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Best Canon Portrait Lenses: 11 Great Picks in 2021

What is the best Canon lens portrait lens in 2021? 

Picking the perfect portrait photography lens can be overwhelming – which is why we’ve done all the work for you, whittling down Canon’s hundreds of lenses into a few key picks (and at every price point, too!).

Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens, Black
One of Canon’s best portrait lenses in 2021

So if you’re ready to discover your next lens, then let’s get started. 

Best Canon EF and EF-S Portrait Lenses

In this section, we share the best portrait lenses for Canon DSLRs, starting with our number one pick:

1. Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Our Pick
The best lens for serious portrait photographers

Beautiful bokeh, a perfect focal length, and a magical f/1.4 aperture. Need I say more?

Wide maximum aperture for low-light shooting
Stunning optics
Creamy background bokeh
Price is too high for beginners

If you’re after the best Canon portrait lens and you’re willing to pay for it, then the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM should be at the top of your list. 

This lens has it all: the 85mm focal length is perfect for a mix of full-body, half-body, and even close-up shots, making this lens a versatile option for candid portraiture, wedding pictures, and studio work. And the f/1.4 maximum aperture delivers jaw-dropping bokeh, which guarantees those smooth, creamy backgrounds you can only get from the highest-quality lenses. 

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM - DSLR Lens with IS Capability, Black - 2271C002
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Image quality is top-notch – the 85mm f/1.4L delivers stellar sharpness, both in the center and in the corners, even when wide open. Plus, image stabilization ensures you can handhold at indoor events and evening portrait sessions and still come away with beautiful results.

My biggest – and pretty much only – gripe is the price; at over $1500 USD, the Canon 85mm f/1.4 is off-limits for beginners and some enthusiasts, though it’s cheaper than many other lenses on this list.

2. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

Budget Pick
Best budget lens for Canon portrait shooters

This u0022nifty fiftyu0022 sports a great focal length, decent optics, and a compact body – all at a great price!

Incredible value for the money
Compact and lightweight
Perfect maximum aperture
Wide-open image quality could be improved

Photographers call the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM a “nifty fifty,” and with good reason: the lens combines compactness, decent image quality, and a ridiculously low price for a budget portrait lens that’ll never go out of fashion. If you’re a portrait photography beginner, then this is the lens to buy. And even if you’re a more experienced portrait shooter, the 50mm f/1.8 is still an excellent choice. 

No, the 50mm f/1.8 STM isn’t the sharpest lens out there. But portrait photographers don’t always need clarity (blur can be artistic!). And while this lens may not deliver class-leading sharpness at f/1.8, images look markedly crisper as you begin to stop down; by the time you reach f/5.6, you’ll think you’re working with a lens 10 times more expensive. 

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens + 3pc Filter Kit + Lens Pen + Blower + Hood + Lens Pouch...
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

If you’re a fan of walkaround portrait photography – where you stick a lens on your camera and carry it everywhere – then the 50mm f/1.8 is a stellar choice (even for professionals). It’s insanely small and light, so you’ll hardly even notice it around your neck or in a backpack. 

Add to that an f/1.8 maximum aperture – for beautiful subject-background separation – plus a classic 50mm focal length, and you’ve got yourself the best Canon portrait lens for beginners.

Related Post: The Best 50mm Lenses for Canon in 2021

3. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

Also Great
Canon’s best telephoto zoom for EF portrait shooters

The EF 70-200mm features a perfect focal length for tighter portraits, plus stellar sharpness and image stabilization.

Versatile zoom range
Great image quality
Good maximum aperture for low-light portraits
Expensive

While the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III isn’t a great choice for portrait photography beginners, it is a great second or third portrait lens, especially if you tend to shoot in fast-paced environments such as weddings and other events. 

Unlike the primes recommended above, the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM offers an impressive zoom range, letting you shoot half-body portraits at 70mm, head-and-shoulders photos at 135mm, and full headshots at 200mm. And the f/2.8 maximum aperture promises impressive versatility, especially when combined with image stabilization: you can photograph indoors without flash or outdoors at night, and your images will still come out looking sharp. 

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens for Canon Digital SLR Cameras, White -...
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

And speaking of sharpness, while the 70-200mm f/2/8L IS III can’t out-resolve the pricey primes on this list, it’ll certainly satisfy portrait professionals. Image quality is beautiful across the board, even at f/2.8, and especially when stopped down.

But as with other pro-level lenses, the 70-200mm f/2.8L is big, bulky, and doesn’t come cheap. Is it worth the $2100 price tag? That depends on you. For serious portrait photographers in need of a versatile zoom (and who don’t want to shell out top-dollar for the RF version, discussed below), the 70-200mm is an excellent buy.

4. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

Best for tighter portrait photography on a budget

If you’re a fan of the 85mm focal length but don’t want to pay $1000+, the 85mm f/1.8 has you covered.

Perfect focal length
Good image quality
Compact body
Maximum aperture can’t compete with f/1.4 and f/1.2 bokeh

The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is one of my favorite Canon lenses of all time – for standard portraiture, street portraits, street photography, and more. Sure, it’s not the flashiest lens out there, but it’s very affordable, it’s compact, and for what you pay, there’s a lot to like.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: for portrait photographers, the 85mm focal length hits the sweet spot, especially on a full-frame camera. Thanks to the slight telephoto field of view, you can photograph pretty much anything, from environmental portraits to head-and-shoulders shots and more. 

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras - Fixed
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

And the 85mm f/1.8 also offers surprisingly good image quality, plus beautiful background bokeh for that professional portrait look. 

Really, for beginner portrait shooters, it’s a close competition between this lens and the 50mm f/1.8 STM, discussed above. The 85mm is the pricier of the two, but photographers tend to favor the longer 85mm focal length for portraiture – at least on full-frame bodies. If you use a crop-sensor camera, or you need to keep the cost down, the 50mm f/1.8 is the better bet, but otherwise, go with the 85mm f/1.8.

5. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Best versatile EF portrait lens

The 24-70mm focal length is useful in pretty much every portrait scenario. Combined with top-notch sharpness and an f/2.8 maximum aperture, this lens is unstoppable.

Versatile focal lengths
Great maximum aperture
Superb optics
Expensive

If you like the versatility of an f/2.8 standard zoom but you don’t want to shell out for the RF version (below) or you don’t own an RF-mount camera, then check out the slightly-cheaper-but-still-very-capable Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

It guarantees all the focal length flexibility of its more expensive sibling: environmental portraits at 24mm, half-body portraits at 50mm, and tighter close-ups at 70mm. And the f/2.8 aperture ensures faster shutter speeds in low light, perfect for nighttime portraits or indoor photoshoots. 

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens
The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Optically, the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L is superb, even if it’s a hair worse than the RF 24-70mm f/2.8L. Bokeh quality is nice when wide open, especially at 70mm.

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The EF 24-70mm f/2.8L is $400 USD cheaper than the RF 24-70mm f/2.8L. What accounts for this price difference? Primarily image stabilization, which is absent on the EF 24-70mm version but present on the RF 24-70mm version. I’m a big fan of image stabilization, myself – it’s a huge help when shooting in low light – but whether it’s worth the price difference will depend on your shooting style. 

6. Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM

Best budget telephoto zoom for portraits

The 70-200mm f/4 is relatively affordable, it offers a hugely useful zoom range, and sharpness is excellent. If you’re after a telephoto zoom on a budget, this lens is a great buy.

Stellar optics
Great zoom range for tighter portraits
(Relatively) reasonable price
No f/2.8 maximum aperture

Though the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM doesn’t boast the low-light chops of its f/2.8 siblings, it still gets you that sweet focal length versatility and at a much more palatable price. 

It’s true: for tighter portrait shots, the 70-200mm f/2.8 is a favorite among professionals, while the 70-200mm f/4 is second best. But the 70-200mm f/4 is still one of Canon’s best lenses for portrait photography; optically, it’s excellent, with sharpness across the board. Focusing is fast, too. Build quality is rock-solid – I’ve used this lens in blowing sand without any issues – yet the lens remains reasonably sized, so you can use it as part of a portable portrait kit.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens for Canon Digital SLR Cameras, White - 2309C002
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM

And unlike its cheaper counterpart (the 70-200mm f/4L), this lens packs image stabilization, a nice bonus for anyone shooting portraits at low-light events or at night. 

Really, the key difference between the 70-200mm f/4 and the 70-200mm f/2.8 is the f/4 maximum aperture, which offers a stop less light compared to the maximum aperture on the f/2.8 version. 

And for portrait photography, this matters – a lot. An f/2.8 aperture produces better results in low light, plus better bokeh, which gives that extra bit of spice to a professional portrait. 

At the same time, if you need a versatile portrait zoom and you can’t afford a 70-200mm f/2.8, the 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM is a genuinely good choice.

Best Canon RF Portrait Lenses

In this section, we share our favorite RF-mount portrait lenses:

7. Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM

Our Pick
Canon’s best portrait lens for RF shooters

The 85mm f/1.2 is a portrait standout, thanks to its jaw-dropping optics and insane bokeh.

Amazing image quality
Mouthwatering bokeh
Low maximum aperture
Expensive

Canon RF lenses tend to be notable in two key ways: 

First, they’re insanely sharp. 

And second, they’re insanely expensive – not just run-of-the-mill expensive, but how-could-a-lens-ever-cost-that-much expensive, the kind of expensive that sends all but the most serious of photographers rapidly hitting the “back” button.

The Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM fits that mold. If it were $1000 cheaper, it could’ve easily grabbed the top spot on this list – but as things stand, it’s a crazy-good portrait lens, but one that’s only fit for professionals.

Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens, Black
The Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM

What makes it so incredible? 

As you’d expect, the 85mm f/1.2L USM offers sharpness in spades, from f/1.2 all the way down to f/8 and beyond. Background bokeh is some of the best I’ve ever encountered (if you get the chance, take a look at some sample images, because you have to see it to believe it). 

For dedicated portrait photographers, 85mm is that sweet spot focal length, positioned between the wide (but still usable) 50mm and the more headshot-focused 135mm and 200mm options. If I could own just one portrait lens, it’d be an 85mm; the field of view is just so versatile, and you can use it in pretty much any portrait-focused photoshoot.

Unfortunately, while build quality is excellent, the 85mm f/1.2L is both bulky and heavy, so it’s not a great buy if you’re looking to do casual portrait photography or portrait photography on the go.

But if you own an RF-mount camera, and you’re a serious portrait shooter with a big budget, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L is a stellar pick.

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

A versatile standard zoom for serious portrait shooters

The 24-70mm f/2.8 does it all, from low light to beautiful backgrounds to environmental shots and more.

Superb focal length range for portraits
Great maximum aperture
Stellar sharpness
Expensive

For serious portrait photographers after a flexible standard zoom, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L is it. You do need an RF-mount camera, and you also need a sky-high budget – but if you have the camera and you have the money, the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM will give you one of the best standard-zoom performances on the market today. 

Portrait photographers often rely on primes for their standard shots. But what about situations requiring flexibility? What about wedding portraits, where you’re working against a clock, or candid portraits, where you need to zoom in and out depending on the subjects? That’s where a 24-70mm zoom comes in, which hits all the key focal lengths – from the wide 24mm (for environmental portraits), to the standard 50mm (for full- and half-body shots), to the telephoto 70mm (for tighter portraits). 

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L is USM Lens, Black
The Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM

Image quality is outstanding, and the combination of image stabilization and the f/2.8 maximum aperture makes the RF 24-70mm f/2.8L very appealing for low-light portraiture.

But while the RF 24-70mm f/2.8L is a phenomenal lens, before buying, take a moment to consider whether it’s worth it. At $2300 USD, the 24-70mm f/2.8L costs an arm and a leg, and you have the option to work with the EF f/2.8 version or even the EF f/4 version instead. 

My advice? Get the RF 24-70mm f/2.8L if you absolutely need it. Otherwise, pick a cheaper alternative. 

9. Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

Canon’s best telephoto zoom for RF photographers

The 70-200mm f/2.8 offers astonishingly good optics, a handy zoom range, plus image stabilization. If you can afford it, get it.

Perfect zoom range for tighter portraits
Amazingly sharp
Great maximum aperture
Expensive

For close-up portrait photography, a 70-200mm f/2.8 is a must-have, especially if you’re limited to shooting on the sidelines, or if you just prefer to grab tighter shots from a distance. Here, the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L delivers, with outstanding sharpness at every focal length, and beautiful bokeh, too. 

Then there’s the f/2.8 maximum aperture and image stabilization – both great for getting sharp images in low light.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens, Telephoto Zoom Lens, 3792C002
The Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

But what makes the RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM truly special is its size and weight. While 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses are generally hulking pieces of machinery, the new RF version is – well, not compact and light, but pretty darn reasonable. It’s exactly what frequent travelers, walkaround portrait photographers, and on-the-go portrait shooters require; I just wish that the lens cost less, because it’s nearly $1500 more than the EF 70-200mm f/4. In fact, it’s the priciest item on this list (along with the RF 85mm f/1.2L, above).

Here’s the bottom line: 

If you have the money to spare, and you know the RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM is what you need, then by all means, go for it! If you’re a 70-200mm fan but you’re not sure the RF version is right for you, consider the EF f/2.8 version, as well as the EF f/4 option, before making your mind up.

10. Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Best for all-around portrait shooters

The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 features a stellar maximum aperture, stunning bokeh, and tack-sharp images. If you like the wider 50mm focal length, this is the lens to get.

50mm focal length is perfect for wider portrait shots
Stunning sharpness
Beautiful bokeh
Extremely expensive

Once again, Canon has produced an RF lens that promises better performance than any of its predecessors, though it comes with an high price tag and a size/weight caveat.

The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM is an outstanding lens – for portrait photography, for event photography, for travel photography, and for pretty much anything else. Autofocus is snappy, so you can lock onto your subject’s eye with ease. And image quality surpasses expectations, with sharp results starting at f/1.2 and continuing as the lens is stopped down. 

