11 Best Canon Lenses For Portraits (…and 3 to avoid)

Creating beautiful portraits that make your subject look their best is a lot of fun but can be quite difficult if you don’t have the right lenses.

I’ve been a professional portrait photographer for years so I created this guide for you from my experience using these lenses and with the goal of showing you the tools you can use to create exceptional portraits.

If you want to skip right to the top pick, it’s the Canon 85mm f/1.2 (RF Mount) and Canon 85mm f/1.4 (F Mount) lenses.

This is my favorite focal length for portraits because it is long enough to flatter most subjects but doesn’t put you too far from the people your photographing so you can easily communicate with them.

Keep reading for my full breakdown and some other picks that might be better for you based on your specific needs. Click below to select lenses from the Canon mount that you want:

6 Best Canon RF (Mirrorless) Lenses For Portraits

If you have a Canon RF (mirrorless) camera, then you’ll need either an RF lens or the Canon RF to EF Adapter so you can use the old EF lenses on a mirrorless RF camera.

This can be a great way to save some money or transition from a DSLR camera to a new mirrorless RF camera.

But if you already have an RF camera and the budget to get a dedicated RF lens, then here are the best Canon RF lenses for portraits.

Top Pick

1. Canon RF 85mm f/1.2 L USM

The RF (mirrorless) version of the 85mm portrait is an incredibly beautiful lens with incredible sharpness across the frame, beautiful bokeh, and an impressive f/1.2 max aperture.

I think that the 85mm lens is the perfect portrait length and having one with an f/1.2 maximum aperture means the ability to get a very shallow depth of field when you need it.

That f/1.2 aperture also means that when you strop down around f/1.8 (which is more realistic for most portraits) then this lens gets even sharper (almost all lenses are sharper when stopped down a bit).

The 85mm lens is very popular among portrait photographers and for good reason. The focal length is long enough to give a flattering look to subjects but not so long as to take the photographer too far from them.

It will allow you to fill the frame more and step back a few feet while shooting portraits compared to wider angle lenses.

This gives the appearance of something we call compression. This generally makes people’s faces look more flattering and allows you to more easily eliminate background distractions from the frame.

There’s also an 85mm f/2 version that is smaller and less expensive. You lose a little bit in terms of edge sharpness but it might be worth the lower price. It’s actually pretty rare you’ll need to shoot at f/1.2 or f/1.4 anyway.

Budget Pick

2. Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM

The RF take of Canon’s “nifty fifty” is an affordable way for aspiring photographers to capture beautiful portraits with a sharp lens and shallow depth of field.

The 50mm f/1.8 (also known affectionately as the “nifty fifty”) is one of the most widely used lenses in photography because of the combination of low cost and exceptional image quality.

If you are looking for your first upgrade from the kit lens that came with your camera, then this should be the one. It’s the least expensive way to start shooting portraits with a wide aperture and shallow depth of field.

In addition to being the least expensive RF lens in the Canon lineup, it’s also incredibly sharp. That’s because this particular focal length is easy to manufacture to high standards.

You can easily create high quality professional looking portraits with this lens.

Crop Sensor Pick

3. Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM

On a Canon crop sensor camera, this lens is a 56mm equivalent focal length which makes it perfect for a variety of kinds of portraits.

On a Canon crop sensor camera, this 35mm lens is going to give you a field of view of about 56mm on a full frame camera. Combined with the f/1.8 aperture, that makes it perfect for shooting portraits.

This lens is also light and compact, which makes it easy to work and travel with.

In terms of sharpness, it’s right up there with the RF 50mm f/1.8. You really can’t miss with any of the prime lenses in the Canon RF lineup. They’re all exceptionally sharp, especially in the middle.

Like any lens with a max aperture of f/1.8 or wider, you will get a little bit better edge sharpness when you stop down a little bit. But for shooting portraits, you won’t even notice this as the edges of the frame are likely to be purposely out of focus anyway.

Like the 50mm above, this is one of the first lens upgrades I would recommend for anyone with a crop sensor RF camera.

Pro Pick

4. Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8 L IS USM

The 24-70mm f/2.8 is a lens you’ll see in almost every professional portrait photographer’s bag because of its image quality and versatility.

The RF 24-70mm f/2.8 is the mid range zoom in Canon’s RF “trinity” of professional lenses and it delivers on that.

The professional 24-70mm f/2.8 has long been a workhorse for any pro photographer regardless of what system they shoot. This RF version is even better than its EF mount predecessors.

