Three Lenses Every Photographer Should Own

Three Lenses Every Photographer Should Own


Pin ItA Guest Post by Chris Folsom.

Lineup of Lenses - by canonsnapper

Lineup of Lenses - by canonsnapper

It’s a question I hear a lot from new photographers: “what lenses should I buy?”

And while there are a lot of different types of lenses appropriate for many different situations and needs, time and time again I find myself primarily relying on three lenses in my bag: a fast general purpose zoom (18-50mm), a macro lens and a telephoto zoom (70-200mm). These three lenses will give you enough versatility to shoot in almost any conditions. Also, these three lenses are available for just about every camera system and lens mount on the market.

The general purpose zoom

This is the lens that sits on my camera the most. For APS-C cameras, something in the 18-50mm range is best… for 35mm format cameras, a 24-70mm will work. This will give you the ability to go fairly wide while also being able to zoom into objects off in the distance. This lens might be your kit lens, but it should preferably be fairly fast (a fixed f/2.8 if possible) to give you greater control over depth of field. It makes a great “walkabout” lens when you aren’t sure what you will be shooting.

The macro lens

The length of this lens isn’t as important as its ability to create a 1:1 magnification of subjects. I currently keep a 50mm f/2.8 macro in my bag because it is small and light… easy to carry around for when I might need it. It makes a decent portrait lens (very sharp and the f/2.8 provides a fairly shallow area of focus) and the level of detail you can get when shooting objects up close is fantastic. Having a macro lens opens up a whole new world of tiny objects to photograph. Also, if you do any type of product photography (jewelry, food, etc.) this lens will allow you to capture a much greater level of detail than is possible with non-macro lenses.


The telephoto zoom

The telephoto zoom should be in the general range of 70-200mm with a maximum aperture of at least f/4 (faster is nice though). This will give you a lot of distance to work with and a very shallow depth of field to bring focus to your subjects. For faster moving objects, the bigger aperture will allow you to shoot at faster shutter speeds which will help capture moving objects (birds, sports) too. This is also an excellent portrait lens as the focal length minimizes distortion and narrows the angle of view to fill the frame with your subject.

Wait… what about?

I am sure many of you reading this have other lenses you would consider essential. A fast 50, or a wide angle or a longer zoom… and all of those are great lenses to own also. However, for someone who is new to photography or who has just bought their first DSLR, these three lenses will give them the versatility to shoot in almost any situation. Family gatherings, sports events, birds, insects, flowers, landscapes, portraits, etc. Once you narrow in on a particular type of photography that most interests you, other lenses may be more useful for that specific subject, but until then these are the lenses all photographers should be carrying with them.

What lenses would you include in your ‘every photography should own’ basket?

-1.jpgChris Folsom is a hobbyist photographer who spends much of his time photographing abandoned buildings. You can view his site at or see more of his photos at Flickr.

His photos have been published in newspapers and on numerous websites.

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Some Older Comments

  • Paula December 21, 2012 09:43 am

    Any recommendations for a wide angle lense primary used for indoor interior home photos? I need to be able to photograph a room and get as much in the frame as possible all while using no flash or backlighting outside natural light.

  • Brute November 29, 2012 12:28 am

    Someone who is new should spend thousands of dollars on these types of lenses? No.
    A fast & cheap 50mm or 35mm is all a beginner need. Then after getting bored of it, and used to using it, understanding light, depth-of-field etc... then one can look for a zoom, wide-angle or a macro depending on what kind of photography one likes.

    If one wants a macro, I'd recommend a reversed 50mm. It goes a long way, is sharp & cheap. If one wants a tele lens, I'd recommend 50-200mm or 70-300mm depending on ones need. When one has outgrown these, or if one intends to shoot sports or animals at dusk/dawn, then a used 70-200 or a f/4 lens can be looked at.

  • Timothy November 28, 2012 11:56 pm

    Instead of having a macro lens, I have a set of macro extension rings, which turn any lens into a macro lens. A 50mm is useful - I like the EF50mm f1.8 from Canon cos its the cheapest lens available, and from f5.6 - f11 its the sharpest 50mm lens for EOS mount (according to tests and reviews, and my own experience). Match the 50mm (or Sigma's 85mm f1.4 - Super sharp!) to the macro rings and you have a great, sharp macro lens. I once shot a whole engagement party using just the 50mm & 85mm, with great results. I now have the Tamron 24-70mm VC which will be even more useful, and is very sharp as well. The Tamron 70-200 f2.8 VC looks very interesting too, I'm hoping to see reviews and test images asap. :-)

    All the images in the following galleries were taken using macro rings with either the 50 or 85mm:

  • Jim November 28, 2012 05:31 pm

    I haven't read all the comments so sorry if I am repeating others here, but I disagree with everyone who is saying get the 50mm prime, pretty much all novices will have a cropped frame camera and would be far better off with the 35mm lens, it is better in all ways as the 50mm will often be too big, especially when indoors. I found mine to be the only lens I used for months after I got it, although I now find my 11-16 Tokina to be attached to my camera more than any other lens, I would only recommend that to someone who has an interest primarily in either landscape or architecture though, like the macro iti s a specialised lens and not one for a top 3.

  • Sammy01 November 28, 2012 03:49 pm

    There are no 3 lenses every photographer should own. Different people like to photograph different things.

    Shooting macro is extremely instructive for understanding DoF especially if you combine it with a decent flash.

    Prime lenses can't be beat for wide field astro.

    All depends on what you're motivated to shoot.

    There are some people who aren't that interested in photographing other people.

  • John November 28, 2012 01:54 pm

    My three lenses would be: 18-250mm zoom; 100mm macro; and 10-20mm wide angle. With these three I can get most all shots outdoors. Inside is different, I would have 30mm 2.8 macro; 35mm 2.8 prime; and 50mm 1.4.

    I think that you need to decide what and where you shoot to determine what three lenses you need to cover that situation.

