Recommended portrait lenses for a crop sensor Canon camera?


TPF Noob!
Jul 22, 2011
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Hi everyone. I shoot with a crop sensor Canon camera (Rebel XTi) and am looking to buy a better portrait lens for it. I currently use the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 and occasionally the Canon 50mm f/1.8. The Canon 50/1.8 isn't a very good lens however (quality-wise) and was considering upgrading to the 50mm f/1.4, otherwise I've been recommended an 85mm and 60mm lens. I plan on renting a couple lens before I choose one to buy but if anyone has any suggestions for lenses that are well-compatible with a crop sensor body that would be great.

I know that my Sigma was built for a crop sensor body so it does work well. But other then that I'm not sure quality-wise to consider:

- Canon 50mm f/1.4
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4
- Canon 60mm f/2.8
- Canon 85mm f/1.8
- Sigma 85mm f/1.4

I prefer a wide aperture so would consider sticking with something that shoots f/1.4 but I heard 60 shoots well for portraits so... (but it'd be equivalent to 96mm on my body).

My extremely limited experience w the 85mm f/1.8 is that it is too tight on a crop sensor (I use a 7D) unless you have a lot of space.
it depends on what kind of portraits you want to shoot, and how much room you have to shoot in.
ive shot portraits with 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, and 180mm primes. (on a DX camera)
longer focal lengths CAN be a little tight on a crop frame, but a lot will depend on whether you are trying to get a full body shot, just a head shot, or somewhere in between.

85mm is probably my favorite portrait lens for head/shoulder shots.
I have the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 and EF 85mm f/1.8. If I have enough distance between the subject and camera, I like the result of my 85mm. The only draw back of the 85mm lens is CA issue when shooting wide open. So sometimes I need to correct it in POST.

Personally, I prefer longer focal length for portrait. Also, the 85mm lens build quality is better than the 50mm f/1.4 and the focus system of the 85mm is smoother when compares with the EF 50mm f/1.4.
The Canon 60mm (EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM) is actually a 1:1 scale 'macro' lens. While it can be used for traditional non-close-up work (it's just as happy to focus out to infinity) it's not primarily designed for that.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM is probably what you want. It'll perform like an 80mm lens on a full-frame camera and it creates a very pleasing out-of-focus background quality.
From your list Id say get the 50mm f1.4 and the 85mm f1.4 or if needed the 1.8 to save a few bucks. With the equivalent ranges of 75mm and 127.5 both are really useful. Alternatively a 70-200mm f2.8 can be use quite effectively as a portrait lens and the extra focal length is nice for achieving creamy bokeh.
The best choice of focal length depends on whether you're confined in space (shooting indoors) or not (shooting outdoors, or in a larger studio).

Indoors, I've found 50mm to be an ideal length on crop for head-and-shoulders framing. Outdoors, I frequently go up to a 135mm prime for the same framing and love the results.

I own the 60mm. It does make a good portrait lens, but it is extremely sharp (while you can soften it in post, ultrasharpness is not necessarily the ideal for flattering portraits), and only goes to f/2.8 maximum aperture which can be limiting both in shooting natural light indoors and in creating shallow depth of field should you wish to.

You can produce nice portraits with the 50mm f/1.8 but as I'm sure you've found, if the background is 'busy' its bokeh is rather distracting.

The Sigmas in your list are meant to have amazing image quality, but have a reputation for autofocus issues - front- or back-focusing. However judging from amazon reviews, you can normally get away with returning however many copies you need to until you get a new one (also, most camera bodies allow a certain amount of adjustment for particular lenses).

The best choice is ... it depends.

If you're also interested in macro photography, consider the Canon 60mm f/2.8. With the small (for a prime lens) maximum aperture, I wouldn't consider buying it as a portrait lens otherwise. Also, if you ever went to full-frame, you'd find yourself needing to sell the macro lens again as it's not compatible.

If you'll mostly be shooting indoors where space is limited, personally I'd go for the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 (but be prepared to return if it has focusing issues).

If you'll mostly be shooting outside, I'd try out the Canon 85mm f/1.8 or 100mm f/2.0.
I prefer the 30mm but at a meet-up I was at on the weekend, I liked the result of the very close headshot some (most) photographers were taking
Thank you everyone! I will rent a 50 f/1.4 and 85 when I get the chance to make sure!

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