Which DSLR Lens Should You Choose?

Nothing gives you more creative control over your photo snapping, than venturing into the world of DSLR photo-ing.

You can trick out your camera with new lenses, lights, tripods, and more to get just the photo-style you’re looking for. But, figuring out what lens to pick up first can be daunting.

So, we asked our Twitter followers (that’s you! Or … it could be) what lenses they first bought (or wish they had) after their kit lens – and we got lots of great answers and advice!

We’ve put these tips into this helpful guide so buying your first lens will be easy-peasy.

#1 Pick: 50mm f/1.8

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Ah, the “nifty fifty” as you’ll hear the kool kidz call it.

This lens is extremely popular, relatively inexpensive, and it takes beautiful photos, so we aren’t surprised a majority of Twitter followers responded with this choice – 42% of you to be exact.

A 50mm f/1.8 is a prime lens, which means the focal length is fixed at 50mm – no zooming. Many consider a prime lens to take a better image, because there are less moving parts within the lens to complicate your shot. You just have to pay closer attention to how near or far away you are from your subject.

The f/1.8 indicates that the aperture goes all the way down to 1.8, resulting in a very shallow depth of field for beautifully blurred backgrounds.

Here’s some more nifty facts about the 50mm f/1.8:

  • A lens with a 50mm focal point is considered a standard lens (as are any lenses with a focal point between 35-85mm). This focal length is ideal for capturing a variety of situations, including travel, nature, food, your dog, your friend’s dog, a stranger’s dog, portraits and more.
  • Speaking of portraits, since the 50mm is known for its shallow depth of field, it is perfect for capturing a beautiful, sharp focus on your subject with a less-focused less-distracting background.
  • And speaking of backgrounds, this type of lens creates excellent bokeh effect (blurring bright points of light till they look like glowing floating orbs). So, if you’re after that look – this lens is perfect for you! You can even pair it with our Bokeh Masters Kit to take your Bokeh game to the next level.
  • Due to its large f/1.8 aperture (more on aperture in this handy Q&A) this lens is great for shooting in low light.
  • Equipment is expensive, and that’s often a main reason new photographers don’t explore new gear – especially lenses. But as many of our respondents stated (and a quick Google search can confirm) a 50mm prime lens is surprisingly inexpensive. You would never guess that, based on it’s quality, it runs you about $125 without any discounts.
  • Bonus – Nikon AND Canon have comparable versions of this lens.

Runner-up: A Telephoto/Zoom Lens

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A lot of bird watchers tweeted their favorite lenses to us…. And you know, that seems really fitting.

37% said their first lens was a telephoto for zooming in on those beautiful broad-billed hummingbirds (or other bird of choice).

If a lens has a focal range of above 100mm, then it’s considered a telephoto. The higher the number, the further you’re able to zoom. A good starter zoom is any 55mm-250mm. It can zoom all the way to 250mm – great for landscapes, wildlife and more.

Here’s a few other tidbits about telephotos:

  • Telephoto lenses are great for focusing in on one specific subject (like a bird, or squirrel or far away person) and really making it pop! And not necessarily just because you’re close – zooming that far in causes your background to be dramatically out of focus, allowing for that attention grabbing subject.
  • When using a telephoto – be aware of camera shake! The farther away your subject the more it blurs from the smallest of camera shakes – even thinking about moving can cause it to shake. To avoid this, bring a tripod (or monopod, if you’re on the move) with you when shooting with this lens – and try not to think too hard.
  • Telephoto lenses are a bit more of an investment, depending on focal range and what manufacturer you choose, so take the time to shop around. Many local camera shops will have savings through manufacturer discounts, or even less expensive used gear that still works just fine.

Last, but not least…

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21% of the voters mentioned a 35mm as their first lens, and this is a solid choice too.

It has a shorter focal length compared to the 50mm, so it is considered a nice intro to the world of wide-angle lenses. However, it’s definitely more expensive since it gives just a bit more flexibility.

Many recommend this type of lens for travel and street photography, and the wide-angle allows you to fit more into the frame when you’re in a tight space.

Since this lens goes all the way down to an impressive f/1.4 aperture, it gives you a bit more depth of field (and even MORE beautifully fuzzed out bokeh backgrounds).

Taking It Further

  • Still not sure what to choose? Try renting (places like KitSplit offer this service in select cities) or borrowing from a friend, and spend time using a few different lenses to see what you like.
  • Go vintage – old lenses need love, too! Dig through some boxes in the attic, ask grandma and grandpa, and find some old-school lenses to use with your modern DSLR.
  • This lens guide definitely taught us a few things and will give you many specifics and scenarios to narrow your lens search and make you confident when choosing your lens.