  • Phillip Oxley November 28, 2012 01:15 pm

    I own several lenses, but would be hard put to replace my 18-50 2.8 sigma lens. I use it 85% of the time. It's sharp, works great in low light and does a decent job of macro.

  • Chris November 28, 2012 01:05 pm

    However, for someone who is new to photography or who has just bought their first DSLR, these three lenses will give them the versatility to shoot in almost any situation. Family gatherings, sports events, birds, insects, flowers, landscapes, portraits, etc.

    18-300 does it all!

  • Grace October 16, 2012 09:24 am

    This was very helpful! I already have a 18-55mm and a 55-200mm and I'm working on getting a 55mm f/1.8 macro. I love that it has a super small aperture. Macros aren't only good for close us objects and detail but are actually great for portraits to since they focus on the subject and blur out the macro. I's personally choose the macro over the portrait, but really it depends on your own preferences. :) I think these three lenses are all you really need to start out! They offer everything you need at the beginning. But of course, when your get into serious professional photography, you're probably going to need/want more!

  • Pete August 29, 2012 12:42 pm

    oops forgot
    maybe even a 18-105mm VR, covers a wider focal length, a good all-round lens.

  • Pete August 29, 2012 12:36 pm

    hi ruben
    there are a few lenses depending on your budget.
    also you need to know the distances you plan to shoot from.
    if you plan to be further a longer lens.
    a macro cab double as a portarit, say70-100mm range, 85 is considered the ideal portrait lens, but the agian are you full frame or cropped sensor.
    the new tamron 24-70mm f2.8 is pricier but supposedly very good.
    or if money permits the 70-200mm with VR.
    best bet take your camera to a store and try some shots of the sales people they are quite willing.
    good luck.

  • Ruben Polanco August 29, 2012 10:38 am

    This article was very helpful! I just bought my first DSLR a few weeks a go, a Nikon D3000 (10.6mp). I'm interested in doing portraits for my friends and family as gifts, but I feel like the lens it came with (18-55mm) won't cut it. Any ideas?

  • Dan Bollinger July 27, 2012 10:16 am

    A macro is a must for me. I do table top photography. In fact, twice I've found the macro I wanted and then bought the camera system that it fit. First for 35mm and now for digital. I still have my old Vivitar Series I, 90mm, 1:1 macro I bought for $750 eons ago.

  • Pete March 26, 2012 12:36 am

    Well, here's my two cents worth based on years of photography/research.

    I currently use a D300 and use the following nikon-only lens combo:

    1. Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 (heavy but worth every cent, sharp as razors and almost distortion free on my D300. Wide enough for low light indoor/outdoor shooting on DX frame and a nice 21mm-36mm equivalent on DX which is very useable. The ducks nuts for ultra-wide on FX which I hope to enjoy when I purchase the FX body down the track)
    2. Nikon 18-200mm VR f3-5-5.6 (great travel lens, my jack of all and master of none - yet sharp and nice performance 30-150mm range.)
    3. Nikon 35mm f1.8 DX (sharp, fast, light, and loads of fun for easy shooting and carrying. Its size doesn't intimidate or stand out and is preferred if you don't wish to draw attention with your kit in certain crowds/environments)
    4. Nikon 85mm F1.8 AF-D ( fast and light and excellent for portraiture, low light and some architecture as it also has zero distortion).

    I mainly use my gear as a travel photographer and my kit gives me total coverage in the field. Yep, I carry all in a lowepro backpack and weight doesn't bother when you carry in a well-designed camera pack. After all, you bought your DSLR to use some lenses, didn't you?

    When I upgrade to FX (looking at D800 at the moment) I just need a nifty fifty and I'm covered on DX and FX.

    My tip: Think about what you're photography is all about and fit the kit to YOUR needs, and don't feel the need to buy a whole range of things just because someone else has bought it. You need to think about what works for you!! For some, a 50mm 1.8 may tick all the boxes.

    Happy shooting


  • yve February 29, 2012 06:29 am

    Also have to ask this,why does it seem that most people prefer the 55-200 over the 70-300?I thought the longer telephoto would be a bonus?

  • yve February 29, 2012 06:27 am

    Wow guys alot of info and opinions,never got to the end yet but had to post.Heres what I have ,nikon d7K,nikkor 70-300 vr 4.5,nikkor 18-105 3.5 and a tamron17-50 2.8.I can't get the bokeh I want or have seen in some portrait shots with what I have so I would like some advice on what I should buy and or replace.Like everyone else I like closeup photography as well as portraits and landscape.I guess that covers everything anyway,lol.So again the million dollar question is what should I buy and or replace.Please post your recommendations.

  • Pete February 20, 2012 02:06 am

    Hello Natalie,
    Start "shooting" man, ok.
    However my advice is do the 'one lens' shooting day.
    Take only one lens and use that for the entire day.
    No doubt you will find it very restrictive but it will help you learn the lens and more importantly to be creative with your compositions. Shoot in Manual bot for Settings & Focus so you learn how the primary functions of your camera works.
    And ENJOY and HAVE FUN , thats what photography is all about.

  • natalie February 19, 2012 04:03 am

    I've got an opportunity to get the following

    Canon ef 50mm f/1.8 ii camera lens

    Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8

    50mm f/2.8 macro

    Canon EF Zoom lens - 70 mm - 200 mm - F/4.0 - Canon EF

    any advice

  • alex January 24, 2012 02:38 am

    i own a 500D and a 85mm f1.8 and a 35mm f2.0.

    the next lens i want is the 100 f2.8 USM L. what do you guys think?

  • nick September 9, 2011 10:28 am

    If you low on budget buy canon body.
    can use any vintage lens at very affordable price.
    I own a 50-f1.7 gaf lens $25.00 on ebay
    100mm-f2.8 canon the best portrait lens ever made
    17-55-f2.8 my all around fave lens
    70-200-f4-not that much in use
    for travel/vacation i take only one lens 17-55

  • Gizmos Online August 17, 2011 03:49 pm

    Thanks for this quick tips about what are the three lenses every photographer should own.

