Nearly every focal length can be used for portrait photography. While not all these lenses are the perfect fit for portrait photography, some of them are explicitly designed for this purpose.
Now, if you own a Canon camera, it might seem sensible to use a lens from the same brand. However, there are third-party lenses from Sigma, Tamron, and others that often offer similar or sometimes even better optical performance than Canon lenses, and above all, at more competitive prices.
Therefore, in this piece, we have put together a list of some of the best third-party portrait lenses for Canon cameras. Let’s start the countdown.
1. Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Overall Winner)
Weighing in at 1130g, this 85mm optic from Sigma is one of the biggest and heaviest portrait lenses on the market. The high-class Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art features a competent design and performs efficiently.
Lens components are wrapped up in a weather-resistant casing and its compatibility with Sigma’s USB Dock means you get access to firmware updates and customizable settings. You also get a lens hood and padded soft case along with the lens.
The autofocus system is quick and extremely silent. It’s driven by the hypersonic motor (HSM) and needs calibration. Once dialed in, the results it delivers are outstanding. The oversized focusing ring gives you great control and makes the lens easy to use.
While shooting wide open at f/1.4, this lens maintains incredible sharpness away from the center of the image frame, however, unlike the Sigma’s 50mm Art lens, sharpness at the center isn’t quite spectacular at widest aperture ratings.
Distortions are well-controlled and color accuracy is superb. All in all, this 85mm prime from Sigma is an incredible performer but a bit costly.
The Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is particularly well-suited for Canon DSLR users. Unlike most prime lenses, it offers image stabilization which helps capture handheld shots easily.
Thanks to the Tamron’s TAP-in console, you can connect the lens to a computer using a USB link and access firmware updates and customization settings to fine-tune different parameters.
Compared to the Sigma’s 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art above, it’s quite smaller in size and lighter in weight. At 700g, this lens feels balanced and completely manageable when fitted on full-frame cameras and its Vibration Compensation system proves to be an asset in low-light scenarios.
Powered by ring-type ultrasonic systems, autofocusing works internally while the outer and front elements remain fixed during the operation throughout the entire focusing range. Besides, the lens has been supplied with hoods to help counter extraneous light.
Shooting wide open at f/1.8, the results for portraiture are sharp enough while sharpness is quite evident across the whole frame. Bokeh is pleasing and incredibly smooth, thanks to the longer focal lengths.
The Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is another third-party portrait lens with impeccable performance and handling. Priced well within reason, there is very little to nothing that you may not like about this incredible lens. Unless you desire for f/1.4 aperture rating, this Tamron offers superb quality at a very competitive price.
The reason for Sigma’s massive size and weight is its complex yet more sophisticated optical design compared to the Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, enclosing a nine-bladed well-rounded diaphragm and 13 lens elements for outstanding bokeh performance and picture quality.
The autofocus system is another area where Sigma edges ahead of the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, with the former featuring an upgraded ring-type ultrasonic autofocusing arrangement (super-fast and whisper-quiet), whereas the latter only comes with a motor-driven ultrasonic mechanism.
Center sharpness of this lens is better than any other lens discussed on this list, with wonderful contrast and color, even when shooting wide open. Moving away from the center, the sharpness performance can be a little disappointing. However, by stopping down a stop or two you can significantly increase the sharpness.
As for the color fringing, it has been controlled quite well while the distortion is invisible. To put it simply, this third-party lens offers a remarkable all-round performance with your Canon camera.
While the Canon and Sigma lack the optical stabilization, almost all the recent prime lenses from Tamron share this feature, and the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD holds this flag too.
It helps a lot when capturing portraits indoors under poor lighting conditions. Even if you use an aperture rating of f/1.4 or f/1.8, it needs slow shutter speeds. But it’s not possible without boosting ISO settings that may end up degrading your image quality significantly.
That’s where Tamron’s Vibration Compensation system demonstrates effectiveness by allowing the use of slower shutter speeds, hence preventing any problems due to camera shakes.
Featuring a ring-type ultrasonic autofocus mechanism and great build quality, this lens offers unmatched performance. The image quality, sharpness, and contrast are amazing, even at f/1.8.
Although you might not get completely distortion-free results like the Sigma 50mm f/1.4, barrel distortion has been noticeably reduced compared to its Canon 50mm counterparts.
5. Samyang MF 85mm f/1.4 RF (Budget Winner)
The Samyang MF 85mm f/1.4 RF has been introduced for new and advanced mirrorless full-frame Canon cameras, but it doesn’t include built-in electronics.
This lens doesn’t just come with a manual-focusing option. You will also have to tune the aperture manually via its aperture control ring. Additionally, the aperture values won’t be stored in the EXIF data of images.
However, the good thing about the lens is that the ‘focus peaking’ option is provided during manual focus operation. It comes to the rescue when, let’s say, you need to focus on the closer eye of the subject in order to take a portrait shot.
The lens features quality optics that include nine elements, with one complex hybrid aspherical element. Samyang’s Ultra Multi-Coating is applied to the lens elements that effectively contains distortions, ghosting, and flare.
Image quality and sharpness are outstanding throughout almost all aperture ratings, but it may downgrade at f/1.4. The lens offers exceptional bokeh performance.
Final Words on Third-Party Portrait Lenses for Canon
So, these are our recommendations for best third-party portrait lenses for Canon cameras that are easily available on the market. The list includes options for almost every price range.
Every lens reviewed here offers great quality and portrait performance. Just go through the discussion carefully to select the best portrait option for your Canon shooter.