The good thing is, Canon offers a wide range of lenses that are perfect for portrait photography and you don’t have to break the bank to get a great one. As a matter of fact, many of Canon’s budget-friendly options offer great image quality and sharpness at the same time.
If you’re an APS-C user, you only have limited options if you want to go with native EF-S lenses and EF-M. However, you can use EF lenses on your cropped sensor DSLR without any issues.
But you need to be aware that the focal length of the lens will be multiplied by 1.6x when used on APS-C bodies.
And if you’re a full-frame user, there are more options for you to choose from. We’ve rounded up some of the best canon lenses for portraits on a budget below so you can get started with your next portrait shoot!
Best Canon Lenses For Portraits On A Budget
Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS STM
Canon 85mm f/1.8
Who is it for?
If you have plenty of space to work it or you just want to take headshots and tight portraits, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 is really a good choice.
The focal length is perfect for portraiture. It compresses the background even more compared to a 35mm and 50mm lens. Lastly, its f/1.8 aperture is great for that shallow depth of field and low-light shooting.
- Impressive image quality
- Great bokeh
- Smaller than other 85mm primes
- Produces sharp images, especially when stopped down
- Old-generation AF system
- There’s some softness when shooting wide open (f/1.8)
Honestly, you don’t have to spend quite a lot to get a lens that will work well for portraits. You don’t need to spend $1,000 on an expensive lens to be able to take great photos—even if you’re just starting out in photography.
The Canon EF 85m f/1.8 is a testament to that. This lens is one of the cheapest 85mm lenses you can buy from Canon, yet it doesn’t sacrifice quality for its price.
It’s actually one of my favorite Canon 85mm lenses because of its sharpness and colors.
This lens offers great image quality, it’s sharp and has enough contrast when I tried it with my full-frame DSLR cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark IV and the EOS 6D.
Nevertheless, you can still able to use this camera if you have an APS-C DSLR like the Canon 7D Mark II or an EOS 90D.
If you’re using APS-C mirrorless cameras, you need to get an EF-EOS M adapter in order to use this lens on your camera.
85mm is a very popular focal length for portraits because it creates a natural-looking image and it makes your subject look more flattering by blurring the background.
It has little to no distortion compared to a 35mm or 50mm lens as well!
In my case, I really prefer the 85mm focal length because it’s perfect for my style of shooting portraiture.
I also love the bokeh it produces and the shallow depth of field that this lens produces. I can easily create pleasing images with this lens.
This lens is not designed to shoot fast action & sports, but I find the autofocus fast enough for everyday shooting. Also, it makes some noise when focusing, but I don’t find it annoying.
And lastly, its build quality is decent. It’s mostly made of plastic material but it has a metal mount. I don’t see any reason why it would break on you unless you’re really rough with your gear.
The EF 85mm f/1.8 does feel really light and compact as well compared to my Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 L II which is about 1000 grams. I often reach for the f/1.8 lens, when I’m shooting casually or taking photos of my friends.
Canon RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS USM for Canon EOS R system
Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN for Canon APS-C mirrorless cameras
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
Who is it for?
This nifty fifty has a great value for money and it is perfect for beginners who are starting out with their photography journey.
If you love taking portraits, then this lens is definitely a great option! You can get some good results with it too so if you want an affordable prime lens that produces sharp images then this could be a good choice for you.
I highly recommend getting a fast 50mm prime lens after you have been shooting with your kit lens for a while.
This kind of focal length is easy to use and can be a good way to learn about how to compose a shot and create beautiful photos.
- Fast and silent autofocus
- Great image quality for its price
- Has a metal mount
- Great bokeh
- Soft wide open like the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8
- A lot of plastic material
Presenting the nifty fifty! This lens is actually the redesigned version of the ever-popular but older Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. Canon changed the overall look and the autofocus system in this lens.
The new design looks more modern and it also has a metal mount instead of plastic.
But it’s still compact and light making it a great travel lens as well.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, the big difference between the old and the new version is its autofocus system. The newer EF 50 now uses an STM motor which is not just faster but also quieter than the older version.
This is a great feature for video recording as well as for still photos.
Now, this lens offers an impressive image quality for its price. The bokeh is not as creamy and not as smooth as other expensive 50mm lenses but it’s still great for portraits and can create a nice separation from the background.
Again, bokeh is subjective and it depends on your taste and what you’re going for.
I like its bokeh and honestly, I’m not expecting too much for a $100 lens.
