On a Full-Frame camera, such as the Canon 5Dii, the Canon 50mm 1.4 , also known as the “nifty fifty” is a great portrait lens. Scratch that- it’s fantastic. It runs just over $340, and is a half stop away from the amazing Canon 50mm 1.2 L (which runs hovers around $1400). In terms of “bang for your buck”, I have a very hard time thinking of another lens which comes close, though the Canon 50mm 1.8 is second.

That said, many students ask me: “What is a good portrait lens recommendation for my non-full frame camera, ie the XSi, T1i, T2i Rebel, 50D, 60D, 7D, etc.?” In the past, I have still recommended the Canon 50mm 1.4, which when used on a Canon’s Smaller Sensor Camera bodies becomes an effective 80mm lens, due to the 1.6x crop factor. (Because as I point out on most of my videos 50mm x 1.6= 80mm).

However, anyone who has used a nifty fifty on a 1.6x Body, knows that it requires you to back up a few extra steps, and sometimes it makes it a little harder to shoot, especially indoors with tight space or when trying to shoot from above (which would require you to stand on something).

So the question I wanted to know was this:

“Which lens best lens best mimics the “nifty fifty” on a full frame camera, when used on an APS-C 1.6 body?”

This is not a simple question- however, I was up to the task and decided to do a little test. A huge thank you to BH Photo.com for supplying the lenses.If money, cost, size and weight are no matter, the answer is simple. You want the Canon 35mm 1.4 L $1370 The quality of images are outstanding and the best part is, it is a great portrait lens on both full frame and 1.6x crop bodies. That said, not everyone has that kind of money to throw down on a portrait lens.

What are the next best alternatives when it comes to functionality, cost, size and weight?
What would be my overall recommendation? The 4 Lenses I decided to test were;

Canon 28mm 1.8 – $459
Sigma 30mm 1.4 – $439
Canon 35mm 2.0- $299
Tokina 35mm 2.8 Macro- $299

Testing Method

Lockdown a Canon 5Dii on a tripod using a 50mm lens. Take a portrait of a model in a particular pose. Swap out for a 1.6x Body, in this case, a Canon 7D and Shoot with the test lenses. The things I am looking for are:

1. Bokeh – Something that makes the 50 1.4 so dang awesome for portraits is the buttery backgrounds. We want something that mimics this.
2. Amount of Frame Filled By the subject. Equivilent Focal Lengths are as follows:

30mm x 1.6 = 48mm
28mm x 1.6 = 44.8mm
35mm x 1.6 = 56mm

3. I am also looking for Clarity and Sharpness.

I took liberty to shoot wide open on all the lenses, and adjusted for exposure with shutter speed in camera. There were very minimal exposure and white balance adjustments made to each picture, nothing else.

Here is the Original on a Canon 5Dii with a 50mm 1.4 Side by SIde with the Canon 7D & Canon 35mm 1.4L: Canon 28mm 1.8 and Canon 35mm 2.0: Sigma 30mm 1.4 and Tokina 35mm 2.8 Macro :Michael’s Conclusions:

Overall- Honestly, I really liked the Canon 35mm 2.0- $299 the best for portraits for the following reasons:

1. It is one of the smallest and lightest lenses I have seen. Ever.
2. Price, it was among the cheapest of the bunch.
3. It was easy to Focus. Granted it’s not super buttery, but more so than a 2.8.
4. I also liked the Canon 28mm 1.8, but it seemed the wider angle focal length diminished the Bokeh to be almost identical to the 35mm 2.0.

If you are doing any kind of Macro work or if you like to get very close to your subjects, I am going with the Tokina 35mm 2.8 Macro it is absolutely a real GEM. At just under $300, it was the only lens of the bunch that can shoot Macro and I was very impressed with it. Not as wide as the others, but it’s ability to get very close to your subjects created beautiful DOF:Best all round, those are my recommendations.

If Aperture and Bokeh are your main concerns, I would go with the Sigma 30mm 1.4. It is also a great substitute for the Canon 35mm 1.4 L $1370 and it really reminded me of that lens. It is possible I did not like it because it was big and the heaviest of the bunch (by far) and I already had a Canon 35 1.4, but make no mistake this is a great lens.

In summary what I am saying is there are some great APS-C Portrait lenses out there, but which one is best will come down to subtle differences in Aperture, Cost, and Size.