Navigating the world of photography equipment can be daunting, especially when seeking the perfect blend of quality and value. For those particularly interested in portrait photography, identifying the right equipment is key, and Canon prime lenses for portraits often stand out for their exceptional clarity and detail when compared to their zoom counterparts.
If you’re pressed for time but need to make an informed decision, I’ve got you covered. Below, you’ll find a concise list detailing the best lenses for sheer image quality and the best options for balancing cost with features.
Best Overall Quality Prime Lenses For Canon:
- Canon EF 35mm F1.4 II USM: Despite being an EF lens this is still the best lens currently available for environmental portraits where you want to include more background into the portrait.
- Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM: Exceptional in low light, this lens offers fast autofocus, accurate colors, and superior bokeh, providing professional-grade image quality.
- Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM DS: Favored for its smooth bokeh, this lens is ideal for professional portraits, offering impressive image quality, especially at wide apertures.
- Canon RF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM: This lens offers sharpness, fast autofocus, image stabilization, and improved magnification, making it ideal for extreme close-up portraits and headshots.
- Canon RF 135mm F1.8L IS USM: Excellent for headshots and is best for portraits where you want less of the background in the portrait.
Best Value Prime Lenses For Canon:
- Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM: A versatile environmental portrait lens with macro capability if you want to create wide angle close up portraits.
- Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM: This lens is affordable, lightweight, and offers significantly better performance than kit lenses, making it a great value choice.
- Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM: Budget-friendly with image stabilization, macro capability, and smooth autofocus for video, this lens offers great value.
- Canon RF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM: This is not only the best value 100mm lens, it’s also the best quality lens. Truly a no brainer purchase if you like this focal length.
- Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art: Cheaper than its Canon counterpart, this lens is sharp, offers a focus limiter, and is weather-sealed, presenting a cost-effective alternative to the Canon RF 135mm.
When it comes to environmental portraits, the RF 35mm f1.8 shines. It adeptly captures both subject and background, providing a rich, contextual scene. Image stabilization enhances this, proving invaluable for handheld shots, giving them a professional steadiness even without a tripod.
Videographers rejoice with this lens too. Its stabilization aids in capturing smooth, high-quality footage, making it a preferred choice for hybrid shooters. Additionally, its unique suitability for wide-angle close-up portraits sets it apart from the EF model.
An often-overlooked perk is the lens’s rounded nine-blade aperture, superior to the EF 35mm’s eight blades. This slight edge contributes to beautifully smooth bokeh, perfect for dreamy environmental portraits. Plus, your wallet will thank you as it’s more affordable than the EF 35mm f1.4.
However, it’s not without compromises. The build quality doesn’t quite match the sturdier EF 35mm, which might be a consideration for those tough on their gear. Also, its maximum aperture is 22.22% smaller, meaning slightly inferior low light performance when shooting wide open—a minor trade-off for its unique features and price point.
The Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM stands out as the most wallet-friendly Canon Prime Lenses for Portraits. Its quiet STM motor makes it versatile for both still portraits and video if you’re a multimedia creator. Additionally, its low-light performance and image quality is a significant step up from your standard kit lenses, enabling crisper, clearer shots in dim conditions.
However, this lens does present some shortfalls when compare to it’s EF predecessor. It tends to produce images with higher contrast and a reddish tint, potentially increasing your post-processing time. Also, expect more vignetting and contrast compared to the EF 50mm F1.8.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect is the lack of substantial improvement over its predecessor. The image quality and overall performance don’t offer the groundbreaking enhancements some might expect from a newer model, leading to a bit of disappointment.
In summary, the RF 50mm F1.8 STM is an accessible prime lens for those on a budget, though it may not meet the expectations of photographers seeking an upgrade from their old nifty fifty.
The RF 50mm F1.2L USM is a shining star among Canon Prime Lenses for Portraits, especially if you’re seeking the best lens money can buy. Even at wider apertures like f/1.2, this lens delivers superior clarity compared to its predecessor, the EF 50mm f1.2. Furthermore, color fringing, a common concern especially at wide apertures, is impressively minimal with this model.
Another standout feature is the customizable control ring on the lens body. This addition enhances the shooting experience, offering photographers an intuitive means of adjusting settings without taking their eye off the subject. Equally important, the RF 50mm F1.2L USM maintains the cherished character and quality of images Canon users have grown to love, despite its increased sharpness.
However, this lens does come with certain trade-offs. Notably, it’s heavier and significantly larger than the EF version, which can impact portability and handling during extended shoots. Additionally, the cost is higher, making it a substantial investment.