  • John July 24, 2011 11:09 pm

    Regarding adding a 50mm fixed focal length lens to one's kit: As someone who is old enough to remember when a 50mm lens was the standard kit lens, I'm totally mystified as to why so many beginning photographers think that a 50mm lens is some sort of great, mystical, wonderful lens. Back in the old days, zooms were mostly bad, so it made sense to use fixed focal length lenses if you wanted the best results, but current zooms are spectacularly good, effectively making the old 50mm lens obsolete, unless you have specific uses for it that require that focal length combined with a wider aperture. You still have to shut the current 50mm lenses down a few stops to get their sharpest results, and depth of field is bad wide open, so to me, they're a waste of money and space in my camera bag.

    As far as I'm concerned, you couldn't pay me enough to go back to the days of having to use a 50mm kit lens. I love my zooms!

  • Rui Monte Da Silva July 6, 2011 06:41 pm

    Three lenses i use for my Sony A700

    Sony 24-70mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss
    Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX HSM
    Minolta 80-200mm f2.8 APO High Speed

  • Fajar Pangestu June 29, 2011 03:50 pm

    I always bring those lenses :
    Nikkor 35mm f/2.5 Series E
    Nikkor 50mm f/2 pre ai
    Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR

    Two of lenses above is an old lenses :D

  • mrrz April 2, 2011 08:07 am

    I would recommend the Trinity Lenses if you are really a serious photographer
    10-24mm f/2.8
    24-70mm f/2.8
    70-200 mm f/2.8
    This will cover almost everything you need to capture very good pics on any lighting situation... unless you are into sports/action photography....

  • Carl March 15, 2011 10:16 pm

    when I bought my first DSLR; D80, I also bought a 18-200 zoom-lens. Its a great lens for travelling and so on. But its quality is not the best and also it goes from 3,5 to 5,6. With a D80 thats not optimal. Sure, I've done many photos with this lens, but after a short time I wanted more. And I found the best possibilities with a 50mm and a 20mm prime lens. My opinion is; a beginner, or even advanced photographer should have prime lenses. With those you can focus on the things that are really important for a photo. With a Zoom lens you will be occupied with zooming (you can crop photos afterwards!) and you'll forget to look for composition, light and so on.
    I'm interested in your opinion :)

  • Peter Dawson February 22, 2011 12:00 pm

    a macro is definitely a plus or one can use the 50mm lens with a macro close up filter
    i plan to buy a 50mm f1.8 , as i am on a budget, and add close up filter or even a raynox close up add on
    dunno if others chave considered this
    besides the main purpose of this article was guide, and i think the writer is pretty dead on in his suggestions, no doubt everyone will have different needs, but basically the suggestions cover almost all angles
    good article

  • dazay February 18, 2011 04:23 pm

    Was already thinking of a dedicated 50mm Canon 1.4 for low light interiors and you guys are surely pushing me there! But for now, on a 60D, my 3 lenses of choice and use are a bit of a hybrid. Canon 15-85mm IS USM, a 70-300mm IS USM and a EF12 II extension tube for macro with the 15-85mm. But if I I'm OK to carry around another body then I find the macro on the Canon PowerShot SX10is to be superb and my go-to choice. So, effectively, my 3rd lens is another camera.

  • Lucy February 7, 2011 05:19 am

    New to the photography world. What type of lens do you recommend to use for shooting interiors (for remodeling company? Also for up close architectural details that will not be distorted? I appreciate it very much

  • Elsie January 21, 2011 03:27 pm

    I am new at this and I have 55-250mm 4-5.6 which came with camera, Macro 100mm 2.8, zoom 18-55 3.5-5.6 which came with camera, 50mm 1.4..Are the fixed lens better then the other ones? Are there any lens that you would recommend me to get to add to my lens I already have? I am open for any suggestions as I said I am just starting out

  • luke brannon July 25, 2010 10:09 pm

    TBH my way of thinking is leave wide fixed apertures to the primes and have variable aperture zooms, in my case i use a sony a300 so i would go for a 16-80mm f3.5-4.5 and 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 and then have a small selection of primes for "hardcore" work, three primes such as the 28mm f2.8, 50mm f1.4 (or f1.8) and 100mm f2.8 (macro but non macro is sometimes an option) and that is a decent selection of gear for most.

    i know a photographer who shoots weddings with a d80, 50mm f1.8, tamron 28-80mm and tamron 70-300mm macro also an sb800 and his images are fantastic so even basic kit can get you very far.

  • Mark Pashia July 6, 2010 01:29 pm


    It looks like your options are to stick with Canon L series 500mm prime lens at about US $6999.00 list (cheaper on, or you could go to Sigma. They have a lens called the "Big Ma" that is a 50-500mm telephoto zoom that I hear good things about but everyone says it has a long "learning curve" before you can get good results. It lists for US $2400.00. Sigma also has a 150-500mm zoom at US $1470.00 suggested retail. Shop all of these prices as dealers give varying discounts off of the MSRP price I am showing. I am not familiar with the offerings of Tamron or Tokina. Personally, I am going straight Canon L series for my lenses. I have had both Sigma and Tamron that did OK, but they are not anywhere close to the quality of the "L" glass. I am also considering the resale values since I could croak at any time and I want something that my kids can get the money back out of when I am gone. I told them just today that my camera backpack is the funeral fund!!! I could put it into life insurance but that is not nearly as fun as photography!!!!

  • ALBIN July 4, 2010 09:46 pm

    Hai, Friend..

    I Have canon EOS550D. which lense is suitable for focasing upto 500m Range.

  • LexaRae April 30, 2010 04:29 am

    Uhm, People and "things" are both interesting.

    =] Honestly if i did not photographs "things" i dont think people would even know they exist.

    everything is beautiful.

