What's the best Canon lens to get for your EOS DSLR or EOS M mirrorless camera? It can be hard to know where to start. Interchangeable lenses open up whole new worlds of possibilities, but which lens should you get first?
Popular lenses to get
1) Telephoto zoom: You need these for sports and wildlife photography, when you have to photograph your subjects from a distance.
2) Ultra-wide zoom: Sometimes you need to squeeze sweeping vistas into the image frame, narrow streets or small interior spaces.
3) A better standard zoom: The kit lenses you get with Canon cameras are all right to get you started, but you can get better image quality, a wider maximum aperture or a longer zoom range.
4) Macro lens: This will enable you to get right up close to tiny subjects and capture them in pin-sharp detail. Macro lenses are a great favorite with nature photographers.
5) Portrait lens: If you prefer people to bugs, a 'portrait' lens will give you the perfect working distance for flattering features and background blur.
Check your camera compatibility
You need to make sure you get the right lens to fit your camera, so here's a quick guide:
1) Canon's EOS M mirrorless cameras use a different lens mount to EOS DSLRs. You can get an adaptor to use DSLR lenses on these cameras, but for the most part you should stick to EOS M lenses.
2) Even with Canon DSLRs there are differences. Full frame Canon cameras use the Canon EF mount, but the less expensive APS-C models use a slightly different EF-S mount. You can use full frame EF lenses on both cameras, but smaller format EF-S lenses can't be used on the full frame cameras.
3) Canon's full-frame mirrorless EOS R system as its own RF lens mount. RF-mount lenses cannot be used on Canon DSLRs or EOS M mirrorless cameras. However, many Canon EF-mount DSLR lenses can be used on EOS R-series mirrorless cameras by fitting Canon's optional Mount Adapter EF-EOS R.
If you’ve bought a Canon camera, it’s only natural to buy Canon lenses to go with it. In many cases, however, independent lens makers like Sigma, Tamron, Tokina and others make lenses to fit Canon cameras. Lenses from independent makers deliver equally good or even better performance, while often being considerably less expensive. Read on to discover our top recommendations in all the main categories.
The best Canon lenses in 2020
A telephoto zoom is the first extra lens that most of us buy. Ideal for shooting sports and wildlife, it’s a must-have lens whenever you can’t get as close as you might like to what you’re shooting. With telephotos, it makes sense to get a full frame EF lens, even if you have an APS-C camera. The smaller sensor brings a 'crop factor' that gives lenses a longer effective focal length on these cameras, but for telephotos that's an advantage!
1. Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM
It's an ideal and affordable telephoto lens to get started with
Mount: Canon EF | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Nano USM | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.2m | Maximum magnification: 0.25x | Filter thread: 67mm | Dimensions (WxL): 80x146mm | Weight: 710g
Canon makes a pro-grade L-series 70-300mm zoom, which comes complete with weather seals and an optional tripod mount ring to take the weight and steady up your shots, but this newer lens is practically as sharp, only about two-thirds of the weight and less than half as much to buy. Clever features include a revolutionary Nano USM autofocus system, which is incredibly fast for tracking moving objects when shooting stills, yet gives smooth focus transitions during movie capture. The lens also features a neat LCD display with options for showing focal length, focus distance and stabilization information.
2. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S
More expensive constant-aperture 'pro' telephoto for Canon DSLRs
Mount: Canon EF | Diaphragm blades: 11 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.2m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Dimensions (WxL): 94x203mm | Weight: 1,805g
A classic in both zoom range and aperture rating, the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens has long been the telephoto optic of choice for enthusiast and professional photographers. The third generation of Canon’s own-brand, image-stabilized lens is now available but, while it’s a great performer, it’s fiendishly expensive to buy. This newer Sigma ‘Sports’ competitor actually beats the Canon for sharpness through the zoom range, while offering a raft of more exotic features. These include autofocus-hold/on buttons around the mid-section of the lens, the ability to switch autofocus to either auto-priority or manual-priority mode (the latter making manual-override available even in AI Servo mode), and two switchable custom modes. You can set these up with Sigma’s optional USB Dock, for example to increase or decrease the effect of stabilization in the viewfinder image, or to alter the autofocus speed and range limiter distance. The only minus points are that the Sigma is a little bigger and heavier than most 70-200mm lenses, and its filter thread is also a little larger.
3. Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD
A powerful telephoto that won’t weigh you down
Mount: Canon EF | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.5m | Maximum magnification: 0.28x | Dimensions (WxL): 86x199mm | Weight: 1,135g
Especially if you’ve moved up from an APS-C format camera to a full-frame body, you might miss the extra ‘effective’ telephoto reach delivered by the former’s crop factor. To get an extra boost, one option is to go for a 150-600mm lens, but these tend to be relatively big and heavy. Tamron’s 100-400mm zoom is an ideal compromise, giving extra reach from a relatively compact and lightweight lens. The Tamron is also significantly smaller, lighter and less expensive than Canon’s own-brand 100-400mm zoom. Even so, it’s well built with weather-seals and a fluorine coating on the front element, plus advanced nano-structure coatings. The ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is quick and quiet, and the image stabilizer is worth about four stops. At 1,135g, the lens is light enough for long periods of handheld photography, or for mounting on a tripod or monopod using the camera body’s tripod socket. An optional tripod mounting ring is also available, giving a better balance especially in portrait orientation shooting, but it’s typically pricey at around £109/$129.
4. Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C
A super-telephoto lens for Canon DSLRs that won't break the bank
Mount: Canon EF | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 2.8m | Maximum magnification: 0.2x | Filter thread: 95mm | Dimensions (WxL): 105x260mm | Weight: 1,930g
If money and muscle-power are no object, the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens is our favourite super-telephoto zoom for Canon cameras, but it’s a big and heavy lens, weighing in at nearly 3kg, which makes prolonged handheld shooting a struggle. This ‘Contemporary’ version of the lens is much less expensive to buy, more compact, and almost a full kilogram lighter in weight. It stretches to a mighty 600mm on full-frame bodies, and delivers an incredible 960mm ‘effective’ focal length on Canon APS-C bodies, thanks to the 1.6x crop factor you get from the smaller sensor on these cameras. You really do need lenses with this kind of reach for many wildlife subjects, long-range sports like cricket or baseball, and aviation photography. This 'Contemporary' lens is not quite as extensively weather-sealed as the 'Sports' version, but it's still very well made, almost as sharp, and has the same range of up-market features and controls. On balance, it’s a better buy for most of us.
5. Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
Canon’s pro-grade telephoto zoom for EOS R-series cameras bucks the trend
Mount: Canon RF | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Dual Nano USM | Stabilizer: 5-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.7m | Maximum magnification: 0.23x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 90x146mm | Weight: 1,070g
The vast majority of 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lenses have a fixed physical length, which remains the same at all zoom and focus settings. While this RF-mount lens has internal focusing, it has an inner barrel that extends as you zoom from 70mm to 200mm focal lengths. This enables a much more compact stowage size, as well as a more lightweight construction. Indeed, it’s only about two-thirds the weight of most 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms, making it feel better balanced on R-series mirrorless cameras. High-tech thrills include super-fast Dual Nano USM autofocus and 5-stop optical image stabilization, all wrapped up in a solid, weather-sealed casing. It’s simply the best telephoto zoom for EOS R-series cameras, but it comes at a heavy purchase price.
