The Best Canon Lens for Family Portraits

Canon DSLR Camera with 50mm and 24-70mm EF Lens

If you’re on the hunt for the best lens for family portraits, this blog post is for you.

As a Canon girl, (yes, I am a Canon fan), I’m going to specifically focus on the

BEST Canon Lens for Family Portraits.

However, at the end of this article, we’ll look at other comparative cheaper options in other brands but that are for the Canon camera. Photography can be an expensive art but there are many ways to offset the costs. As many professional photographers and videographers will say, it’s really about your skills and not the cost of the equipment that matters.

So let’s go a little slow and break down these best Canon lenses and see if we can’t find the perfect lens for you.

Let’s start with the Canon EF 50 mm f.

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Canon EF 50mm f

Specifically, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 USM, is a little beast. This is a heavy-duty lens that though is little, is a great option that packs a punch when it comes to quality results.

Within the prime lenses, this lens has a full frame format with an aperture range of 1.2 to 16. It does not have image stabilization, is not waterproof/water resistant or dust resistant. But its low aperture gives it great results in low light settings and it can be used with Canon mirrorless cameras by using an adapter like the mound adapter EF-EOS R.

For those with 24.1 Megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor DLSR cameras, you can still use this lens to produce high quality images understanding it will have a 1.6x crop which is around 80mm.

This is absolutely ideal for portrait photography in family sessions.

Furthermore, it has a high refraction glass molded aspherical lens element that reduce spherical aberration allowing the best image quality possible from one end of the image to the other even when used wide open.

Another great feature of this lens is its maximum aperture of 1.2 which produces a shallow depth of field to create a beautiful bokeh background to allow subjects to pop out.

Canon EF 50mm f pros and cons for Family Photography

STM Lens

On the other hand, there is a STM lens option for the 50mm. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens is also known as a pancake lens. It is flatter and a more compact size than the full-on heavy-duty version we discussed above. Cost-wise, it is cheap as dirt at $125. It gives you the desired 50mm focal length option for family portraits and with an aperture at 1.8, quiet continuous autofocus, optimized lens placement and coatings to reduce ghosting and flare, is a great option to have on hand if you want the option of a 50mm but the budget is tight. Say for example, you already invested in an expensive 24-70mm lens and don’t have the room for another $1500-2000 to spend on another EF lens. This is a stepping stone lens though. Meaning, use it as you need until you can afford to upgrade your glass to the Canon EF 50mm f. The autofocus, aperture and overall image quality as well as the feel in your hand during use is just unbeatable compared to this pancake lens.

Another option is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens

… priced at $399. Is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM affordable? Absolutely. And compared to the pancake lens we discussed previously this is hands-down worth the extra couple hundred bucks. The aperture is better at f/1.4, hello low light settings, and optical and design construction just that much better. It boasts super spectra coating to enhance contrast and gives a better accurate color balance, ultrasonic focusing, and clear crisp images.

But again, use this while you need until you can upgrade your glassware.

I bought this before I invested in the Canon EF 50mm f and let me tell you, the difference in quality during use was obvious right away.

One of the issues I had with the cheaper version was autofocusing issues. It was slow and would sometimes miss and I’d have to re-take shots. But not so with the f/1.2. It quickly went from my 24-70mm being my favorite lens on family photo sessions to the 50mm.

Canon EF 85mm f

Now let’s discuss the best canon portrait lens in the 85mm lenses group.

Specifically the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens.

This is also an ideal lens for portraits.

It is the first 85mm L-series to incorporate image stabilization up to 4 stops of shake correction. Similar to the 50 mm, it has a large aperture, maximum at f/1.4 (minimum f/22), for a shallow depth of field producing that beautiful, coveted background blur. And it captures at a fast shutter speed, has a fast autofocus system and is easy to operate.

Canon EF 50mm f pros and cons for Family Photography

Canon EF 35mm f

Within the 35mm lenses group is the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens, which is great in a range of situations including landscape to portrait.

This can be extremely helpful for family sessions where you want a variety of photos from up close to including landscape.

This little beast boasts something called BR Optics which stands for Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics. This optical element helps to maximize image quality by reducing chromatic aberration.

Yes, my friends. This is not any ol’ 35 mm lens. It is a prime, wide-angle single focus lens that is comprised of two spheric lenses and one UD lens, subwavelength coating (SWC) to reduce lens ghosting and flare and fluorine coating on the front and rear lens to reduce smears and fingerprints.

This thing was BUILT to be used in a variety of scenarios and setting.

Canon EF 50mm f pros and cons for Family Photography

Canon EF 24-70mm

Ah, my dear friends, here is one of the best lenses for family photography. Yes, it is in the category of telephoto lenses but because of its versatile focal length, is considered one of the best portrait lenses to have.

Considered a standard Canon zoom lens for the DSLR cameras, this lens has several features that make it an all-around great lens to have on hand for family portraits.

It has a fast aperture at a maximum of f/2.8 which is consistent throughout its zoom range. It has a Super UD and two UD lens elements to help reduce chromatic aberration and color blurring around the edges of subjects with high-contrast. It has two aspherical lenses to improve high quality images throughout its range of focal lengths and fluorine coatings on the front and rear lens similar to the Canon EF 35mm, to reduce smears and fingerprints.

