David Hobby from Strobist.com is quoted as saying:
“If you date your cameras, you marry your lenses.”
And I wholeheartedly agree with that. Lenses change with less frequency than do cameras. You’re likely to buy a lens and keep it for many years (or even decades), yet change out your camera body every few years as new features are introduced and your needs change. But that glass is going to serve you well for a long, long time.
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Your standard 50mm lens (aka the “Nifty Fifty” or “Plastic Fantastic”)
Everyone should have a 50mm lens. At not a lot over $100, there really isn’t a reason why one shouldn’t own this lens.
On a full-frame camera, the 50mm lens closely approximates the field of view our eyes see. With that fast f/1.8 aperture, you’ve got a lot of light-gathering power. If you like shallow depth-of-field, this is a great lens to own. If you’re photographing your children indoors and having trouble getting photos which aren’t blurry, a 50mm f/1.8 will do wonders in that regard.
These lenses aren’t the fastest focusers, and their bodies are largely plastic, but if you take care of them they’ll take care of you.
Nikon – $119.95
Canon – $125
Sony – $168
That said, if you’re a Nikon user and don’t mind paying double, you’ll be happier with the faster-focusing, more sturdy Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S NIKKOR:
Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S NIKKOR – $216.95
Really amazing zoom lenses
70mm-200mm f/2.8 – the “bread and butter” lens
Most pro photographers have this lens for a reason. It’s amazingly versatile.
Whether you shoot sports, portraits, weddings, news, etc…this lens is either in your bag or will be at some point. 70mm is wide enough on a full-frame sensor to allow you to include more of a scene in the frame and at 200mm you’re able to zoom in and really isolate your subject and fill that frame.
I can’t say enough great things about this lens. In fact, you’ll rarely find someone make an argument for it being a bad lens. It’s a wonderful lens and at some point you should seriously consider it. That fast f/2.8 aperture lets in a lot of light and is available to you throughout the entire zoom range.
While this is a pricey lens, some of the manufacturers have come out with f/4 versions which are nearly half the price. So these deserve consideration. While you’re losing half the light-gathering power going from f/2.8 to f/4, that might not be a deal breaker for you; especially when you consider that with every generation of camera which is released, the high ISOs available to you are jumping up a stop or two (i.e. ISO 6,400 max on last years camera vs. ISO 12,800 on this year’s.)
These lenses often come in stabilized versions (“IS” on Canon, “VR” on Nikon, etc.) and non-stabilized versions as well. Skip the stabilized versions if you’re shooting action as it’s useless. This feature is meant to stabilize you as you shoot in extremely low light (think poorly lit stage of the play your son or daughter is in.)
f/2.8 stabilized versions:
Nikon – $2,396
Canon – $2,099
Sony A – $2,998
Canon – $1,349
– no offerings from Nikon or Sony.
f/4 stabilized versions:
Nikon – $1,396
Canon – $1,199
Sony A – $1,498
Canon – $649
– no offerings from Nikon or Sony.
Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM – I personally own this lens and love it. I use it for my YouTube videos in addition to its use for stills. I love it. Sigma’s “Art” series lenses are awesome.
Nikon – $899
Canon – $830
Sony A – $899
Less expensive zoom lenses
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM ($639)
Often called “the missing L-series lens”
In the mid-2000’s when I shot Canon, I acquired this lens from a friend who was switching to Nikon. I had the amazing Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, but gave this lens a shot as I got a great deal on it. I was surprised at how sharp it was, how quickly it focused and how accurate it was. It’s a fairly lightweight lens, but the build quality is decent and the results are amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a significant complaint about this great lens.
Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S Nikkor ($1,046)
This lens is super sharp, well-built, covers a huge zoom range and is a reall all-around lens. Where it falls short of course is with those slow apertures, but to fix that you need to spend thousands more. If that’s not an issue for you and you’re a Nikon shooter, conisder this great lens.
If you’re seriously into sports/action photography and money is no object, have a look at my recommendations for lenses and other suitable gear here: