Prime, it’s not a cut of beef, a delivery method, or even a streaming video network when you’re thinking about photography, it’s just a term used to describe a fixed lens.
Fixed lenses, as opposed to the very popular zoom lens, have a set focal length that can’t be changed.
With a zoom lens, you can close in or pan out on a subject without moving. You have a focal range to play with, a nice feature if you don’t want to spook wildlife or are packed into a crowd and can’t get closer to a human subject.
They can’t compete with prime lenses when it comes to a couple of key photographic categories, the first is image quality, and the second is aperture.
If you’re a creative photographer, willing to spend as much or more time setting up a photo shoot as you do clicking the shutter, a prime lens is for you.
Other benefits of a prime lens include reliability, portability, and generally a lighter lens that produces better images.
The benefits are great for those who take the time to master the setup and know the approximate focal length and aperture they’re going to require in determining the best Canon prime lenses for their venue.
Benefits of a prime lens
- Better image quality
- Lower price
- Lighter weight
- Wider aperture
- Sharper image quality
Here are Our Top Canon Prime Lenses in 2024!
What to look for in the best Canon prime lens
Why should you use a prime lens is the first question to ask when you step up from the pre-packaged zoom lenses that consumer-grade Canon cameras are offered.
The learning curve will be steep if you’ve been acclimated to a zoom lens and never bothered with the 50mm fixed lens that came in the box. If you’re like most beginning photographers, you’ve worn out the 70mm-200mm zoom that came with the package, but the 50mm is still in its original packaging.
Studio photographers make their livelihoods with prime lenses. They pre-set the distance to their subjects, set the camera on a tripod, make a few adjustments for lighting with aperture and ISO settings then click away.
If you’re a sports photographer you’ve already learned where to stand near the basket, the sideline, or in the photographers’ pit along the baselines. Since these are all set distances, a prime lens will deliver clearer images than the old zoom telephoto you relied on.
If you’ve shot wildlife, sports, or set venues like weddings and family portraits with a zoom, you learned a long time ago that you rarely zoomed in or out, but rather left it at certain lengths all the time. In effect, you turned your zoom into a prime lens.
It’s time to take the step to better photographs by finding the best Canon prime lens for portraits, astrophotography, and everything in between.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
Best Canon 50mm prime lens
Why buy the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
Odds are you already have this lens or one that is similar. We’ll start with the old standard, the “Nifty Fifty” since it is the single go-to lens that professional photographers know will always produce a great image. We selected this Canon EF 50mm for its wide 1.8 aperture. It won’t gather quite as much light as an F-1.4 or F-1.2, but it won’t break the bank either. Getting apertures that fast costs exponentially more cash than the basic price of this lens.
It’s light, weighing just 5.6 ounces, and it’s inexpensive, that’s why it’s a packaged lens included with most cameras.
The versatility of a 50mm lens to gather light, stop action, and shoot clear images at various angles are the biggest reasons to buy this lens.
What you’ll love about the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
You’re going to love the price. It’s the least expensive lens you can buy, and even with the lower cost, it is an effective choice for a wide variety of photographic venues.
With portraits, it produces clear images across the periphery of the screen.
For action shots, in outdoor settings odds are you’re going to shoot in automatic mode, but if you find the light a little challenging for the auto features, switch to manual, open the aperture wide, and start snapping low-light images. The contrast and depth of field won’t be as impressive, but without that wide aperture, you wouldn’t have any image to capture at all.
For astrophotography with the shutter set on long exposures, you’re going to grab light efficiently and produce dark sky images you can be proud of.
This is a prime lens that with a little effort will produce the results you’re looking for.
What you won’t love about the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
The six elements in five groups are a little on the short side for many photographers. Elements multiplied by the number of groups are a good indicator of lens quality, and at a total of 30 when combined, it’s on the shy side of competing prime lenses that have numbers at 180 or higher.
This lens won’t produce as crisp an image as those with higher numbers of elements and more groups. You can’t beat the laws of optics no matter how much you try. More glass makes better images, but at this price, the lens will deliver.
