Welcome to our rundown of the best Canon portrait lenses. We’ve picked out all the ideal fast primes for shooting perfect people pictures, no matter whether you’re rocking a brand new EOS R camera, a good old Canon EOS DSLR, or a light and snappy EOS M camera. Any of these models can be perfect for portraiture – as long as you pair it with the right lens.
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We’ve picked out a selection of the ‘right’ lenses for this guide. Many of them are ones our team has tested and reviewed, so you can be confident in our recommendations.
If you’re new to portraiture, you might be wondering what we meant by ‘fast prime’ above. These are the best types of lenses for portraits – ‘prime’ means they have a fixed focal length, and ‘fast’ means they have a big maximum aperture. Zoom lenses can be useful for all sorts of shooting situations, but in portraiture you tend to have a lot of control over the subject, so the better optics and bigger apertures of prime lenses are more valuable.
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A fast aperture is referred to as such because it enables the use of shorter (i.e. faster) shutter speeds. This is secondary, however, to its use for portraiture, as a big, wide aperture like f/1.8 ,f/1.4 or even f/1.2 will let you make a sharp distinction between your main subject and the background, making them stand out in the frame. This is also referred to as shallow depth of field.
Longer focal lengths are also better for portraiture – most photographers agree that around 85mm is optimal. This focal length lets you fill the frame with a subject without having to shove your camera in their face. Also, longer lenses will flatter facial features – wide lenses stretch them out, which is generally something you want to avoid.
One thing to remember is that if you’re working with a camera that has a smaller sensor than full-frame, you’ll need to take the crop factor into account. This may sound complex, but all you need to remember is that smaller sensors provide a slightly zoomed-in perspective, also known as the ‘equivalent’ focal length.
On Canon’s APS-C cameras, the crop factor is 1.6x, meaning that a 50mm lens mounted on an APS-C body will provide an equivalent focal length of 80mm. Happily, these lenses tend to be cheaper than telephotos.
We’ve picked out a range of different lenses for different budgets, so no matter where you are on your portrait photography journey, there should be a lens here for you. Let's get started with the best Canon portrait lenses!
Best Canon portrait lenses in 2023
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Canon EF(opens in new tab)
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. See our full Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM review (opens in new tab).(opens in new tab)
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.
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With its f/1.8 maximum aperture and ideal 85mm focal length, 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.(opens in new tab)
There’s a lot to love for this lens for portraiture with a full-frame camera like the EOS 6D Mark II (opens in new tab) 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.
One of many macro lenses that doubles up as a solid portrait lens, the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro is something of a bargain. Its 90mm focal length is right in the sweet spot for portraits, and you also get a handy built-in stabiliser to keep shots sharp. On that subject, in our review we were hugely impressed with the sharpness of the Tamron SP 90mm, especially in the centre (where you’re going to be putting your portrait subjects). It performed very well in our optical tests, and as a bonus for portrait shooters, the quality of bokeh in defocused areas is highly pleasing.
This lens isn’t too widely available these days, but it’s worth scouting around for it on the second-hand market. Our advice if you’re interested is not to wait – the prices for used lenses can and do creep back up when they get popular. Another thing worth noting is that the lens might need a firmware update before it can work with the EF-EOS R mount adapter.
Canon EF-S(opens in new tab)
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.
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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.(opens in new tab)
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(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
The legendary Canon 50mm legacy has been reborn for the RF mount. This lens in the EF mount was a go-to for all fashion and portrait photographers for over a decade who wanted a wider portrait but without too much distortion. It provided a unique rendering not seen in any other Canon lens, with almost a medium format look to its images.
The RF 50 mm lens has lost some of these characteristics that made the old lens such a unique prospect, however, this lens is still more than capable of producing the most stunning photos. There is no mistaking how sharp and fast this lens is. With a huge f/1.2 aperture, you can get beautiful subject isolation in a focal length that allows more of the environment to be included in the photo. And with lightning-fast autofocus with eye tracking, if you take a lot of fashion and portraits, this really is the lens that you need.
The only drawback is the size, with it being a heavy lens at 905g and unwieldy to have on smaller EOS R cameras without an additional solid grip. This lens is certainly not the cheapest but the quality and precision you get from this lens more than justify the high price.
Read our full Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 USM lens review (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
There's no 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. At first glance this might seem more of a macro lens due to its reproduction ratio of 1:2, but 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.(opens in new tab)
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(opens in new tab)
A little bit wider than some of the other lenses on this list, but with a full-frame equivalent of approximately 51mm, you can get a really flattering portrait with this lens while including more of the environment around your subject.
With an aperture of f/1.4, you can be sure that your subject will have beautiful background isolation. This lens is also sharp, and with a speedy STM motor combined with the excellent dual-pixel autofocus in the latest EOS M cameras, you can rest assured your photos will be looking fantastic.
This lens is built solidly, while it doesn't have any weather sealing, the metal barrel feels great in the hand, and will provide a robust defense against knocks, and the diamond cut pattern on the focus ring is nice and grippy.
You may not be familiar with the Viltrox brand, but it has been coming out with some excellent fast primes for APS-C mirrorless cameras, including the somewhat neglected Canon EF-M mount. The Viltrox AF 56mm F1.4 is our pick for portraiture, as its focal length evens out to a headshot-friendly 90mm when mounted on an APS-C camera. As we discovered in our review, image quality from the Viltrox is generally very impressive, even when the lens is used wide open at f/1.4, and bokeh from the lens has a lovely dreamy quality to it.
At this price, there’s little to complain about with this lens – it’s heaps more interesting than anything Canon has produced for the EF-M mount. The only real downsides are that it’s not weather-sealed, and stills photographers may find it irritating that the aperture ring doesn't have a clickable option. However, the Micro USB port built into the mounting plate means you’ll be able to get firmware updates for years to come, future-proofing the lens for years to come.(opens in new tab)
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.
How we test lenses
We test lenses using both real world sample images and lab tests. Our lab tests are carried out scientifically in controlled conditions using the Imatest testing suite, which consists of custom charts and analysis software that measures resolution in line widths/picture height, a measurement widely used in lens and camera testing. We find the combination of lab and real-word testing works best, as each reveals different qualities and characteristics.
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