  • Gordon April 14, 2010 05:15 pm

    The Nikon 55mm 1.2 I have on an adaptor to my Canon rebel is rarely off the camera.

  • Hamish April 11, 2010 10:50 pm

    Hi Khurram.

    Thanks so much for the advice. I was funnily enough, looking at the Sigma 17-70mm as my new prime lens just the other day as a possibility. And it's looking likely! Man, talk about reading reviews! There just isn't one perfect prime lens out there - but the Sigma 17-70mm is looking great as my replacement.

  • Khurram April 9, 2010 03:07 pm

    Hey i agree with Chris. I currently own following lenses;
    1) Tamron 17-50 f2.8
    2) Tamron 90mm F2.8 Macro
    3) Canon 50mm F1.8

    And my next target is Canon 70-200 F4L.

    Hamish; I used Canon 18-55mm IS (came with my Rebel XS) and i can tell you that it was a very good & sharp lens indeed but i have recently switched to Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 & the difference of optical quality between both the lenses can not be compared at all. Tamron is superb. I would suggest you to either go with Tamron 17-50 or Sigma 17-70. Both are fast aperture lenses with F2.8 for DOF control & low light photography.

  • Hamish March 21, 2010 11:33 pm

    HELP!!! I've just damaged my 18-55mm EF-S lens (stock standard with my Canon 350D twin-lens kit). I feel totally lost without it! I was wondering; I was looking at a replacement being either a Sigma 18-200mm F3.5 lens or a Canon 18-135mm F3.5 lens. Which one would you suggest? or is there another option as a replacement? Maybe just a 18-55mm EF-S USM IS version maybe? I do lost of street and portrait photography. Cheers. Hamish. New Zealand.

  • Kim G March 17, 2010 01:37 pm

    Mark, thanks for responding. My lens is a f/4-f5.6 G and its a 70-300 not 200...I will check out the exposure triangle articles to see what I can find out.

  • Mark Pashia March 17, 2010 04:19 am

    @kim g -- What is the f/ rating of your lens and is it "image stabilized"? For low light shooting, you really need a lens with an f/ rating around f/2.8 or even lower and these lenses are very pricey. You also will want to use a strong sturdy tripod if the lens is not "IS" since the shutter will need to be open longer in low light.

    Read the articles on here about the "exposure triangle" of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. You need at least two of these settings in your favor under low light scenes, so if your lens is rated at f/4 or higher you need to know how to set your ISO high and have longer shutter speeds that demand a stable platform as in "good tripod".

  • Omranoo March 17, 2010 02:13 am

    nice topic
    for me its the d 90 kit lens
    AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
    This 5.8x zoom, designed exclusively for use with Nikon’s DX-format, features Nikon’s VR image stabilization and is perfect for portraits and action and the most important its perfect
    for night photography which iam intrested in

    1:Compact, versatile and ideal for a broad range of shooting situations, ranging from interiors and landscapes to beautiful portraits—a perfect everyday

    2:Nikon VR (Vibration Reduction) image stabilization

    3:Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC)
    Enhances light transmission and offers superior color consistency and reduced flare.

    4:Exclusive Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM)
    Enables fast, accurate, and quiet autofocus.

    5:Close focusing to 1.48 feet

  • Kim G March 16, 2010 11:34 am

    I have a Nikon D70 & D80 with a 70-200 lens. I can't seem to get the right iso at night shooting softball games. I only have the light of the field, no way to use flash. What am I doing wrong? The pictures are all blurry.

  • Mark Pashia March 15, 2010 05:24 pm

    @zainal -- I got my Sigma 70-300mm APO DG Macro on Amazon for $209 in October of last year. The name brand Canon lenses are expensive, but some of the other brands are quite affordable. Also this Sigma lens is not "image stabilized" so it took a while to learn how to get a clear picture hand held!!! But with patience and practice, I am now fairly good at it. And I shoot in single shot, continuous bursts and maybe only one or two of the burst of eight or ten is clear, but the point is that I usually get a few usable out of a few second burst without the thousands of dollars for image stabilized lenses.

    If I was a pro who HAD TO GET THE SHOT, this would not be a way to do it, but as an amateur shooting for my own gratification, it works and saves tons of money. And who knows, maybe I will sell a few prints this year to help me afford the better lenses later!

  • Mark Pashia March 15, 2010 03:58 pm

    By the way Ed, I am looking at the 50mm f/1.8 that sells for about $100 as a fun lens for other than wildlife pics, but I definitely needed the Sigma 70-300 APO DG with Macro for wildflowers and insects plus the Tamron 200-400mm lens for birding.

    My point is that I know that wildlife and landscape are my favorite types of photography, so most advice on lenses is WRONG FOR ME. I don't like people or cities, but I don't mind sitting for hours in a hunting blind with my good tripod and camera to get a good picture of deer, beaver or other wildlife. Most of my friends are hunters, but I prefer to "shoot" with my camera and leave them for another day. And those guys give me tips on where to find the animals as long as it isn't "hunting season"!!! One friend is pounding the discussion boards to find me a fox den to sit on this spring. I am pretty sure that he will come through with a place and even get permission for me on private property!!! Good friends are very helpful for this!!!

    I have also hiked for two miles with this three pound lens on my Canon Rebel while carrying my backpack and tripod without any problem, so I know that heavy lenses are tough for hiking but still doable to get the shots that I want.

  • Mark Pashia March 15, 2010 03:43 pm

    Abby, it depends on what you want and the quality of pictures you are satisfied with. Most Tamron (and Sigma) lenses that I have experience with are not going to give you pictures like a Canon L series professional lens, but they will give you very good images with practice and learning.

    I was just in Florida for most of the month of February to photo safari with a friend of mine. We focused on wading birds and raptors that were wintering over. I went with my Sigma 70-300mm APO lens and the kit lens that came with my camera (Canon Rebel XSi). I quickly learned that 300mm was coming up short too often on the eagles and osprey photos.