Canon EF 35mm f/2 USM Wide-Angle Lens
Best Canon 35mm prime lens
Why buy the Canon EF EF 35mm f/2 USM Wide-Angle Lens
Not every photographic session involves people, animals, street scenes, or concerts. A growing market for photographers is advertising photography. A 35mm can be the best Canon prime lens for product photography.
Product photography relies on angles to create the best image to attract potential customers.
Close-ups are often the key in product photography. A minimum focus of just eight inches takes this lens “up close and personal.”
Those carefully arranged Whoppers and Big Macs don’t slide down the tray during rush hour even closely resembling the photographs of them on the marque, in online or print advertising, but those images sell the product.
This 35mm lens, with a maximum F-2.0, allows the photographer to get those close-ups in all lighting conditions. Aside from fast food, other products rely on mood and nothing conveys mood as well as the proper lighting.
This lens can do that.
What you’ll love about the Canon EF 35mm f/2 USM Wide-Angle Lens
You’re going to love the ease of use with this lens for both close-ups and limited wide-angle shots. It sounds like an oxymoron to be able to shoot close-ups and wide angles with the same prime lens, but it’s all in the subject placement, not in the zoom for a professional photographer.
You’ll enjoy the clarity of this lens with its 10 elements arranged in eight groups. The 63-degree angle and rear focusing system are more than ample to create those high contrast, heavy DPI print images that create print-ready art for your clients, making this the Best canon prime lens for product photography.
Step away from still photography and you’ll find this is a great lens for video work as well. The smooth focusing action makes it as possibly the best Canon prime lens for video.
Plus, it fits both full-frame and APS-C.
What you won’t love about the Canon EF 35mm f/2 USM Wide-Angle Lens
It’s a short, fixed focal length lens, with specific uses. If you’re looking for a versatile, one-size-fits-all lens that can handle the majority of settings, this is not the lens for you.
The price is moderate, but so is the usage.
If you have a specific need for wide-angle and close-up shots, this lens will get the job done, and it’s great for video, but in the panoply of photographers, it fits just a few niches.
Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro is STM, Compact Medium-Telephoto Black Lens
Best Canon RF prime lens
Why buy the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro is STM, Compact Medium-Telephoto Black Lens
I’ll admit to a little bias with this lens, it is my favorite lens among all the prime lenses reviewed here. The 85mm length is great for everything from sports to portraits, along with weddings, street photography, and portraits as well.
The 85mm focal length provides about a 1.6 level magnification over the naked eye, which is just enough to catch that breakaway dunk a few feet in front of you or to generate that perfect edgy photograph of a darkened city street illuminated by a dim streetlight. Images that will become the stuff of legend can be created with this lens.
Many photographers (not just me) consider this the best Canon DSLR prime lens for a variety of reasons.
It’s not a telephoto zoom, but the 85mm length is the most versatile lens you can find. Many consider it the best Canon prime lens for street photography, and that says a lot since the genre of street photography covers everything from a stark black-and-white photo of a deserted city street to kids playing stickball, to a rat furtively looking over a garbage can This one does it all.
What you’ll love about the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro is STM, Compact Medium-Telephoto Black Lens
You’re going to love holding this lens. It’s long enough to provide a solid off-hand grip and you won’t have to worry about sliding the zoom in and out since it is a prime lens. You’ll love the price. It’s not cheap, but it is affordable. That’s something every photographer is looking for no matter how accomplished.
Optical image stabilization up to five stops allows even the shakiest of photographers to lock in on a moving target.
Set your camera on a tripod, set the light to augment the features of your subjects and this can be the best Canon prime lens for family portraits. Arrange your studio, bring in your clients, and start clicking away.
It’s a macro lens so those extreme close-ups pop into clear focus. A minimum focusing distance of around 14 inches, combined with the 85mm fixed length means you’ll climb right in there for extreme close-ups.
This is a great lens.
What you won’t love about the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro is STM, Compact Medium-Telephoto Black Lens
With all its features, it remains a prime lens, meaning there is no zoom option. You’ll have to stage and arrange angles more with his lens than a zoom telephoto that can bring the action to you.