All in all, the RF 50mm F1.2L USM emerges as a first rate choice among prime portrait lenses, with some considerations for size and budget.
The RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM stands out as my top pick for those budget-conscious photographers seeking quality Canon prime lenses for portraits. While it may not boast the fastest autofocus, its image stabilization is really nice for enhancing clarity in handheld shots. Its macro capability is a delightful bonus, allowing for extreme close-ups that can add a creative twist to your portrait sessions.
For those concerned with portability, this lens is considerably less bulky than its RF 85mm F1.2 counterpart, a relief for on-the-go photographers. Cost-wise, it’s a much more wallet-friendly option, yet the trade-offs are noticeable. You’ll find its maximum aperture to be smaller by 40% when wide open, compared to the RF 85mm f1.2. Also, be mindful that this model isn’t weather sealed. The build quality and lens mount, while decent, doesn’t compare to the much sturdier built RF 85mm f1.2.
Regarding accessories, it’s worth noting that you’ll need to purchase the lens hood separately with this lens also. Despite these drawbacks, its compactness, versatility, and affordability make the RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM a very compelling choice for portrait enthusiasts looking to balance cost and quality.
The RF 85mm F1.2L USM DS lens has become my favorite prime lens for portraits. While the non-DS version tends to blur more background, the DS is unparalleled in creating a smoother bokeh at wide open apertures, a feature that truly makes your subjects pop.
However, if you’re not regularly shooting at wide apertures, the non-DS version of this lens will capture very similar quality images, especially from f2.8 onward. Both lenses boast superior sharpness even at wide apertures, outperforming the RF 85mm F2 and EF 85mm 1.2. Plus, the autofocus is blazing fast. In fact it’s significantly faster than my old Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM which is reason enough to upgrade if you have the budget.
Additionally, backlit scenarios are also improved with this lens when compared to it’s EF Predecessor. These RF lenses exhibit zero flare, unlike the old EF model. They also have a shorter minimum focusing distance and almost no chromatic aberration, promising pristine images every time. And the Eye AF performance is a real game-changer, especially noticeable compared to using the old EF lens with an adapter.
The RF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM stands out in the lineup of Canon prime lenses for portraits, offering a unique blend of precision and creative control. Its ability to adjust spherical aberration gives you the ability to create bokeh effects, adding an artistic flair to the backgrounds of your portraits. Not only does it foster creativity, but it also boasts sharper images compared to the EF 100mm f2.8L.
What’s more, its autofocus is both faster and quieter than the EF 100mm F2.8L, making it ideal for nailing focus as we spontaneously interact with our clients. Budget-conscious photographers will also appreciate that this lens is actually cheaper than the old EF mode.
For those who frequently shoot hand-held, the improved image stabilization is a significant advantage, ensuring clearer, steadier shots. Additionally this lens has macro capability, so those who shoot things like weddings will really appreciate the improved 1.4x magnification for detail shots of the rings.
When it comes to crafting striking portraits, the RF 135mm F1.8L IS USM stands out in the lineup of Canon prime lenses. It’s my favorite for close-up portraits, especially when the goal is to artistically blur the background, focusing attention solely on the subject. This lens excels in isolating individuals within a frame, making them the true stars of the shot.
The image stabilization is a remarkable feature, particularly for photographers who prefer the flexibility of shooting handheld. Combine this with the fast USM autofocus, and you’ve got a lens that’s perfect for capturing sharp, professional headshots, even in spontaneous situations.
Comparing it to its predecessor, the EF 135mm F2, the RF 135mm offers noticeably cleaner contrast, superior low-light performance, and a more pleasing bokeh effect, enhancing the overall quality of your portraits. However, it is bulkier, which is something to consider depending on your shooting style and needs.
But quality like this doesn’t come cheap. This lens might be a stretch for those not fully committed to professional portrait photography, but for those who are, it’s a worthy investment to create portraits with telephoto compression.
Pros and Cons of Canon EF Lenses
Canon’s EF prime lenses still hold significant appeal, especially for portrait photography. You can adapt these lenses to fit RF mirrorless bodies, utilizing adapters from various brands like Canon, Vello, Lensbaby, Meike, and Commlite. These adapters, particularly those with drop-in filters, are incredibly convenient for shooting wide-open apertures in bright conditions.
