- Are you shooting video or stills?
- What's your subject?
- What's your price range?
It's a question every photographer considers at least a few times over the course of their lives...
What lens should you buy?
Granted, this question is a little different depending on your needs and budget.
But that doesn't change the fact that we all have lenses that we need to have while dreaming of other lenses we'd like to have.
Now, we enjoy Peter McKinnon's YouTube channel immensely, so we're using his video below as a guide for this article.
Since Peter is a Canon shooter, this list outlines a few excellent lens choices for a Canon system.
However, if you shoot Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Olympus, or some other brand, you can consider similar apertures, focal lengths, and features for their lenses too.
According to Peter, there are three essential questions you need to ask when shopping for a lens:
No matter what brand of camera you use, it's important to consider two lens features as well: aperture and focal length.
These factors are covered in the set of three questions above, but it's worth mentioning them separately as well.
Naturally, the subject you typically shoot will dictate the aperture and focal length of the lens to a degree. For example, if you shoot photos of sporting events, you'll want a long focal length lens. Conversely, if you enjoy macro, you'll need a macro lens.
Additionally, if you do a lot of low-light shooting, a lens with a large maximum aperture is important so you can gather all the light you can.
It's a short list of questions, but it will nonetheless get you zeroed in on the type of lens that's best for your situation and your budget.
Lenses for Video
Some lenses are ideally used for still photos. Others are better suited for video. Still others are great for both!
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM is a great video lens because it gives you buttery smooth bokeh, excellent depth of field, and has an enormous f/1.2 maximum aperture for shooting in low light situations.
In Peter's experience, though, this lens just didn't produce the same gorgeous results for photos.
That's a tough spot to be in because this is an L series lens, which means it's very pricey. There are budget-friendly 50mm options though.
See new prices for the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L.
See used prices for the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L.
If you want something that gives you excellent results for photo and video, you might consider the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM.
Sure, at 70mm it doesn't give you the same field of view as a 50mm lens, but it's close enough. Plus, it gives you phenomenal range for getting up-close shots, no matter the subject.
At f/2.8, it's not as fast as the aforementioned 50mm lens. However, it's still plenty big to shoot in just about any lighting situations.
What's more, not only is the 70-200mm lens more versatile, allowing you to cover the same focal range with one zoom as two or three primes would, it's also much less expensive than buying two or three primes - especially when you're talking about L series glass.
See new prices for the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L.
See used prices for the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L.
Lenses for Still Photos
No matter if you're a beginner or an expert photographer, a great middle-of-the-road lens is the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM.
This lens gives you a great focal range from wide-angle to short telephoto, meaning it's an incredibly versatile lens.
You can tackle landscapes on the wide end, portraits in the middle, and fill the frame with your subject on the long end of the lens.
What's more, with an f/2.8 maximum aperture, you also get decent low-light performance for those occasions when you're shooting indoors, at dusk, and so forth.
As an L series lens, this one has a reputation for excellent build quality and results, but that also means it can be pricey. Sigma offers a nice budget option, though.
See new prices for the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L.
See used prices for the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L.
A less expensive, yet equally versatile lens to consider is the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM.
Clearly, this lens has a wider focal range, giving you even more options regarding the type of subject matter you can photograph and how you can frame your shots.
But with a maximum aperture of only f/4, it can't come close to the same low-light performance as the 24-70mm f/2.8.
Having said that, this lens is image stabilized, which means you can get a few extra stops of shutter speed and still avoid camera shake when handholding the lens.
See new prices for the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L.
See used prices for the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L.
If you prefer a zoom lens on the wider end of the focal range spectrum that also has better low-light performance, you might give the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM a try.
This is a great all-around lens that will get you sharp images no matter if you're shooting landscapes at 16mm or portraits at 35mm.
It'll also serve you well for architecture and street photography, as well as normal day-to-day photos of friends and family.
At f/2.8 it's faster than the 24-105 f/4 noted earlier but is less expensive than some of the wider aperture lenses on this list, so it represents good value for the money.
See new prices for the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L.
See used prices for the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L.
Granted, the lenses that Peter reviews are all pricey, but boy are they worth it.
Getting good glass should be one of your top priorities as a photographer. A good lens will have a far more significant impact on the quality of your images than a good camera, a good tripod, good filters...you name it.
What's more, a quality lens holds its value, so you can recoup a good portion of what you pay for your lens (assuming you take good care of it) many years down the road.
There are also plenty of options for buying high-quality used lenses, which will save you tons of money and allow you to buy more lenses for your kit. That's not a bad deal!