But, if you are able to see the shot in your mind before you press the shutter release with your finger, this is the lens for you. There is a learning curve, but a reward awaits at the top of the plateau.
This is a one of the best portrait lenses, it’s a favourite of everyone from portrait photographers through wedding photographers, all the way to macro photography. it has exceptional image quality, excellent sharpness, and shallow depth of field.
Canon RF600mm F4 L is USM
Best Canon prime lens for wildlife
Why buy the Canon RF600mm F4 L is USM
If you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big, and big is what this lens is. It’s big in weight at about seven pounds, it’s big on magnification at 12 power, and it’s big on price, really big on price.
But it can literally reach out and bring distant objects into view that are usually only able with a spotting scope and camera adapter. A spotting scope isn’t a camera lens, and the results just can’t compare with a good long lens. This isn’t a good long lens, it’s a fabulous long lens.
For capturing distance images of rock formations against a cloudy sky you can’t beat this lens, that’s why it’s considered among the best Canon prime lens for landscape photography. This lens is for professional landscape photographers.
What you’ll love about the Canon RF600mm F4 L is USM
With a tripod and a clear view of the subject, you’re going to love the bright, clear, high-contrast images you can capture with this lens.
It’s far too heavy for handheld use, but the foot under the lens extends forward so the camera body and lens are balanced, preventing any undue torque on the mount.
The 600mm length has a fast F-4 speed, making it near the top of the extreme telephoto lenses that Canon offers. Lesser telephoto lenses have apertures much slower and many are only available with F-stops of 22, making them useless except for full daylight photography.
If you like to take photos of the moon, or distant images of the darkening sky with bluffs, skylines, or ridges as a foreground this is a great lens, making it a good choice for best Canon prime lens for astrophotography.
There is a lot of glass in this lens, which accounts for the weight. With extreme telephoto lenses optical image stabilization is always an issue. This lens offers it with up to 5.5 stops of shake correction and includes three IS operation modes.
this is one of the best Canon RF lenses.
What you won’t love about the Canon RF600mm F4 L is USM
You’re not going to like the price unless you’re used to paying price tags usually reserved for used cars.
You won’t like the weight either. It’s heavy and with a required tripod or monopod your mobility at an event will be hindered.
You won’t like the limitations. Sure, a huge telephoto lens opens up a lot of options, but all those options have to be at least 14 feet away, and if you want more than just a snippet of an image, the distance increases to 50 feet or more.
Canon RF16mm F2.8 STM
Best wide-angle Canon lens
Why buy the Canon RF16mm F2.8 STM
We looked at the best prime telephoto lens Canon offers in the previous 600mm monster, now let’s go to the other extreme and take a look at the best wide-angle lens you can find in a primer style.
Wide angle styles are often overlooked when discussing Canon best prime lenses, but they have as firm a place in the photographers’ arsenal as an extreme telephoto, a 50mm, or the handy 85mm fixed lenses.
Wide angle photography has its reason for existing right in its name, angle. At 16mm this lens is among the widest you can purchase at a reasonable price. Sure, there are lenses as short as 10mm and some even zoom from 10 to 18mm, or in slightly longer ranges, but if you want a great wide-angle lens, at an affordable price this is the place to go.
Shorter length doesn’t mean fewer options. This lens is among the best for a fast-growing trend in street photography of capturing wide-angle images.
Imagine capturing both lanes of the I-5 in Los Angles from an overpass on a time-lapse setting. The blur of the headlights extending to the horizon on the left is only matched by the red tail lights flowing in the other direction. Imagine a gas and diesel powered river flowing with life and that image will pop with this 16mm lens.
What you’ll love about the Canon RF16mm F2.8 STM
You’ll love the ability to shoot in limited light with the aperture wide open at 2.8. It’s not the fastest lens and won’t compete with those high-priced lenses ripping away at F-1.2, but it will do the job, and with wide-angle photography, oftentimes a darker, starker image is what you’re after anyway.
