When photographers start out on their image-making journey, the majority of newcomers tend to go for a camera that comes with a ‘kit lens’. These optics usually feature a general focal length of around 18-55mm and have a variable apertures, typically around f/3.5-5.6. Now, these kit lenses do a great job for newcomers to photography, but after a while, you may feel you’re outgrowing the optic and want to try something new.
Different lenses open up new creative opportunities and enable you to show locations in a whole new way. But with so many different lenses to choose from, and each optic representing an investment of your hard-earned money, which lenses should you go for?
Well, here’s the trilogy of lenses I think will make the biggest difference to your photography and will allow you to unleash your creativity through image-making…
1 – The Mighty 50mm
If you only have budget for one extra lens, make it a 50mm. The ‘Nifty Fifty’ as it’s called, should be the first step on the lens ladder for any photographer looking to be more creative. Why? Well, prime 50mm lenses have very large maximum apertures, with the more affordable versions offering f/2.8 to more expensive models opening up to f/1.2. This enables photographers to capture a very shallow depth of field in their frames and this focuses attention of a subject by keeping it in focus while the rest of the frame falls into creative blur.
What’s more, the added benefit of a 50mm prime lens means that you can’t be lazy with composition and simply zoom in and out. Physically moving around to adjust your viewpoint takes longer with a prime, but this is actually a good thing as it slows down your picture-taking process and gives you more time to arrange a more impressive composition. What’s more, the added benefit of that maximum aperture is that the 50mm at f/2.8 or larger lets far more light through the lens than is possible with a variable aperture kit lens. This means that you can get faster shutter speeds in low light, reducing the risk of camera shake. Plus, when it comes to astrophotography, a large aperture will enable the camera to capture the night sky in an exposure below 25 seconds, which is roughly when the stars in the sky start to turn into trails as the earth rotates.
2 – The Ultra Wide-angle
If your budget allows for two new lenses, buy the 50mm and then invest in a wide-angle optic. Kit lenses usually feature focal lengths that start at around 18mm, but it’s amazing the difference a focal length of 16mm or 14mm will make to your images. Wide-angle lenses are especially useful for landscape photography, where you want to capture a wide view and stretch the perspective of foreground interest that’s close to the camera. Dedicated wide-angle lenses are also better at controlling barrel distortion and vignetting, which is something that kit lenses struggle with when shooting at wide focal lengths.
More affordable wide-angle lenses usually have a maximum aperture of around f/4, but if you spend a little more, you can get a wide-angle lens with a super fast aperture like f/2.8. Wide-angle lenses are not only great for landscapes, but can also be used for architecture and even street photography.
3 – The Magical Macro
Macro lenses are specialised optics that shoot images with a magnified ratio, typically 1:1, which means that they capture life-size images of your subjects. Thanks to this magnification ratio, macro images are the optic of choice when you want to get close-up images of your subjects. Seeing the world in close up transforms ordinary subjects we see everyday into something extraordinary. The head of a flower, a bug’s eye, the detail of a leaf – all these subjects look different and interesting when seen through a macro lens. Macro optics usually come in focal lengths of around 100mm, but there are some macro lenses at 60mm.
Sporting fast apertures of at least f/2.8, the lenses allow a lot of light to the sensor and are certainly not just for shooting close up images of bugs. In fact, thanks to the combination of 1:1 ratio, 100mm focal length and f/2.8 aperture, macros lenses are a lot more versatile than you may think. The focal length makes them a viable option for portraits, as the 100mm compression gives a flattering look to subjects. What’s more, with that fast f/2.8 aperture, macro lenses can even be used as makeshift action lenses to capture sports and wildlife while you save up for a dedicated telephoto optic.
So that’s our pick of the three lenses every photographer should own. Are there any other lenses you would add to the list?