6. Canon EF-M 55-200mm f4.5-6.3 IS STM
A small and portable telephoto zoom for Canon EOS M cameras
Mount: Canon EF-M | Elements/groups: 17/11 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: 3.5-stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.0m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 52mm | Dimensions (WxL): 61x87mm | Weight: 260g
If you've chosen an EOS M camera because it's small and light, you'll want lenses which are small and light too. This lightweight telephoto zoom is barely more than a third of the weight of Canon’s latest EF 70-300mm lens for DSLRs, and it’s very much slimmer and shorter. Naturally, it’s also shorter in maximum focal length, but still extends to an ‘effective’ 320mm in full-frame terms. The other prominent factor in downsizing is that the aperture rating shrinks to f/6.3 at long zoom settings, instead of the more usual f/5.6. Despite having a plastic rather than metal mounting plate, the construction feels solid throughout. Image quality is good in all respects, with decent levels of sharpness helped by a 3.5-stop image stabilizer. All in all, it’s the ideal telephoto zoom for a compact EOS M camera body.
Standard zoom lenses are pretty versatile but often don’t give a wide enough angle of view. On an APS-C format Canon, the typical kit lens has a minimum focal length of 18mm, which only equates to 28.8mm in full-frame terms. It’s wide, but not THAT wide. Most APS-C format wide-angle zooms, however, start at 10mm, enabling you to fit massively more of a scene into the image frame.
Unlike with telephoto zooms, it’s essential to get a lens designed for your camera’s sensor size. You’ll need to get an APS-C format lens for shooting on an APS-C class camera, as full frame wide-angle zooms won’t give actually give you the wide angle of view you’re looking for. If you have a full frame Canon, on the other hand, you will need a full frame wide-angle zoom to go with it.
7. Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 Di II VC HLD
A high-quality APS-C wide-angle zoom with image stabilization
Mount: Canon EF-S | Elements/groups: 15/12 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: HLD (High/Low toque-modulated Drive) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.24m | Maximum magnification: 0.19x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 84x85mm | Weight: 440g
Tamron makes some great lenses that cost less than Canon equivalents. This one is a major upgrade over Tamron’s original 10-24mm ultra-wide zoom for APS-C format cameras, with improved optics, 4-stop VC (Vibration Compensation) stabilization, and a new HLD (High/Low toque-modulated Drive) autofocus system. Handling is improved as the focus ring no longer rotates during autofocus and enables full-time manual override. Weather seals are also added, plus a fluorine coating on the front element to repel moisture and aid cleaning. The image quality is very good and, while it's not the cheapest ultra-wideangle zoom for Canon EF-S DSLRs, it is the best choice if you can afford it.
8. Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM | A
A full frame wide-angle zoom with incredible sharpness
Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 17/11 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: None | Minimum focus distance: 0.26m | Maximum magnification: 0.19x | Filter thread: None | Dimensions (WxL): 96x135mm | Weight: 1,150g
For extreme viewing angles, this lens doesn’t go quite as wide as the massively expensive Canon 11-24mm zoom, nor Sigma’s 12-24mm Art lens, but it comes pretty close and is only about half the price of the Canon. The Sigma 14-24mm delivers stellar sharpness across the entire image frame, even when shooting wide-open at f/2.8. Distortions are incredibly minimal for an ultra-wide zoom, and colour fringing is absolutely negligible. The top-performance optics are wrapped up in a superbly well engineered and fully weather-sealed construction. This relatively new lens has become our favourite ultra-wide zoom for full-frame Canon DSLRs.
9. Canon RF 15-35MM f/2.8L IS USM
The lens goes large on viewing angle, quality and price
Mount: Canon RF | Elements/groups: 16/12 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Nano USM | Stabilizer: 5-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.28m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x127mm | Weight: 840g
Rather than try to keep the weight down with a more modest aperture rating, Canon has gone for glory with this ‘trinity’ lens, adopting a faster f/2.8 aperture that remains constant throughout the zoom range. The net result is a comparatively large ultra-wide zoom that goes equally large on performance and image quality. Nano USM autofocus is fast and accurate, as well as being virtually silent in operation, while the image stabilizer gives a 5-stop benefit in beating camera-shake. Aspherical and UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) elements enable impressive sharpness while keeping distortions and colour fringing to a minimum, and both of Canon’s premium SWC (Sub-Wavelength structure Coating) and ASC (Air Sphere Coating) are applied to minimize ghosting and flare. It’s the wide-angle zoom of choice for EOS R cameras.
