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The best Canon portrait lenses in 2021: fast primes for your EOS camera

Best Canon Portrait Lenses
(Image credit: Canon)

Let us help you find the best Canon portrait lenses. Whether you're using a Canon DSLR or one of its two ranges of mirrorless camera – EOS R or EOS M – there are plenty of pixel-perfect portrait lenses out there to make sure your images look perfect.

The best class of lens for portraiture is a fast prime. Zoom lenses have their uses, but standard zooms will often have quite narrow maximum apertures, shrinking down to f/5.6 at the telephoto end. This will create a large depth of field, without the pleasingly blurred background that marks a professional portrait.

A fast-aperture lens (so-called because they enable the use of fast shutter speeds) will have a maximum aperture of at least f/1.8, maybe even f/1.4 or f/1.2, and this will allow you to open wide up and get that sharp distinction between subject and background that you need for portraits.

Portrait photography how to: quick and simple portrait tips

Standard zoom lenses are also susceptible to image distortion, both barrel and pincushion depending on where you are in the zoom range. Prime lenses tend to control for this sort of thing much better.

As far as focal length goes, most portrait photographers will prefer a lens with a focal length of about 85mm. This allows you to fill a frame with a subject without getting too close or having to stand too far away, and also provides a flattering perspective of facial features. Bear in mind that 85mm is the best choice when you're working with full-frame; if you're using one of Canon's APS-C cameras, like the EOS M mirrorless or an EF-S DSLR, then you'll need to use a shorter lens to get a focal length equivalent to about 85mm. A 50mm lens is a good choice here; happily, they tend to be cheap.

We've factored all this in when making our picks for the best Canon portrait lenses you can get right now. We've divided up our guide by lens mount, so you can jump straight to the appropriate section depending on which camera you have.

Let's get started with the best Canon portrait lenses!

Best Canon portrait lenses in 2021

Canon EF

The best portrait lenses for full-frame Canon DSLRs - such as the EOS 5D Mark IV or EOS 6D Mark II.

(Image credit: Canon)

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

The best own-brand Canon DSLR portrait lenses

Focal length: 85mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 136mm | Lens construction: 14 elements in 10 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.85m | Filter size: 77mm | Dimensions: 89x105mm | Weight: 950g

L-series build quality and performance
4-stop image stabilizer
Fairly weighty at nearly a kilogram
Depth of field is marginally less tight than with an f/1.2 lens

Canon’s EF 85mm f/1.2L USM II lens is often seen as the holy grail of portrait primes, with its super-fast aperture rating, but we actually prefer this f/1.4 lens. It’s smaller, lighter, has a much faster autofocus system and adds weather-seals. Even more importantly, it adds a 4-stop image stabilizer which can be a massive help in getting consistently sharp handheld images under dull ambient lighting. These upgrades stack up particularly well for wedding portraiture. Another bonus of this lens over the bigger f/1.2 is that it has nine diaphragm blades rather than eight, enabling a better-rounded aperture when stopping down a little. This avoids the problem of the f/1.2 lens producing noticeably octagonal bokeh discs from defocused pinpricks of light and bright spots.

2. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A for Canon

Sigma’s 85mm Art lens is a real whopper

Focal length: 85mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 136mm | Lens construction: 14 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.85m | Filter size: 86mm | Dimensions: 95x126mm | Weight: 1130g

Excellent image quality
14 optical elements
Bulky and heavy
Quite expensive

A supersized 85mm optic, this Sigma is a bit like the Incredible Hulk of portrait lenses. At 95x126mm and 1130g, it’s by far the biggest and heaviest lens in the entire test group. 

Uncommonly for a Sigma lens, everything’s wrapped up in a weather-resistant dust/splash-proof casing and, as with the 50mm Art lens also on test, it’s compatible with Sigma’s USB Dock for applying firmware updates and customising settings. Also like the Sigma 50mm lens, this one comes complete with a lens hood and padded soft case. 

Autofocus is fast, extremely quiet and unerringly accurate. Sharpness away from the centre of the image frame is outstanding, even when shooting wide open at f/1.4, although centre sharpness at the widest aperture isn’t quite as spectacular as from Sigma’s smaller 50mm Art lens. 

All in all, this lens delivers a superb performance, but it’s pricey and rather cumbersome for an 85mm prime lens.

Read more: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV vs EOS 6D Mark II: Specs compared

3. Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD for Canon

The best all-round choice for Canon DSLR portrait shooters

Focal length: 85mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 136mm | Lens construction: 13 elements in 9 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.80m | Filter size: 67mm | Dimensions: 85x91mm | Weight: 700g

Highly effective optical stabilizer
Great sharpness and contrast
Excellent build quality
Not the lightest on test

With an f/1.4 and 85mm maximum aperture this is a particularly good choice for full-frame DSLR users – and unlike most other primes offers image stabilization for steadier handheld shots.

Like its 45mm sibling below, this optic is compatible with Tamron’s TAP-in console. This enables connection of the lens to a computer via a USB link for updating firmware and customising settings, such as fine-tuning autofocus. 