Next, the colors it produces are great. That’s the one thing I really adore about the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens. And oh, the skin tones! It has the signature Canon color science and it’s just beautiful.
My friends usually wonder how my photos look so good and they’re always surprised when I tell them that it’s just a $100 lens.
It’s one of the reasons why I love this lens so much. The sharpness is also pretty good and it can be used for landscape photography as well.
Additionally, the 50mm focal length is quite versatile too! You can definitely use it indoors or in tight spaces.
Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM for Canon APS-C mirrorless cameras
Canon RF50mm F1.8 STM for EOS R system
Canon EF 35mm f/2
Who is it for?
The Canon EF 35mm f/2 can be a great option for full-frame users that are looking for an affordable wide-angle lens for shooting portraits on a budget.
The focal length is great for shooting full-body shots as well as environmental portraits.
However, it may not be considered a wide lens if you’re on APS-C and it will work the same as a 50mm lens.
Even if it’s not exactly a budget lens, you will get your money’s worth since it produces great image quality and good wide-open performance.
- Compact design
- Image stabilization
- Fast and accurate focusing
- Great sharpness
- Vignetting is evident when shooting wide open – but just a little bit!
Although the Canon EF 35mm f/2 may not be as affordable as the two Canon lenses above, it has the performance to back it up.
It’s a great lens that can produce amazing photos, even wide open! The lens is sharp and has excellent contrast
Of course, it’s not as sharp or as punchy as the Canon 35 L, but it’s a good alternative if you want to save some money.
I’ve been using this lens for shooting weddings in the past and it was actually my favorite 35mm lens when I started out.
I used it when shooting bridal portraits and candids and the lens is super helpful when shooting group photos.
The bokeh it produces is a little bit busy with a little bit of character. But I can say the same with the other lenses in this line.
If you want a natural-looking and smooth bokeh, you may opt to get the Canon EF 35 L lenses instead.
Now back to the Canon EF 35 f/2, the photos came out beautiful and the colors were very accurate. Surprisingly, it has an image stabilization feature that helps me to reduce camera shake when I shoot in low light.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 and the 85mm f/1.8, don’t have this feature, which is I think one of the reasons why the EF 35mm f/2 is more expensive than the other two lenses.
The lens built looks durable even if it’s light and compact. It does feel solid in my hands and can certainly withstand a few drops.
Another thing I really like about the EF 35mm f/2 is its form factor. Compact and easy to grab! It’s actually a great travel lens because it’s light, small and it can fit in my bag easily.
l also find that its autofocus is fast and accurate even when my subject is moving.
Canon EF-M 22mm f2 STM for APS-C mirrorless cameras
Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS MACRO STM for EOS R system
YONGNUO YN35mm F2 Lens for full-frame and cropped sensor Canon DSLRs
Canon EF 100 f/2.8 Macro USM
Who is it for?
The Canon EF 100 f/2.8 Macro USM is a great option if you’re considering getting a telephoto lens. It’s longer and much sharper than the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 but its aperture is slower.
If you’re shooting in good lighting conditions most of the time or has external flashes and lighting setups, this lens will serve you well.
It’s super sharp, the colors are punchy and it produces beautiful skin tones too.
- Great edge-to-edge sharpness
- Can also do macro
- Steady focusing ring
- Pretty durable
- Slow aperture
- The autofocus is a tad slow
I also started shooting weddings with this lens. I like to use it for portraits and close-up shots of wedding rings.
For portraits, it gives me a very shallow depth of field when shooting wide open. It has a nice bokeh and I can say that it’s smoother than Canon EF 85mm f/1.8’s bokeh.
Since it’s a macro lens, you should expect that it is very sharp even wide open. I noticed that it can rival some of my L lenses particularly the 85L and 135L in terms of sharpness.
If sharpness is your number 1 priority, you will surely not get disappointed with this lens. It’s sharp at f/2.8 and it gets even sharper as you stop down to f/5.6 to f/8.
Although, I will say that its extreme sharpness may also amplify your subject’s skin imperfections. So you should take that into consideration.
I also like its color and contrast rendering. The skin tone it produces is pleasing to the eyes and I often get compliments about it.
I would say that other than its price, its sharpness and bokeh are the main reasons why I use this lens. It’s also surprisingly lightweight and is easy to carry around when traveling.
However, its autofocus tends to be on the slower side and often plays a little bit before acquiring focus in low light.
