You recently bought your first DSLR, and want to move beyond the kit lens that came with it. But, you don’t know where to begin. Nikon, Sony, and Canon each offer over 70 lenses for their respective DSLR lines. If you’re new to photography, or want to take your current hobby to the next level, this guide will help point you in the right direction when purchasing your next lens.
Top Camera Lenses
Keep in mind that depending on your needs, your lens selection can vary greatly. For example, a landscape photographer will need a different lens than a portrait photographer, and a photojournalist may need a different lens than a wedding photographer. Each section below will break down which lens is best for which style of photography.
1. The Kit Lens
If you’ve been doing any reading online, you may be under the impression that the kit lens that came with your DSLR bundle is not a great lens. And while it may not be the best lens around, it is certainly a great lens for new photographers. Nikon and Canon entry-level DSLR cameras typically come with a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6.
This offers a decent focal range for you as a new photographer, while you get your bearings and narrow down what style of photography you wish to focus on. So the question remains, where do you go from here?
When I bought my first DSLR, a Nikon D5100, it came with the 18-55mm lens. I was able to get by, with this lens, shooting small gigs while I saved up for my next lens. What I settled on was a faster, all-around zoom lens.
2. The All-Around Zoom Lens
If you are wanting to step up your image quality after using the kit lens, you’ll want to find a faster lens (a lens with a faster aperture, i.e. f/2.8). Both Canon and Nikon offer a 24-70mm f/2.8. This wider aperture will give you the ability to shoot with a smaller depth of field. For more information on depth of field, click here. While this lens does have a similar focal range to the kit lens, the aperture advantage will greatly increase the quality of your photos.
These faster lenses contain higher quality internal components to produce much sharper images, bringing your photos from amateur to professional in no time. Having this versatile lens in your collection will allow you to capture a large variety of images from fairly wide landscape shots, down to close up macro-type photos.
3. The Wide Angle Lens
Depending on your style of photography and what you plan on photographing most often, you’ll want to think about getting your hands on either a wide angle or a telephoto lens. First, we’ll talk about the wide angle lens, and who this lens is best suited for.
These wide angle lenses typically fall in the focal range of 11-24mm f/2.8 or 14-24mm f/2.8, depending on the brand. If you plan on focusing on landscape, nature, architecture, or real estate photography, a wide angle lens is perfect for capturing a large and beautiful perspective of the world around you.
4. The Telephoto Zoom Lens
If you feel like a wide angle lens isn’t for you and you plan on focusing on sports or close-up nature photography, for example, then you should consider purchasing a telephoto zoom lens. These lenses fall in the range of 70-200mm f/2.8, again depending on the brand, and can be extremely helpful when you are trying to capture your child on the soccer field, or take a photo of a far away animal in the woods.
One problem that may arise at the longer focal lengths is that it can become difficult to hold the camera steady enough to get a clear and sharp shot. Many of these lenses have built in optical image stabilization (sometimes referred to as vibration reduction) to help alleviate this problem. While it may cost a little more to purchase a lens with this feature, it will greatly increase the quality of your photos in the end.
5. The Fast Prime Lens
As a bonus, a lens that you can purchase at any point in your photography adventure, the fast prime lens. For those who aren’t familiar with what a prime lens is, it is any lens with a fixed focal length. This category includes lenses such as the 50mm f/1.8, 35mm f/1.8, and the 85mm f/1.8.
Due to the decreased number of internally moving pieces as compared to a zoom lens, prime lenses will produce an even sharper image than most other lenses, and can offer an even wider depth of field (which can sometimes reach f/1.4 or f/1.2). Again, you can refer to the depth of field article linked above if you are interested in learning more details about what these numbers mean. Obtaining a fast prime lens can be a great asset to you as a photographer no matter what style or genre of photography you settle on.
A few final notes about brands, budgets, and quality. Unfortunately the brand-name (i.e. Nikon, Canon, Sony) lenses can cost upwards of $1,500 – $2,000, and may be out of the price range for many new photographers. This purchase can be extremely difficult to justify if you are just getting your feet wet in the world of photography. If that is the case, taking a look at brands like Sigma or Tamron, who offer high-quality lenses with a similar focal range, can be beneficial to your budget.
Personally, I own lenses from Sigma, Tamron, and Nikon and have been extremely happy with all of them. Another option is to purchase a used or refurbished lens. While you do have to be careful when buying second-hand lenses, if you are buying from a reputable retailer (and not somewhere like Craigslist or Ebay) there is a good chance that you won’t have any problems. Additionally, there are many options out there for renting lenses to try out before you make a final purchase decision. Try Borrow Lenses or Adorama Rental Company.
In the end, your decision to purchase your second or third lens can have an amazingly positive impact on the quality of your photos. However, just by purchasing an expensive DSLR with a high-end lens alone won’t be enough to rocket you into the league of Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz. Taking the time to learn important information like how your camera works, how to properly expose your photos, how to frame an image, etc. will be the key to launching your photography hobby into a photography career.
Be sure to stop by the Beginner Photography Course to learn more.