10. Canon EF-M 11-22mm f4-5.6 IS STM
A small yet ultra-wide lens for Canon EOS M cameras
Mount: Canon EF-M | Elements/groups: 12/9 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: 3-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.15m | Maximum magnification: 0.3x | Filter thread: 55mm | Dimensions (WxL): 61x58mm | Weight: 220g
With its compact, retractable design, this is an uncommonly small wide-angle zoom that’s entirely in keeping with the EOS M mirrorless design philosophy. Indeed, it’s only half the weight of the Tamron 10-24mm lens for APS-C format DSLRs. With a minimum focal length of 11mm, the maximum viewing angle isn’t quite as extreme but it’s very wide nonetheless. The STM autofocus system is virtually silent in operation, ideal for movie capture, where it also delivers smooth focus transitions and sharpness is further enhanced by ‘dynamic’ movie stabilization. Image quality is impressive and the extra-short minimum focus distance of 0.15m is brilliant for capturing extreme wide-angle close-ups and really exaggerating perspective. As with most lenses that feature stepping motor autofocus systems, though, there’s no focus distance scale.
Standard zoom upgrades
The ‘kit’ zoom lenses that Canon supplies with its DSLRs and mirrorless cameras bodies will help you get started, but they can feel relatively basic. Reasons for upgrading include better image quality, a longer zoom range or a faster, constant-aperture rating, typically of f/2.8. This enables faster shutter speeds for freezing motion, even under dull lighting conditions, as well as giving a tighter depth of field. For APS-C format Canon DSLRs, the fairly ancient Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM best fits the brief although, as you’ll see, it’s not our first choice.
11. Canon EF-S 15-85mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM
A much wider zoom range than a regular APS-C Canon kit lens
Mount: Canon EF-S | Elements/groups: 17/12 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.35m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 72mm | Dimensions (WxL): 82x88mm | Weight: 575g
The 1.6x crop factor of Canon’s APS-C cameras is quite limiting at the wide-angle end of the zoom range, so a regular kit lens that offers a widest setting of 18mm gives an ‘effective’ 28.8mm focal length in full-frame terms, which really isn’t that ‘wide’. The EF-S 15-85mm lens has much greater wide-angle potential, as well impressive telephoto reach, with its effective zoom range of 24-136mm. That makes it much more versatile as a lens for everyday shooting, especially considering that the lens is robustly built and features excellent ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system, along with 4-stop stabilization. Image quality is mostly great and, although barrel distortion and vignetting are quite heavy at 15mm, they can be quite easily corrected in-camera or with software.
12. Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | A
A great constant-aperture standard zoom for full frame Canon DSLRs
Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 19/14 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.37m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 88x108mm | Weight: 1,020g
The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is the choice of many professional photographers around the world, but it’s not particularly good value for money and lacks image stabilization. This Sigma lens isn’t as fully weather-sealed as the Canon, but it’s beautifully built and matches the Canon for all-round performance and image quality. Sharpness and contrast are spectacular, while bokeh is lusciously smooth. Autofocus is very quick and extremely quiet, while the 4-stop stabilizer helps to ensure sharp handheld shots at relatively slow shutter speeds. At around two-thirds the price of the Canon lens, it’s a better buy.
13. Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM | C
A supremely versatile ‘superzoom’ lens for Canon APS-C DSLRs
Mount: Canon EF-S | Elements/groups: 17/13 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (motor) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.39m | Maximum magnification: 0.33x | Filter thread: 72mm | Dimensions (WxL): 79x102mm | Weight: 585g
It’s good to travel light, and carrying around a couple of extra lenses can be a pain. This so-called ‘superzoom’ lens gives you everything from modest wide-angle coverage to super-telephoto reach at the flick of a zoom ring and replaces two regular lenses. Even better, it’s barely any bigger or heavier than Canon’s 15-85mm standard zoom. The high-quality glass includes four top-grade FLD (‘Fluorite’ Low Dispersion) elements along with one SLD element. The motor-based ultrasonic autofocus system reduces size and weight but, typical of the breed, the focus ring rotates during autofocus. Even so, the focus ring is positioned right at the front of the lens and is easily avoided during handheld shooting. For a superzoom lens, image quality is very good overall although, as is usually the case, sharpness drops off a bit at the long end of the zoom range.
14. Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM
Not a zoom, but a handy f/1.4 prime lens for the EOS M from Canon
Mount: Canon EF-M | Elements/groups: 14/8 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: None | Minimum focus distance: 0.23m | Maximum magnification: 0.25x | Filter thread: 43mm | Dimensions (WxL): 61x57mm | Weight: 235g
With an effective 51.2mm, this is the longest focal length prime lens that Canon markets for its EOS M mirrorless APS-C cameras. It's a bit short for a classic 'portrait' lens but it's the closest equivalent in the EOS M lens range and works well for half-length and environmental portraits. The f/1.4 aperture rating enables you to blur the background quite successfully, though the relatively short focal length is not very good for tight head shots. You’ll find that you need to get a little too close to your subject, probably making them feel a little uncomfortable as well as distorting their features a little. Typical of such ‘fast’ lenses with an f/1.4 aperture, there’s no image stabilizer and, while the stepping motor autofocus system works well and enables precise fly-by-wire manual adjustments, it’s not as near silent as in some other EF-M lenses. The best thing about this lens is that its image quality is excellent in all respects.
‘Macro’ is used as another word for close-ups, but there's a bit more to it than that. While many zoom lenses have the word ‘macro’ in they typically only offer a maximum magnification ratio of between 0.3x and 0.5x. By contrast, a ‘real’ macro prime lens will deliver a full 1.0x magnification at its closest focus setting. This means that the subject you’re shooting will be reproduced at full life size on the camera’s image sensor. On an APS-C camera, for example, a standard postage stamp would fill the entire image area.
As with telephoto lenses, there can be advantages of buying a full-frame format macro lens, even if you’re shooting with an APS-C format camera. Full frame lenses have longer focal lengths, so you’ll get a longer and more comfortable working distance to your subject. And, of course, if you decide to upgrade to a full frame Canon DSLR later, your lens will work just fine on this, too.
15. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro
This modern classic macro lens is great on any Canon DSLR
Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 14/11 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.3m | Maximum magnification: 1.0x | Filter thread: 62mm | Dimensions (WxL): 79x117mm | Weight: 610g
A focal length of around 90mm to 105mm is often regarded as ideal for macro photography, as it enables a comfortable and natural working distance for close-up photography. This is a high quality Tamron ‘G2’ lens, with improved optical performance, nano-structure coatings, weather-seals and a fluorine coating on the front element to repel moisture and grease. It also adds a new ‘hybrid’ image stabilizer that counteracts horizontal and vertical shift, as well as the more usual angular vibration or ‘wobble’. This makes stabilization much more effective in close-up shooting and, in this respect, the Tamron directly matches Canon’s esteemed 100mm IS USM L-series macro lens. It also performs every bit as well in terms of handling and image quality but, at only around two-thirds of the price, the Tamron is the better buy.
16. Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM
A macro lens for APS-C Canon DSLRs that can also light up your subject!
Mount: Canon EF-S | Elements/groups: 10/6 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.13m | Maximum magnification: 1.0x | Filter thread: 49mm | Dimensions (WxL): 69x56mm | Weight: 190g
Like many recent designs, this lens features a stepping motor autofocus system with an electronically coupled focus ring. The hybrid image stabilization is inherited from Canon’s range-topping 100mm L-series lens and is able to correct x-y shift as well as vibration, making it more effective for close-up shooting. At the minimum focus distance, however, the front of the lens comes to just 3cm from the subject and can block ambient light. To compensate, there’s a built-in LED ‘Macro Lite’, with two brightness levels and the option to use both sides or just the left or right. It’s not very bright, though, so even at full power and at the closest shooting distance you’ll need a slow shutter speed of about 1/15th of a second at f/8 (ISO 200). It's an interesting and affordable 'novelty' lens, but serious close-up fans would probably go for a lens with a longer focal length.
17. Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM
This neat RF-mount optic is amazingly versatile for a prime lens
Mount: Canon RF | Elements/groups: 11/9 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: 5-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.17m | Maximum magnification: 0.5x | Filter thread: 52mm | Dimensions (WxL): 74x63mm | Weight: 305g
Canon’s EOS R-series mirrorless full-frame cameras are significantly smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts. Conversely, most RF-mount lenses are comparatively big and heavy, so any downsizing advantage is effectively lost. Enabling a better balance, this 35mm prime lens is nicely compact and weighs just 305g. It makes for a really discreet package with an EOS R camera, ideal for street photography and candid shooting. It also has a remarkably short minimum focus distance, at which it can reproduce small objects at half life size, thanks to its 0.5x macro capability. A 5-stop ‘hybrid’ stabilizer is also built-in, enabling steady handheld shooting even at very close range. All in all, it’s an ideal general-purpose prime for any EOS R-series camera.
18. Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM
This remarkable EOS M lens gets you much closer to your subjects
Mount: Canon EF-M | Elements/groups: 11/10 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: 3.5-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.09m | Maximum magnification: 1.2x | Filter thread: 43mm | Dimensions (WxL): 61x46mm | Weight: 130g
Despite having a chamfered front end on its extending inner barrel, this lens’s working distance for full-magnification macro shots is so short that it can often cast a shadow over the object you’re shooting. As with Canon’s EF-S 35mm lens for APS-C format DSLRs, a built-in LED ‘macro lite’ adds illumination. Again, you can alter the brightness level and choose whether to use the lamp as a circular ring-light or just to employ one side or the other. Other similarities include a hybrid image stabilizer and stepping motor autofocus system. The smaller EOS M’s party trick is that it adds a Super Macro mode, which increases the maximum magnification factor from 1.0x to 1.2x, though you can't focus on far away subjects in this mode. Taking the crop factor of the smaller EOS M sensor into account, this lens gives nearly twice the maximum magnification of shooting with a 1.0x macro lens on a full-frame camera.
When shooting portraits, you generally want to lift people from their surroundings and make them the centre of attention. That can be hard to achieve, especially if you’re shooting against a detailed or cluttered background. A lens with a medium to long focal length and a ‘fast’ aperture rating of around f/1.4 to f/1.8 can solve the problem. With a tight depth of field, it’ll enable you to throw the background out of focus and make people stand out from their environment.
As with macro lenses, there can be advantages in shooting with a full-frame format lens on APS-C format bodies. An 85mm focal length is usually regarded as ideal for portraiture with a full-frame camera. On an APS-C format camera, a 50mm lens will give similar benefits, taking the crop factor into account. You can still use an 85mm 'portrait' lens on Canon APS-C cameras, but you’ll just need to move a little further away.
19. Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM
A great, wide-aperture portrait lens for full frame Canon DSLRs
Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 14/10 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4-stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.85m | Maximum magnification: 0.12x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x105mm | Weight: 950g
When buying a portrait prime, you usually need to make a choice between image stabilization or a fast f/1.4 aperture. This Canon lens gives you the best of both worlds, with no compromise in features or image quality, along with top-notch build quality and a full set of weather-seals. It comes with a nine-blade diaphragm that enables an extremely well-rounded aperture (for attractive ‘bokeh’), and Canon’s advanced ASC (Air Sphere Coating) to minimize ghosting and flare. It’s quite big and chunky but still noticeably smaller and lighter than the competing Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens. It’s not quite as bitingly sharp as the Sigma but the Canon’s stabilizer can make a huge difference in low-light handheld shooting and its bokeh (the quality of defocused areas) is deliciously smooth and creamy. Specialist lenses like these are expensive (sorry!) but you get what you pay for.
20. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A
A fabulous lens for portraiture on APS-C Canon DSLRs
Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 13/8 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: None | Minimum focus distance: 0.4m | Maximum magnification: 0.18x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 85x100mm | Weight: 815g
On a full frame Canon, a 50mm lens is effectively a 'standard' lens, but if you use it on an APS-C Canon you get an effective focal length of around 80mm – almost perfect for portraits! This lens dwarfs the Canon's own EF 50mm f/1.4 USM and is about three times heavier, but it kicks the relatively ancient Canon lens into touch when it comes to image quality and all-round performance. The Sigma’s much more complex and high-tech optical layout includes an aspherical element and three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. Colour fringing, distortion and vignetting are kept to a minimum and become virtually unnoticeable when using this full-frame compatible optic for portraiture on an APS-C body. Centre-sharpness is spectacular and the 9-blade diaphragm helps to keep the aperture well-rounded when stopping down a little, maintaining very pleasing bokeh.
21. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
A great low-cost portrait lens for APS-C Canon DSLRs
Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 6/5 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Autofocus: Stepping motor | Stabilizer: None | Minimum focus distance: 0.35m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 49mm | Dimensions (WxL): 69x39mm | Weight: 160g
This is a much cheaper 'portrait' alternative to the Sigma lens (above) for Canon APS-C DSLR owners. It's true that the build quality of Canon’s recent EF 50mm f/1.8 lenses have felt a little suspect, right down to their plastic mounting plates, but this latest edition feels much more solid, boasting a metal mounting plate and a better STM (Stepping Motor) autofocus system with an electronically coupled fly-by-wire focus ring. A handling benefit is that the focus ring no longer rotates during autofocus and, although audible, autofocus is quieter than in preceding editions of the lens. Smooth autofocus transitions also become available for movie capture. The diaphragm blade count goes from five to seven, enabling a more well-rounded aperture when stopping down. The lens is wonderfully compact and a real lightweight at just 160g. It definitely punches above its weight in terms of image quality.
22. Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM
A practically perfect portrait lens for Canon EOS R-series cameras
Mount: Canon RF | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: None | Minimum focus distance: 0.85m | Maximum magnification: 0.12x | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 103x117mm | Weight: 1,195g
Dwarfing Canon EOS R-series camera bodies, this mighty lens is a real heavyweight at almost 1.2kg. Large-diameter forward elements are required to pull in sufficient light for the f/1.2 aperture rating, which enables a really tight depth of field. In fact, it’s so tight that you can often find that only one eye of a portrait sitter is properly sharp, while the background dissolves into dreamy bokeh. Indeed, for outright softness of defocused areas, this lens is one of the very best on the market. And if you still want more, there’s an even pricier ‘DS’ edition of the lens with an added ‘Defocus Smoothing’ coating for further softening the edges of bokeh discs, created by defocused pinpricks of light and bright spots.
23. Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN | C for EOS M
A smart portrait lens for EOS M series mirrorless cameras
Mount: Canon EF-M | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Stepping motor) | Stabilizer: None | Minimum focus distance: 0.5m | Maximum magnification: 0.14x | Filter thread: 55mm | Dimensions (WxL): 67x60mm | Weight: 280g
Engineered specifically for APS-C format EOS M mirrorless cameras, this Sigma lens is a real triumph. It combines a portrait-friendly 90mm ‘effective’ focal length with a fast f/1.4 aperture rating, ideal for shrinking the depth of field and blurring the background. Moreover, it does this while keeping the physical size down to just 67x60mm and weighing a mere 280g, giving the lens a wonderfully balanced feel on slim-line EOS M-series bodies. Build quality feels solid and robust and, unlike most Canon lenses outside of the L-series line-up, the Sigma comes complete with a lens hood. Handling is very refined, with fast and whisper-quiet autofocus and an electronically coupled manual focus ring. Image quality is simply superb. All in all, it’s a high-performance lens that’s a real bargain at the price.
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