So you’ll get a versatile mid-range zoom that can cover everything from environmental portraits to close ups and headshots with a wide f/2.8 maximum aperture and impeccable sharpness.

The only downside here is the price. Since this is a professional L lens from Canon, you will have to pay for the quality. Coming in with an MSRP over $2000, it may be out of the price range for the average hobbyist photographer.

That being said, if you want to make an investment in one high quality lens, this is the one. There’s very little you can’t get done with this focal range, even if you venture beyond portrait photography.

For Close Portraits

5. Canon RF 135mm f/1.8 L IS USM

This 135mm f/1.8 lens is designed specifically for those close up portraits with beautiful blurred backgrounds.

I usually don’t shoot portraits with a focal length over 100mm, but I would make an exception for this lens, especially if I was shooting closeups.

This is an absolutely beautiful lens. The 135mm focal length combined with an impressive f/1.8 maximum aperture will let you get some impressive bokeh in your images that falls off nicely past your focal point.

This lens is great for close up shots where you want to isolate the subject, but if you want to move your feet and back away from your subject, you can create that blurred foreground that eases into a sharp subject and then falls off again quickly for a very dramatic effect that seems to be wildly popular among portrait photographers.

For Environmental Portraits

6. Canon RF 28mm f/2.8 STM

If you want to capture your subject as well as their environment, then this 28mm f/2.8 lens is exactly what you need.

Environmental portraits are a lot of fun because they combine elements of landscape-style photos into portraits. Generally, you would want a wider angle lens for these types of portraits so that you can showcase the environment around your subject (although you can use any focal length lens).

28mm is a great focal length for shooting these kind of portraits and the f/2.8 aperture will help you get a little bit of background separation even at this wide of a focal length.

The 28mm focal length is right in the sweet spot of being wide enough to feature the environment but not so wide as to introduce much distortion into the image.

Additionally, when you are shooting wider, it becomes more difficult to get the shallow depth of field that you may want for a portrait. The f/1.4 max aperture of this lens helps you get there and the bokeh is very pleasing, especially for a wide lens.

Of course if you already have the Canon RF 24-70 f/2.8 lens above, then you don’t need this lens. That’s one of the benefits to having a high quality zoom lens.

6 Best Canon F (DSLR) Lenses For Portraits

Top Pick

7. Canon EF 85mm f/1.4 IS USM

This 85mm f/1.4 lens is exceptionally sharp and produces beautiful bokeh making it my favorite Canon lens for shooting portraits.

The 85mm lens is very popular among portrait photographers and for good reason. It gives a flattering look to subjects without taking the photographer too far away from them.

Combine this focal length with a wide f/1.4 or f/1.8 aperture and you have a lens that checks all the boxes for shooting beautiful, shallow depth of field portraits.

This lens has some incredible sharpness both at the center and around the edges, even wide open. This means tack sharp portraits even when you need to shoot at f/1.4.

If you’re looking for a slightly less expensive option, take a look at the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens. It’s about $400 cheaper and is almost as sharp across the frame as the Canon version.

Budget Pick

8. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

Canon’s “nifty fifty” is an affordable way for aspiring photographers to capture beautiful portraits with a sharp lens and shallow depth of field.

The 50mm lens (sometimes called the “nifty fifty”) is an affordable, compact, and yet still very sharp lens that is perfect for shooting portraits if you’re on a budget.

The f/1.8 aperture will give you a nice shallow depth of field that works well for portraits and you aren’t going to sacrifice any sharpness either.

I actually started my portrait photography business with just a crop sensor camera and a 50mm f/1.8 lens. This is the lens I recommend all photographers start with.

Pro Pick

9. Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2

The RF take of Canon’s “nifty fifty” is an affordable way for aspiring photographers to capture beautiful portraits with a sharp lens and shallow depth of field.

You might be surprised to see that I chose the Tamron version of this lens for your Canon DSLRs. That’s because it’s an exceptional lens.

You’ll get about 95% of the image and build quality of the Canon version and it will cost you about 50% of the price. This lens is also smaller and lighter than the Canon version.

If you want to spend a little more for improved edge to edge sharpness and slightly better build quality then check out the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L II USM.

Close Portraits

10. Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art

This Sigma Art lens delivers exceptional image quality and beautiful out of focus areas that makes for an amazing portrait lens.

The 135mm f/1.8 lens is a bit of a specialty lens for portraits, and for good reason. Just like the RF 135mm lens above, this will give you some beautiful images.

The long focal length combined with the f/1.8 aperture means you can get as thin a depth of field as you want. I would actually recommend stopping down a few stops because a close up shot using 135mm and f/1.8 means you may not even be able to get both eyes in focus.

