Lenses Every Beginner Photographer Should Own

Buying a second lens is always a big step forward for any photographer. It means they have finally grown out of the limitations of the kit lens, the lens which came along with the camera, and are willing to explore the creative possibilities that a new lens brings in.

A new lens is always a fresh new perspective, a fresh new bouquet of possibilities and in my personal situation, a way to explore things that were hitherto not possible with the glasses that I already own. This article deals with this fundamental aspect of photography.

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The Spark

A couple of days ago, I was having a discussion with one of my nephews. The discussion was about lenses. He is (and still is) in the market for a new lens and was asking for my opinion on some telephoto lenses he has zeroed on.

The discussion veered from one thing to the other. Finally, he asked me whether it was a wise decision to invest in a 50mm lens. Especially when he already owns a 35mm and an 18-55mm kit.

There is no easy way to answer that question. The 35mm and the 50mm are both extremely good lenses. They give different angles of view and are both very sharp. I predominantly use the 50mm and even swear by it. But I am equally fond of the 35mm for a number of reasons. The answer to the question of whether a photographer should or should not buy either of these lenses will depend on the kind of work they do.

Different Choices Based on Work

A professional doing street and portrait work would want to have both the 35mm and the 50mm, along with a 85mm prime and a 135mm prime.

A photographer doing sports photography would want to have a fast zoom lens. Something like a 200-400mm f/4. Or at least a 70-200mm f/2.8.

A wildlife photographer would have a different set of priorities. They would want to have even a longer focal length range and hopefully something that works with teleconverters. The 200-400mm by Canon comes with an integrated 1.4x extender.

The Best Lens to Start With

This discussion is about the three lenses every beginner photographer should own. A beginner photographer usually shoots anything and everything that catches his / her fancy. There is usually no preferences, at least not at the very beginning. That means a general purpose lens is what every beginner photographer should start with.

In this article, I would be recommending lenses from various manufacturers. It is understood that these lenses are to be paired with a camera system from the same manufacturer for optimum results. I am not recommending using lens adapters for cross-platform compatibility at this stage.

1. Kit Lenses

Kit lenses are the ones that are bundled with the camera when you buy one. There are a few choices in this department. Please note, sometimes the choice is not yours to make. You are ‘forced’ with a lens whether you like it or not. This happens mostly with the entry-level cameras. Some mid-range cameras also come with kit lenses.

I have used somewhat of a strong sounding word (forced) to express the lack of choices. If you don’t want this kit lens or have a different choice you are free to look around for a deal that only involves the body. Notwithstanding, this kit lens is often a great piece of optic that helps you to extract the most out of your camera.

18-55mm Kit Lens

One of these starting out lenses or kit lenses is the 18-55mm.

Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II SLR Lens
  • Focal Length & Maximum Aperture - 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II
  • Lens Construction - 16 elements in 12 groups, including UD-glass and aspherical lenses
  • Diagonal Angle of View - 74 20' - 7 50' (with APS-C image sensors)
  • Focus Adjustment - Gear-driven
  • Closest Focusing Distance - 1.48 ft./0.45m (maximum close-up magnification 0.24x)
Most DSLR and mirrorless makers offer at least one 18-55mm lens in their brochure. Almost all of them make this lens for their crop sensor cameras.

This versatile lens gives you the same effective focal length range as a 27 – 82.5mm lens mounted on a full-frame camera (Nikon) system. Nikon systems have a crop factor of 1.5x. On Canon systems, the focal length range becomes the equivalent of a 29-88mm lens mounted on a full-frame system.

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This is because Canon crop sensors have a crop factor of 1.6x. Pentax also manufacturers a similar lens for its crop sensor DSLRs. All of these lenses have a focal length range of f/3.5 to f/5.6. Thus, they are not the fastest of lenses that you can buy. But on the plus side, these lenses cover the most essential focal length range. It means with any of these lenses you would be able to shoot great quality everyday photos.

Portraits, groups shots, family outings, vacations and so on. If you don’t want the 18-55m kit lens, you could look beyond and get something that is slightly upmarket and optically better.

The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 D HSM Art is a great choice that you can look into. The 18-35mm lens covers a pretty wide angle reach. This lens is designed for the APS-C (crop sensor) cameras and will have an extended focal length (because of the crop factor). But you will find the constant fast wide aperture great to shoot with.

Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 Art DC HSM Lens for Canon, Black (210101)
  • F1.8 maximum aperture
  • F16 minimum
  • Ring-type ultrasonic-type AF motor with full-time manual focusing, 72mm filter size
  • Minimum focusing distance 28 cm/ 11.0 in. USB Dock compatible, MC-11 compatible.
  • Available in Canon EF (EF-S), Sony Alpha (dot), Nikon f (DX) mounts

2. Telephoto Zoom

The one lens that almost every beginner photographer with a kit lens longs for is the telephoto. The reason is with the limited zoom on a kit lens, the inability to use digital zoom on a DSLR camera accentuates the demand for a lens that helps you to get to where the action is.

Two lenses are what most beginner photographers settle for. The first one is the 55 – 250mm and the other is the 55 – 300mm.

The first one is produced by Canon and the second one is produced by Nikon. Both these lenses have an aperture range of f/4.5 – f/5.6.

Canon EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS STM
  • High magnification, compact and lightweight EF-S telephoto zoom lens with Image Stabilization for up to 3.5 equivalent stops...
  • One UD lens element reduces chromatic aberration throughout the zoom range, for excellent image quality with high resolution...
  • New six-group zoom system provides a compact design while achieving a maximum magnification of 0.29x at the telephoto end.
  • Minimum focusing distance: 2.79 feet; 0.85 meter (full zoom range).
  • Kit Inlcudes lens, lens cap E-58II, lens dust cap E, instruction book, warranty card

Nikon also produces a decent 55-200mm. This one too has an aperture range of f/4.5 – f/5.6. You could pick any one of these telephoto lenses. If you want something better, then neither of these would be your first choice.

NIKON AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II Lens - White Box (New)
  • Compact telephoto zoom that's great for action, people and travel. Metering - Full aperture
  • Focal Length Range : 55 -200 mm, Minimum Focus Distance : 3.7 ft. ( 1.1 m). Maximum angle of view (DX-format): 28°50',...
  • Super Integrated Coating (SIC) delivers superior color quality while reducing ghosting and lens flare
  • Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass nearly eliminates optical distortion, while a rounded seven-blade diaphragm makes out of...
  • Nikon Vibration Reduction (VR) image stabilization provides 4.0 stops of blur free handheld shooting, assuring dramatically...

The Nikon 55-200mm comes with Nikon’s VR II technology. That means you get better stabilization when hand-holding the camera compared to when you are shooting with the older VR lens. This would be a better choice for hand-held shots though you will sacrifice some of the focal length reaches of the longer lens. The Canon option is a good one as well.

The Canon lens has one special feature that older lenses from the same manufacturer did not have. This lens has STM auto-focusing motor. STM stands for Stepping Motor. Stepping Motor is a slower but more accurate focusing motor technology.

Canon developed this in the last few years and it which works in tandem with Canon’s dual pixel CMOS auto-focusing technology. Both these technologies are primarily designed for shooting videos.

Please note, that these are all budget lenses and you shouldn’t be comparing them with some of the premium quality glass that are made by the same manufacturers.

Premium Zoom Lenses

Speaking of premium zoom lenses, these are some of the lenses that you can look into. My top choice in the mid-range is the 70-200mm f/2.8.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
  • 70-200 mm focal length and 1:2.8 maximum aperture
  • Lens construction consists of 23 elements in 19 groups (1 fluorite and 5 UD elements)
  • 34-Degree - 12-Degree diagonal angle of view
  • Inner focusing system with USM and full-time manual focus option
  • 77 mm filter size. Extenders Compatible

Both Nikon and Canon make two optically similar 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. They are extremely sharp, come with image stabilization and have premium build quality.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens
  • Minimum Focus Distance- 3.6 feet (1.1 meter)
  • Diaphragm blades: 9. Format: FX/35 millimeter. Minimum Aperture: f/ 22
  • Focus distance indicator- 1.1 am to infinity
  • Accepts Filter Type: Screw-on
  • Compatible with new Z Nikkor lenses, over 360 F-mount Nikkor lenses and a variety of Nikon system Accessories

These lenses are a good complement for the 18-55mm lens, though they are much better built and are optically far superior compared to the kit lenses.

Additionally, these lenses are designed for full-frame cameras. That means when you mount them on a crop camera their effective focal length becomes longer. The focal length is perfect for shooting portraits, a bit of wildlife life, sports and other fast action. Ideal for outdoor use too as these lenses come with fluorite coating and moisture resistance built into them.

