Best Camera Lens for Family Photography

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

In photography, there are so many things we still don’t know. This is what it makes it so great! It’s a beautiful journey discovering what was, what is and what is about to come.

In our case, while we’re looking to find the best camera lens for family portraits, we need to do our research. We have to see what other photographers use and why.

This is how I am learning and writing my findings at John Mak Photography. I am always looking at photos of professional photographers and trying to understand what makes their photos unique, what lenses they use and why.

The best way to understand a photo is to understand the focal length, the sharpness, the colors (even though today we do a lot of photo editing in PS and LR), the noise and other settings like aperture, etc.

photo credit Bruno Nascimento

But before we come to a conclusion of which lens is the best for family photography and taking unique portraits we need to understand our camera, the focal length we need to use and then we can decide which lens is best for our needs.

Here’s what you need to know before you buy a portrait lens for family photography:

  • Is your camera Full Frame, APS-C or Micro 4/3?
  • What is the ideal Focal Length for your camera?
  • Best Portrait Lenses for Families

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1. Choose a Portrait Lens for Families based on your Camera’s Sensor

Full frame cameras tend to absorb more light than APS-C or micro 4/3 cameras because their sensor is bigger. Crop sensor cameras need more light and wider aperture lenses. This way they can produce the same background blur and maintain the full-frame sensor’s quality.

Also, there’s a difference between focal lengths on different sensor sizes. The standard focal length is equal to Full-frame cameras. For example, if your camera is an APS-C, you will need to multiply the focal length of your lens by 1.5x or 1.6x (depending on your camera brand) and by 2x for Micro 4/3 cameras. See the following example:

Full Frame APS-C Micro 4/3
24mm 16mm (times x 1.5 = 24mm) 12mm (times x 2 = 24mm)

So, if you want a 50mm portrait lens for a Micro 4/3 camera you will need to look for a 25mm (25mm times 2 is 50mm). In our case, if you’re looking to buy a portrait lens to take photos of families, you have plenty of options. Here are a few per sensor:

Full Frame Ideal Focal Lengths

  • 24-70mm f/4
  • 24-105mm f/4
  • 70-200mm f/4
  • 35mm f/1.8
  • 50mm f/1.8
  • 85mm f/1.8

APS-C Ideal Focal Lengths (x 1.5 or 1.6 Crop Factor)

  • 16-70mm f/4
  • 16-105mm f/4
  • 55-210mm f/3.5-6.3
  • 24mm f/1.8
  • 35mm f/1.8
  • 56mm f/1.4

Micro 4/3 Ideal Focal Lengths (x 2 Crop Factor)

  • 12-35mm f/2.8
  • 40-150mm f/2.8
  • 35-100mm f/2.8
  • 25mm f/1.2
  • 45mm f/1.2
  • 75mm f/1.8

Each time you want to buy a new lens, make sure why you need the specific focal length and if it will be useful to you not for only one event, but on many other occasions. For example, if you choose to buy a single 24-105mm zoom lens, it is like if you were buying 5 different prime lenses (a 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm or 105mm).

photo credit Bruce Mewett

If you’re a beginner, it is wiser to buy a good zoom lens than spending money on a prime and wished you had that extra reach when your subject is further away from you. If you already have a zoom lens, then go ahead and buy a prime!

2. Choosing the Ideal Focal Length for Your Camera Brand

Big camera brands like Nikon, Canon, and Sony have been producing lenses for generations. The standard and most popular focal lengths (per full-frame cameras) are the following:

Zoom Lenses

  • 16-35mm
  • 24-70mm
  • 24-105mm
  • 70-200mm
  • 100-400mm

Prime Lenses

  • 24mm
  • 35mm
  • 50mm
  • 85mm
  • 105mm
  • 135mm
  • 200mm
  • 400mm

Remember this: “The ideal focal length range for portraits (faces) in full-frame cameras is from 50mm to 135mm.” Anything less or more, and their faces will be distorted.

Anything wider than 50mm and narrower than 135mm distorts their face and makes them look ugly. If you have up to 5 people to photograph use these focal lengths. If you have to shoot a group of people who exceed in numbers, then choose a wider focal length, i.e. 24mm.

3. Best Portrait Lens for Families

Personally, there are three lenses you need to consider buying when you want to photograph families and portraits of your kids (for Full Frame cameras)

  • 24-70mm

best lens for family photography

  • 70-200mm

best camera lens for family photography

  • 50mm

The most popular for Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Sigma are:

Canon

  • 24-70mm f/4
  • 24-70mm f/2.8
  • 70-200mm f/4
  • 70-200mm f/2.8
  • 50mm f/1.4

Nikon

  • 24-70mm f/4
  • 24-70mm f/2.8
  • 70-200mm f/4
  • 70-200mm f/2.8
  • 50mm f/1.4

Sony Alpha

  • 24-70mm f/4
  • 24-70mm f/2.8
  • 70-200mm f/4
  • 70-200mm f/2.8
  • 50mm f/1.4

Sigma

  • 24-70mm f/4
  • 24-70mm f/2.8
  • 70-200mm f/4
  • 70-200mm f/2.8
  • 50mm f/1.4

APS-C camera owners should consider the following focal lengths (or the nearest focal lengths you can find for your camera):

  • 16-70mm
  • 50-200mm
  • 30mm or 35mm

The most popular for Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Sigma are:

Canon

  • 35mm EF f/2
  • 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
  • 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

Nikon

  • 40mm f/2.8
  • 50mm f/1.4
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6

Sony

  • 16-70mm f/4
  • 70-200mm f/4
  • 35mm f/1.8

Sigma

  • 17-50mm f/2.8
  • 70-200mm f/2.8

Micro 4/3 camera owners should check out the following lenses for family photography:

  • Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.2 PRO
  • Samyang 50mm f/1.2 AS UM C CS
  • Sigma DC DN Contemporary 56mm f/1.4

Conclusion

All things considered, it is important to mention that native lenses are far more superior than third party lenses. However, because it might cost you a fortune to get a good native lens, you might consider getting a third party lens like Sigma or Tamron for much less.

Hopefully, these tips and suggestions have helped you a bit on your way to finding the camera lens that suits you the best for great family photography.

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Author Details
Hi, I am John Mak a self-taught landscape, sports and event photographer from Greece. I love nature, traveling and cooking. I’m also a freelance writer. I create content for photography websites and other small businesses. I use Mirrorless Cameras, lenses, gear and I share more about it in my personal website. You can also find me on Instagram @johnmakphotography
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Hi, I am John Mak a self-taught landscape, sports and event photographer from Greece. I love nature, traveling and cooking. I’m also a freelance writer. I create content for photography websites and other small businesses. I use Mirrorless Cameras, lenses, gear and I share more about it in my personal website. You can also find me on Instagram @johnmakphotography

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