The best Canon portrait lenses in 2023: fast primes for your EOS camera

Best Canon Portrait Lenses
(Image credit: Canon)

 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. 

The best Canon portrait lenses aren't always made by Canon; there are some fantastic optics made by third-party manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron. So you have the option of a wide range of price points along with the assurance that you're getting great performance. 

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. 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

Why you can trust Digital Camera World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out how we test.

(Image credit: James Artaius)

Best Canon portrait lenses: Top picks

Portraits have been my bread and butter as both an EOS and EOS R shooter, and my favorite combo is the same for both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. 

When I'm shooting on the EOS R, my go-to is the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L, which is simply the finest portrait lens I've ever used (a close second is the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L DS, thanks to the gorgeous Defocus Smoothing, but the loss of transmission is a bit of a drawback). 

Tack-sharp, bokehlicious out-of-focus areas, weather-sealed – the RF 85mm is just an all-round outstanding lens for shooting headshots. And since 85mm effectively becomes 136mm on APS-C bodies, this remains a classic focal length for headshot hunters using crop sensors, too. 

It's an absolute monster in terms of size and weight, though, so it's definitely one for dedicated portrait sessions. I complement it with the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8, which is the perfect focal length for torso or three-quarter portrait shots – and, being a nifty fifty, it's the perfect all-purpose focal length as well. Of course, on APS-C bodies 50mm becomes 80mm – making it almost a classic portrait prime. 

For EOS DSLRs, the combo is the same – though I'd actually opt for the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L over the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L, primarily because it focuses a lot faster! Again, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 is a pocketable prime that makes a perfect always-on tag team partner.

Best Canon portrait lenses: Canon EF

(Image credit: Canon)
The best Canon portrait lens for DSLRs

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
L-series build quality and performance
+
4-stop image stabilizer

Reasons to avoid

-
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. 

See our full Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM review.

(Image credit: Sigma)
The best (and biggest!) third-party portrait lens for Canon DSLRs

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent image quality
+
14 optical elements

Reasons to avoid

-
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.

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

The best all-round choice for Canon DSLR portrait shooters

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Highly effective optical stabilizer
+
Great sharpness and contrast
+
Excellent build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the lightest lens here

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.

The best Canon DSLR portrait lens for size and price

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Ring-type ultrasonic autofocus
+
Small and lightweight build

Reasons to avoid

-
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.

Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro

(Image credit: Tamron)
The best third-party Canon portrait lens on the second-hand market

Specifications

Focal length: 90mm
Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 144mm
Lens construction: 14 elements in 11 groups
No. of diaphragm blades: 9
Minimum focus distance: 0.3m
Filter size: 62mm
Dimensions: 79x117mm
Weight: 610g

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent sharpness
+
Works with full-frame and APS-C

Reasons to avoid

-
Less available these days
-
Compatibility issues with EF/RF adapter

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.

Best Canon portrait lenses: Canon EF-S

The best Canon portrait lens for APS-C DSLRs

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Metal mounting plate
+
Well-rounded aperture

Reasons to avoid

-
No focus distance scale
-
Autofocus noisier than some

While 50mm is more suited for three-quarter shots than it is headshots, on an APS-C EOS camera its effective focal length becomes 80mm – which is perfect for close-up portraiture. 

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 color 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.

The best third-party portrait lens for Canon DLSRs

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Fast and quiet autofocus
+
Good colour fringing control

Reasons to avoid

-
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.

The best stabilized portrait lens for Canon APS-C DSLRs

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive sharpness and contrast
+
Weather-seals incorporated
+
Great build and handling

Reasons to avoid

-
Slight lens distortion

Unlike the 50mm lenses on test, this 45mm becomes an effective 72mm when mounted to an APS-C camera. That's a little shorter than the classic 85mm portrait focal length, but still more than capable of doing the job.

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.

Best Canon portrait lenses: Canon RF

(Image credit: James Artaius / Digital Camera World)
The best Canon portrait lens ever made

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Class-leading image quality
+
Solid, weather-sealed build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
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 and, as noted, this becomes an effective 136mm optic on an APS-C camera – making it ideal for those shooting on crop sensors. 