3. Wide Prime

Now comes a very interesting selection of lenses. Wide primes. This selection of lenses includes the 50mm, the 35, the 40mm and the 28mm. The last two lenses are made by Canon are they are really cheap.

Yet they give fantastic results. There are several versions of 50mm and 35mm lenses manufactured by a host of manufacturers. Apart from Nikon and Canon’s sumptuous selection of f/1.8, f/1.4 and f/1.2 50mm and f/1.4 and f/1.8 35mm, there are the Pentax options and finally, the Sigma Art series lenses which give any other makes a run for their money.

As a matter of fact, I would recommend you to try out both the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art and the 35mm f/1.4 Art before deciding on a standard prime (50mm or 35mm).

Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art DG HSM Lens for Canon
  • 50mm focal length
  • 75mm equivalent focal length on APS-C cameras, 80mm equivalent focal length on Canon APS-C cameras
  • F1.4 maximum aperture; F16 minimum
  • Ring-type ultrasonic-type AF motor with full-time manual focusing
  • 77mm filters.Angle of View (35mm):46.8°
Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art DG HSM Lens for Canon, Black, 3.7 x 3.03 x 3.03 (340101)
  • High speed with large aperture
  • HSM (Hypersonic motor) and inner focusing system
  • Accessories include: Lens Hood (LH730-03), carrying case
  • 35 MM Focal length, Lens not zoomable
  • 67mm filters

The 50mm Prime

In terms of cheaper options, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D is a great piece of optic. However, this lens will not auto-focus with a majority of the entry-level Nikon DSLRs. These include the D5000 series and the D3000 series. If you have a DSLR from the D7000 series or the D750 this lens will be a good fit.

Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D Lens for Nikon DSLR Cameras
  • Autofocus system is compatible with select Nikon DSLRs that support D-type lenses and have an autofocus motor.
  • NOTE: THIS LENS WILL NOT AUTOFOCUS with D3000, D3100, D3200, D3300, D3400, D3500, D5000, D5100, D5200, D5300, D5500, D5600,...
  • Focal Length : 50 mm (FX), 75mm (DX)
  • Great for travel and for shooting full-length portraits in available light

For entry-level DSLRs such as the D3300 and the D5300, pick something like the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G. This lens has a built-in AF motor and does not depend on the camera for auto-focusing like the 50mm f/1.8 D.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens
  • Fast, upgraded f/1.8, compact FX format prime lens. The picture angle with 35 millimeter (135) format is 47 degree and the...
  • Focal length 50 millimeter, minimum focus distance 1.48 feet (0.45 meter)
  • Newly developed optical system with aspherical lens element, exclusive Nikon silent wave motor (SWM)
  • M/a focus mode switch, filter thread 58 millimeter, autofocus: Yes. Dimensions (approx.) (from the camera lens mounting...
  • Optimized for edge to edge sharpness on both fx and dx format d SLRS

For Canon users, the EF 50 f/1.8 STM is a good choice. This lens supports the dual pixel CMOS autofocusing technology that modern Canon DSLRs come with. This is perfect for shooting movies.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
  • 50 millimeter focal length and maximum aperture of f/1.8
  • Great for portraits, action, and nighttime photography; Angle of view (horizontal, vertical, diagonal): 40º, 27º,46º
  • Minimum focusing distance of 1.15 feet (0.35 meter) and a maximum magnification of 0.21x
  • Stepping motor (STM) delivers near silent, continuous move Servo AF for movies and smooth AF for stills
  • 80 millimetre effective focal length on APS C cameras, 50 millimetre on full frame cameras. Lens construction: 6 elements in...

The 35mm Prime

While still on the topic of wide primes, I would like to briefly talk about the 35mm prime lens. The 35mm is a favorite among full-frame users, especially street photographers. But because of the 1.5x (or the 1.6x) crop factor when used with crop sensor cameras, the 35mm is a favorite with crop camera users as well.

I love the 35mm lens because of the extra wide angle of view and the sharp optical quality that these prime lenses possess.

