What Lens Should You Buy First? – The Beginners Guide

What Lens Should You Buy First?

So you’ve just bought your first camera, but you aren’t sure what lens to go with. With so many options on the market, how are you supposed to choose? When it comes to what lens you should buy first, the answer is more straightforward than you might expect.

As a beginner, the best first lens to buy is the kit lens for your camera. For many entry-level cameras, this lens would be the 18-55mm lens. With a moderate zoom range and an affordable price tag, the kit lens is by far the most versatile for anyone just getting starting in photography.

As you start to get more advanced, you might want to expand your gear beyond the kit lens. To help you figure out which direction to look, use this guide to decide which lens you should buy first.

What Lenses Are Good For Beginners?

There are various lenses that are “good” for beginners, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll be perfect for you. Before you decide what lenses are best for you, you should first consider what types of photography interest you.

Now, if you’re a total beginner, you might not have any idea what types of pictures you want to take. You want to take pictures of everything and see where you end up. That’s how a lot of people start, including myself. It’s a great way to get a feel for different genres before committing your energy to a single one.

A philosophy I like to use when considering lenses for beginners is what will be the most versatile. Especially if you’re just a hobbyist, you want to have a single lens that captures everything.

What provides the best bang for your buck while still capturing photos exactly as you imagine? Let’s go over a few lens suggestions to get you started.

– A Kit Lens

You may be skeptical about the kit lens because it “must not be as good” as other lenses. The truth is, the kit lens for a camera usually offers the best starting lens for a beginner photographer. That’s particularly true with the 18-55mm kit lens.

With a good focal range and a variable aperture of F/3.5-5.6, you can still get wide angles or close-ups, even with a blurry background!

The 18-55mm kit lens was the only lens I used for years, and I could capture a ton of great images with it. You can still get creative with filters, long exposures, and night photography while using a kit lens.

This lens can take both wide-angle and zoom photos ranging between 18mm and 55mm. To give you a frame of reference, 50mm is near equivalent to what your eyes see. So 18mm is plenty wide to capture an entire scene, with a limited amount of lens distortion.

Considering a kit lens only costs around a hundred dollars to go along with your camera body, it’s well worth the price. If you aren’t sure where to begin when buying your first lens, the kit lens is the perfect start.

– The 50mm Lens

There are a lot of 50mm lenses on the market, but the one I recommend for beginner photographers is the Canon 50mm F1.8 lens. This lens is just over $100 and is one of the best fast lenses for the price. With that wide of an aperture, you won’t find a lens this affordable elsewhere.

This Canon 50mm is a good lens for beginners because it allows you to experiment with shallow depths of field. With a moderate focal length of 50mm, it’s an ideal combination to create smooth background blur around your subject.

Since it has such a wide aperture, this lens is ideal for shooting in low light and will help you get a bit more out of your camera. Considering the price, it shoots tack-sharp images, and work’s great for a variety of purposes.

Unlike a kit lens, the 50mm lens is a prime, meaning it has a fixed focal length. Rather than having the luxury to zoom in and out of your photo to recompose, you have to physically move the camera. Since you have to think a little more about where you’re shooting from, prime lenses are a great tool for beginners to improve their photography with.

Particularly if you want to take portrait-style photos, the 50mm is an amazing lens worth buying for any photographer especially if you’re a beginner!

If you aren’t a Canon shooter, there are similar 50mm lenses for Nikon and Sony cameras.

– A “Do It All” Zoom Lens

Especially when you aren’t sure where you want to go with your photography, getting a versatile lens is fantastic. With a wide-angle zoom lens, it can’t get much more versatile than that.

These lenses are perfect for traveling when you don’t want to pack around a bag full of different lenses. Instead, you can use one lens that will capture every type of shot you could imagine.

These lenses cost a bit more compared to other lenses for beginners in terms of price, but it’s a one and done type purchase. Once you have a wide-angle zoom, you’ll be set for years to come. Assuming you’re just a casual shooter of course!

One of the top-rated “do it all” lenses is the Tamron 28-300mm lens. This lens is compatible with any of the major camera brands including Canon, Nikon, and Sony.

