Welcome to part II of this 3 part blog post series for beginner photographers! In this post I will be outlining the best lenses for beginners, and I promise it’s not as scary as you think.
Looking for the other posts? They can be accessed here: Part I: the best cameras for beginners. Part III: Best accessories for beginners.
If you’ve started to dive into finding the best lenses for beginners then you are likely seeing a LOT of differences on photographers’ favorite lenses. A lot. And a lot of it is actually just preference. Even my recommendations are based on my preference as a portrait photographer. But, where I differ with my suggestions is that I photograph all sorts of things and have been teaching for almost 2 decades, so my recommendations are based on that overall knowledge of what a beginner needs and not just knowledge in a specific niche.
This post, part II, will go over the best lenses for beginners. Later this week I will share part III where we will discuss the best camera accessories for photography beginners—things like flashes, tripods, straps, carrying bags, and more. Be on the lookout for that final post in this series later this week.
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And if you are here because you are still trying to learn photography and what all those buttons on your camera can do, enroll in my completely free online mini course. I can help you to understand your camera and start getting better photos by the end of the week!
Best Lenses for Beginners
I mention in the last post that the first question that beginner photographers ask me is about cameras. But the next question I get asked is always about lenses. Often the question is based around whether a beginner should buy a second lens or purchase that kit that comes with 2 lenses (the one that almost every camera company packages and sells.) First recommendation, only buy one kit lens. The regular 18-55mm (or 16-50mm) kit lens is just fine to start with. The second lens I will recommend for ANYONE exploring photography is what we photographers call a nifty fifty, a low aperture fixed prime lens. Something like a 50mm f/1.8 will be your all-around perfect lens for almost every occasion.
Once those 2 lenses have been purchased, the next best lens really depends on what you want to photograph and how you like to photograph. The thing to remember with lenses is that the more expensive they are, generally the better they are. The expense comes from how much glass is actually in the lens, how much it can do, and the quality it provides. So you have to do a deep dive for your specific niche to really truly decide. Or, like I mention below, find the best quality all-around lens to help you find your niche and specialty, which will determine your lens choices.
Focal Length. There are TONS of focal lengths available to you. So it really all depends on what you want/need from a camera lens. To cover all the things I always recommend 3 focal lengths—wide, regular, and telephoto. Wide ranges from 16mm to about 35mm or so. Regular is 40mm to 60mm. And telephoto is anything beyond 70mm. My personal top 3 focal lengths are always 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. Almost everything else in my bag is additional to what I actually need to get a great shot.
The First Lens For Every Photographer
Nifty fifty: The 50mm lens. This is the first lens outside of a kit lens (or even in place of a kit lens) that every photographer needs. The low-light capability that is provided by a low fixed aperture prime lens is going to be worth it’s weight in gold for you beginner photographers. And guess what, almost all of the lower aperture prime lenses are less than $300. That’s wild considering what these lenses can do. So my recommendations are as follows.
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8 (f-mount)
- Nikon 50mm f/1.4 ((f-mount & my favorite lens EVER)
- Canon 50mm f/1.8 (EF-mount)
- Nikon Z50mm f/1.8 (z-mount)
- Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 ((R-mount)
- Sony 50mm f/1.8 (FE-mount)
Buy a lens for what you want to photograph
So now the lens list gets a little trickier. What is it that you photograph? Portraits? Weddings? Landscapes? Fashion work? Real Estate? The list is endless but here are some recommendations based on what you may need.
Landscapes: If you prefer to photograph landscapes then you likely need a zoom lens that covers a wide range. A 24-70 might work, but you may even need something that goes wider and further. Like a 24-120mm, or an 18-300mm f/4. Or you can purchase a really nice wide lens, like the 24mm f/1.4.
Because you won’t often need the wide open lenses (the one’s that go to 2.8 or f/1.2 or anything, an f/4 lens is a beautiful lens for landscape photographers. I never purchase an f/4 lens because I always need the extra stops of light as a wedding & portrait photographer, but as a landscape photographer often using a tripod you truly you don’t need that so save the money!
Portraits: If you’ve found yourself gravitating more towards portraits then the choices may be whether you like the closer more cropped in photos, or wider photos that include more area and space around your subjects. I’d recommend a 35mm f/1.8 or an 85mm f/1.8. I almost always use my 50mm and 85mm for all my portrait sessions. I only occasionally use my 35mm—but that is my preference.
Just remember is you have a DX camera (digital crop) then a 35mm FX lens really acts more like a 50mm, and a 50mm acts more like a 75mm. Keep that in mind when choosing your lens.
All around photographer: Do you like to photograph all the things and aren’t exactly sure what you really need yet? Then I might recommend a zoom lens. Although I photograph with only prime lenses now and sold all my zoom lenses years ago, you may find that a zoom lens is very useful to start with while you are trying to find your specific photographic niche. If I can recommend one zoom lens, it is the 24-70mm f/2.8. This is a gorgeous lens and will carry you through for years! The 2.8 gives you the lower aperture to really explore and goes from wide through to telephoto. My favorite version is the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 VR version, but Sigma has a gorgeous option at about half the price.
Last thing to note here is that there are FX (full frame) and DX (digital crop) lenses available. If you think you’ll go with a full frame camera at some point (or already have one—then definitely purchase the regular FX lenses. With your digital crop your lens with be a 1.5x crop (making a 35mm a 52mm and a 50mm a 75mm and a 24-70 is acts like a 36-105mm). So the digital crop may be helpful to you, just realize it is there when you make your choice on a focal length.
When it comes to shopping for the best lenses that are perfect for beginners, the wide range of options can seem intimidating. But which lens you ultimately choose will depend on your style, budget, and the type of photography you want to pursue. A great starting point is the 50mm lens, due to its versatility and affordability, but you should also consider the other options on the market. With a bit of research and a commitment to practice, you’ll make the best choice for you and be able to take stunning shots in no time. Now go out, explore, and create!