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens
Canon RF100mm F2.8 L Macro is USM – it’s not cheap by the way
Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS STM
- Has great sharpness especially in the center
- Versatile range
- Has image stabilization
- Limited aperture
- Slow autofocus
If you’re just starting out and want a budget telephoto zoom lens that can do portraits decently, the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4.5-5.6 is your best bet.
It’s actually a pretty solid lens, it’s cheap and it produces quality images too.
You can still get pretty decent separation and bokeh with it, especially when shooting at its telephoto end.
I’m really surprised at its sharpness. It can go toe to toe with other prime lenses in this line. But of course, since it has a slow aperture, you should be shooting in daylight to fully maximize its potential.
The lens is relatively small and lightweight too for a telephoto zoom lens and the price point is just right for a budget.
I really like using this lens when shooting tight headshots of people. It gives you that nice soft background, which is what I’m looking for when doing portraits.
Well, the bokeh it produces is actually quite good. A tad busy but it’s not that distracting and doesn’t look as bad, well at least for me.
It has the classic color rendering you’d expect from a Canon lens.
The build quality of this lens isn’t too shabby either but it’s not as good as some of the newer lenses made by Canon nowadays. But that’s fine for me because I’m not really looking for something fancy given its price point.
I will certainly not going to use it shooting during paid shoots. But for personal use? I think it’s quite good. The Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS STM is a good portrait lens if you’re on a budget.
Who is it for?
Shooters who already have a wide-angle lens and want to add a telephoto zoom lens to their kit should consider this lens.
It’s a versatile lens that will cover a variety of shooting situations, from human to animal portraits to sports and more.
Although the Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS STM may not be as good as your one and only lens, it’s a good lens to have in your bag for those times when you need a little more reach.
Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III for full-frame and crop sensor DSLRs
Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 Image Stabilization STM Lens for Canon APS-C mirrorless cameras
Canon RF100-400mm F5.6-8 is USM for Canon EOS R system
Want to know more about portraits? Check out these resources:
Canon 6D Mark II Settings For Portraits
Portrait Lenses for Canon 5D Mark II
Which is better for portraits 35, 50mm, or 85mm?
When it comes to portrait photography, the choice of lens depends largely on the desired composition and environment.
There is no “the one” best lens for portrait photography, but there are some that are more suitable than others.
A 35mm lens is great for capturing full-body shots and is ideal when you’re shooting in tight spaces or indoors. It’s perfect if you want to include the background in your composition.
A 50mm lens is ideal for half-body portraits and is a great choice when you’re shooting in a wide range of environments. It’s considered a normal lens and it’s a great all-rounder for portrait photography.
An 85mm lens is ideal for capturing close-up shots, such as headshots, or if you want to completely obliterate the background in your composition.
It also offers a more compressed look and can be more flattering for your subject compared to a 35mm and 50mm lens.
Can I use EF lenses on my Canon APS-C camera?
Canon APS-C cameras such as the Canon 90D, Canon 7D, and the like can mount and use EF-S, as well as EF lenses without even using an appropriate adapter.
However, Canon EF lenses are designed for full-frame cameras and when used on an APS-C camera, they will produce images with a 1.6x crop factor.
This means that the effective focal length of the lens will be 1.6x longer than the stated focal length. For example, a 50mm EF lens will more or less produce a field of view of an 80mm lens on an APS-C camera.
What lens is best for family portraits?
Generally speaking, the ideal lens for family portraits on a budget would be either a wide-angle or telephoto lens.
A wide-angle lens such as the Canon 35mm f/2 gives you the ability to capture a large group of people without having to move away from them.
While a telephoto lens such as the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 will allow you to get close without disturbing them, which can result in much more relaxed and natural expressions.
Which aperture is best for portraits?
As for me, I like to work with fast lenses. This means I want a lens with an aperture of f/1.2 to f/2.8.
That way, I can get a very shallow depth of field and that creamy bokeh that I’m lusting for when doing portraits.
You might be wondering why I like fast lenses. The reason is that they allow me to separate my subject from the background, which in turn gives me more creative freedom.
However, it’s also not uncommon for me to use an aperture of f/4 and slower. This is usually the case when I’m shooting group photos or environmental portraits.
In this case, I want to be able to capture as much detail as possible, including the background, which means that a narrower depth of field would not work for this type of work.
Emma Lucy is the Founder & CEO of Emma Lucy Photography. She has over a decade of experience shooting weddings and other intimate events. She also tests the latest digital camera bodies, lenses, analog cameras and other gear from Canon, Nikon, Sony and other camera brands. She currently lives in London where she spends most of her time being a self-employed professional photographer and writer.