Taking photos of family and friends is likely one of the reasons you are using a digital camera. Or perhaps you are hopeful about using your camera to make a profit from taking family portraits for others.
Canon full-frame DSLRs are capable of making excellent images when used properly. Part of making good use of your Canon DSLR is choosing the right lenses and accessories for your picture-taking needs. Here are some top choices for Canon EF Mount lenses to use for family portraits.
Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM – Best Overall
There are good reasons that the 50mm lens became the normal lens for full-frame 35mm photography. In addition to being close to the diagonal measurement of the 35mm film frame, the standard lens delivers a pleasing perspective, can be found with fast maximum apertures, and is often one of the least expensive lenses available for most camera brands, including Canon.
These characteristics fit well with the needs of family portrait photography. The current basic normal lens from Canon for their full-frame EOS digital cameras is the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens. It is one of the least expensive lenses you can purchase for the Canon full-frame digital cameras. It actually costs less than many camera bags found at discount stores.
Part of the appeal for using this lens for family portraits is the optical characteristics inherent in a fast normal lens. Since the Canon EF is 50mm, the perspective issues and distortion effects are virtually eliminated when used at medium distances.
If you get really close, such as for a frame-filling face picture, you will still get some perspective issues and slight distortion of facial features. But since we’re looking at family portraits, that won’t be an issue. To capture a family of 3, 4, or 5 people, you will definitely be at a medium distance.
At wide-open apertures, the bokeh, or out of focus highlights, are very open, airy, and pleasant. The faster a lens, the more options for selective focus you have. With the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, the f-stops that will give you creamy bokeh start at about f/4.0 to the wide-open f/1.8. Of course, some of that quality will also depend on the specifics of how you line up the scene.
An f-stop of f/1.8 also gives you a lot of leeway in using natural light, even in lower light levels. Canon does have another 50mm lens that is slightly faster, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. STM is a stepping motor for focus, USM is virtually silent which is also an upgrade. The f/1.4 is about ½ f-stop faster, so it gives more control over selective focus and natural light exposure. It’s also almost triple the cost of the f/1.8 lens.
By the way, I’ve mentioned “full-frame” a few times already. These recommendations are based on using Canon full-frame format DSLRs. If you are using one of Canon’s fine APS-C cameras, the crop factor of 1.6X will need to be accounted for, which changes up things quite a bit for lens coverages.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM – Runner Up
Short telephoto lenses are good lenses for portraits, including multiple person images. The posing and framing used with a short telephoto can lead to incredibly flattering images for portraits.
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM telephoto is one of the sharpest lenses in full-frame digital photography. Canon reserves the “L” label for their best lenses, the lenses sought after by professionals and other advanced users for exceptional optical quality and heavy-duty construction.
Size and weight are a consideration for many concerning this lens, as it is rather large and heavy for a lens of this focal length. The increase is due to the extremely fast aperture for a short telephoto. The L quality and fast f-stop also make this lens rather pricey. The cost of this fast telephoto is around the range of several of Canon’s full-frame cameras.
At a medium distance, you can capture a ¾ length portrait of a person, two or three if they’re good friends. The resolving power of the 85mm L lens is so high, you may want to look at softening effects in your post-processing program.
A fast aperture short telephoto lens can allow for quite a lot of freedom in regard to selective focus techniques. Bokeh from this lens is one of the reasons this lens is a favorite of many portrait photographers. You can see decent bokeh from around f/5.6 to wide open.
Canon has two other versions of 85mm. A regular series budget-friendly f/1.8 with very good image quality, and a dream high-speed lens 85mm f/1.2 L which costs slightly more.
Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 – Best Zoom Lens For Family Portraits
Many camera manufacturers have a set of f/2.8 pro series zoom lenses, one of which is a focal length range I like to call a normal range zoom. Normal range because it has the normal 50mm focal length in the zoom and also because it covers most ‘normal’ photographic situations a photographer may come across.
The camera brand’s f/2.8 zooms are often kind of expensive, but the Tamron version offers significant price reduction without sacrificing image quality. It’s about 2/3rds the price of the Canon brand.
A lens with this range of focal lengths is an extremely versatile tool for all sorts of photographic applications. For family portraits, you can capture everything from an entire large group to a head and shoulders single person portrait.
Close focusing is an added extra capability for the Tamron zoom. Not quite macro, but very close focus. That also adds to the versatility of what you can accomplish with this lens.