But no matter how you chose to utilize this lens, you won’t be disappointed.

Environmental Portraits

11. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

The RF take of Canon’s “nifty fifty” is an affordable way for aspiring photographers to capture beautiful portraits with a sharp lens and shallow depth of field.

The 35mm focal length (similar to the 28mm) is a great focal length for shooting environmental portraits.

I picked this lens here because its very sharp and the f/1.4 aperture will help you isolate the subject and get some good background bokeh even at the wider 35mm focal length.

Lenses To Avoid

There are tons of excellent lenses to choose from for your Canon camera no matter whether you are using a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

But not every lens is good for portrait photography and some popular lenses aren’t worth spending much money on at all!

Note: Canon has basically discontinued the M lineup, so I’m not including any M lenses on this list. But if you still want to buy a new M lens, just look for the same or similar focal length lenses as the ones listed above.

Here are some of the lenses I’ve seen recommended for shooting portraits with Nikon that you may want to think twice about…

70-200mm f/2.8 Lenses

First off, almost all of the 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses out there are exceptional lenses, whether you choose the very expensive Canon versions or the more affordable Tamron version.

But, I don’t recommend this lens for portraits. Once you get much longer than 135mm on the zoom range, you’re going to end up being quite far from your subject.

Of course, this is only my personal opinion, but good portrait photography is much less about optical extremes that can be created by shooting at 200mm and f/2.8 and more about interacting with your subject to capture true emotion and expression.

You just can’t interact with them when you’re far enough away to frame them well at 150mm and up (unless you want close up shots). I even made a video covering this exact issue…

Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4

I am surprised to even be mentioning this lens in the article at all but I saw it recommended on another site so I wanted to warn you that this lens is mostly disappointing.

I see it mentioned often as a budget option but you’re still going to pay at least $300 for this lens and you’ll end up with images that really aren’t as sharp as you would want them. This is especially true if you’re shooting with a higher megapixel camera.

If budget is a concern, skip the 85mm lenses altogether and go with the 50mm f/1.8.

Lensbaby Lenses

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these lenses, but you need to be aware that they are specialty lenses that create a “soft-focus” look. So you will not be able to get normal-looking images with this lens.

All of that is fine if you want to have one of these in your bag for a different look now and then, but I’ll warn you…it gets old after a while and like all trendy looks, will not be popular forever.

In addition, you can get mostly the same effect with a little bit of photoshop skill.

What To Look For When Choosing A Canon Lens For Portraits

While you can photograph people with any lens, some are just better suited for making beautiful portraits. Here are some of the things I based my above picks on and that you should be looking for when choosing a portrait lens.

Maximum Aperture

The f/x.x number listed with any lens is the maximum aperture for that lens. A smaller number means a larger maximum aperture and, generally speaking, a larger aperture is better for shooting portraits because it allows you to have more control over blurring the background.

You can still reduce the aperture size if you want less background blur, but having the ability to open it up allows you to shoot portraits in locations that might otherwise have distracting backgrounds simply by blurring the background out.

I typically prefer using prime lenses with max apertures of f/1.4 or f/1.8 but zoom lenses with a max aperture of f/2.8 are good as well.

Image Quality

Portraits will always look better when the eyes are in sharp focus, so having a sharp lens will help you create portrait images that stand out.

Prime lenses generally are going to be sharper than zoom lenses simply because zooms have more moving parts. But some of the high end zooms like the 24-70mm lenses I mentioned above are exceptionally sharp (if you’re willing to pay the premium price for a lens like that).


Higher quality lenses, zoom lenses, and wide aperture lenses will typically be more expensive but there are lower budget options like the 50mm lens above that are very high quality despite the low cost. So you can usually find a lens in your price range.

What I look at when evaluating these lenses is whether you are getting a good value for the money you spend. That’s why some of the options here are from third-party lens manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma.

These companies make exceptional lenses that are often much less expensive than their Nikon counterparts. So you’ll be getting a lot more value when you buy them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of Canon lens is best for portraits?

While you can shoot portraits with a variety of lenses, I recommend an 85mm f/1.4 or f/1.8 lens for the best quality portraits. The combination of the longer focal length and wide maximum aperture helps to make your subject look more flattering and also creates a shallow depth of field to help draw the viewer’s eye to them.

Are 50mm lenses good for portraits?

50mm lenses are great for portraits, especially if they have a maximum aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.8. The f/1.8 versions are typically very sharp but also quite affordable making them a perfect choice for anyone shooting portraits.

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