The reason this lens is so useful for beginners is that you can shoot any type of photo with this lens. If you want a wide-angle landscape shot, using 28mm will get the job done. If you decide you want to zoom in close to an eagle sitting in a tree, this lens still has you covered. In terms of ease of use, there aren’t many lenses that can beat this. As a beginner who isn’t sure what lens to buy first, this is a solid option to consider.

– A Wide-Angle Zoom Lens

Another great lens for you to look at is something that sits in the mid-range of focal lengths. Something that isn’t too wide, or too zoomed in. A lens that is versatile across any mid-range focal length. Something like a Tokina 24-70mm lens!

A wide-angle zoom is one of the most popular camera lenses amongst photographers because it can shoot anything. Whether you want to capture landscapes, portraits, wildlife, interiors, or night photography, this lens has you covered. In fact, the Canon 24-70mm lens has been my go-to for a number of years now.

The advantage to the 24-70 compared to the zoom lens is that it has a wider aperture. With an aperture of f/2.8 on the Tokina lens, you can capture low light or night photos without any worries. Although it does sit at a slightly higher price point than other beginner lenses, it’s definitely one worth looking in to.

What Makes A Good Camera Lens?

With a few ideas in your head, you might be wondering what actually makes a lens “good” or “bad”. The answer all depends on each of the aspects below.

1. Versatile Focal Lengths

Focal length is essentially the zoom capabilities of a lens. With a wide-angle lens like 18mm, it has a “shorter” focal length and a wider field of view. This is a huge advantage if you want to capture everything around you, even in a tight scene.

On the other hand, you can have a “longer” focal length like 200mm, which has a much narrower field of view. The advantage here, however, is that you can zoom into objects that aren’t anywhere near your camera. Whether you’re taking photos of mountains on the horizon or your kids playing soccer, a longer focal length will be advantageous to you.

Fortunately, you don’t need to decide between wide-angle or zoomed focal lengths because there are plenty of lenses that do both! For most beginner photographers, it’s a smart choice to get a lens with zoom capabilities so you can easily change focal lengths as you shoot.

If you decided to only go with prime lenses (that have fixed focal lengths) you’d have to constantly change lenses to get the shot you want. When you’re just starting out, you won’t know which lenses will work for the shots you need. Hence why having more focal length versatility with a zoom lens is a smart idea for beginner photographers.

2. A Wider Aperture

The aperture is a small hole inside of your lens that can adjust in size to change the effect on your images. With a wide aperture, there’s more light able to pass through your lens which means you’ll get a bright image. However, when you use a wide aperture you also end up with a shallow depth of field, meaning less is in focus at once.

For most photographers, having the option for a wide aperture is always ideal. It’s nice to have the choice in case you find yourself in low light or wanting to take photos at night. After all, just because a lens has a fast aperture, doesn’t mean you need to use it!

In an ideal world, the aperture on your lens will be the same between all focal lengths. On a lot of beginner camera lenses, you’ll see an aperture of F/4-5.6. This means that when the lens is at it’s widest focal length, you can use an aperture of F/4. However, once you start to zoom in, your widest aperture becomes F/5.6.

For most photographers, this is a big deal-breaker when trying to figure out what makes a lens good or bad. When you have to change your camera settings just because you zoomed in the lens, it starts to get old fast. With that said, lenses with variable aperture are significantly cheaper making them a perfect lens to start with since they won’t cost thousands of dollars. 

If you want to learn more about aperture and its importance in your photography, be sure to check out this guide to aperture for beginners.

3. Has Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is a feature some lenses will have that helps to keep the image sharp, even with a slow shutter speed. When you’re taking pictures handheld, your camera is constantly moving; even when you press the capture button. When you start to use too slow of a shutter speed, that movement begins to translate into motion blur. However, IS (image stabilization) can help to counter these movements and eliminate any motion blur from your photos.