Since it has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, you still have the capability for selective focus techniques to isolate your subjects from distracting backgrounds. The f/2.8 aperture also provides some nice, smooth bokeh, more so at the telephoto end of the zoom than the wide-angle.
Though a third party manufacturer lens, it meshes perfectly with all of Canon’s features. The ultrasonic motor focuses the lens quickly, smoothly, and mostly silently. That makes it a great lens for video, too.
Anti Flare multi-coating means you won’t be bothered with backlight causing a lot of lens flare. So, you can use this lens for environmental family portraits in outdoor settings.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art – Best For Environmental Family Portraits
Sigma Art lenses are some of the best lenses from any manufacturer, much less a third party brand. Super sharp, low distortion and flare, great bokeh, and silent focusing makes the appeal of these fine lenses pretty obvious.
A focal length of 35mm on a full-frame camera is just a little bit wider than a normal lens, making them a good choice for environmental portraits and small groups. Sigma’s maximum aperture of f/1.4 for this lens allows for using it for natural light portraits even in challenging lighting conditions.
For a wide-angle lens, the bokeh it’s capable of producing is incredible. Besides the aperture of f/1.4, the optical excellence of this lens helps produce that. It’s extremely sharp and has excellent contrast. A lens that resolves exceedingly well but that is too soft or too hard, in contrast, might as well not be so sharp for all the good it’ll give you.
Bokeh isn’t all that’s important, stopped down, this lens also delivers a pleasing feel to the entire image area. Flare is very well controlled with this lens and it is sharp and even all the way across the image area.
Close focusing is an added benefit, but you may want to guard against framing very close due to the apparent perspective issues involved. Focused close up on a person’s face, the elongation of facial features is not flattering for most people. But for full-length portraits at a medium distance or for a small group, this is an excellent choice.
Since it is also very fast, natural light environment portraiture is easy to accomplish. At wider apertures, you could also employ selective focus even when used at a medium distance as a slight wide-angle.
What To Look For When Choosing A Canon Lens For Family Portraits
With so many quality choices in front of you, how do you choose a good lens for your own family or group portrait work? There are a few helpful hints of what should be considered in regards to lenses to family portraits
Wide Maximum Aperture
Making use of your knowledge of the exposure triangle and camera settings, you can control your depth of focus from shallow to deep to take advantage of what is necessary for the images you’re trying to capture.
If the lens has a wide or fast aperture, you have more options to make the selective or deep focus effects.
Another advantage of fast apertures is that it opens up the ability to shoot in more places under more lighting conditions. Since many family portrait situations are environmental portraits, the fast f-stop can become very important.
You don’t want just any fast lens for family portraits, you want that lens to deliver image quality worthy of hanging on your wall, posting to social media, or selling the images to a client.
Image quality is more than merely being a sharp lens. You want a lens to be free of other optical defects such as distortion, excessive flare, or flimsy construction. The lenses on this list have great sharpness and pass on all the other criteria, too.
In addition to image quality, I also like to look at how rugged a lens is and how easy it is to add filters to. Lenses with very large filter diameters mean you spend more on filters if you can even mount them on the lens at all.
Moisture resistance is another plus to consider for environmental portraits, as is having a low noise focus motor for swift adjustment. Low noise focusing is actually necessary if you will be shooting video as part of your family portrait work.
I love using ultra wide-angle lenses for architecture and nature scenes and super telephotos for wildlife and sports, but those lenses aren’t very practical for family portraits. A versatile lens for this job covers enough field of view without causing distortion or unnatural perspectives.
Which is one reason why I like the Nifty Fifty most of all for family portraits. The small size, fast aperture, natural perspective, all add up to an extremely useful lens. You’ll notice I didn’t stray too far from that 50mm choice for all four of my recommendations.
Value For The Money
You don’t need to spend exorbitant amounts of money to get quality equipment. These lenses from Canon, Tamron, and Sigma are some of the best performing optics available, yet they don’t cost a ton of money.
Sure, you may need to pay more for extended range of zoom or faster apertures, but the basic 50mm normal lens shows that you can achieve amazing results without much expenditure.
Value in photography often is more than mere dollar costs. A truly valuable piece of photographic equipment will allow you to do the job you intended. Sometimes that does mean spending a little more for certain features or optical quality gains.
What Lens Is Best?
After weighing all the factors, the best lens for your family portraits is the lens that lets you capture as a digital file what you have already envisioned in your eye. You’re already using a great camera system when shooting with Canon full-frame DSLRs. Take it a step further with an upgraded lens choice and make great family or group portraits.