My Favorite (Affordable) Lenses

It’s no secret that the typical kit lenses that comes with most entry-level dSLRs aren’t the best quality. While they work, they are very limited in their capabilities and it usually isn’t long before you want to upgrade.

The question is, “After a kit lens, what’s next?”

Before I give my answer and share with you my favorite lenses, we need to get a few things straight.

1. In sharing my lens recommendations, I am doing so from my own experience.

2. These recommendations are for the hobbyist photographer only. While the lenses that I mention are good and would work for some professional work, that’s not the experience I am coming from. There are certain types of professional work (especially weddings) where the need for quality goes way, way up.

3. Like I made clear in my It’s Time to Buy a Camera post, I think that it is important to know why you are getting a new lens. When I have purchased new lenses, I have done so because my current lens(es) were lacking some ability. You should know exactly what your current lens is lacking and why. To think, “I want to get this lens because that is what so-and-so shoots with and I want my photos to look like hers” is going to leave you frustrated and out of money! Chances are, so-and-so knows how to use her camera, knows what settings to use when and why, and is comfortable editing.


Okay, now that that’s settled, let’s get on to the fun stuff. Besides my first dSLR purchase in 2006 and my kit lens that came with it, I have purchased four lenses. So, I have had five lenses in total. Here are the some of the pros and cons along with examples photos.

KIT LENS (18-55 mm 5.6)

Pros:

  • It’s nice to have a wide(r) angle lens. There is a lot of flexibility in what you can shoot.
  • It’s cheap (or free with the camera)
  • It gets you started with learning your dSLR

Cons:

  • It’s cheap and poorly made
  • You are limited with a 5.6 aperture. This keeps you from being able to shoot in low-light conditions without a flash and from being able to get the “blurry background” that most people are hoping for.

I won’t bother with examples of photos from my kit lens. At the time I owned it, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing with my camera. I put it in auto and spent six months being convinced that I got a dud camera.


“NIFTY FIFTY” (Canon 50 mm 1.8)

According to Amazon, I I purchased this lens in March 2007 (about four months after purchasing my dSLR). This was (and is) a great lens and is always what I recommend for a first lens purchase.

Pros:

  • It’s cheap! For a little over $100, you can have a great lens that will open up all sorts of photographic opportunities for you.
  • 1.8 aperture. It still amazes me that you can get a 1.8 lens for this price. The 1.8 aperture allows you to let in LOTS of light and it achieves that beautiful bokeh you want.

Cons: It can be a little slow to focus (especially noticeable after using higher quality lenses)

MY EVERYDAY LENS (Tamron 28-75mm 2.8)

Before we moved to Indonesia in 2008, I knew that I wanted an everyday lens. I loved the flexibility the zoom of my kit lens and I loved the quality of photos with my 50mm. After researching and then renting a lens to test, I decided on the Tamron 28-75 mm 2.8. I LOVE this lens. For everyday use for the mom with a camera, I couldn’t recommend anything more.

Pros:

  • The zoom offers great flexibility in shooting situations (much more so than the 50mm which made it so hard to shoot in small spaces).
  • The 2.8 aperature gave me creative freedom as well as the ability to shoot in lower-light situations.
  • Price. While not cheap, it was about one-third the cost of the Canon equivalent.
  • The photo quality is great for the hobbyist photographer.

Cons:

  • The quality of the lens itself isn’t even close to the Canon model. I had the outer ring of the lens break off after about a year (where the lens hood mounts) and after four years of hard use, the auto focus stopped working. However, the pros outweigh the cons enough that I recently purchased a replacement lens.

MY BELOVED MACRO (Canon 100mm 2.8)

This was my first scary “big-girl photographer” purchase. It was a lens that I didn’t have a real need for, but I wanted to stretch my creative wings. I saved for it and I am so glad that I did. I love it. When life gets me down, I get out my macro.

Pros:

  • It’s a macro lens! Macro photography is usually of very small subjects, in which the size of the subject in the photograph is greater than life size. Basically, it just means that you can get in really close to your subject. Flower and bugs never looked so cool.
  • It works as a great long portrait lens. While I love my bugs and flowers, this lens also takes great portraits.
  • The 2.8 aperture allows for a lot of creativity and flexibility.
  • It’s sharp. Because of the fixed focal length, the focus tends to be sharper than on a zoom lens. This is highly dependent on user use and error, though.

Cons:

  • It’s pricey for the hobbyist photographer. For most people, $500 isn’t something you just plop down so you can take pretty pictures of flowers.
  • It’s big and heavy. Carrying this lens around isn’t something you want to do every day.
  • It’s a fixed focal length. 100mm is your only option, making the use of this lens in smaller spaces an impossibility (unless strictly shooting macro shots).

FAST AND FURIOUS (Canon 50mm 1.4)

I wish I could say that I researched, thought about, and saved for this lens. But alas, that isn’t true. We were getting ready to go back to the States for a year and my Amazon cart was so full of printers, phones, a new camera, and household goods that really, I figured it wouldn’t really make a difference. Silly as it was, I am thankful for this purchase. Soon after, the auto-focus on my Tamron stopped working and this lens became my every day lens for a year and a half (until I could afford to replace my Tamron).

Pros:

  • It’s so fast! Seriously, the speed of this lens is amazing (and it makes it hard to go back to lower quality lenses).
  • The 1.4 aperture is to die for. I have a serious issue with my love of bokeh and this lens does not disappoint.
  • For the quality, the price is great.
  • Light! The 1.4 (especially when coupled with the high ISO capabilities of my 7D) means that I can shoot in very dark situations without having to use a flash.
  • The other light. This lens doesn’t weigh much at all and so carrying it around all day is easy.

Cons:

  • Just like its 1.8 counterpart, the 50mm fixed length is limiting, especially in small spaces.

So tell me, what lenses are you checking out?