Most entry level DSLRs come bundled with an 18-55mm kit lens. These optics offer a good start point for photography, having a fairly versatile zoom range that covers from wide-angle to medium telephoto. They’re perfectly fine for generalist shooting, but there comes a point when you’ll want to upgrade. That might be because you want to expand your creative freedom with a different focal length, create smoother blurs with wider apertures or improve the optical quality for better looking images. We’ve put together a list of Canon, Nikon and third party lenses that can help you advance your photography for a range of genres without breaking the bank.
What sort of lens will help you advance your photography?
Everyday versatile zooms
If you’re a bit of a generalist photographer and enjoy shooting a wide range of subjects, then purchasing a more versatile zoom lens is your best bet. While the 18-55mm kit lens offers a good introduction to photography, it can be let down by the restricted zoom range, its variable maximum aperture and the build and image quality. Replacing your kit lens with a more advanced standard zoom lens will allow you to zoom in tighter on subjects, use wider apertures to let in more light and create more background blur, and capture a sharper image quality.
(image credit to Thai Subsea Services Ltd)
A superzoom is an ideal lens for travel photography
A good start point for more modest budgets would be an 18-200mm zoom lens. Sometimes referred to as a ‘walkabout’ lens or an ‘all-in-one’, these optics offer an 11.1x zoom range, significantly bettering the 3x zoom of a kit lens. They can be used for a wide range of subjects, with a wide angle setting for landscapes and a telephoto zoom for sport and wildlife, they’re ideal for travel as you don’t need to be swapping lenses.
For Canon, there’s the Canon EF-S 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 IS lens, which offers 4-stops of image stabilisation to minimise camera shake when shooting with slower shutter speeds, and has an RRP of £629, but can be found for less online. The Nikon superzoom offering is the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II lens, which also combats shake by 4-stops and has an RRP of £649.
The Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 fits Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and Sigma mounts
A better priced alternative is the Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM Lens which has an RRP of £289 and is available in Canon, Pentax, Nikon, Sony A Mount and Sigma mounts. This lens also features built-in Optical Stabilisation to reduce the effects of camera shake, but has a narrower maximum aperture of f/6.3 at the longer focal lengths.
A wide angle lens is a must for landscape photography
For landscape lovers, there’s no beating a dedicated wide angle lens as you can include more of a view into your composition, allowing you to utilise more foreground interest and sky detail for added impact. The widest a kit lens can frame up is 18mm, but a proper wide angle lens has a field of view almost twice as wide.
If you own a Nikon DSLR, take a look at the 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 G AF-P DX Nikkor Lens. It offers an ideal field of view for scenics, architecture and astrophotography with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 15-30mm, giving a 2x zoom. It also features 3.5stops of Vibration Reduction, is lightweight at only 230g and has an RRP of £329. However with a variable maximum aperture of f/4.5-5.6 this lens doesn’t let as much light through as a standard kit lens.
The Nikkor 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 G lens has a 2x zoom and features 3.5stops of stabilisation
For Canon DSLRs there’s the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f4.5-5.6 IS STM lens, which has an RRP of £299. It has a slightly narrower focal range with a 1.8x zoom, but has a 4-stop image stabilisation system to assist when shooting with slower shutter speeds.
Available to fit Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax and Sigma DSLRs, the Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM lens has an RRP of £449. It offers the same 2x zoom as the Nikon lens, but has a wider and constant maximum aperture of f/3.5, which lets in more light and creates a shallower depth of field. There’s no image stabilisation with this Sigma optic, but you’re less likely to need it when shooting with a wide angle lens.
Sport, wildlife and action
Photography ties in with lots of other hobbies and interests, but whether you love sports or wildlife, if you want to capture the action you’ll need a telephoto lens to zoom in close to your subject. A kit lens just doesn’t cut it when it comes to subjects like these, you really need a dedicated telephoto lens.
A 70-300mm lens is perfect for shooting wildelife or sport
A popular focal length for telephoto zoom lenses is 70-300mm, getting you over 5x closer to the action than a kit lens would. The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM has an RRP of £499 and has a full frame equivalent focal length of 112-480mm, due to the 1.6x crop factor with Canon APS-C DSLRs. Despite the large zoom the lens has a fairly compact design and weighs 710g, and also has a 4-stop Image Stabilisation system to counteract camera shake.
The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 has a 4.2x zoom and a 4-stop image stabilsation system
If you’re a Nikon owner then the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 G ED DX AF-P Nikkor lens is available for just £305. Due to Nikon’s 1.5x crop factor, this lens has a full frame equivalent focal length of 105-450mm, offering slightly less reach than the Canon. It is however significantly lighter, weighing just 400g.
With an RRP of £345, the Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SP Di VC USD lens offers the same zoom as the Canon and Nikon telephoto zoom lenses, and matches the maximum aperture setting of the Canon 70-300mm lens. It also provides 4-stops of shake correction which is rather useful when shooting at longer focal lengths. The Tamron lens is available for Nikon, Canon and Sony DSLRs.
Macro for close ups
If you’ve discovered a love of capturing close-up detail, such as florals, insects or interesting textures, but are frustrated by the focusing limits of your kit lens then you should invest in a dedicated macro lens. These specialist lenses have longer focal lengths and let you set the focus much closer to the camera, so you can truly zoom in on tiny details.
A macro lens lets you focus ultra close to your subject to zoom into tiny subjects
While there’s a range of macro lenses out there, a good place to start for all users is the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro lens. When used with an APS-C DSLR it has a full frame equivalent focal length of 135mm and has a minimum focusing distance of 0.29m, and allows for true 1:1 macro photography. It has a fast constant maximum aperture of f/2.8 and is available to fit Canon, Nikon, Sony and Pentax DSLRs. This capable lens can also be used for portraiture and has an RRP of £399.
The Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro lens is a great option for macro photography
Portraiture and prime lenses
A 50mm lens produces a flattering perspective for portraits
A fantastic first prime lens is a 50mm – often referred to as a ‘nifty fifty’ – due to its versatility, lightweight and compact design and often affordable price. A prime lens has a fixed focal length, so it can’t be zoomed, but they tend to offer superior image quality as they have a simpler construction. A 50mm prime lens is often touted as the ideal portrait lens, as they offer the full frame equivalent focal length of 75mm – which makes for flattering people pictures – and also has a wider than usual aperture for increasing the blur in the background.
The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G AF-S lens has an RRP of £199, protrudes just 52mm and weighs 185g. The constant f/1.8 aperture is great for letting in more light and creating a shallow depth of field; ideal for portraits. The Canon version of the lens – the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM – offers the same shooting specs but is marginally smaller and lighter, and is more affordable too, with an RRP of £106, representing excellent value for money. Lots of photographers – myself included – chose a 50mm prime as the first step up from the kit lens, and they’re a superb gateway to both portraiture and working with primes.
The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is very competitively priced with an RRP of £106