Getting started (buying your first lens)

In my last "getting started" blog I dove into what camera you should buy when you're ready to make the leap into photography.  My guess is that that post might have created a little bit of sticker shock and I'm here to tell you, this won't be much different.  Often in photography you get what you pay for.  It's an expensive hobby.  The good news is that if you do it properly you can abate those costs considerably.  I wish I could go back to beginning me and suggest a completely different camera set-up. 

In my opinion (for whatever that's worth), lenses can make or break a shot.  Being able to capture something at the right focal length could be the difference of a small speck in the sky and a great, close-up shot of a bird featuring its feathers, facial expressions and anything else that helps create a powerful shot.  Wide lenses with a good aperture can let in the necessary light for a good astrophotography shot or give you a powerful depth of field.  You might also miss a shot because your f-stop wasn't good enough to capture the necessary light.  The bottom line, lenses matter, a lot.  

So where do we start?  Well, this is probably more controversial than the camera body.  Personally, I like purchasing gear that's going to last me a long time.  It usually costs more upfront but you will always upgrade in the long run and if you get a good lens off the bat you can use it for the entirety of your career.  



if you're looking to simply learn about how to use your camera I'd actually suggest starting with your iPhone.  You can purchase an add-on lens for around $30 (although they are pretty garbage).  If you're looking to get something decent to start with you can purchase the MOMENT Telephoto lens for $70.  This lens will give you a 60mm lens allowing you to take your iPhone photography game to the next level.  In addition to that I'd recommend getting the ProCam 4, iPhone app.  This app allows you to adjust your camera phone's settings to include shutter-speed, aperture, ISO, shoot in RAW, HDR and a whole host of other features.  In all honesty your iPhones camera is actually better than a lot of cameras on the market, it's biggest drawback is the fixed 35mm lens that has a very reduced image quality when zoomed in.  Purchasing one of the add-on lenses opens your phone up to a whole host of shots, gives you the ability to practice with camera settings and doesn't cost you very much. 

Somewhat expensive:

For this price range and the expensive price range I am going to make two suggestions for your first lens to purchase, fixed and a zoom lens... I will explain why:

One route I suggest is getting a fixed lens at 50mm.  Generally speaking, the human eye sees the world at a focal length of around 50mm.  Now, there is someone out there reading this who just huffed and puffed and said that's bullshit and is making their way to the comment section to tell me how I don't know anything...  They are probably right.  While you could argue this all day and say the human eye sees the world different than a lens or that it depends on if it's a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera or 45mm on an APS-C sensor lets just save that for the *insert that photography FB group*.   So if we take that the eye sees the world at 50mm then it's not a bad suggestion to go with a 50mm lens to start out with.  Basically that lens is going to give you the ability to shoot what you see.  By purchasing a 50mm or other fixed lens your dollar tends to buy better glass.  Most lenses are limited by their f-stop/aperture range.  If you're just getting into the field of photography that is what controls your depth of field and also controls your light.  Fixed lenses tend to offer a better aperture range.  In addition when a lens zooms it has to give up something to make up for moving parts and usually that is image quality.  While a lens may zoom from 24-200mm it might have a somewhat blurry photo at each extreme and offer crisper photos somewhere in the middle of that zoom, say around 100mm.  

If you would like to go with the 50mm route there are a ton of mid-level lenses to choose from.  If you get a mid level lens, go with one that matches your camera brand.  I've purchased some lenses in the past that wont focus correctly or have compatibility issues because the company is trying to accommodate a whole host of cameras rather than just one.  

Canon 50mm DSLR Lens, $400

Canon 50mm DSLR Lens, $400

Before you go off and buy a fixed lens, also consider a zoom lens... Annoying I know. 

My most used lens is a 24-105mm, f/4.  If I am going to go out and only want to take one lens, that's the one.  It zooms enough to capture some far away shots but is also wide enough to get good close-up/wide angled shots.  A zoom lens will also give you the ability to get a much wider range of shots.  As mentioned above you tend to lose some quality when you go to a zoom lens, especially with the lower end versions.  It's probably safe to say that the greater the zoom travel (i.e 24-70mm vs 24-300mm) the more issues you will have with quality.  Just like the fixed lenses you are going to get a series of mid level zoom lenses.  There are literally hundreds to choose from but I'd suggest sticking with something that gets good reviews for your camera brand that's somewhere in the 24-105mm range, + or - a little.  

Canon 18-135, 3.5, goes for around $359

Canon 18-135, 3.5, goes for around $359


My personal recommendation, if you can swing it, is to go expensive on the lenses.  Think about it like this: if you buy a top of the line lens from the start it will never underperform the camera body it's placed on.  However, if you buy a mediocre lens it can make your top of the line camera underperform later on.  A mid-level lens doesn't take any more or less practice than a top of the line lens and it's something you can use for years to come. 

Just like above, I'd recommend going either the fixed or zoom route.  If you drop the cash to get a really good fixed 50mm lens now, I can guarantee you that it will be something that you will go to for years to come.  

My most used lens, the Canon 24-105 f/4L IS USM Lens, goes for around $679

My most used lens, the Canon 24-105 f/4L IS USM Lens, goes for around $679

Almost every lens brand has a top of the line lens.  For the Canon, the "L" series lenses are considered their professional grade glass and depending on what you get, you can spend upwards of $10,000, just for a lens!  But don't worry, the majority of them are only a few thousand...  I use two "L" series lenses, the 24-105mm and the 16-35mm.  I had a 70-200mm but I ended up selling it for a Tamron 150-600mm.  One side brand that I like is Sigma.  Their Art Series lenses are fairly well priced and make for some great lenses with great reviews.  If you're looking for a good 50mm lens, consider the Sigma Art 50mm F1.4 DG HSM that goes for around $949.  In comparison, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM that has arguably the same quality, goes for around $1300.  I haven't done a side by side shot comparison of the two, but I am guessing they are fairly similar in quality.  

My final tip:

BY USED!  I am not sure I will actually buy a new lens ever again....  Unless it's brand new to the market and I absolutely must have it.  You can buy used lenses just about anywhere although BH Photo has some certified used lenses that will be a safe bet, even if you do pay a little more.  Craigslist is also another good option.  If you do buy from Craigslist bring your camera and computer and ask to take a photo using the lens before you buy.  Upload a photo to your computer and make sure there aren't any weird specks or blemishes.  I'd also recommend meeting someone at a safe place like a police station because let's face it, people from Craigslist can be weird AF.  

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