This isn’t to say that you can use any shutter speed while using IS, but it does allow a bit more flexibility than without. You can find image stabilization technology in a lot of camera bodies as well as lenses. With both, you’re an unstoppable stabilized Hercules. As awesome as stabilization can be, lenses with IS will have a higher price tag than those without. Since it plays such a big role in the capabilities of a lens, especially in low light, IS is another big factor in deciding if a lens is good or not.

4. Limited Amount Of Distortion

As light passes through your lens, it gets bent and reshaped to converge onto your camera’s sensor. With some lenses, the light can get bent too much to the point that the image begins to look distorted. This usually happens with wide-angle lenses where the edges of the frame might look slightly skewed compared to the middle. To see this effect for yourself, try using your widest angle lens and look around the room with it. Notice how the corners and edges of the walls don’t remain perfectly straight. This is lens distortion at work.

Although there are heaps of lenses out there, some of them have far less distortion than others. Lens distortion can end up being slightly distracting from your photo and start to change the look of a scene. For most photographers, it’s preferred to have as little lens distortion as possible. That way the scene looks more true to real life.

With this in mind, you could read and compare different lenses and their distortion for the rest of your life. Rather than getting too hung up on this, try to find a lens that has limited distortion, and doesn’t make your entire photo look out of shape. If there’s a little bit of lens distortion, it’s not the end of the world.

5. Limited Amount Of Chromatic Abberation

One of the biggest factors in what makes a good camera lens comes down to chromatic aberration. Every ray of light that enters your camera is made up of a series of colors. As light passes through the glass elements in your lens, the camera focuses the light to a single point on your sensor. With some lenses, they can have a hard time focusing all the colors of light leaving a certain color range out of focus. The result is a colored highlight (often blue or magenta) that’s visible around edges in your photo.

Chromatic aberration is a telltale sign of a low-quality lens. Although it can be fixed in post, it’s something that you want to avoid if you can. Many modern lenses have gotten better at dealing with chromatic aberration, but higher-end lenses tend to do a better job of eliminating it completely. Even if a lens checks all your boxes in terms of what you want, bad chromatic aberration may be a deal-breaker in deciding whether or not it’s a good lens.

First Lens To Buy After Your Kit Lens

If you were like me, the first camera you bought came with a kit lens. Especially with entry-level cameras, it’s rare to see camera bodies sold on their own. Since you already have your basic kit lens covered (which is the best lens for beginners in my opinion), what’s your next option? What lens should you buy after your kit lens?

I would narrow it down to one of two options: the wide-angle zoom or a telephoto lens.

– A Wide-Angle Zoom

A wide-angle zoom lens offers a little more versatility than a kit lens with a longer focal range and (usually) a faster aperture. With better zoom capabilities and enhanced performance in low light, this is a no-brainer to fully replace your kit lens.

The wide-angle zoom I recommend for beginner photographers is the Tokina 24-70mm F/2.8 lens because you can shoot anything with this range. From portraits to product photos, landscapes, astrophotography, and real estate, there’s nothing this type of lens can’t accomplish. I personally use a Canon 24-70mm and use it for everything; however, it’s heinously expensive, which is why I don’t recommend it to beginners.

In terms of overall value and enhanced shooting performance, a wide-angle zoom is a great lens to buy after your kit lens. To give you some extra lens ideas, here are other great options to consider at a reasonable price tag:

– A Telephoto Lens

A telephoto lens is a perfect addition to your kit lens since it doesn’t cover any of the same focal lengths. Instead, a telephoto only covers longer focal lengths, often above 70mm. One of my favorite telephoto lenses for beginners is the Tamron 70-300mm F/4-5.6 lens since it covers a monstrous focal range but remains extremely affordable as far as lenses go.

If you feel content with what your kit lens does for you, a telephoto lens is a great way to expand what you can capture. Rather than being physically close to the action, a telephoto allows you to zoom in from far away. By adding this lens to your camera bag, you can now shoot everything from a wide-angle scene with a kit lens, to the moon rising over the horizon with a telephoto.

To help get you started, here are a few other great telephoto lenses for beginners:

Trying to figure out what lens to buy first is an exciting time in your photography. Using the tips outlined here, I hope you can make a more confident decision in your buying process!

– Brendan 🙂

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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