For the most demanding portrait photographers, there’s an even pricier version of the lens: the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS, which has an additional Defocus Smoothing coating. This further softens the edges of bokeh discs caused by defocused lights and bright spots for the creamiest bokeh you've ever seen!

Read our full Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM review

(Image credit: Future)
Best Canon lens for environmental portraits

Specifications

Mount: Canon RF
Autofocus: USM
Aperture: 10-blade
Min focus distance: 0.4m
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (mm): 89.8 x 108
Weight: 950g

Reasons to buy

+
Superior sharpness
+
Versatile focal length
+
Build quality is excellent

Reasons to avoid

-
Very expensive
-
Heavy and unwieldy

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 shot 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 50mm 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. Though with an effective 80mm focal length on APS-C bodies, it becomes an excellent close-up option for crop sensor shooters. 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

(Image credit: James Artaius)
The best Canon portrait lens that doubles as a macro

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Doubles as a 0.5x macro lens
+
5-stop image stabilization
+
Reasonably affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
'Only' f/2 maximum aperture

There's no getting away from the fact that Canon's RF 85mm f/1.2L USM is an expensive lens. So if you're looking for a more affordable option, the RF 85mm f/2 Macro is the way to go – especially since it does double duty as a light macro lens, with a 1:2 reproduction ratio, making it a great option for both kinds of close-ups. 

While the maximum aperture of f/2 might not be the fastest, I still found this lens to be very capable of delivering really pleasing defocused backgrounds – and ut's also incredibly sharp. If your budget won't stretch to the 85mm f/1.2, or you simply want something that isn't bigger and heavier than the camera you're mounting it on, you certainly won't be disappointed with this lens.

Read our full Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS STM review

(Image credit: Samyang)
The best budget Canon RF portrait lens

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive image quality
+
Tremendous value for money

Reasons to avoid

-
Not quite as sharp as Canon
-
No lens correction data

There are relatively few dedicated portrait lenses for the 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.

Best Canon portrait lenses: Canon EF-M

(Image credit: Canon)

13. Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM

The best environmental portrait lens for Canon EOS M

Specifications

Focal length: 32mm
Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 51mm
Lens construction: 14 elements in 8 groups
No. of diaphragm blades: 7
Minimum focus distance: 0.23m
Filter size: 43mm
Dimensions: 60.9 x 56.5 mm
Weight: 235g

Reasons to buy

+
Sharp even at f/1.4
+
Built solidly with a great feel
+
Very compact and light

Reasons to avoid

-
Might be a bit too wide for some
-
No weather sealing

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.

Best Canon portrait lenses: Viltrox AF 56mm F1.4

(Image credit: Viltrox)
The best classic portrait lens for Canon EOS M

Specifications

Focal length: 56mm
Effective focal length (Canon APS-C): 90mm
Lens construction: 10 elements in 9 groups
No. of diaphragm blades: 9
Minimum focus distance: 0.6m
Filter size: 52mm
Dimensions: 65x72mm
Weight: 320g

Reasons to buy

+
Very sharp wide open
+
Gorgeous bokeh quality

Reasons to avoid

-
No weather sealing
-
No click-step aperture option

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, suitably future-proofing the lens. 

(Image credit: Matthew Richards/Digital Camera World)
The best Sigma portrait lens for Canon EOS M

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Compact and lightweight but solid
+
Fast f/1.4 aperture rating

Reasons to avoid

-
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.

Best Canon portrait lenses: How we test

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 also test each lens in live shooting environments, often for portfolio or paid client work, to truly put them through their paces. Results removed from the lab are less theoretical, and really reveal the proof in the pudding, especially when used in challenging and uncontrolled environments. 

We find the combination of lab and real-word testing works best, as each reveals different qualities and characteristics.

You might also be interested in the best portrait lenses across all camera brands, as well as the best 50mm lenses and the best Canon standard zoom lenses.

Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist who has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners! 


His expertise with equipment doesn’t end there, though. He is also an encyclopedia  when it comes to all manner of cameras, camera holsters and bags, flashguns, tripods and heads, printers, papers and inks, and just about anything imaging-related. 


In an earlier life he was a broadcast engineer at the BBC, as well as a former editor of PC Guide.

With contributions from