I’ve experienced this adaptability first-hand, using the Canon adapter to fit EF lenses on my EOS R5. Surprisingly, the lenses perform even better than they did on my old DSLR bodies. The image quality, especially with pro-grade L lenses, remains superb, rivaling even the sharpness and clarity of newer models.
However, it’s not all smooth sailing. These lenses belong to Canon’s older DSLR system, meaning they generally have slower communication speeds, which affects autofocus performance compared to native RF lenses. Also, there’s the looming issue of support; Canon may not provide repairs for these lenses much longer.
But here’s a notable upside: EF lenses are often cheaper than their RF counterparts, more so if you’re open to purchasing used lenses. This cost-effectiveness, combined with the high-quality imaging, continues to make these lenses attractive even for professional photographers.
Despite being on the old DSLR mount, the Canon EF 35mm F1.4 II USM remains my go-to lens for environmental portraits. Although I anticipate a new RF version emerging soon, this lens continues to produce the best images at 35mm, as of this writing.
The lens simply outshines the RF 35mm f1.8, delivering crisp, clear photos with a bokeh that’s nothing short of beautiful. The autofocus speed is also top-tier, thanks to its USM motor, which is noticeably faster than the STM motor in the RF 35mm f1.8.
However, this lens is bulkier (and better built) than the RF 35mm f1.8 lens. Therefore, if portability is top of mind, you might prefer the RF model instead. The absence of image stabilization is also a notable omission, necessitating a steadier hand, faster shutter speeds, or a tripod for sharp portraits.
For photographers in search of the best Canon prime lenses for environmental portraits, the Canon EF 35mm F1.4 II USM remains my favorite lens for the time being.
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, known as the most affordable Canon prime lens for portraits, is a treasure for photographers on a budget. It’s not just the cost-efficiency that appeals; its lightweight design makes it effortless to carry when capturing portraits on location.
Quality doesn’t suffer for the price. The lens surprises with sharp images, vibrant colors, pleasing contrast, and that sought-after background bokeh when used wide open. Furthermore, it outperforms its pricier f/1.4 counterpart in controlling chromatic aberration. Unique to this lens, the five aperture blades can produce intriguing pentagonal bokeh — a unique look some photographers adore.
However, concessions are evident in its build. The plastic body and mount might raise durability concerns compared to the sturdier f/1.4. Autofocus brings additional challenges, presenting noticeable noise that could be a problem if you want to shoot video.
In sum, the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM’s allure lies in its remarkable value for the performance it delivers. This lens is perfect for those just starting out or those on a budget. Although it won’t produce images as nice as professional L glass, this lens will produce significantly better images than your kit lens will.
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM holds a sweet spot among Canon prime lenses for portraits, offering several advantages over its f/1.8 sibling. Its larger f/1.4 aperture dominates in low-light scenarios, granting photographers more artistic freedom with depth of field. The ultrasonic motor (USM) isn’t just a technical upgrade; it’s significantly faster then the f1.8 and quieter for those who also want to capture video with the internal mic.
In terms of build, the f/1.4 feels like a solid piece of gear in your hands, with its metal mount and superior materials. The manual focus ring is more ergonomic for those that need to make manual adjustments. Additionally, bokeh fans will appreciate the creamier, more circular blur produced by its eight aperture blades.
However, as with everything there are tradeoffs with this lens. The f/1.4 comes with a justifiably heftier price tag, potentially steering budget-conscious hobbyists towards the f/1.8. Optically, while fantastic, it’s prone to chromatic aberration at wider apertures and some softness at f/1.4, nudging users to stop down for sharper results. Lastly, when stacked against the newer RF 50mm f/1.8, it falls short in overall image quality.
Balancing its superior low-light performance and build against its cost and minor optical quirks, the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM emerges as a valuable asset for portrait photographers and videographers alike.
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens remains a favorite for many photographers, myself included. It’s significantly more affordable than the RF 50mm 1.2L USM and also more compact and lightweight for those worried about size. The image quality this lens produces is impressive, with beautiful bokeh that makes it stand out as among the best Canon prime lenses for portraits.
However, this lens is not without its drawbacks. Sharpness at wider apertures doesn’t match the newer RF model, a detail that pixel peepers may find off-putting. Also, expect some color fringing in high-contrast scenes, particularly at wider apertures.
Adapting this lens to Canon’s mirrorless systems requires an EF to RF adapter, an additional expense and inconvenience if you’re on the Canon mirrorless system. Perhaps most concerning is that Canon may not support repairs for this lens for much longer with the new RF 50mm f1.2 in it’s lineup. Despite these minor technical short comings, if you’re looking for a superb lens for less money, don’t be afraid to get a converter and use this lens with a new mirrorless Canon camera body.