    We went to a flea market in Daytona Beach one day and I found a permanent booth run by a camera store I knew of, so I talked with them. They hooked me up with an older Tamron 200-400mm from back in the 1990's that was still in the box brand new for only $300. It takes great photos even on the crop sensor of my Rebel. (It was a professional lens back in its day) The pictures are not as sharp as a Canon L series, but for 8x10's and even 20x30 inch poster prints after a little touch up and cropping in Gimp, I am definitely happy! I still want the Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L series IS lens, but at $1600 on Amazon it will have to wait awhile until I can save up since all I have is my Social Security Disability for income!!!!!

    Most of my family and friends are amazed at what I am capturing with such limited equipment and very full of praise over my photos!!! Guess what most of them got for Christmas? Calendars with my photos each month and other photo gifts!!! I have only bought my first DSLR in October and I have three photos that I would print on canvas if I had the money, plus hundreds that are worth matting and framing at 8x10.

    Long story but the point is that you can do great things with limited resources if you can accept the limitations of these lower priced lenses and use Gimp which is free instead of PhotoShop at several hundreds of dollars for the software! These lower priced lenses are NOT GOOD FOR LOW LIGHT SITUATIONS like deer or raccoons at dusk. Believe me, I have tried but I just cannot get around the need for the lower f/ stops in low light!!!!

  • Abby Brown March 15, 2010 01:17 pm

    Is the Tamron lens brand a decent lens? Great digital camera review

  • Ed Hamlin March 15, 2010 06:24 am

    Choosing the lenses you want to carry are as important as the camera you choose. Why be in a rush to decide. If you don't know what your photographic voice is then consider a prime lens as it will always be valuable photographically. I shoot D3 and D80, the 50mm is the best for either. You may be able to save money by purchasing a 18-200mm kit lens but what beginners don’t know are the limitations of the lens. Light falloff, distortions, etc….

    When you are starting out, a prime will always give consistent results. It will allow the user to explore all of the capabilities of the camera they have purchased and use it to the best of its abilities and develop their ability to be a great photographer.

    Once you decide what genre you want to create photos in then pick the right lens(es). Even hobbyists’ should save their money for the fast lens.

    When I am just out and about I actually carry all of my lenses. If I and shooting a specific project then I only carry a prime and a long lens.

  • MoonShaw March 13, 2010 08:55 am

    I totally agree!!

  • Rico Daraman March 6, 2010 01:52 pm

    sorry correction, i have a 18-135mm f/3.5..thanks

  • Rico Daraman March 6, 2010 01:48 pm

    That's a very helpful tip. I have a 18-135mm f/4.5 lens that works well with any type of photo but with limitations. That is why i am researching for lens that fits to specific photo scene. Your suggestion suggested it all. Could you please tell me if i should stay with my lens instead of buying 18-50mm coz no doubt, i will really buy a macro and telephoto lens soon.

  • aj March 6, 2010 06:48 am

    Buying the best glass you can afford (preferably saving for L) sounds sensible. However, how do you know the glass you need for your photography? CATCH22. Buying used and trading up later is a good way of reducing entry cost and finding those magical three lenses for you. Lens hire may also give you the right steer.

    It's worth using the kit lens and asking what did I pick the camera up to shoot but looked through the view finder and just didn't see the shot? Why did I not shoot it? It's often the no shoot that indicates the missing lens.

    Then consider all the photos you did take: Are they the kids playing sport more than the know the next lense for you may be that telephoto rather than the wide angle. If it is the detail of bugs / things more than street know the next lense may be the macro. Look at your photos which ones could have been better wider v better closer. Is it the intimate low light situation that favours the nifty fifty?

    My first three were (on crop sensor 450D): Kit 18-55 is, Tamron 70-300mm, Tamron 10-24 then the 50mm 1.8....not claiming they are the best for you. It was just where my photography and budget took me.

    All the best & enjoy

  • sensor-eyezed March 5, 2010 03:26 pm

    @Mohamed Shiham - that's a good range to get started with. I'm familiar with the Canon 18-55 and it delivers pretty good quality considering it's a kit lens. Best thing is to take LOTS of pictures - you'll eventually discover where this lens comes up short and then you can think about other lenses. Good luck.

  • drt March 5, 2010 02:00 pm

    Will put these 3 lenses in my wish list.

  • Mohamed Shiham March 4, 2010 11:22 pm

    I just a beginner photographer, i want to start with 18-55, is this a good one to start with, pls give me your suggestions

  • Mason Sklut March 1, 2010 08:59 am

    28-105mm. It's very durable and works in many situations.

  • hfng March 1, 2010 02:19 am

    The best lens is a Canon 16mm - 300mm f2.0 IS L. Lol, I must be dreaming again.

  • John Dibble February 28, 2010 02:01 am

    a lot depends on what turns you on when taking photographs. I love wildlife photography so a Sigma 150-500 mm lens is my choice coupled with a 10-20 Sigma lens, a 17-85 Canon a 50mm 1.4 Canon lens and a 70-300 mm Sigma Lens with Macro.
    The 150-500 is only used when taking wildlife as it's a heavy brute but the rest are carried at all times.
    I also have a similar outfit with the Minolta DSLR. Both sets allow me the flexibility I need for portrait, landscape and wildlife photography and carrying that lt keeps me fit.

  • Rose Hill February 27, 2010 04:53 am

    Fabulous post and a great discussion.
    I've used point and shoots for three years, but a month ago for my birthday I got my first DSLR, a Nikon D-90.

    I may be a beginner, but I know exactly what I like to shoot. I can tell you that lenses are still mind boggling to me, as tough as choosing the right camera. I've come to the conclusion there is no ultimate right camera or ultimate right lens(es).

