One of the most important tasks for beginning photographers is to fill out their kit - a camera, a tripod, filters, accessories, and, of course, lenses. In this installment of our lens mastery series, we take a look at 15 of the top lenses for beginner photographers - five each for Canon, Nikon, and Sony camera systems.
Building off of what we discussed in the first article in this series, we present lenses of various types so that you have a wide variety from which to choose. So, without further delay, let’s start exploring a few lens options that will help you jump into the world of photography!
Canon 50mm F/1.8 II
Likely the first lens purchase you should make is a solid prime lens. The Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 II lens fits the bill perfectly and won’t break the bank either. With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, this lens is fast, giving you plenty of options for shooting indoors and out, and in poor lighting conditions. Use it wide open at f/1.8 for portraiture with a nice, blurry background. Bring it along for landscape photography adventures as it weighs just 4.6 oz and won’t weigh you down. With Gaussian optics that offer sharp delineation at all focusing distances, this is a top-notch choice for an all-around lens for your full frame or APS-C camera. Note that the effective focal length of this lens on an APS-C camera is approximately 80mm.
Canon 10-22mm F/3.5-4.5 USM EF-S
A great addition to your kit is a wide-angle lens that allows you to capture more of the scene before you. The Canon 10-22mm F/3.5-4.5 USM EF-S (16-35mm equivalent on APS-C cameras) gets rave reviews for excellent performance and solid optics. It contains three aspherical lens elements, as well as a Super-UD element, so you’re assured of image quality. Use it for landscape photography when you need to highlight the foreground, midground, and background with a wide-angle view. It also works well for architectural photography when you need to fit large buildings into the frame. Given that it’s a zoom, you have a little more leeway in the manner in which you frame your shots, no matter the subject.
Canon 24mm F/2.8 STM EF-S
If you’re an avid traveler or sightseer, an excellent option for your Canon camera is the 24mm F/2.8 STM EF-S lens. With a 38mm equivalent focal length for APS-C cameras, this little lens, affectionately known as a “pancake” lens due to its flat, thin shape, is ideal for long days when you don’t want to lug around a lot of heavy camera gear. At just 4.4 ounces and 1-inch thick, this lens is small and lightweight, yet gets exceptionally sharp results. It’s a great lens for video shooting as well due to its silent STM motor that allows for smooth focus tracking. At f/2.8, the lens is fast, and with advanced AF and excellent optics, it’ll perform for a variety of photography pursuits, from everyday shooting around the house to documenting your travels around the world.
Canon EF 85mm F/1.8 USM
If you’re looking for a solid portrait lens, it’s hard to go wrong with the Canon EF 85mm F/1.8 USM. Like the 50mm lens reviewed above, this lens has a wide maximum aperture that allows you to take photos in low light situations without having to slow your shutter as much. The lens creates great depth of field for portraits, and at 85mm on a full frame camera, you don’t have to be in your subject’s face to get a tightly framed shot. That makes this lens a go-to for many wedding and photographers. With images that are clear and sharp at all apertures and a price tag that’s hard to beat, this is an excellent choice for one of your first lenses.
Canon 100mm F/2.8 Macro USM
For macro photography, your best bet is to invest in a specialized lens, like the Canon 100mm F/2.8 Macro USM. At 100mm, you can take up close shots of insects, flowers, and other small subjects without being so close that you scare off the insect or cast a shadow on the subject. With excellent optical performance throughout its focus range, and a wide f/2.8 maximum aperture, you can handle low-light situations with ease. With a focusing distance of .31 meters and 1:1 magnification, you can fill the frame with your subject to create impressive macro images, whether itkeh’s of a bug, a baby’s feet, miniature toys, and so on.
Nikon Nikkor 35mm F/1.8 G DX AF-S
The Nikon Nikkor 35mm F/1.8 G DX AF-S is an ideal first lens purchase for beginning Nikon photographers with an APS-C camera because it’s a small and affordable lens, but one that produces excellent image quality, especially for the price. At f/1.8, the lens works wonders in low-light situations. And, because of that wide maximum aperture, the lens is well-suited to portrait photography as you can achieve nicely blurred backgrounds. Also use it for landscapes and general shooting from day-to-day. And, because the lens reproduces images that closely mimics our eyesight, you can take photos that look a lot like what we see naturally.
Sigma 10-20mm F/4-5.6 DC EX HSM
The Sigma 10-20mm F/4-5.6 DC EX HSM is an excellent third-party option for your Nikon APS-C camera because it offers both wide-angle and short telephoto options. That means you can take one lens with you and photograph landscapes during the day, shots of your family indoors in the evening, and everything in between. Like other wide-angle zooms, at the wide end, this lens allows you to work the foreground into the shot to improve the visual interest of the photo. And, with a 102-degree angle of view, you can easily incorporate various aspects of the scene into a single frame.
