Ever since I started giving out easy and practical tips about photography on my blog, I noticed one question being asked more than any other: What are the different types of lenses, and what lens do you use? Today, I’m here to talk just about lenses- which I use, what I recommend on a budget, what is best for faces, and what is best for places. If you are a photography pro, this might not be the most helpful information to you as you probably already know what works best in your situations- but for those still figuring out your DSLR I hope this clears up some of the lens confusion!
one note: the links to lenses below are the ones I own- and are Canons. You can find similar Nikon lenses at similar prices but I don’t personally own them so they aren’t pictured/listed since I haven’t tested them. Also- I am a “hobby” photographer with a blog and limited professional needs, so these are lower-mid line suggestions. If you are considering professional photography you might find higher end glass to suit your needs better.
The 50mm lens is a prime lens- meaning it doesn’t have any zoom. It will focus for you, but if you want your image to be closer or further, you will need to physically move your body or your subject. While this sounds like a pain, it is a snap once you are used to it, and my 50 is ALWAYS on my camera because it is great in low light, wonderful for portraits, and has a shallow enough depth of field that I don’t have to be standing several feet away from my object to get a great shot (when you have squirrely babies and no help corralling them during the day as a busy mommy, you will appreciate this more than you realize).
50mms eat up light like a boss, and they are pretty inexpensive (you can get the entry level lens with canon or nikon for under $150) making them my favorite lens for blog and family use. They have good bokeh (blurry backgrounds) with f-stops under 6, and I have no problem taking clear photos of my kids even in dark rooms with this lens. It is almost always on my camera, unless I swap it out for a different situation.
If you’re just starting out, on a limited budget, or not making money (from blogging, selling products, etc), I suggest the 1.8 50mm.
And if you’re looking to step up your game a bit more, I HIGHLY recommend the 1.4 50mm, which is my new go-to.
The 85mm is another prime lens, meaning you’ll need to move to zoom in or out… but this one is a MUST if you’re looking for professional quality portrait pictures. The 85mm is technically a mid-telephoto, which means it lets you get back a little further from your subject (which tends to make people more comfortable) and it has fabulous bokeh in lower f stops to get a beautifully blurry background.
I don’t use this as often only because I am often taking pictures of my kids (who I need to be close to so I can grab them) or products in a tight area, but if I had a little more room or they weren’t squirmy babies, I would use it all the time.
I have a 1.8 85mm lens and LOVE it.
18-55mm “kit” lens:
This is the lens that most cameras are paired with when you buy- because it is a good all-around lens. Portrait, product, zoom… it can do it all… but doing it all does have some drawbacks. These lenses are a little softer, can be finnicky in low light, and a bit slower. If you take most of your photos outside, you’re just starting out, or just want something easy to take photos of your kids, this will do just fine- but if you’re making money off the shots, you might want to invest in some lenses (like the ones I’m detailing here) to give you better shots for certain situations. These are inexpensive lenses so they don’t add much to the manufacturer’s “kit” price, but they can work well for beginners or in perfect light conditions.
I personally just use different lenses instead of this one to get crisper results, but when on a hike or out somewhere that I dont have a ton of space to lug around tons of lenses, I just stick to this one since it can do the job of a few lenses. We got this when my husband bought our first DSLR and you can get it for far less than the “sticker price” if you buy it with the camera.. but if you want a backup, you can find some here.
Wide angle lenses (under 24mm), while not always practical, are super fun. You can stand practically right up next to something and get it all in your frame- which makes it a great lens for shots of rooms and complete landscapes. Because wide angle lenses distort the image to get so much in the frame, however, they can distort facial features… which pretty much nobody likes. I use this sparingly with groups, and stand a ways back if I do so any distortion is minimal- but I LOVE using it for landscapes for some really dramatic shots.
I currently use a Sigma lens for Canon (which is not good in low light at all…) and will upgrade when I can justify it for a lens I don’t use very often.
Telephoto lenses (85mm and above) are great lenses to show intricate detail, zoom in on landscapes, or grab images far away. I actually don’t use mine much lately, but when I want to get a small detail on a craft, or I’m outside and want a zoomed in shot, I’ll pull this one out of the bag. Depending on your situation, you might use this a lot or a little- so if you tend to take more shots zoomed in (or travel frequently), I would recommend buying a slightly higher than entry level telephoto as the entry level-ers can be soft around the edges and don’t do well in low light.
I use an entry level telephoto lens since I don’t use it that often, but you’ll want to find a good lens to fit your needs if you use it often.
Note: Colorado residents can’t be Amazon affiliates- I get no compensation in linking the lenses I have– just showing you what is in my bag and where you can buy them!