    My advice to a beginner would be to pick one good all purpose lens unless or until you already know what kind of photographs you enjoy taking. Read up on lenses and get a body and the best lens you can afford to start with - unless you happen to run across a decent kit lens.

    I have a 18-105mm and a 70-300mm and found I use the 70-300 about 70% of the time, mainly because it is so exciting to be able to take all those bird shots I missed before when I couldn't get close enough.
    The fact that it isn't a fast lens hasn't really impacted my shooting - I get by with the 4.5-5.6 just fine - I get my sweet shot (it's a VR and I generall do OK with handheld or leaning against a tree for support - don't even have a monopod or remote switch yet:)

    I like the 18-105 as well, it's great for general purpose shots.

    My friend has one of the nifty fifties and she finds it difficult to work with, she says she has issues with the manual settings which seem to be tricky. She wanted it for portrait shots, but can't figure out how to work the lens. Just saying.

    I'm dying to get a good macro lens, because I love taking macros of flowers so everyone's input on the prime vs macro and individual recommendations has been just the information I had been looking for. Thank you all!

    As soon as I recovered from the sticker shock of my new equipment I will pick up a macro lens or possibly prime 50mm 1.4f . I know I will be using a macro at least 30% of the time.

    My wish list which you guys effectively created for me is now a 10-20mm super wide angle lens and a 28mm wide angle for street photos.

    Thanks for the tips and happy shooting to all!

    Chris, excellent post, but as you can tell by the responses, photographers really only need the lenses for the type of photography they do. That could be one or ten lenses and purchasing three lenses to begin with is just overkill.

  • Radityo Pradipto February 26, 2010 05:33 pm

    For me, I'll drop the "general purpose" zoom kit lens for an ultra-wide lens ^^
    My Tokina 11-16 is one of my best deal I've ever made... It's sharp and have very slight barrel distortion (even at 11mm where other lenses suffered a lot)

  • sensor-eyezed February 26, 2010 05:21 pm

    Good article esp. for beginner photographers. Lots of passion around having a macro lens in the arsenal or a fast prime e.g. 50mm in the comments above.

    I don't have a fast prime (assuming f2.8 isn't considered fast, at least not for primes) but I've found that my Canon 60mm f2.8 macro does very nicely for most situations where I might use the prime, and the added bonus is the macro capability. Don't forget that the article is aimed at the beginner, who may not yet have discovered what his/her areas of interest are. A macro lens opens up an entirely new world of possibilities that a fast prime wouldn't. The 60mm macro also takes amazing portraits.

    I also use the 18-55mm kit lens which takes surprisingly good photos, and I saved up my money to buy the Canon 70-200L IS USM late last year. A lot of people complain about its weight, and while it isn't light, I don't find the weight an issue esp. when seeing what it can produce.

    I'm doing a 365 project (see and so far I've found that I'm using these 3 lenses almost equally. I'm not limiting myself to any particular area(s) of photography.

  • Kathy Hendrix February 26, 2010 09:08 am

    I have been lucky to make one $500 photography purchase a year. I own the 18-55 kit IS lens and the 55-250 IS (Canon EFS). These are mounted on the Canon XS. The lightweight kit is wonderful for hiking, but when I came within 20 feet of mama and her bear cubs on a drizzly day in the Great Smokies, even with the ISO at 1600 and on camera flash--Believe me--I could have used a faster lens. Looking over most of my acceptable wildlife shots, I find I am usually under 135mm. I do like the 55-250 IS much better than the 75-300mm I used to have. Love the camera, but looking for faster glass.

  • Adam Backer February 25, 2010 09:05 pm

    I agree to what was told by the readers in the begining, I dont feel macro lens is something essential, though the creativity from that lens cant be denied. For me a short telephoto prime lens (Canon 50mm f.18 and Canon 85 f1.8) coupled with my Canon 7D or 5D M2, has been the first choice, and the second choice is the Canon 70-200 f2.8. Believe me, these lenses are more than enough to cover 90% of the subjects, except for landscape photography. The three lens I would suggest and that I have are as follow 1) Canon50mm or 85mm f1.8 2) Canon 70-200 f2.8 L 3) Canon 17-40mm f4 L (This is what I suggest in place of a macro lens) Hope most of u will get the same feeling

    Read more:

  • LaJuana Dorris February 25, 2010 07:25 am

    I really don't know anything about Photography but I would like to know how to take Portraits. My son is a good looking boy and I practice on him but I can't seem to get them right. Any suggestions?

  • Rocky February 24, 2010 03:31 pm

    have to agree with Mark Pasha above. the lenses you need should be dictated by what you plan to shoot, not someone else's guesswork. the premise of the article is that these three lenses will equip you for most situations, and that's certainly true to a point, but many novice photographers can't, or don't want to, spend the amount needed to purchase three f/2.8 lenses "just in case". for most people just starting out, something in the 18-55mm range or equivalent, and perhaps a top quality 70-300, should cover most situations just fine.

    i always tell people to get the best lenses they can afford. cheap lenses are like putting a plastic bag over your eyes... you may have great eyesight, but looking through the baggie distorts and blurs everything. putting a cheap lens in front of a modern digital sensor amounts to the same thing. i'd much rather have ONE really GOOD lens that i KNOW will produce top quality images, than 3 or 4 cheap ones that yield hit-or-miss results depending on the light, the aperture, and the phase of the moon. get the best lens you can afford for the kind of shooting you do most, and work from there. if you have a good lens for portraits or landscapes, but need more reach for sports or wildlife, save your dimes and get a GOOD telephoto zoom. but don't get hung up on "fast". it's useful, certainly, especially if you shoot in low light or need to capture action, but f/2.8 comes with a pretty hefty price tag, so if you can get by with f/4, or even f/5.6, you'll save yourself a lot of money.

