135MM – THE DARK HORSE
This is probably one of the most overlooked gems for getting shallow depth of field images. Both the Canon 135mm f/2.0Land Nikon 135mm f/2.0 DC. Both lenses are fairly compact for their focal length, let in a lot of light and are razor sharp.
We love the beautiful bokeh and enhanced compression the 135mm. It gives you a very different look than the 85mm when framed the same as an 85. The ability to pull your subjects clearly off of the background is a huge help when composing in difficult situations. It’s also fast enough to work great for indoor sports where higher shutter speeds are required.
The only downside is for Nikon shooters. The 135mm f/2.0 is an older AF-D design so you must have a camera body with a built in focus motor in order to use this lens. One other feature of this lens is the DC or defocus control ring which allows you to change the appearance of the bokeh. A good alternative is the Nikon 105mm f/1.4 if you need a lens with an internal focusing motor (AF-S) but more on this lens later.
70-200MM – THE OLD STANDBY
You may be surprised to see a zoom, and only an f/2.8 at that, on this list but the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II and Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VRII / Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 ED FL VR versions are great at creating shallow depth of field. There are plenty of reasons the 70-200s are the go to lens for so many professional photographers.
The appeal of the 70-200mm is that you have a ton of flexibility. You can get reasonably good background separation at 70mm wide open and great separation as you get closer to 200mm. Overall performance is very close to the primes in both lenses. You’d have to be a real stickler to pick the image quality apart. Add in image stabilization and the lens becomes a very attractive option.