Beginning Lens for Portraits

by Ed
(Treasure Coast, FL)

Ef-S Lens<br>Versatile Portrait Lens

Ef-S Lens
Versatile Portrait Lens

"What lens would you recommend as I begin home portrait Photography as a hobby? I have a Canon SL1 w/ kit lens ( great Ebay buy). Almost immediately, I bought a new 50mm; but my reading seems to be pointing me toward something like a 35-105mm or similar. I’m even researching the old FD lens to keep costs down—I don’t mind the manual focus for now. Your thoughts on this lens or another for this application. Thanks much. Your article on the Basics of Lenses was most helpful. Ed.

P.s., Have you written any materials on Black and White photography...that’s really what I want to master later on..."

Hello Ed,

Thanks for asking about a beginning portrait lens! I'd be glad to share my thoughts on what a good lens would be for shooting portraits with your Canon SL1. A friend of mine shoots with an SL1 and loves hers. Also, I included a few links at the end of this answer if you want to read up some more.

Since you have a Canon "crop-sensor" camera, you have lots of affordable choices. Although it's true that generally it's a great starter lens, the 18-55mm kit lens comes up just a little short in being used very much for shooting portraits.

EF-S Portrait Lens

Unless you're planning on upgrading to a full-frame Canon DSLR, I think you'd be better off getting an EF-S lens to start with, rather than an EF lens. EF-S lenses will be smaller and more affordable.

The EF 35-105 isn't a bad choice-I just think you may be a bit limited when you're shooting in smaller spaces to zoom out enough for full body shots or shooting any small group portraits with a 35-105mm (56-106mm equivalent).

Based on the information you provided in your question, my number 1 recommended choice for a beginning portrait lens would be the 18-135mm. It will be the most versatile for you by far. Even brand new they're less than $300 (for the NON Image Stabilization model) and it will be very easy to find a good deal for less than half of that for a used one because there are so many around.

That gives you an equivalent angle of view as a 28-215mm lens of a full frame DSLR. You'll be able to shoot group portraits, zoom out for full body length poses, as well as get nice and tight on individual headshot portraits.

EF Lens For Portraits

Although it's not considered a beginner lens, the EF 85mm prime lens would give you professional quality and a very reasonable price. Sames as the 18-135, you can get brand new for less than $300 and much cheaper for used. It's incredibly sharp, even wide open at f/1.8, and the out of focus background effect (Bokeh) is amazing.

This was the portrait lens I used extensively in the beginning in my portrait photography business. It's a prime lens so you wouldn't have zoom capabilities, but you could use your 18-55 kit lens for shooting group portraits or when space is limited.

I could give you others, but I didn't want to get too lengthy and make it too confusing. I hope this helps, Ed. Please let me know what you decide on,
Thank you,


EF-S Portrait Lenses. Article on portrait lenses for APS-C cameras like your SL1.
Black and White For Beginners. I shot a lot of black and white film early on in the 70s and 80s, but I haven't written a lot on black and white photography. Here's an article to start with.

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