What is the ultimate Canon mirrorless camera portrait lens?
Do you own a Canon DSLR camera? Our Best Canon Portrait Lens recommendations page has your recommendations.
Nearly every lens be used as a portrait lens. Lenses with focal lengths ranging from 11mm through 800mm can be used to capture the world's most valuable (but not always the most cooperative) subject: people. Still, not all lenses are good choices for all portrait photography, while some lenses seem explicitly made for this purpose.
The first portrait photography concept that needs to be understood is perspective. If the camera is too close to the subject, the part of the body closest to the lens, usually the nose, is going to appear too large relative to the rest of the body. This effect is due to perspective distortion. If the nose is half as far away as the ear, the nose will appear 2x larger relative to the ear. Move in too close, and the subject may become uncomfortable with you in their personal space, creating a tension that does not photograph well.
Being too far away from a subject brings other problems. Facial features may become too compressed in appearance, and being too far away complicates communication. Longer focal length lenses require more working distance than their wider counterparts, and physical obstacles can inhibit the necessary line of sight.
The portrait lens focal length decision should be based on the perspective you want, the subject framing desired, and the working space available. A wide-angle lens is best used for environmental portraits where your subject is shown along with their surroundings. Conversely, a long telephoto lens should be used for tight headshots.
Conventional teaching is that the 85-135mm focal length range is ideal for portrait photography (after any field of view crop factor is accounted for). I generally agree with this teaching, though I will often use wider focal lengths such as 50mm for full body portraits or 24mm for environmental portraits, and I prefer a longer focal length such as 200mm for tightly-framed headshot images.
A blurred background will make your portrait subjects pop. Longer focal length lenses will make blurring away a distracting background easier, as will wide apertures. The wide apertures will provide a reduced depth of field, so the depth of field vs. background blur must be considered. I like the mouth and both eyes to minimally be in focus.
If shooting in a studio with a background such as rolled paper and lighting with studio strobes, narrow apertures such as f/8 or f/11 will likely be in use, and all lenses have these options available. The sample portrait included at the top of this page was captured with a 85mm focal length and an f/1.2 aperture. The background is melting away, while a pleasing head and shoulders perspective has been captured.
With that background, move on to some recommendations. Remember that the suggested lenses are simply a selection of favorites for portrait photography, and a huge list of additional lenses can be used for this purpose.
The Entire Package: Impressive image quality and Overall Performance, Wide Aperture, All of the Right Focal Lengths, Image Stabilization, Pro-Grade Build, Incredibly Compact
The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens is my go-to general-purpose telephoto zoom lens. This lens is the right choice for a very high percentage of general telephoto photography needs, with landscapes and portraits being ideally covered.
Few want to compromise image quality, and this L-series lens delivers greatness in that regard. Fast and accurate AF? That box is checked. Pro-grade, weather-sealed build quality? Ruggedness is built in. High-performing image stabilzation is there for you when the tripod is not, and the wide aperture enables stopping motion in low light.
Excellent Image Quality, All of the Right Focal Lengths, Relatively Light Weight, Modest Cost, Moderately Wide Aperture, Image Stabilization, Pro-Grade Build, Incredibly Compact
Reduce the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens's aperture opening by 1/2, and you get the Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens. Advantages of the narrower aperture include reduced size, reduced weight, and reduced cost. When f/2.8 is not needed, this lens is the best option.
Incredibly-Wide Aperture, Impressively Sharp Wide-Open, Good General-Purpose Portrait Focal Length, Pro-Grade Lens
This lens is fat, heavy, and, especially for a prime lens, expensive. However, the sharp, background-blurred images this lens produces at f/1.2 will quickly have you overlooking any downsides of this lens. This lens rules low light events.
The RF 85 F1.2 L gets the full L-series pro-grade build quality and performance features.
Just Like the Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM Lens With Better Wide Aperture Bokeh
The DS version of this lens gives up some light at wide apertures but produces better bokeh at the same. This lens is all about portraiture.
Economical, Compact, Light, Good General-Purpose Portrait Focal Length, Image Stabilization, 0.5x Macro Capablities
Those on a tight budget have a great portrait option in the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens.
6. Adapt a lens from the Best Canon DSLR Camera Portrait Lenses List.
Huge Selection, Excellent Options
Visit the Best Canon Lenses page for more recommendations.
The best portrait lens needs the Best Portrait Camera behind it. Check out our recommendations to complete your kit.