The Canon EF 85mm f1.8 USM is a prime lens offering good value for an affordable price. It boasts faster autofocus compared to the RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM, making it a superior choice for capturing fast-moving subjects like children. Additionally, the bokeh is smoother, giving portraits that dreamy look we all adore.
However, it’s not perfect. This lens’s sharpness falls short when compared to the RF 85mm f2, especially at wide apertures. Comparable edge-to-edge clarity doesn’t manifest until you stop down to around f/8, potentially discouraging those seeking the highest quality captures. This shortcoming is somewhat expected, given its 20-year-old design, and it certainly shows its age against modern lenses, especially in nuanced areas like chromatic aberration control.
Price-wise, it’s puzzling. At the time of this writing, it’s priced similarly to the newer RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM. So, I would recommend this lens primarily to those who frequently photograph children or other fast-moving subjects.
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.4 IS USM holds a special place in my heart as my favorite EF prime lens for portraits. Its built-in optical image stabilization is excellent, and I’ve captured tack-sharp portraits with it at shutter speeds as slow as 1/4 of a second. What’s more, its less bulky form compared to the RF 85mm f/1.2 makes it a joy to use, especially when capturing portraits on location. Another practical feature is the non-rotating front element, which is critical for those who frequently use polarizing filters.
When it comes to image quality, this lens is simply fantastic. It stands out as the best-priced prime 85mm for the quality it delivers. However, it’s not without its drawbacks. When shot wide open, it’s slightly less sharp compared to the new RF 85mm f/1.2. Also, there’s a minor amount of chromatic aberration, but it’s easily correctable in post-processing. I’d note that both of these critiques are extremely minor, and most laypeople probably wouldn’t notice any quality difference between these two exceptional lenses.
In conclusion, among Canon prime lenses for portraits, the EF 85mm f/1.4 IS USM is a formidable contender. It blends quality, functionality, and affordability, making it one of the best prime lenses you can buy for the price.
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM Lens stands as a more affordable alternative to its RF sibling, presenting a remarkable quality-to-price ratio for those mindful of budgets. With its superb image quality and exquisite bokeh, this lens once set the gold standard for portrait lenses until the advent of the new RF model.
Yet, despite its proven prowess, this lens’s substantial build can be cumbersome in extended shoots, contrasting sharply with the sleeker, more ergonomic RF 85mm f1.2. More pronounced chromatic aberration also necessitates extra post-processing to achieve that crisp, professional aesthetic we all aim for. Moreover, the autofocus, though dependable, lacks the alacrity of the RF model. Indeed, even during its heyday, critics often cited focus speed as this lens’s primary drawback.
Furthermore, its sharpness slightly lags behind the RF 85mm f1.2, a disparity more discernible to pixel-peepers than to clients or the casual observer.
In conclusion, in the realm of Canon prime lenses for portraits, the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM remains a robust, cost-effective option, despite its limitations against the newer RF model. It endures as a favored mainstay for numerous portrait photographers. In fact, I know colleagues who prefer this lens, when pairing it with the EF to RF adapter with neutral density filters. This set up allows you to use this lens at it’s maximum aperture even in the brightest conditions for dreamy bokeh.
The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM continues to impress, offering image quality nearly indistinguishable from the new RF 100mm. Boasting excellent construction and stunning image clarity, this lens remains a heavyweight in the realm of Canon prime lenses for portraits. For photographers already equipped with this classic, there’s little incentive to upgrade, as it competes splendidly with its newer counterpart.
Conversely, the lens does fall behind in certain areas. Autofocus speed, for instance, can’t quite match the briskness of the new RF 100mm, a potential setback for those capturing fast-moving subjects. Additionally, macro enthusiasts might find the RF’s enhanced magnification capabilities appealing, an area where the EF version shows its age. Surprisingly, this older model often comes with a heftier price tag than the RF 100mm, an oddity considering the advancements in the latter.
So, here’s my two cents: if you’re standing at the crossroads between the classic EF and the shiny new RF, the latter makes the stronger case. Despite the EF’s laudable performance, the RF 100mm outshines it in speed, macro capability, and cost-effectiveness.
The Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens presents itself as an intriguing alternative among Canon prime lenses for portraits. Its shorter length compared to the Canon RF lens enhances portability, a boon for those capturing portraits outside the studio. Additionally, the inclusion of a focus distance limiter — absent in the Canon RF — accelerates autofocus performance, a feature I’ve found particularly useful when photographing unpredictable children. It’s also more budget-friendly, weather-sealed, and exhibits less vignetting, further sweetening the deal.
