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Best Canon Lenses for Family Photographers | Advice From a Photographer

Having the right lens for your family photography can make a big difference in the quality and creativity of your photos. I'm a family photographer myself, so I thought it would be a great idea to write my recommendations for the best lenses using my own personal experience, or what I've heard from other photographers. Because I really hate looking for advice on these things and only finding articles written by people who aren't even photographers. Right?? First, here are some recommendations for the best lenses for different types of family photography.

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Best Canon lenses for indoor family photography:

When choosing a lens for indoor family photos, you're going to want a wide-angle lens because some houses are smaller and don't allow for a lot of space to back up. The best lenses for an indoor photo session would be 35mm or wider, but you can sometimes get away with 50mm if you're on a budget.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8: For a general-purpose, budget lens that is great for indoor family photography, the 50mm f/1.8 is the way to go. It is pretty cheap and known in the photography community as the "nifty fifty" because it's pretty nifty how great of a lens it is for less than $150. It has a wide aperture for low-light situations and produces sharp images. The drawback here is that a 50mm can sometimes not be wide enough in a smaller home, especially if you are using a crop sensor camera (because your focal length will be more like an 85mm). I started out with this lens and it served me well for several years until I could afford to upgrade.
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Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 II USM: If you want to get more creative with your indoor shots and have more room to back up, the 35mm f/1.4 II USM is a great lens! There are two versions of this and I have owned both, but the newer one that I linked here handles chromatic aberration much better and has smoother bokeh. Super worth the pricetag. I use the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens more than anything else.
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Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM: This lens is a great choice for indoor family photos, as it has a wide focal length and a wide aperture which is great when you don't have a ton of light. You'll have plenty of room to capture the entire scene with this lens and it produces beautiful, round sun flares that are just dreamy.
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Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art: Okay, this isn't a Canon lens, but it has a Canon mount and I love it so much that I had to include it. It's another great option for indoor family photography, as it is known for its sharp image quality and smooth bokeh. Plus, it's a very wide lens so it would be amazing for a tiny home or trying to lift your head up over a crib to get an overhead shot without needing a stool.
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Best lenses for photographing large families:

When photographing large families, you'll want a lens with a wide focal length to capture everyone in the frame unless you want to stand super far away. But standing farther away with a longer focal length can look very beautiful with the compressed background it will give you. You just have to decide what works best for your style of photography. With this in mind, the best lens for photographing large families would be somewhere around an 85mm focal length.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM: This lens is a great budget option for large family shots, as it has a slightly longer focal length, which helps to compress the features of your subjects and create a more flattering perspective. It also has a wide aperture for low-light situations and produces sharp images. I've had this lens and loved it before I upgraded!
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24-70mm f/2.8L II USM: The 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is a popular choice for large families, as it has a wide range of focal lengths. If you like to be able to zoom in and out fast without the need to run, getting a zoom lens like this is a great idea. But also consider that zoom lenses typically don't have as wide of apertures as fixed focal length lenses, so they aren't ideal for low-light situations. There is an older version of this lens as well, but I'm recommending the newer version.
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70-200mm f/2.8 IS III USM: Another option is the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS III USM, which allows you to get closer to your subjects and still capture everyone in the frame. This lens is a bit longer and a lot heavier than most lenses, but the compressed background looks absolutely beautiful. This is great if you capture a lot of posed portraits, but if you do lifestyle photography, this is not going to be the lens for you. You can also find older versions of this lens if you don't need the best of the best.
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Best camera lenses for portraits:

For portrait photography, it is best to have a camera lens that compresses the background a bit because it is much more flattering for your subjects and doesn't cause unflattering distortion. So the best choice for portrait photography would be a 50mm or 85mm lens.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM: For classic, timeless portraits, the 85mm f/1.8 is a great choice. This lens is for the family photographer on a budget and you won't be disappointed. It has a slightly longer focal length, which helps to compress the features of your subjects and create a more flattering perspective.
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Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM: If you want to get more creative with your portraits, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM is a great lens for portraits and is really versatile. I've used this lens and it has such creamy bokeh. It is also relatively inexpensive, making it a good option for those on a budget, but is the next step above the Nifty Fifty I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
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Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM: This is the baller option, so be prepared to shell out the big bucks but it is SO worth it! This is the most beautiful lens I've ever owned and the photos it takes are next level. This lens is SHARP even at 1.2 and the lens flare is so minimal and usually in the corner, rather than the middle of the photo like a lot of lenses. The only bad thing about this lens is the price and how heavy it is. Also, note that this is an RF lens which means it's only compatible with mirrorless Canon cameras.
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Best canon lenses for lifestyle family photography:

As a lifestyle family photographer, I would recommend a 50mm or 35mm lens because this type of photography requires a lot of interaction so it's best to be closer to your subjects. Capturing the landscape is also something that lifestyle photographers love to do, so having a wider lens will allow that. I personally love using a 35mm lens the most, but there are other photographers who love their 50mm lenses.

EF 50mm f/1.8 STM: Great for the photographer on a budget, this is a cheap but sufficient lens for lifestyle family photography. I always recommend starting out with this lens until you can afford something better.
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Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM: For a more expensive but AWESOME option, the 35mm f/1.4 is a great lens for lifestyle family photographers. This is the lens I use the most often and it's beautiful. I love being able to stand closer to my subjects so I can interact with the families and get genuine reactions.
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Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM: I know a ton of lifestyle family photographers who love using a 50mm focal length and this lens is a great compromise between the entry-level 1.8 50mm and the more expensive 1.2 option.
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Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM: This is an expensive but beautiful lens perfect for lifestyle family photographers who want to capture high-quality, creative images. It has a wide aperture of f/1.2, which allows for low-light photography and a very shallow depth of field, creating super dreamy background compression. This is a super fast and accurate lens, which is amazing for chasing around little kids. I would own this lens if I could justify another expensive lens purchase (I keep hoping for a sale!).
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Overall best Canon lenses for family photography

Next, let's explore my overall recommendations for the best lenses for family photography. These lenses would be the most versatile for a variety of situations.

