when needed.
Which is the Best Canon Lens for Portraits?
Conventional wisdom was that a portrait lens should have a focal length of 90mm. Perhaps 100mm. Conventional wisdom has said a lot of things over the years. But this idea is rooted in some realities that have not changed.
The human nose, even in its cutest form, can be a problem for portrait photographers. Get too close with a wide-angle lens , and your subject will look like they’re waiting outside your hotel room.
Get too far away, however, and two things happen. First, that nose and everything else can become flat and uninteresting. And you won’t be able to maintain your witty repartee with your subject. So, a 90mm focal length portrait lens gives a pretty accurate rendition of facial features. And it keeps you close—but not too close—to your subject.
So a 90mm focal length prime lens or similar would be the go-to lens for portrait photography. This was in the days when zoom lenses were pretty rare and pretty specialized. Zooming and focusing at the same time takes quite a bit of skill. So zoom lenses really only took off when autofocus became common.
But who uses prime lenses these days? And if they do, why? Prime lenses tend to be lighter and have fewer distortion issues. Most importantly, they are almost always faster. Their widest aperture will be wider than a zoom lens.
Many prime lenses come with image stabilization . This makes a significant difference to your shooting. All the lenses reviewed here deliver great image quality.
Remember, the wider the lens aperture , the faster the lens. A fast lens has a wide aperture. Helpfully, the size increases as the f-stop decreases. So f/2 is wider than f/5.6. (An f/2 aperture lets more light in than an f/5.6 aperture.) We call it “faster” because we can use a faster shutter speed and still get the same amount of light.
This is important for portrait photography for several reasons. As the aperture increases, the depth of field decreases. The band of distance that is in focus becomes smaller. This is why your eyes get tired reading in low light. Your iris enlarges, the depth of field reduces, and your muscles have to hunt more often to keep the book in focus.
So for portrait photography, we can exploit this. By using a wide aperture, we obtain a shallow depth of field. This helps to keep the attention on the subject . The background is out of focus and is not a distraction.
It gets better. The out-of-focus background becomes a feature. Bokeh is a term that describes not just how out of focus the background is, but how pleasingly out of focus it is.
Bokeh is influenced by the lens iris. A cheap iris, with perhaps six blades, produces very geometric patterns. I praise many of the lenses in this review for their smooth bokeh.
The other factor that affects depth of field is the focal length of the lens. A telephoto lens has a shallow depth of field compared to a wide-angle lens. You can see this easily by taking pictures with a zoom lens at different focal lengths.
So What Lens Should You Choose for Portraits?
If portrait photography is going to be a major focus, and you have the budget, then get a prime lens in the 85-100mm focal length range. If not, then don’t despair. An f/4 zoom lens with two stops of image stabilization is, theoretically, as fast as an f/1.4 lens.
Your DSLR has ISO capability undreamed of in the days of film. So that combination of factors means you can take perfectly good portraits with today’s equipment.
Perhaps you’re also looking for a new camera for your portrait work? We can help you there as well with our review of the best cameras for portraits .
Conclusion: The Best Canon Lens For Portraits
In a strong field, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Prime Lens is one of the best Canon Lenses for Portraits. Its features are impressive. We like its wide aperture, image stabilization, and fast autofocus.
These help this lens to produce stunning portrait photos with great sharpness and clarity. It is an ideal choice for photographers of all levels, from beginners to professionals.