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Wide-Angle Lens
  • Focal length and maximum aperture: 35mm 1:2
  • Lens construction: 10 elements in 8 groups
  • Diagonal angle of view: 63 Degree
  • Rear focusing system with USM focus adjustment
  • Closest focusing distance: 0.24m/0.79 ft,Focal Length : 35mm Comparable APS-C 1.6x Focal Length: 56 mm.Lens Construction:10...
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras, 2183,...
  • F mount lens/DX format. Picture angle with Nikon DX format 44 degree
  • 52.5 millimeter (35-millimeter equivalent). Rear focusing; Manual focus override
  • Aperture range: F/1.8 to 22; Dimensions(approx.) 70 x 52.5 millimeter
  • Silent wave motor AF system. Accepts filter type is screw on. Lens construction: 8 elements in 6 groups
  • Compatible formats is dx and fx in dx crop mode. Maximum reproduction ratio: 0.16x

Finally, three more lenses that I should talk about. Two of these are usually termed as pancake lenses. Pancake lenses refer to those which are extremely slim almost to the point of being flat. The lenses I am referring to are the Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM.

Related Post: Best Lenses for the Canon 80D

Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens
  • Wide angle lens for Canon APS C cameras (equivalent to 38 millimeter on a full frame camera)
  • Focal length & maximum aperture: 24 millimeter 1:2.8, maximum magnification of x0.27
  • Slimmest and lightest lens of the EF S series
  • Circular aperture (7 blades) delivers beautiful, soft backgrounds
  • Full time manual focus allows manual focus adjustment while in One Shot AF mode

and the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM.

Canon Cameras US 6310B002 EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Lens - Fixed Black
  • 40mm focal length, Lens not zoom able, 64mm equivalent focal length on Canon APS-C Cameras
  • Minimum focus distance at 0.30m/11.81 inch, F2.8 maximum aperture, F22 minimum
  • Stepper type AF motor with full time manual focusing
  • 52mm Filters, Lens Construction: 15 Elements in 12 Groups
  • Focal Length and Maximum Aperture: 100mm 1:2.8

The 24mm is designed for the smaller crop sensor camera. The 40mm is designed for the larger full-frame sensor. But it works with crop sensor cameras as well with an extended effective focal length. Both lenses are reasonably fast and they are both powered by STM AF motor.

The 85mm Prime

Finally, I would like to talk about the 85mm prime. The 85mm is arguably the best lens for shooting portraits on a full-frame camera. But on a crop camera and with the effective focal length extended this becomes a medium telephoto.

Still good enough for great portraits. Canon’s EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is a good choice.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras - Fixed
  • 85 millimetre standard lens with f 1.8 maximum aperture for Canon SLR cameras, Lens Type:Telephoto Zoom Lens
  • Ring-type ultra-sonic monitor (USM) brings subject quickly into focus, Focal length: 85 millimetre, closest focusing...
  • Natural angle of view and perspective is ideal for portraits and natural images
  • Designed to produce beautiful background blur; weighs 15 ounces
  • Measures 3 inches in diameter and 2.8 inches long; 1-year warranty. Refer User manual for troubleshooting steps.

If you want to splurge the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM is a fantastic choice.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM - DSLR Lens with IS Capability, Black - 2271C002
  • Canon’s First 85mm L-series Lens with IS Capability.
  • Large, Bright f/1.4 Aperture.
  • Image Stabilization at up to 4* Stops of Shake Correction.
  • GMo Aspherical Lens with Air Sphere Coating Technology.
  • Lens Construction: 14 elements in 10 groups

Nikon also has a great beginner level 85mm in the AF-S 85m f/1.8 G.

Nikon AF S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G Fixed Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
  • Fast aperture medium telephoto lens
  • Internal focus, focal length: 85 millimeter, minimum focus range: 0.80 meter
  • Silent wave motor (SWM). Number of diaphragm blades: 7 (rounded diaphragm opening)
  • M/a focus mode switch. Filter-attachment size is 67 millimeter (p=0.75 millimeter)
  • Nikon super integrated coating (sic)

Finally, Sigma also has a great 85mm lens with a slightly wider f-number of f/1.4. This is an Art lens which means you can expect some optical nirvana using it.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon EF (321954)
  • The Sigma 85mm 1.4 DG HSM Art is the latest addition to the world renowned Sigma Global Vision Line
  • It has equipped newly designed hyper sonic motor (HSM) for nimble AF control, 1.3 times better torque of its predecessor
  • This lens is compatible with Mount converter MC-11 , so Sony E-mount users can also enjoy this lens with it

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