    i do almost exclusively nature photography, and have two lenses that serve my purposes 99% of the time. for landscapes, i use a Tamron SP24-135 f/3.5-5.6 on my Canon 5D. it's sharp, contrast and color are good, and i don't care about f/2.8, since A) i shoot mostly from a tripod, so i don't need the speed, and B) i almost always shoot between f/8 and f/16 for maximum DOF anyway. this lens lives on my 5D 98% of the time. it cost about a third of what the Canon 24-105L does, and from what i've seen, the optical quality is pretty much indistinguishable, especially once the image is printed.

    my other lens is a Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6L, which lives on my 40D, and is used exclusively for wildlife and the occasional flower shot. i wouldn't mind if being faster, but it does all right in all but really low light or dull, no-contrast conditions. it's not as powerful as many prime tele lenses, but it's much cheaper, and much more versatile. it's my lens of choice for birding and other wildlife work.

    what about that other 1%? when, for example, i wish i had a wider lens than the 24mm? i can always pan and stitch, right? in fact, turning my 5D vertical and taking 3 shots instead of one horizontal one not only lets me capture a wider view, but also gives me ample resolution - 20+ Mp in many cases - for very large prints. and if that 400 isn't long enough? well, i can either use a teleconverter, or simply wait a little longer... i can usually "zoom with my feet" and get closer to whatever i'm shooting if need be... and there are times when, yes, i've missed shots for lack of "enough glass". but the images i've missed probably wouldn't have been good enough to justify the $7000 price tag of a 600mm f/4 prime. and if i have to pass up on a low-light shot because i didn't spend the $8000 for a 400mm f/2.8, well, so be it. i don't make my living shooting for National Geographic or Audubon, so i have to make some compromises.

  • Mark Pashia February 24, 2010 01:42 am

    This article is way off base, since it does not ask what the person wants to shoot. Most of the lenses listed would be a waste for me! I love nature and critters more than people or architecture! And I defied the suggestions of buying the best right off.

    I just started in October with a Rebel XSi and the kit 18-55 IS and also ordered the Sigma 70-300 APO DG Macro at the same time. The Sigma was only $209 US and allowed me to catch deer, birds, and other wildlife. In Macro, I got great insect pics and some really abstract looking seed pods with great boka behind! However, I was just in Florida to shoot the wintering wading birds and some raptors and found this lens to be too short, so off to the flea market to buy a Tamron 200-400mm zoom. I got the older 75DE for just $300 US and went back to Merritt Island and got some great shots that I missed the first time for lack of range.

    I know that I am not getting the great image quality with these lenses, but I am learning what works in the field without spending thousands on lenses that don't work for me. These cover the range for what I want and now I will start picking and saving for that quality L glass over the next six months or so. For $500 US I have learned a lot about me and what I want and I might just get some of that back with trade in or reselling. And I now know that the Canon 400mm IS prime will be a good lens for me since the Tamron 200-400mm was at maximum most of the time!!!! I was not sure and had lots of advice to go with the Canon 100-400mm zoom instead. And I also learned that the F/5.6 is not a real problem for most of my shots unless it is early morning or late evening.

    All in all, I got a lot of education for about $500 that discussion boards cannot come close to. And I know that when I get the L glass, my pictures will be amazing since I have learned when to use tripod, monopod and free hand so I will be able to adjust to the new lenses fast.

  • Blonde Bird February 23, 2010 08:35 pm

    I have a 18-55 and normallyjust take regular family/holiday shots. Every now and then I want to do some candid street photography or shots of watersports. I know that you should get closer to the subject but in the last two scenarios it's not always possible. What type of lense do you all suggest?

  • Zainal February 23, 2010 06:38 am

    ain't 70-200mm lens is quite luxurious?

  • Beautiful Horizon Photography February 23, 2010 03:14 am

    This is so helpful!! Especially for new photographers who although know how to shoot, don't exactly know what they need to start with without spending every single penny they have. So many people believe they need to spend thousands of dollars on all this equipment.

  • Nicholas Fanelli February 22, 2010 11:26 pm

    I'd go for a fast prime, instead of the macro.
    I have a 18-70, a 75-300 and a prime 50mm f1.7, which I find essential for indoors sport photography. (all three Minoltas original lenses, on my Minolta 5D)
    Actually I'm not really into macro photography, so I can live without that, but maybe one day I'll change my mind!
    For a newbie I'd suggest the lenses in that priority order, the first one being a "general purpose" lens, then a fairly powerful zoom (a 300 much better than a 200), and then a prime fast lens, which can often be found quite cheap online (I bought mine for less than 100€, in "as-new" conditions)

  • Ramesh Meda February 22, 2010 05:27 pm

    Very interesting and lot to learn from...

    My choice of lenses (a pure hobby photographer)
    - 12-24 mm - use this most of the time (mostly landscapes and large groups of people) - stays on 70%
    - 70-300 & 70-200 vr - use this mostly on game routes and sports (along with 1.4 tele converter)

    Lenses that I own and dont use it as often
    - 50 mm - not sure, but prefer to use 12-24 mostly
    - 105 mm macro - love to use this, but dont seem to find the subjects that would do justice to this beautiful lens (now I use it mostly to take portraits... )

  • Rob Russell February 22, 2010 02:31 pm

    My 3 best bang-for-the-buck lenses:-

    50mm f1.8 is my fave. Contrasty, sharp as a tack and makes me think about where I'm standing (or where the tripod is). On my Nikon, it's effectively 75mm, so it's pretty good for portraits. Fast so it works in low-ish light. Light, so I can save my strength :)

    I've an old 35-70 f2.8 Macro lenses that is getting a bit of work after having had it restored. Nice lens, but not as contrasty as the 50mm prime.

    And I"ve had a lot of fun with an old 110mm manual lens. Low cost because not many people want manual lenses. It's great fun remembering the old ways to take photos.

    Next question: what's the best bang-for-the-buck flashes?

  • CreoleInDC February 22, 2010 12:56 pm

    I'd like to thank you for taking the time out to write this article. I'm a SUPER novice and only have the 18 - 55mm lens that came with the camera and a 55 - 200mm lens. I can't wait til Spring!

