Know Your Lenses: DSLR

dslr lenses- get to know all about telephoto, prime lenses, wide angle and kit lenses! Which to use for faces, which to use for places, and everything in between. (great info for beginner photographers) #photography #DSLR #camera


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.  

50 MM:

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.

If you’re looking for something a little better, the 1.4 50mm is a dream-


and the 1.2 50mm is one of the prettiest lenses you can find.

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 Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras – Fixed 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:

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.


The links above are affiliate links, though I own all lenses I am linking to. Money I make from affiliate sales helps offset the costs of maintaining Sweet C’s.

20 thoughts on “Know Your Lenses: DSLR”

    1. If it’s not a huge group, it is very flattering for families and groups! You might have to take a few steps back to get everyone in the shot, or get creative with posing, if it is a BIG group!

    1. Hi Courtney, you half statement regarding the Sigma is a little disingenuous; perhaps you could have stated it as: My Sigma 10-20mm F4.5-6 is a cheaper model which doesn’t have good low light capabilities and I may upgrade to another Sigma with better aperture ability or another brand. As you can see in the comment above, Fernando thinks there is something wrong with Sigma as a brand rather than the specified model just having a low max aperture … Apart from that, great blog.

  1. I got my first DSLR for Christmas. So EXCITED! I got the Nikon D3200 along with the kit lens and bought the 55-300 lens as well. I am going to Universal Studios Orlando in June and was wondering what lens I should take. The kit lens it came with or should I buy a different one. I wouldnt take the 55-300 since its huge and heavy. I LOVE taking pictures so i am so excited to fianlly get to use my camera. Can’t wait to take pictures at Harry Potter World and hoping the pictures inside the castle turn out since it is dark in there. 🙂
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hey Christa! The 1.4 and 1.8 are how low the f-stops go, meaning they can get brighter photos inside because they can go “wide open”. The kit lens for instance only goes to 4.5- these go lower.

      As for the difference in between lenses, the 1.4 is about $330, the 1.8 is $110. The 1.4 is a fabulous lens and I use it primarily- BUT- I also have the 1.8 and used it for over a year with zero complaints. I did need something a little nicer for my blog photos, but for everyday family shots, the 1.8 is a wonderful lens and I HIGHLY recommend it. It will give you brighter photos inside without a flash and the fabulous blurry backgrounds you see everywhere!

  2. Great explanation for this! very interesting for us who don’t know exactly everything about cameras but love our DSRLs. I bought my 60D with a 70-300mm and shortly after purchased the 50mm f1.4. I’m living in Alaska so the telephoto lens gets great use! but I also have 2 squirmy children and the 50mm is used for the most part. Best investment ever. Just spotted 2 bald eagles outside our window the other day though and ran to switch it for the 70-300. After some great shots I thought to myself “man! I really love having these 2 lenses!”

    1. Thanks, Mayra! Ok- I am super jealous now, because I would DIE to be able to take photos in Alaska everyday! Well… maybe not of crafts in the winter, but you know what I mean!

      The 1.4 is lovely, isn’t it? If you can ever find a good deal on a wide angle, I’d try one out. Alaska is JUST the place for a funky wide angle- you could get in some really dramatic scenes!

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