What Lens Should I Buy?

When people are looking to make the jump to using a DSLR for photography or video, one of the first questions is always, "What lens should I buy?"

First and foremost, I always give the advice that you're better off investing in a better lens than an expensive camera body to get started. Why?

Camera bodies aren't going to last as long. If you're at all serious about using a DSLR, even as a hobby, there's a good chance you'll want to upgrade within five years. And there's a very good chance whatever top-of-the-line camera you bought will be outdated in 24 months. OK, outdated is a bit strong, but there will almost certainly be a new model with more bells and whistles sooner rather than later.

There are some considerations you need to make when buying a camera, such as full frame vs. crop sensor, but don't overspend if it means making a compromise on what quality or level of lens you can afford. Lenses can last for years and years, and can be used on nearly any camera, even different brands through use of an adapter.

Long story short: a $1,000 lens will take you much further than a $1,000 camera body.

I should mention I really only use my DSLR to shoot video, so while I can speak to the quality of the lens overall, you may have different needs as a photographer. Feel free to ask me any questions and I will do my best to answer them.

So, what lenses do I recommend? After reading my thoughts below, by clicking any of the affiliate links and purchasing through Amazon, a small commission may be sent back to me. Thanks in advance for your support, and if you found this helpful, let me know on Twitter at @andynewman!

Canon 50mm f/1.4

This is a great lens from Canon for an awesome price. The ability to open up the aperture to 1.4 is really helpful in low-light situations.

Sigma 30mm f/1.4

This is one to consider if you're using a crop sensor camera like the T3i or 7D. If you're not familiar with the whole crop sensor concept, check out the link above. In short: on a Canon 80D, this will actually give you an image that is much closer to 50mm.

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8

To this day, this has been one of my favorite lens I've ever owned. It gives you a nice range and good quality for the price. This is also meant for crop sensor cameras.

Canon 85mm f/1.8

This is one that sometimes seems to fly under the radar. It hits the mark of being affordable and of Canon's high quality standards. It's a great lens for portraits, but since I'm not a photographer, I didn't find a ton of use for it.

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8

I don't own this lens, but I have used it extensively. It's developed a large cult following and it's definitely deserved. This lens offers great quality and an awesome wide-angle perspective. Be warned though, it's only for crop sensor cameras. You can use it on a 5D (or other full frame camera) at 16mm, but any wider and you'll see vignetting.

On to the big guns...

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L

This has been my primary lens and is what replaced my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. You can't beat the quality, both in construction and the image it delivers. The focal range is nice on both crop and full frame cameras. It's just really versatile and what I use whenever I'm on the go.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L

This is another must have, and between this and the 24-70mm you can cover so much ground. Alternatively, you can snag the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 and save a little cash. It's a good lens too, but you should consider which will hold up better in the long run for the price you’re paying. If you want the cheaper lens to get a more expensive camera, I would reconsider. Go with the Canon.

Canon 135mm f/2.0L

I invested in this lens after reading rave review after rave review and it delivered. This is an extremely sharp lens and another nice alternative to the 70-200mm. Since it's not a zoom, it's not as versatile, but at less than half the price, it seems like a steal. It’s perfect for interview setups, as long as you have enough physical space between you and your subject.

Unfortunately, you've probably noticed I haven't listed a lens that you can get for under $300. The bottom line is one thing always rings true: you get what you pay for. It's tough when you can't afford to splurge, trust me, I know. Before buying a new lens, I've always sold off old gear to be able to afford it.

If you need something more affordable, start with the Canon 50mm f/1.8. I don’t personally like it much, but I know a lot of people that do like it. But before jumping in and buying a Canon 5D Mark III, consider saving some money on the body and upgrading your lens.

Andy Newmangear