Beyond the kit lens – things to consider when buying a new lens, and why I think it should be a 50mm f/1.8

When we begin to take our first steps into the world of photography, generally we have a DSLR and a kit lens. If you’re thinking of picking one up, the entry level cameras for Canon, Nikon and Sony are the Canon 1200D, the Nikon D3300, and the Sony a58. If you’re looking for advice on which to buy, I genuinely think there isn’t much between them and you can’t really go wrong whatever you pick. The thing the all have in common is the kit lens, which is an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. This lens is designed to work well with the auto mode in your camera to increase the percentage of pictures that turn out well. In this context, “turn out well” means correctly exposed and properly focused.

When we decide to start getting a bit creative with out cameras, we start looking at other lenses. There are a lot of numbers that are confusing, but we’ve broken that down for you in another post. Generally, we start choosing a lens for a specific purpose. If we like taking pictures of landscapes, we may choose a lens that allows us to go wider than 18mm, and a popular choice is the Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5. If we like taking portraits, we may go for an 85mm f1.4 to get creamy blur in the background. If we want to do sports or nature photography we’d probably want a telephoto lens like the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 or the 70-200mm f/2.8.

If you don’t have anything specific in mind, then in my opinion if you are looking for a second lens, the best lens you can get first is a 50mm f/1.8. My reasons for this are as follows:

1. Price. Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 is less than £70.

2. Sharpness. Coming from the kit lens, the sharpness of these lenses will blow you away.

3. Prime thinking. Whenever you move to a zoom lens, you begin to think about what the focal length is useful for and about how your scene will look when you look into your viewfinder.

4. Fast. Aperture of f/1.8 is usually fast enough that when combined with mid range ISOs (400 – 3200) you can start thinking about using available light indoors.

5. Manual focus. When your focal length is fixed and you’re trying to focus in low light, sometimes your autofocus is going to struggle. Learning how to manually focus is a key skill.

Whatever you buy, keep in mind the following:

1. If you’re still using your camera on automatic or P mode, don’t buy a new lens. Your lens isn’t what’s holding you back, it’s your understanding of exposure and your camera.

2. Remember the crop factor. Generally, most entry level D-SLRs have a crop factor due to the fact that the sensor is smaller than the 35mm standard sensor size. Check out the link for an explanation and a list of cameras with their crop factor.

3. Prime lenses (i.e. with a fixed focal length) are usually reasonably priced and sharp, and can be found in a whole range of focal lengths from wide angle (20mm) to telephoto (Sigma do an 800mm prime lens).

4. As an outside resource, I can recommend lenshero.com as a good way to find your next lens.

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