(Editor’s Note: Ryan Hill is a product specialist at Lensrentals.)
There will never be a list of the top lenses that covers every possible base for every possible photographer. Even narrowing it down here to what I think are the best portrait lenses, the “best” lens for you really depends on what you like to shoot, what camera you have, what your budget is, and so on.
It’s important then to think of best portrait lens roundups like this one as a collection of ideas rather than collections of products to buy. Very few people have the money or even the need for every lens on this list of what I think are the best portrait lenses for Canon photographers. The good news is we’ve provided links throughout this story if you want to take these lenses for a test drive from Lensrentals.
So, without further ado, here are my picks of the five best portrait lenses for Canon photographers, which, as you’ll notice, are not just native Canon lenses. Happy portrait shooting!
The Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, which is available in a Canon mount and others, is one of the sharpest lenses currently available. The Otus 55mm f/1.4 is also apochromatic, meaning it contains additional (complex, expensive) internal glass elements that virtually eliminate chromatic aberration. Likewise, its high contrast coating renders beautiful colors, there’s almost no visible distortion, and color fringing is basically non-existent. In short, this is a lens essentially designed without compromise, at least optically. The 55mm focal length makes it ideal for medium close-up, shoulders-and-up portraits.
However, it’s a bit unfair to open the list with this pricey Zeiss Otus lens. It’s like writing a “Best Seafood Recipes” article and starting with lobster, sea urchin, and white truffles. Of course, it’s good. That kind of goes without saying. The Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 is just not a realistic everyday option for most people. This is not a cheap lens. In fact, at nearly $4,000 retail, it costs well more than twice its costliest competitor, the Canon 50mm f/1.2L.
And cost isn’t the only hurdle. The Otus 55mm is also an entirely manual lens. This is due, I’m guessing, to the fact that apochromatic performance requires so much additional glass that the lens is already two to three times the weight of other 50mm primes. AF hardware, especially motors large enough to move that much glass around, would just add more size and weight. So, this is a beautiful and extremely technically impressive lens, but it’s clearly not for everyone.