Physically smaller and lighter in weight than the competing Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM A, this optic is nevertheless larger and weightier than its EF 85mm f/1.8 USM rival (below) that shares the same maximum aperture.

At 700g, it’s still entirely manageable and feels well-balanced on full-frame bodies, while the VC (Vibration Compensation) system is a bonus for low lighting levels. 

As with the Sigma lenses below, the two Tamron's on test are also supplied with hoods to block extraneous light. Internal focusing, meanwhile, powered by ring-type ultrasonic systems, results in the front elements remaining fixed throughout the focusing range. 

At f/1.8, the Tamron is more than sharp enough for portraiture and the level of sharpness is consistent across the whole frame. Bokeh is wonderfully smooth, even more so than with the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, helped by the longer focal length.

4. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

A space-saving, lightweight and affordable option

Focal length: 85mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 136mm | Lens construction: 9 elements in 7 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 8 | Minimum focus distance: 0.85m | Filter size: 58mm | Dimensions: 75x72mm | Weight: 425g

Ring-type ultrasonic autofocus
Small and lightweight build
Sharpness not spectacular
Hood bumps up price

There’s a lot to love for this lens for portraiture with a full-frame camera like the EOS 6D Mark II and EOS 5D Mark IV. Furthermore, as one of Canon’s ‘recommended’ lenses, it is sufficiently sharp for use with the ultra-high-resolution EOS 5DS and 5DS R bodies. 

Like the company's EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, this one has a fairly well-rounded aperture based on eight diaphragm blades. It beats that lens by having a ring-type, rather than motor-based, ultrasonic autofocus system, which is both fast and very quiet. 

Sharpness isn’t spectacular at f/1.8 but, for portraiture, it’s easily good enough to capture individual hairs and skin pores, along with excellent detail in the eyes. Border sharpness, however, is generally unnecessary in portraiture, where you’re normally more concerned with defocused softness or bokeh, which it does very well. 

Overall, a top value choice for full-frame shooters.

Canon EF-S

The best portrait lenses for APS-C-format Canon DSLRs - such as the EOS Rebel range, EOS 800D, or EOS 90D.

5. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

Canon's ‘nifty fifty’ is a great budget choice

Focal length: 50mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 80mm | Lens construction: 6 elements in 5 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.35m | Filter size: 49mm | Dimensions: 69x39mm | Weight: 160g

Metal mounting plate
Well-rounded aperture
No focus distance scale
Autofocus noisier than some

Certainly no heavyweight, Canon’s latest 50mm f/1.8 is only 30g heavier, 1mm wider and 16mm longer than the 40mm pancake lens on test. That’s pretty impressive, considering its longer focal length and faster f/1.8 aperture rating. 

At 49mm, the filter attachment thread is even smaller, but this time the front element is quite deeply recessed, which makes the ES-68 lens hood a genuinely optional accessory. 

As well as its more advanced autofocus system, other upgrades over the previous EF 50mm f/1.8 lenses include a metal rather than plastic mounting plate, and seven diaphragm blades rather than five, which give a more well-rounded aperture. This is particularly useful for avoiding the obvious pentagonal shapes of defocused bright objects when stopping down a little, which plagued images taken with the earlier 50mm lenses. 

Performance in terms of colour fringing is about equal to the previous version, and there’s marginally less barrel distortion. Overall, at this price, the 50mm f/1.8 STM is a steal.

Read more: The complete guide to Canon's lens terms

6. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM A for Canon

It’s something of an ‘Art’ class in portraiture

Focal length: 50mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 80mm | Lens construction: 13 elements in 8 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.40m | Filter size: 77mm | Dimensions: 85x100mm | Weight: 815g

Fast and quiet autofocus
Good colour fringing control
Corner-sharpness disappointing
A bit pricey

You certainly can’t accuse Sigma’s 50mm Art-line lens of being a lightweight contender, being physically twice as long and nearly three times heavier than the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM.

The reason for the upsizing and weight gain is that the Sigma has a much more complex design than the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, with 13 optical glass elements and a well-rounded aperture, thanks to its nine diaphragm blades. 

Another Sigma upgrade is that it features a fast and whisper-quiet, ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system, whereas the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM only has a motor-driven ultrasonic arrangement. 

At its widest aperture, this optic has better centre sharpness than any other lens in this group, along with superb contrast. Corner sharpness is comparatively disappointing, although it picks up well if you close down the aperture by a stop or two. Colour fringing is also very well contained and distortion is practically nonexistent. 

Put simply, all-round performance is exceptional.

7. Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD for Canon

A new standard prime with good portrait potential for DX DSLRs

Focal length: 45mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 72mm | Lens construction: 10 elements in 8 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.29m | Filter size: 67mm | Dimensions: 80x92mm | Weight: 540g

Impressive sharpness and contrast
Weather-seals incorporated
Great build and handling
Slight lens distortion

One feature shared by all the most recent Tamron prime lenses, but lacking in the Canon and Sigma lenses on test, is optical stabilization. 

