Ask the ExpertPhotography

Which Camera Lens Is Right For You?

By Aug 30, 2016April 20th, 20188 Comments

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Without a doubt, the right camera lens is important to your photography journey. There’s a joke that no matter how many lenses a photographer has, they will always want more. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to my husband, “If I just get xyz lens, I’ll be truly satisfied with my collection!” Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t feel complete. We are constantly learning and bettering ourselves at  photography, and not only that, technology is improving.

A great overview of the different kinds of camera lenses for a beginning photographer. PLUS, tips about aperture you don't want to miss. This is the guide to camera lenses you need to read before buying new glass.

Which Camera Lens Is Right For You?

I’ve researched lenses a lot, and I still struggle with choosing the right ones for my professional collection. A camera lens can be a very personal choice! There’s no one-size-fits-all lens, or one magical lens that will do everything you want! (Trust me, I have looked.) There are no right or wrong answers – there are only the goals we seek. Not only are these personal decisions, there are other factors at hand.

A good camera body is certainly key, but it’s more important to know exactly how to use the camera you have. When you are serious about photography, and you have a DSLR, it may be time to purchase lenses for your camera.

There are incredible lenses out there to help you capture your visions. Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Thinking Beyond Your Kit Lens

Most camera bodies come bundled with kit lenses. What’s a kit lens? Kit lenses are inexpensive, small, and light lenses that act as “starter lenses” when getting started with DSLR photography. They are generally priced at the lowest end of the manufacturer’s range, and are often within standard focal lengths, although these days, lenses can occasionally range from wide-angle to mid telephoto for versatility.

What is Focal Length?

Focal length is the distance between the center of the lens and its focus. Or more simply put, focal length determines how “zoomed in” your photos are. The higher the number, the more zoomed your lens will be when taking a photo. Even more simply put, focal length is the distance from the lens to the imaging sensor.

Am I Ready To Buy A Camera Lens?

Well that depends on what kind of camera you have! Many cameras aren’t equipped with “interchangeable lenses.” Point-and-shoot-cameras have fixed lenses, and while smartphones do have lenses available, they are not to be confused with DSLR lenses, which are much larger and more powerful on DSLR bodies.

Lenses can be prime lenses, which means a fixed focal length. To “zoom” in and out, would mean walking to and from your subjects. The advantage to prime lenses is sharpness. Zoom lenses are lenses in which you can zoom in or out right on your camera, without necessarily having to move. The advantage is versatility.

There are three major types of lenses, as well as many sub-categories and specialties:

  • Normal or standard lenses. These lenses are made to create pictures similar to the images you see with your eyes, and generally have a focal length of 50mm for a full frame camera, although cropped format DSLR cameras may require a smaller focal length. The normal/standard focal length range is 35-70mm. My favorite normal/standard lens is a 50mm 1.4. The nifty fifty is on my camera the majority of the time.
  • Wide or ultra wide-angle lenses have a focal length of around 35mm or less. Wide-angle lenses can take in a wider scene than is typical. Ultra wide-angle lenses can cause distortion, especially in faces when you’re shooting too close. On my cropped format DSLR, I use a 10-22mm lens for real estate photography, as well as architect photography and landscapes.
  • Fisheye lenses have incredibly short focal lengths. The fisheye lens is able to fit so much information into one image, that they distort the image and create an almost dizzying and strange illusion. They are fun lenses, but I don’t personally use them.
  • Telephoto and super telephoto lenses are lenses with a focal length in excess of 70mm, or as some even say – ones that exceed 135mm. Telephoto lenses are good for focusing on specific details and distant subjects, and are often larger and heavier than wider lenses. Telephoto lenses are great for photographing subjects you can’t or don’t want to get close to – like sports, wildlife, or even portraits meant to show relative size or a sense of scale.
  • Another specialty lens is a macro lens. Macro lenses are capable of reproduction ratios greater than 1:1. These are great for extreme close-up photography, and can have focal lengths between 40-200mm. You might use one of these sharp lenses for newborn babies or wedding rings.

Consider Aperture When Choosing A Camera Lens

Aperture refers to the amount of light let you let into your camera when taking a photo. Lenses have maximum and minimum aperture sizes, which can actually limit the types of photos you can take with your DSLR.  So how wide of an aperture do you need for your lens? That has to do with the types of photos you plan to take!

For some broad guidelines, if you are shooting indoor action, you will want 2.0 or wider. If you are shooting indoors without a flash, you may need 2.8 or wider.  Generally, a 4.0 maximum aperture is good in medium to ambient lighting. A 5.6 maximum aperture requires good lighting or image stabilization, whether as a feature on the lens (IS) or if you use steady hands or tripods. If you are shooting landscapes with a tripod, you will likely use 8.0, 11.0 or even narrower apertures.

5 questions to help you determine which camera lens to buy for your DSLR. Plus a great overview of different lens types and terms.

Five Questions To Ask Before You Buy A Camera Lens:

1. What kind of camera do you have? If you have a Canon or Nikon mount, you will generally stick with Canon or Nikon camera lens, although there are affordable third party lenses for both kinds of camera bodies that have favorable reviews.

2. What primarily are you shooting? If it’s portraits of your kids or street photography, you may want a 35mm, 50mm or 85mm prime lens. If you want a very versatile lens for travel, you can try an 18-200mm or a 55-250mm for landscapes and candids. If you are shooting real estate photography, you may look for something like a 10-22mm. You can use a 24-70 for landscapes and buildings, and for weddings and other events. It’s a good all-around lens.

3. What’s your budget? This is important because camera lenses range from about $100 to considerably more than that. I love my 50mm 1.4, but if I had a stricter budget, I’d buy the 50mm 1.8 and without budgetary concerns, I’d purchase the 50mm 1.2 camera lens.

4. What’s your skill set? This goes hand in hand with the budget question, but if you’re looking to do photography professionally, you’ll look into more powerful lenses.

5. What’s your style, both of your photos and your shooting style? Do you want to create a wonderful bokeh effect, and you would prefer to be at a considerable distance from your subjects? Then a longer focal length with the 135mm or 70-200mm would be better for you.

Experts say that all lenses have a sweet spot – an exact aperture in which they work best, and for many people, it’s an exact number. For me, it’s about knowing how to use my lenses at all of their apertures and in all of their locations.

Good lenses are at the top of my wish list! Which ones interest you? For more info on essential camera gear for beginners, check out Essential Camera Gear For Beginning Photographers.


About Tamara Bowman

Tamara is a professional photographer, a mama of two, a writer/blogger and a nearly professional cookie taster. She has been known to be all four of those things at all hours of the day and night. She is a very proud contributor to the book, The Mother Of All Meltdowns. After two cross country moves, due to her intense Bi-Coastal Disorder, she lives with her husband, daughter and son in glorious western Massachusetts. She spends her spare time looking for moose, taking pictures of her kids, and maybe – just maybe – teaching them about photography. She can be found on Facebook @Tamara Camera Photography, Twitter @TamaraCamPhoto , Instagram @TamaraCameraPhoto , and Pinterest @Tamara Camera Photography & Blog and on her blog @Tamara Camera Blog.


  • Kristen says:

    I seriously was JUST googling lenses when this email popped up. THANK YOU Tamara! getting a 50 mm this week! xo

  • Shannon says:

    Whenever I talk about new camera equipment the man rolls his eyes and doesn’t ask about price anymore. He knows I have it all rationalized in my head bwahaha.

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  • Gracielle says:

    My photographer friend let me borrow his 50mm 1.4 and I loved it! If I had the $$ I would splurge on that one.

  • Raquel says:

    Thanks for these tips as I have limited knowledge of lenses. I just love my Canon Rebel T3. I feel like I am still getting to know it. I would love to add other lenses to it someday. I mostly shoot photos of food, events and travel.

    • Tamara says:

      I started with a Rebel! I love them so much. I still use it as a backup. I’m not very experienced with food photography, but I’m so inspired by it! You definitely need a good lens for it!

  • I have a Nikon 7100 which is an amazing camera and I thought I had a crappy lens for the longest time. Then I did some reading about manual shooting as opposed to auto, and my pictures changed dramatically. I was having a lot of trouble with auto-focus and it was really, honestly, depressing me; I just couldn’t get the perfect shot. Once I switched to manual focus my whole world changed, for the better.

    • Tamara says:

      I love that, Angela! Many photographers do NOT shoot on manual focus, but still do manual everything else. I personally need automatic focus because my eyesight is not as good as I like to admit.
      I bet you get some incredible shots.