Overall best Canon EF mount lenses for family photography (compatible with full-frame and crop-sensor DSLR cameras):

Budget lens: For a general-purpose lens that is great for most situations, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, or the Nifty Fifty, is a great choice. It is one of the most inexpensive lenses that Canon sells, has a pretty wide aperture for low-light situations, and produces sharp images. The 50mm focal length is pretty versatile if you shoot with a full-frame camera.
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Budget lens #2: The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens is a versatile and relatively affordable option for family photographers. It has a wide aperture of f/1.4, great for low light situations and shallow depth of field. It also has a 50mm focal length, which is a versatile range that is suitable for a wide range of shots, from portraits to group shots. One potential drawback is that it may not be as sharp as more expensive options, particularly when used at wider apertures. Additionally, the lens may be more prone to flare and other optical artifacts when used in certain lighting conditions but overall is a good choice when on a budget.
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Expensive option: If you like standing closer to your subjects (like I do), the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is a great lens! It is my absolute favorite lens that I own and I use it more than any other. The low aperture is perfect for when the light is low (indoors or at sunset), and the bokeh is gorgeous. It's a bit more expensive but is worth every penny.
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Expensive option #2: If you like the versatility of a zoom lens, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is a popular choice. It has a wide range of focal lengths making it perfect for quickly switching your zoom without moving your feet. The drawback of a lens like this is that your aperture can't go as low, so if you're in a low-light situation, you may have to compensate some other way. If you mostly do outdoor photos, this shouldn't be a problem.
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Overall best Canon RF mount lenses for family photography (compatible with full-frame mirrorless cameras):

Budget lens: The Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens is a great budget option for family photographers in any situation. It has a 50mm focal length, which is a versatile range that is suitable for a wide range of shots, from portraits to group shots. The lens is compact and lightweight, making it easy to carry around. One potential downside of this lens is that it may not be as sharp as more expensive options, particularly when used at wider apertures. But for most family photography situations, the lens should be just fine.
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Budget lens #2: For a compact and lightweight option, the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM is a great lens for capturing candid, spontaneous moments. The 35mm focal length is super versatile, making it great for both indoor and outdoor photos. The drawback here is that the glass is less expensive, making it prone to sun flares in your images.
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Expensive option: For portraits, the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM is a top-of-the-line lens that is perfect for capturing classic, timeless images. It has a slightly longer focal length, which helps to compress the features of your subjects and create a more flattering perspective.
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Expensive option #2: The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens is a top-of-the-line lens that is perfect for lifestyle family photographers who want to capture high-quality, creative images without having to stand too far from their subjects. It has a wide aperture of f/1.2, which allows for low-light photography and a very shallow depth of field, creating super dreamy background compression. It also has a 50mm focal length, which is a versatile range that is suitable for a wide range of shots, from portraits to group shots. Additionally, the lens is fast and accurate, making it easy to capture candid, spontaneous moments.
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Frequently asked questions about camera lenses

How do I know if I need an EF or RF mount lens?

If you have a DSLR camera, then you will need and EF mount lens. If you have a mirrorless camera (currently all mirrorless cameras are named something that starts with an R, like the R5, R6, etc), then you will need an RF mount lens OR an adapter so you can still use an EF lens.

Can I use an EF mount lens with a Canon mirrorless camera?

Yes, you can use an EF lens with a Canon mirrorless camera! All you need is an adapter. I've found that my EF lenses perform even better on my mirrorless cameras.

Can I use an RF lens on a DSLR camera?

No. Unfortunately, there isn't an adapter to use an RF lens on a DSLR camera so you will need to get a Canon mirrorless camera to use an RF mount lens.

What lenses do I need if I have a crop-sensor DSLR camera?

When you have a crop-sensor DSLR camera, you can use any EF lenses. Canon does make some lenses specifically designed for crop-sensor cameras, and you can recognize them by the EF-S name. These lenses cannot be used on non-crop sensor cameras.

What happens when I use a regular EF lens on a crop-sensor(APS-C) DSLR?

When you use a regular EF lens on a camera with a smaller sensor, like a crop-sensor APS-C DSLR, the lens will still work like normal. But the image you see through the viewfinder and take with the camera will be "cropped," or smaller, than it would be on a full-frame camera. For example, if you use a 50mm lens on a crop-sensor camera that makes everything look 1.6 times bigger, the lens will act like it's a 80mm lens (50 x 1.6 = 80). This can be helpful for taking pictures of things far away, but it might make it harder to take pictures of things up close or wide spaces. So if you were wanting about a 35mm focal length but you have a crop-sensor camera, you should buy a 24mm lens.

What is the best camera lens for a beginner?

For beginner photography, I suggest buying budget lenses until you can afford to upgrade to something better. The budget lenses still do a great job and many photographers love theirs and don't ever upgrade. You can create beautiful photographs with any equipment if you know how to use them correctly.

Ultimately, the best lens for family photography will depend on your personal style and the specific needs of your clients. By considering the type of photography that you do, as well as whether you have a mirrorless or DSLR camera, you can choose the lens that will help you create beautiful images for the families you photograph.

And if you need further help, check out my blog about what Canon camera is best for family photographers.

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