Nikon Nikkor 85mm F/1.8 G AF-S
For portrait enthusiasts, the Nikon Nikkor 85mm F/1.8 G AF-S is an excellent buy. It’s fast, allowing you to shoot in all sorts of lighting conditions, including indoors, at shutter speeds that help prevent camera shake. The focal length is ideal for an APS-C camera because it allows you to fill the frame with the subject’s head and shoulders, even from a number of feet away. Better still, this lens has a reputation as being incredibly sharp, and weighing in at less than a pound, it’s easy to carry around without weighing you down. If you find that you’re in a wet or dusty environment, no worries - the 85mm F/1.8 is sealed against moisture and dust!
Nikon Nikkor 18-140mm F/3.5-5.6 G ED DX AF-S VR
A great lens for a beginning photographer is something that you can mount to your camera and perform for you in just about any situation. The Nikon Nikkor 18-140mm F/3.5-5.6 G ED DX AF-S VR is certainly one such lens for Nikon’s APS-C cameras. With a range from 18mm to 140mm, you can take wide-angle shots of landscapes, move to taking outdoor portraits of your friends and family at standard focal lengths, then use the same lens to take photos of nature and wildlife at a telephoto focal length, all on the same day with the same lens. And, with image stabilization, you can get sharper photos without a tripod, even when shooting in lower light situations. Better yet, this versatile lens is relatively compact and lightweight for easy carrying.
Nikon Nikkor 16-85mm F/3.5-5.6 G Aspherical ED IF DX AF-S VR
Another good all-around option for beginning Nikon users is the Nikon Nikkor 16-85mm F/3.5-5.6 G Aspherical ED IF DX AF-S VR lens. With a 5.3x zoom range, this lens affords you the ability to take photos in all manner of situations from wide-angle to short telephoto. With a reputation for sharpness and a compact lens body that makes it easy to carry, this is a lens that you can put on your camera and just go. Nikon’s vibration reduction image stabilization helps ward off camera shake whether you use the lens for still images or video. Use it to photograph your favorite landscape, your kids playing in the yard, or take it with you on a photowalk around the city as a great walkaround lens.
Sony 35mm F/1.8 DT SAM Alpha Mount
If you have a Sony camera with an Alpha mount, the Sony 35mm F/1.8 DT SAM Alpha Mount Autofocus Lens is an optimal choice for getting a perspective that’s close to what we see with our own eyes. The result is images that look highly pleasing, be they a portrait of a stranger on the street or a waterfall in your favorite national park. With a large maximum aperture, you can hold your camera in your hand with less worry of camera shake. And, because the lens is compact and lightweight, you get a lens that’s easy to carry around for hours-long adventures.
Sony 24-240mm F/3.5-6.3 OSS FE
If you have a Sony camera with an E-mount, a great all-in-one option for you is the Sony 24-240mm F/3.5-6.3 OSS FE. Considered a super zoom, this lens will suit your needs whether you’re photographing a large landscape or need to get in close to take a photo of wildlife. With image stabilization, you’re able to use a slower shutter to compensate for the aperture range, which doesn’t open up as wide as other lenses on our list. It’s lens elements are designed to reduce spherical and chromatic aberration, the result of which is sharper images that you and the viewers of your images are sure to appreciate.
Sony 50mm F/1.4
An excellent choice for a beginner photographer with a Sony alpha mount system, the Sony 50mm F/1.4 offers exceptional clarity and contrast. Images are sharp from corner to corner, and the large maximum aperture opens up possibilities for shooting in low-light situations. Use it for portraits with a smooth, blurry background or simply mount it to your camera to use an everyday lens to capture snapshots of your loved ones. And with Super SteadyShot image stabilization, you can take photos knowing that shaky hands won’t have as much of an effect on the image.
Sony 28-75mm F/2.8 SAM
On an alpha mount camera, the Sony 28-75mm F/2.8 SAM Alpha Mount Autofocus Lens offers you excellent zoom range for images of all kinds, as well as sharp, bright images that are sure to please. With a constant aperture of f/2.8, you can shoot with confidence at all focal lengths, even in low-light situations. Better still, this lens is compact, so it’s easy to take with you on photowalks or when you travel. And, with a focal range of 28-75mm, it’s versatile enough to act as your go-to everyday lens for everything from snapshots of the family pets to sunsets at the beach to street scenes at night.
Sony 20mm F/2.8
For wide-angle shots, the Sony 20mm F/2.8 alpha mount lens will become your go-to piece of glass. This lens offers superb depth of field with sharpness and accuracy that will allow you to capture the essence of the scene before you with precision. The lens corrects against aberrations, and offers the ability to get smooth bokeh backgrounds with its wide f/2.8 aperture. The lens is compact as well, making it easy to work with and carry. And with elements that have a multi-coated finish, you’re sure to snap photos that have minimal glare and ghosting.
With that, Canon, Nikon, and Sony camera owners have a variety of lenses from which to choose. Being a beginner often means being not so sure about what lens to buy to supplement your kit lens. But in the case of the lenses listed here, you can find just about anything to suit your needs, from wide-angles to zooms, macro lenses to telephoto. Whatever type of lens you decide to buy, be sure to do your due diligence to ensure that it’s the right lens for you. Be sure to visit a retailer with a solid reputation, such as KEH Camera, for quality gear at a good price, that way you can rest assured that you’ve made a solid purchase.