Reviews & Gear » Camera Gear » Best Camera Lens for Family Portraits (2021)

Best Camera Lens for Family Portraits (2021)

In this article, we explore the best DSLR lens for family portraits. We don’t go so much into details about whether the lenses are for mirrorless cameras or DSLRs. The focal range and aperture recommendations are the same no matter whether you prefer to use a mirrorless system or DSLR. If you don’t find the mirrorless option in the post below, you should easily be able to find it based on the recommendations we make below.

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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.

the lens you choose for your family portraits will determine the look you can achieve
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

1. Choose the Best Family Portrait Lens 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). A prime lens have a fixed focal length, however, they are generally considerably sharper than zoom lenses.

portraits of kids? which lens should you choose?
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!

What Aperture is Best for Family Photography?

When buying a lens to use for family photography you also have to look a bit for the maximum aperture (f/number). Does the lens have a fixed aperture that lets you shoot wide open throughout the entire zoom range (i.e., at f/4)? Or does the lens have a variable aperture, like f/4-f/6.3?

Cheaper lenses with great zoom capabilities often come with a variable aperture. This means that you might not be able to use a shallow depth of field when zooming a lot. This option is not the best if you for instance like to capture candid shots of your family from a bit of a distance. At an aperture of f/6.3 it gets harder to keep the background out of focus.

3. Other Tips for Choosing The Best Lens for Family Photography?

Which genre within family photography are you most into? Are you looking to get the best lens for family portraits or are you finding yourself shooting candid shots? The type of family shots you prefer should affect the type of lens you go for.

A wide-angle lens is not the most often used lens for family photography. It does give you the possibility to get some shots that are different than the usual family photos. However, if you only want to add a single lens to your camera bag, then opt for a flexible one and perhaps skip on the wide-angle range.

You should also check whether the lens you choose have an image stabilizer (IS) or vibration reduction (VR) feature. It helps improve your keeper rate at a slower shutter speed, and often worth the extra price tag.

4. 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 (wide-angle lens, that lets you get close to your subject. However it can distort the perspective and make people’s faces look a bit funny.)
  • 24-70mm (a good choice for getting many people within the frame, and perhaps a portrait shot as well)
  • 24-105mm (with an increased range, you can get even more portrait-like shots as well).
  • 70-200mm (a good choice if you prefer to capture from a bit of a distance or like to shoot portraits of your family)
  • 100-400mm ( a bit on the long end for most family photography)

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
50mm Zeiss for sony cameras

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

Best Canon lens for family photography

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

Best Nikon lenses for family photography

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

Best Sony lenses for family photography

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

Best Sigma lenses for family photography

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

Crop Factor lenses for family photography

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 Lenses for Family Photography

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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