You’ll love the price; it is very affordable.
You’ll love the weight (or lack of it) and the low profile which will allow you to move freely in crowded settings, bouncing off concertgoers, or dodging foul balls without injuring the photographer next to you with a long, heavy lens.
This is a lens for those that think outside the box.
The setup is the issue with this lens since you won’t be able to adjust the focal length, and at 16mm all you’re going to get are wide-angle shots or extreme close-ups.
You’ll enjoy this lens and should have it in your camera bag when the need arises.
What you won’t love about the Canon RF16mm F2.8 STM
It’s a wide angle, it can’t zoom and it is a prime lens with just a few specific applications that it works with.
Wide-angle photography is for the experimenting amateur or the seasoned professional. Wide-angle images find their way into publications as diverse as National Geographic or Sports Illustrated, but the pros selling their images to these publications have to be at a very high skill level.
It can be frustrating, but your skill level will increase each time you use this lens.
Prime Lenses FAQ
How do I choose a prime lens?
Think of the venue you’re going to shoot and imagine the distance, the lighting, and the contrast you’re seeking in your images and you’ll know which prime lens works for you. Start with the 50mm lens, it will take care of most of the common settings, then go from there for longer, or wider angle shots.
If crystal clear, high-definition images is what you’re after, you can’t beat a prime lens. The glass is ground for a fixed focal length and doesn’t have to be able to remain in focus over a range of focal lengths like a zoom lens must. The carefully engineered glass in a prime lens allows the maximum light-gathering potential, the least aberration, and the best overall image on the market.
What is the most useful prime lens?
The most useful for wildlife, street, sports, and portrait/studio setting is an 85mm lens. This is as close to a full-usage lens as you’re likely to find without moving to the lesser image quality of a zoom telephoto.
This is the Goldilocks of prime lenses, not too big, as in large telephoto lenses, not too small as in a 35mm lens, or perhaps a wide angle or fisheye lens, but just right at the 1.6 level of magnification.
What three prime lenses should every photographer have?
In no particular order, the best lenses are the 50mm with an F-stop of 1.8, the 85mm prime with the 2.8 aperture, and a telephoto. We chose the 600mm with the F-4 setting since that is the best, but at the tremendous price it is offered at, many professionals choose to rent this lens for specific events rather than pay the exorbitant price.
You’ve got short, medium, and extra-long focal lengths with these three lenses, if you need to do wide-angle photography you can buy one at a low price.
Do professional photographers use prime lenses?
Professional photographers pay the bills with prime lenses. They have the eye, the expertise, and their reputation to deal with. The images a professional can achieve with a quality prime lens are unmatched.
Few professionals use exclusively zoom lenses and prefer the prime lens for its reliability and higher level engineering.
In a profession where what you see and record separates the good from the great, a prime lens is a necessary tool
What is the first prime lens you should buy?
I admitted I was biased when I reviewed the 85mm prime lens above, and I’m sticking with that decision. The 85mm prime lens provides many of the options a zoom telephoto can offer but delivers much better images and is as close to an all-in-one prime lens as you’ll ever find.
The 85mm works at ranges from eight inches to infinity, works great in the studio, delivers on the street, and can capture a lion in motion, whether it be in Africa or at a stadium in Detroit.
What is the Holy Trinity of prime lenses?
Opinions vary on which three prime lenses constitute the “Holy Trinity.” For me, it’s the 50, 85, and 600mm though I’ve only shot the 600mm a few times.
For other photographers, a trio of 35, 85, and 105mm work best, and still, others are closer to my ideal with the 50mm at F-1.4 to start, a 100mm at F-2.8 in the middle, and a prime 300mm with an aperture of 4 as their choice for telephoto use.
Prime lenses are an outstanding choice for the photographer looking for the sharpest, clearest photograph in every situation. The caveat to this is that the photographer has to provide the zoom function by moving towards or away from a subject since the lens is fixed.
A fixed lens has less distortion, is easier to master, and maintains light gather in all settings since there is no zoom function to fool the automatic, internal meter.