Family Photography Lenses | What Do I Need?


Selecting a camera body is an important decision, but don’t let that distract you from the importance of choosing lenses as well. With the right combination of lenses, you can capture the unique moments and personalities of your subjects in stunning detail. But how do you know what to choose? I’m glad you asked! If you’re a Canon shooter, keep reading for my ideal set up for family photography lenses. (Other brands have great options as well, but my experience is solely with Canon.) We’ll consider both budget-friendly options and more versatile choices for those willing to invest a bit more.

Important Terminology

Before we dive into my specific suggestions, I’d like to cover some vocabulary first. After all, if you’re new at this, I might sound like I’m speaking a foreign language if I tell you that a EF 50mm f/1.2 prime lens is better than a RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 zoom lens! I know that would have made my head spin a couple years ago! So, let’s avoid that feeling, and break down what that all means.

EF vs. RF

Up first, EF vs. RF. This is just the distinction between lenses that fit Canon DSLR cameras (EF) vs. those that are designed for mirrorless ones (RF). Canon makes an adapter so that you can use EF lenses on a mirrorless camera, but it doesn’t go the other way! You cannot use RF lenses on a DSLR.

Prime vs. Zoom

Okay, we’ve got EF vs. RF. Let’s keep going: primes vs. zoom lenses. A prime lens is one that has a fixed focal length, meaning if you want to zoom in or out with them, you have to use your feet! In the example above, the 50mm f/1.2 is a prime lens with a fixed focal length of 50mm. Alternatively, zoom lenses allow you to zoom in or out by adjusting the lens. In the same example, a 24-105mm f/4-7.1 is a zoom lens with a focal length ranging from 24-105mm. So, if you see a lens with a range of numbers before the mm, that tells you it’s a zoom lens.

Minimum Apertures

Now, what about the f/1.2 and f/4-7.1? Those values refer to the minimum apertures that you can achieve using each lens. (Need a lesson on aperture? Check out this blog!) Generally speaking (I’ll talk about an exception later), prime lenses have fixed apertures, while zoom lenses do not. What does that mean? Well, if I’m shooting at 24mm on the 24-105mm f/4-7.1, I can shoot at an aperture of f/4. However, if I zoom in all the way to 105mm, now the minimum aperture I can use is f/7.1 This makes a huge difference in both the overall exposure and the general style of the image, so it’s not something small to be overlooked.

Now that we’ve covered some basic terminology, let’s jump into some suggestions.

Budget-Friendly Starter Lenses: RF 50mm f/1.8 and RF 85mm f/2.0

If you’re just beginning your journey as a family photographer or working within budget constraints, Canon’s RF 50mm f/1.8 (often called the “nifty fifty”) and RF 85mm f/2.0 are excellent choices. These are both prime lenses.

  • Canon RF 50mm f/1.8: This lens, often the gateway to prime lenses for many photographers, is affordable and delivers impressive results. Its wide f/1.8 aperture allows for beautiful background blur (bokeh), making it ideal for portraits. Plus, the 50mm focal length is wide enough to capture a family in a reasonably tight space, like in a nursery during a lifestyle newborn session. In that case, it’s even better than a kit zoom lens that has a shorter focal length (something like 24-105mm f/4-7.1) because of its minimum aperture. It’s important to me to be able to let in as much natural light as I can in an indoor space, and the difference between f/4 and f/1.8 is huge.

  • Canon RF 85mm f/2.0: To balance out the 50mm f/1.8, I’d recommend pairing it with the 85mm f/2.0. This lens has a bit more reach and will allow you to create dreamy close-up portraits. I love an 85mm for outdoor photos, but it doesn’t work as well for indoor wide shots because of the focal length.

The Most Versatile Family Photography Lens: RF 28-70mm f/2.0

For photographers seeking a versatile, high-quality zoom lens, the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2.0 is a fantastic option. Remember the exception I mentioned earlier? It’s why I love this lens so much. It comes with a higher price tag, but its capabilities make it a worthwhile investment.

  • Canon 28-70mm f/2.0: This lens offers a flexible zoom range, making it suitable for a wide array of family photography scenarios. At 24mm, you can capture sweeping group shots or epic landscapes. Then, with just a twist of the lens, you can zoom in to 70mm for close-up portraits or candid shots of individuals. The best part? The minimum aperture on this lens is a constant f/2.0, regardless of what focal length you’re shooting at! This makes it an excellent tool for shooting in low-light scenarios or working with wild toddlers who require you to move around a lot. No need to switch lenses to create variety!

The Ideal Setup: RF 28-70mm f/2.0 and RF 85mm f/1.2

For family photographers ready to take their work to the next level and are willing to invest in premium glass, the dream setup consists of the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2.0 and the Canon RF 85mm f/1.2. These lenses are exceptional in terms of image quality and creative control.

  • Canon RF 28-70mm f/2.0: Do I need to keep going on why I love this lens so much? It almost never comes off my camera! But when it does, I pop on my Canon 85mm f/1.2.

  • Canon RF 85mm f/1.2: The Canon 85mm f/1.2 is renowned for its creamy bokeh and exceptional low-light performance. While the 28-70mm creates comparable bokeh at 70mm, it’s not the same as the 85mm. This lens isn’t super versatile for big families, but it’s great for parents, solo shots of kids and smaller family combinations. It’s certainly an investment in professional quality glass, but it will elevate your work when used well. It’s not a must-have, but I sure do love it! Full disclosure, I’m still shooting on the EF version of this lens because it pre-dates my mirrorless body, but if I were to buy it new, I would absolutely get the RF version.


In the world of family photography, the choice of lenses is as diverse as the families you photograph. Your lens selection depends largely on your budget, though the types of sessions you photograph is important too. My best advice is to consider your current requirements and where you want to take your photography. The 50mm f/1.8 and 85mm f/2.0 provide an affordable entry point. If that’s good enough for you, great. You can create beautiful portraits with these! The 28-70mm f/2.0 offers incredible versatility at a very high quality. But, for the ultimate creative freedom, the 28-70mm f/2.0 and 85mm f/1.2 are a combination that will truly set you apart and allow you to make magic.

Do you have questions about family photography lenses? I’d love to chat! Drop your thoughts below or reach out here if you’re interested in some one-on-one support. I’d be honored to help!


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more about me

I've been navigating military life with my family since 2008. In that time, I went from a full-time classroom teacher to an online course designer to a photographer. Actually, I still teach a little math on the side because I just love it too much!

Through it all, I've discovered how passionate I am about connecting with military families. Whether it's taking photos at a retirement ceremony, coaching a fellow milspouse photographer, or just grabbing coffee with a new squadron friend, I love this community. And as a teacher at heart, I'm excited to use this space to share what I've learned about business and life with you.


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