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the f/1.2 shallow depth of field effect, though you’ll need to be careful when focusing (if you’re hasty, you might end up with out-of-focus eyes). Bokeh is stunning and makes for consistent pro-level backgrounds.

Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens, Black (2959C002)
The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM

The 50mm focal length is perfect for environmental and full-body shots, though the 50mm f/1.2L is a bit too wide for tighter portraits. If you can afford both this lens plus the RF 85mm f/1.2L (also on this list), you’ll be unstoppable, capable of wider, contextual shots on the 50mm, plus tighter shots at 85mm. 

But the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM, for all its prowess, is saddled with several major drawbacks. For one, there’s no image stabilization, always a nice feature for low-light handheld shooting. And the body is big and bulky, making the RF 50mm f/1.2L less appealing as a casual portrait lens, a travel portrait lens, or an event portrait lens (i.e., anything that involves long hours and significant movement).

Finally, there’s the price, and at $2300 USD, the RF 50mm f/1.2L is out of the reach of most beginners and enthusiasts. But the lens really is astonishingly good, so if you can afford it, and you’re a fan of the 50mm focal length for portraits, get it – you won’t be disappointed.

Best Canon EF-M Portrait Lens

In this section, we share our favorite EF-M portrait lens:

11. Canon EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM

Our Pick
The best portrait lens for EOS M users

The 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 boasts an incredible zoom range and nice optics in a small package.

Incredible zoom range
Decent image quality
Reasonable price
Narrow maximum aperture

For EOS M shooters, the Canon 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM is a reasonable portrait choice, even if it struggles to compete with some of the heavier hitters in the Canon stable. 

Sharpness isn’t incredible but does improve as you stop down. And autofocusing, while not especially fast, should serve for posed portrait photography and even more spur-of-the-moment shots. 

But what really makes the Canon 18-150mm noteworthy is the focal-length range, which spans from wide to telephoto and everything in between. Thanks to the Canon EOS M’s APS-C sensor, you can expect a significant (1.6x) crop factor, though the lens still retains its impressive flexibility. At 18mm, you can shoot wide environmental portraits; at 35mm, you get a standard field of view for full-body shots; and at 50mm and beyond you can capture various levels of close-up shots. 

Canon EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM Lens (Graphite)
The Canon EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM

Add to that the Canon 18-150mm’s compact design, and you have a lens that can do pretty much everything – portraits, yes, but also more casual photography, travel photography, and even landscapes. Even better, you can grab it for a very reasonable $500, so it’s a great pick for even the most budget-conscious of photographers.

In other words: 

If you’re an EOS M photographer after a portrait lens, while the 18-150mm won’t offer the superb optical performance or low-light prowess of the other lenses on this list, it’s a solid, inexpensive choice.

The Best Canon Lens for Portraits: Final Words

Well, there you have it:

Canon’s 11 best portrait lenses for RF-mount, EF-mount, and EOS M cameras. 

To recap: 

If you’re after the absolutely best Canon portrait lens, get the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM, which combines incredible optics, beautiful bokeh, and a stellar focal length into a reasonably priced package. (Also check out the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM, which is more expensive but offers improved low-light performance.)

If you’re a beginner on a budget, consider the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM or the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, both of which feature decent optics, compact builds, and great portrait focal lengths. 

If you’re an advanced portrait photographer in need of a telephoto zoom, either the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III or the RF 70-200mm f/2.8L is ideal, though a cheaper alternative is the EF f/4 version.

And if you’re after a standard zoom, grab the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM or the 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM; both lenses are versatile, sharp, and all-around capable.

Which lens is best for portraits on Canon?

That really depends on the type of shooting you plan to do, your camera, and your budget. Canon’s best portrait photography lens is the EF 85mm f/1.4L, thanks to its outstanding sharpness, reasonable price, and gorgeous bokeh – but there are plenty of other Canon portrait lenses worth considering, such as the 50mm f/1.8 STM (for beginners on a budget), or a 24-70mm f/2.8 (for greater flexibility while in the field).

What Canon portrait lens do professionals use?

Professionals use all kinds of portrait lenses from Canon – including most of the lenses offered on this list.

Is 50mm or 85mm better for portraits?

That depends on you! If you prefer to take wider, more contextual shots, then a 50mm lens is probably the better pick. But if you like tight images, an 85mm focal length is a great buy.

Is f/2.8 good for portraits?

Yes, f/2.8 is a good aperture to use for portraits – it’ll blur the background for beautiful bokeh, but it’ll generally still keep your subject’s eyes sharp. Note that f/2.8 is the narrowest maximum aperture most professional portrait photographers will accept (in other words, f/4 lenses aren’t ideal for portraiture).

Author

  • Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.


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