However, it’s not without compromises. The absence of image stabilization is noticeable, especially since this is a longer telephoto lens. Its sharpness, particularly edge-to-edge, doesn’t quite match the Canon RF 135mm, something sharpness aficionados might bemoan. Furthermore, the Sigma’s heft is tangible, impacting handling comfort during longer shoots. Its larger diameter and longer minimum focus distance also detract from its user-friendliness, limitations I’ve sometimes found restrictive in the field. Also, the lack of a control ring, a handy feature on the Canon RF, makes this lens feel a bit dated.
In essence, the Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens holds its ground with several admirable traits, yet it’s a mixed bag of trade-offs. It beckons the budget-conscious and those seeking specific features but demands certain concessions in image quality features and usability.
What’s the Best Prime Lens Focal Length for Portraits?
When it comes to capturing stunning portraits, I’ve found that prime lenses between 35mm to 135mm range are all great choices depending on how you want your portrait to look. Each focal length within this spectrum has its unique strengths:
35mm – Best for Environmental Portraits: With a 35mm lens, I can include more the background to tell a broader story. It’s ideal for full-body portraits or any situation where the environment is crucial to the narrative, allowing the subject’s surroundings to play a significant role in the portrait.
50mm – The Jack of All Trades: The 50mm is remarkably versatile. It mirrors the human eye’s perspective, making it an excellent choice for both full-body and more intimate upper-body shots, ensuring a natural look and feel. This is a good middle ground if you can only afford one portrait lens.
85mm – The Sweet Spot for Portraits: For those close-up headshots and half-body portraits, I always reach for my 85mm. It offers just the right amount of compression, beautifully blurring backgrounds to isolate subjects, making them pop.
100mm and 135mm – Best For Close Ups: The 100mm and 135mm lenses are my favorite lenses for close up portraits where I want to isolate my subject from the background. Longer focal lengths tighten the angle of view showing less background and introduce more bokeh (blur) into the background. This make these focal lengths best or headshots, or detail portraits. Longer focal lengths also work from a longer distance, generally making people feel more comfortable as you photograph them from further away.
Advantages of Prime Lenses Compared to Zoom Lenses
Despite the flexibility of zoom lenses, I prefer primes for several reasons. They’re sharper, more durable, and generally more affordable. They excel in image quality, correcting issues like chromatic aberration and vignetting, thanks to their simpler design with fewer elements.
Ultimately, the choice of focal length should align with your vision for the portrait. Whether it’s an environmental or close up portrait, each of these lenses has their own strengths that will be better for different scenarios.
STM vs USM Which is Better for Prime Lens Portraits?
In the realm of Canon lenses, particularly when considering Canon Prime Lenses for Portraits, STM and USM refer to the types of autofocus motors used. STM, or Stepping Motor, employs micro-movements to achieve focus, ensuring quieter operation. In contrast, USM, or Ultrasonic Motor, uses ultrasonic frequency vibrations, resulting in a notably faster autofocus.
USM: The Photographer’s Choice for Portraits
When it comes to photography, especially portraits, USM holds the upper hand. Its lightning-fast autofocus allows you to capture fleeting moments and subtle changes in your subject’s expressions, crucial for impactful portraits. The precision and speed of USM are unparalleled, making it the preferred choice for dedicated photography sessions.
STM: A Versatile Pick for Portraits, Videos and Budgets
However, if your work involves both photography and videography, STM lenses might suit you better. They focus almost silently, preventing focus noise from disrupting your video’s sound quality. Moreover, STM lenses are typically more affordable than their USM counterparts, providing a balance between performance and cost. They’re an excellent option for those on a budget or who require a versatile lens for multiple formats.
Making the Best Decision for Your Craft
Nevertheless, if your primary aim is to achieve the highest quality in portrait photography, investing in a USM lens is advisable. Its superior performance in capturing sharp, in-the-moment images outweighs the cost, especially for professionals. STM isn’t inferior, but in the pursuit of the finest portraits, USM’s rapid autofocus is the game-changer.
In essence, your specific needs and focus—be it photography, video, or a balance of both—should guide your choice between USM and STM. While USM stands out for pure photography excellence, STM’s quiet operation and affordability make it a worthy contender, especially for multimedia projects. Choose what complements your skills, meets your budget, and matches your artistic demands.
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