Choosing Your Next Lens
Written by Daven Mathies
If you just purchased your first DSLR or other interchangeable lens camera, you're probably wondering what lens to get next. In fact, many new DSLR owners have actually asked me, “What’s the next lens?” While this question may seem simple, the answer is not. Camera manufacturers are aware of customers asking this question, though, and they have tried to simplify the process, somewhat. Canon and Nikon, for example, both make telephoto zooms in the 55-300mm range that are designed to complement the 18-55mm kit lenses that ship on their entry-level DSLRs. It is easy to point to one of these telephoto lenses as the “next lens,” and manufacturers will often tempt customers with tantalizing rebates if one of these lenses is purchased in conjunction with a camera. The truth is, a standard telephoto zoom, no matter how good the rebate, may not actually be the best next lens for you.
For the soccer parent or casual birder, a Canon 55-250mm or Nikon 55-300mm lens may indeed be the right lens, but what if you prefer a different type of photography? If you bought your camera primarily to take pictures of your family, a lens like this is not going to help you. Its angle of view is too narrow for a group photo, and the aperture is too small to let in enough light for indoor use. A fixed-focal length lens (often called a "prime" lens) in the 28mm to 50mm range would work much better for. Nikon’s $200 35mm f/1.8, for example, is the perfect lens for casual family gatherings or pictures of kids, and is small and light enough to easily carry with you for long periods of time. Canon’s “nifty fifty” 50mm f/1.8 lens is just $125, and while its field of view is too narrow for large groups, it is an excellent single-subject portrait lens and will increase the low light ability of your camera over 4 times what the kit lens can do. Canon and Nikon both make 28mm f/1.8 lenses, as well, which are perfect for indoor shooting or small group photos, but the price does increase significantly with these wider-angle, full-frame compatible lenses (up to about $700 in the case of the Nikon).
If sports, wildlife, or family portraits aren’t your thing, then perhaps you’d be interested in a wide-angle lens. For landscapes, architecture, or any time you want to see the “full picture,” a wide-angle lens is a must. Keep in mind, you will need a focal length of less than 18mm in order to get a wider angle of view than that offered by your kit lens. This can be confusing for people, as the kit lens is not ever referred to as a wide-angle lens even though other lenses in the 18mm to 35mm range are often labeled “wide-angle.” Lenses wider than your kit lens will almost certainly be zooms, except for a couple of specialized exceptions, and these wide-angle zooms can be quite pricey. Nikon and Canon both make excellent wide-angle zooms starting at 10mm, which is quite wide, and they cost between $800 and $900. Fortunately, for the budget conscious, there are some fantastic third-party wide-angle zooms that offer comparable image and build quality. Tokina’s 11-16mm f/2.8 is an incredibly popular lens, offering a wide angle of view and a bright aperture that beats out Canon’s and Nikon’s own offerings in this focal range for low light photography. At $700, it isn’t exactly cheap, but it is excellent value for the money.
Whatever you think you may want to photograph, it’s never a bad idea to try out several lenses before deciding on one. At Pro Photo Supply, we have demo models of all the lenses we sell that you are welcome to test out in the store (and there are many, many more than those listed in this article.) Hopefully, this overview has given you a good idea of at least where to start looking. If you’re still not sure which lens would be the best for you, just tell us what you like to shoot; we will be happy to help you find the lens best suited to your photography.