Great bokeh? You bet.

This is made possible by the aperture with nine circular blades. And when it comes to the build, it is sealed against dust and water, and has a zoom lock lever to eliminate “zoom creep.”

Yes, it is pricey. But considering it has many features comparable to the aforementioned prime lenses but housed within one lens, that in itself is good reason to make the investment.

As an owner of this particular lens, it being the first one I invested in… it is a keeper.

I use it in so many situations in and outside of family photoshoots. I believe and agree that this is a staple telephoto lens that every Canon user should own.

I do not think it is that great in low-light situations compared to the other prime lenses with a wide f, but it is still results in quality images and is worth considering.

Canon EF 50mm f pros and cons for Family Photography

What about kit lenses?

Many beginner photographers wonder about kit lenses. Especially if you’re just starting out and trying to watch your budget.

Kit lenses are those lenses that are bought in a package purchase with a Canon camera. For example, a common bundle is a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR (DSLR camera) with a 24-105mm USM lens.

Here’s why you have to be careful with kit lenses.

When you look under the specifics, the maximum aperture is usually higher than any of the prime and even the telephoto lenses we’ve already discussed.

In the case of the example bundle mentioned above, the 24-105mm Canon lens seems to be great. It’s a zoom lens and covers a wide-angle to short telephoto focal length ranges, but the maximum aperture is f/4. Yes, it has Air Sphere Coating, suppresses flare and ghosting to result in quality images, but for the additional price of $1065.95, you’re likely better off investing that in a lens with a better aperture.

In my opinion, other brands can give you a comparable quality image with a wider aperture and for less cost.


Sigma Options

The Sigma brand of lenses offers several great options to consider versus Canon EF lenses and could be a good choice for your needs.

There’s the Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM IF ART Lens for the Canon EF priced at $1299. Compared to $1899, you’re talking several hundred bucks cheaper with the same telephoto range, maximum aperture, fast autofocus and quality build.

Designed to reduce flare and ghosting as well as dust and splash-proof, this is a durable lens that is compatible with Canon EF and APS-C cameras. Of course there can be some compatibility restrictions but you can research this before making the investment.

As for the image quality, it is capable of gorgeous sharp images and is just as great on family portraits as Canon lenses.

It is weighty but for the price? Hard to beat if you’re looking to be budget-friendly.

Personally, I own a Sigma 70-200mm and have found it to be a great lens with sharp images, same widest aperture as my Canon 70-200mm but for a drastically cheaper cost. (Note to the wise: I wouldn’t use the 70-200mm for portraits though). Just saying, this brand is an option to consider.

Check out these Sigma options comparable to the Canon EF lenses:

Tamron Options

Besides Sigma, one of the top cost-friendly options for Canon cameras is the Tamron 24-70mm f lens.

This is a great option to consider instead of the kit lens provided by a Canon camera bundle if you don’t yet have the funds to expand several hundred bucks more for a Canon EF brand lens.

The optical construction of this beast has extra refractive index elements, low dispersion elements and aspherical lens elements.

What does all that mean?

It means the image quality is fantastic for the price because it minimizes axial and transverse chromic aberrations, spherical aberrations and distortion.

In addition, it has a vibration compensation system so that even in low light settings or slow shutter speeds, handheld shooting is easily accomplished due to a shake-free process. Not to mention, it has a fluorine coating to the front surface as well, which as you know by now from the other lenses discussed, gives the lens a durability against water and oil, as well as safe and easy removal of fingerprints, dirt and smudges.

If the cost of Canon EF lenses are just too, too much, consider these two Tamron alternative options:

In short, there are several options to consider for the

Best Canon lenses for Family Portrait sessions.

Helen Bartlett has a great guide for family portraiture lenses that you can also check out for further information.

The staples to look at are the 50mm, 24-70mm, 85mm, and the 35mm. In my opinion, that is the order of camera lens to go for. And do keep in mind that whether it’s Canon full-frame cameras, mirrorless cameras or APS-C sensor cameras, these lens options are compatible in most cases.


If you’re really confused and just uncertain about any of this, rent one and use it. It’ll give you the hands-on experience you need to compare these great lenses and give you a direct ideal option from which to choose when deciding to purchase.

These lenses are not just limited to family photography either. Because of their consistent high performance, portrait photographers use these types of lenses for family, newborn, couple, maternity and corporate headshot sessions.

The versatility for a variety of scenarios is unbeatable and likely, an investment in any of these great lenses will be for the long-term. 

In short, best wishes on your hunt for the perfect lens for your family portraits sessions! I pray the above helped you in some form or fashion, and if so, let me know below!

Til’ the next one, cheers!

~Ruth Elaine

2 thoughts on “The Best Canon Lens for Family Portraits”

  1. Lovely summary of the recommendable Canon lenses. Canon has built a remarkable portfolio of pro lenses, esp. 50 / 85 I love. Thanks for your article

    1. Thank you for the feedback! I love Canon’s lenses. Making a switch to prime lenses in my near future. Best wishes to you!

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