When shooting portraits indoors under ambient lighting, even an aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.8 can require slow shutter speeds, unless you boost your ISO setting, which can degrade image quality. Tamron’s VC (Vibration Compensation) technology is highly effective, enabling shutter speeds of up to four stops slower before camera shake becomes a problem. 

Impressive build quality is matched by strong performance from the ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system and, more importantly, excellent image quality. Sharpness and contrast are impressive, even wide open at f/1.8, while bokeh is beautiful, giving a soft and creamy appearance to defocused areas. The lens isn’t completely free distortion like the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM A, but there’s noticeably less barrel distortion than from either of the two Canon 50mm lenses on test.

Canon RF

The best Canon portrait lenses for Canon RF mount full-frame mirrorless cameras, such as the Canon EOS R5 or EOS R6.

(Image credit: Canon)

8. Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM

This portrait lens for EOS R-series cameras is set to become a legend

Focal length: 85mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): N/A | Lens construction: 13 elements in 9 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.85m | Filter size: 82mm | Dimensions: 103x117mm | Weight: 1,195g

Class-leading image quality
Solid, weather-sealed build quality
Big and weighty
Very expensive to buy

Canon’s RF 85mm f/1.2L USM is arguably the best portrait lens in the world right now. It combines premium aspherical and UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) and BR (Blue spectrum Refractive) optical elements with high-tech ASC (Air Sphere Coating) to deliver absolutely stunning image quality in all respects. Unlike the EF 85mm f/1.2 lens for DSLRs, this RF-mount lens for EOS R-series cameras features weather-seals and fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements. It also has a much faster autofocus system, although the electronically coupled manual focus ring is retained, which enables very fine and precise adjustments. Sharpness is stunning and bokeh is sublime. For the most demanding portrait photographers, there’s an even pricier ‘DS’ version of the lens, which has an additional ‘Defocus Smoothing’ coating. This further softens the edges of bokeh discs caused by defocused lights and bright spots.

(Image credit: Canon)

9. Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM

A macro lens that also doubles as a great portrait lens for EOS R-series cameras

Focal length: 85mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): N/A | Lens construction: 12 elements in 11 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.35m | Filter size: 67mm | Dimensions: 78x90.5mm | Weight: 500g

Doubles as a 0.5x macro lens
5-stop image stabilization
Reasonably affordable
'Only' f/2 maximum aperture

There's not getting away from the fact that Canon's RF 85mm f/1.2L USM is an expensive lens. If you're an EOS R-series shooter and are looking for a more affordable portrait lens, then the RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM is a great choice. While it at first glance might be seen more as a macro lens with a reproduction ratio of 1:2, the 85mm focal length naturally lends itself to capturing portraits. While the maximum aperture of f/2 might not be the fastest, this lens is still capable of delivering really pleasing defocused backgrounds, while it's also incredibly sharp. If your budget won't stretch to the 85mm f/1.2, you certainly won't be disappointed with this lens. 

(Image credit: Samyang)

10. Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 RF

Samyang comes in with a tempting budget portrait lens for RF users

Focal length: 85mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): N/A | Lens construction: 11 elements in 8 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.9m | Filter size: 77mm | Dimensions: 88 x 97.5mm | Weight: 583.8g

Impressive image quality
Tremendous value for money
Not quite as sharp as Canon
No lens correction data

There are relatively few portrait lenses for RF mount, and Canon's own are pretty expensive. That's why it's nice to see the release of the Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 RF, an impressively high-quality lens that's significantly cheaper than any of Canon's native offerings. This newer version brings autofocus to the party (the Samyang MF 85mm f/1.4 RF is also available if you can cope with manual focus only), and acquits itself well across the board. Image sharpness isn't quite at the level of Canon's own RF lenses, but is still pretty darn good. There's no stored lens correction data, meaning the camera can't apply corrections automatically like it can with native RF lenses, but this is a small concern, and might well be fixed in a future update. This high-quality lens offers tremendous value for money, and for portraits, it does everything you need it to.

Canon EF-M

The best Canon portrait lenses for the Canon EOS M range of cameras, such as the Canon EOS M50 and EOS M6 Mark II.

(Image credit: Sigma)

11. Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN | C

The best portrait lens for EOS M cameras

Focal length: 56mm | Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 90mm | Lens construction: 10 elements in 6 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.5m | Filter size: 55mm | Dimensions: 67x60mm | Weight: 280g

Compact and lightweight but solid
Fast f/1.4 aperture rating
No weather-seals
No optical stabilization

Portrait lenses with a telephoto focal length and f/1.4 aperture tend to be big and heavy. By stark contrast, this Sigma prime is blissfully compact and tips the scales at just 280g. It’s supremely well balanced on lightweight EOS M bodies, on which it has a very portrait-friendly 90mm ‘effective’ focal length. Although small and light, it’s well built with a metal mounting plate and Sigma’s usual ‘Thermally Stable Composite’ material. The high-quality optical path includes two aspherical elements, one of which is made from SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass. Autofocus is fast and very accurate, based on a stepping motor, along with an electronically coupled manual focus ring. The net result is a compact lens that combines excellent sharpness with beautifully smooth bokeh, ideal for portraiture.

Read more:

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The best 85mm lenses
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