  • Trevor February 22, 2010 07:21 am

    Hello All,
    At present I only have a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f1.8G lens on my Nikon D90. I am interested in comments regarding using one lens for at least 12 months. This makes sense as I am still thinking about other lenses to accompany the 35mm lens I'm using right now.

    I've been thinking of the Nikon AF-D Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 & the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X. These 2 lenses I feel would make a great combination with my 35mm.

    Maybe after that I'm thinking the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm VR(II) f/2.8 Zoom lens & the new Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G Wide-Angle.

    After that, well the successor to the Nikon D700 would be nice!

  • Minimum1000 February 21, 2010 08:08 pm

    I agree since those three lenses give varieties for the DSLR newbies b4 knowing what kinds of picture they want to shoot. They can go for fix prime later on.
    My first lenses for DSLR Era was 16-105 kitty came with A700 Then I add 50/1.4 100/2.8Macro and 2470/2.8CZ respectively
    2470/2.8 is my favorite as same as 28-105 when I was using SLR.

  • duncan February 21, 2010 05:23 pm

    Totally agree with your choices. My only variation would be to make the wide angle an f2.8 zoom, say 17-35mm, keep the 70-200 f2.8, and make the macro something like a 28-100 probably f4, which would cover the middle range, with the versatility of a zoom macro

  • Jeffrey February 21, 2010 04:37 pm

    i ended up my line up October 2009 with following:
    - Sony A850
    - Sony 50mm F1.4
    - Sony Zeiss 24-70mm F2.8
    - Sony G Lens 70-200mm F2.8

    which means, i love them together and would not wanting a new lens to collect..

    however, i'm still eyeing on 135mm F1.8 :)



  • Erik February 20, 2010 11:33 am

    I use the 24-70 f2.8L on my XSi, and it works very well. I've been renting some prime lenses, and will be purchasing a 135mm f2L soon, which is simply incredible.

    The process of renting prime lenses (as opposed to zoom) has made me a better photographer. It forces me to compose a shot and think more about what I want to bring out.

    Eventually I figure my kit will end up with the following:
    24-70 f2.8L
    85 f1.8
    135 f2L
    200 f2.8L (maybe)

  • Nathan de Gargoyle February 20, 2010 09:09 am

    I've got an 18-55, 50-200, 28 f/2.8 and 60 f/1.8

    The two primes spend much more time on camera than the two zooms. Having to zoom with your feet makes you think about the shot.

  • Dreamer of Pictures February 20, 2010 08:03 am

    I shot film with a 50mm, a 28mm and a 200mm lens for over 20 years before I bought a zoom. It was a darn good way to start, and frankly easier to carry around than heavy zooms. The Canon 50mm f/1.4 is still darn near essential for low-light work (for me, that's actors and musicians onstage). I will suggest one other practical result of using a modest lens like the 50 as your everyday lens. It is not so imposing that tourists will constantly ask you to shoot their photo with their camera. I am asked to do that all the time around the crowded tourist attractions in Washington DC, especially at cherry blossom time. I guess the gear I carry looks like I mean business.

  • Rufty February 20, 2010 07:30 am

    I agree totally about the 'standard' fast 50mm. Mine is a nikon 50mm F1.8 which is great. I also have the 'kit' 18-135 as well as a 70-200, guess which one gets the most use?

  • Bill Merritt February 20, 2010 07:26 am

    If you have confidence with the three lenses you pick, you have made the right choice.
    If you inspire confidence in others with your photos, I think that it helps validate those choices.

  • Adam Clymer February 20, 2010 06:45 am

    I would love to have a 50mm marco but it looks like the fastest canon does anymore is an f/2.5, so doesn't that sacrifice the appealing part of the affordable 50mm f/1.4?

  • B February 20, 2010 05:03 am

    "Macro lens is only for tiny things"

    There still seem to be people who believe this, like some kind of conspiracy theory. It's not true. Macro lenses are just like any regular lens with the addition of the ability to focus closely and thus return a high magnification raio.

    So you can use a 50mm f/2.8 macro for anything you'd use a 50mm f/2.8 for. The people saying "get a prime instead of a macro!" are hilarious because the lens the author mentioned is a prime. Come on people.

  • Kalibbala Kato Jaco February 20, 2010 01:03 am

    I think every photographer should know the purpose of a lens before acquiring one. Macro lens is only for tiny things which are not common for most photographers it is important but at a certain time. The lens which is very important for every photographer is 50mm for a normal shot.

  • peter kovak February 19, 2010 11:14 pm

    I think that Chris Folsom is right. I thought (in the beginning) that a good zoom coverage in one lens is the ideal thing, so I bought a 16-105mm, which is not bad, but already isn't "the lens". So I've got the 70-200 f2.8, the 50 f1.7 and soon I'll have the 17-50 f2.8. I might say that the encounter with fast lenses changed everything I've thought about photography. I still use the 16-105 (great general purpose lens), but less and less, and after buying the 17-50 I'll sell it.

  • Hemant B February 19, 2010 10:50 pm

    It's a problem carrying around too many lenses especially when you are on a vacation and have baggage and kids with you. I've realized that a 24-105 f/4L gives the best wide-telephoto-sharpness ratios. Then I always carry a 50mm f/1.4 and a 2X telephoto adaptor for the 24-105 lens to go upto a 210 mm telephoto if needed. This is the least amount of equipment I need to lug around.

  • Sandy Kirkwood February 19, 2010 10:50 pm

    Definitely agree with the need for a prime lens! I have a Nikor 50mm 1.8 but am seriously considering the f1.4 35mm which on DX format I guess will give around 52mm in comparason to 35 mm format. Geat for blurring backgrounds in portrait work!

  • blaize February 19, 2010 09:29 pm

    I use a 28-75 works as a good, all purpose lens, but I'd add a 35mm or 50mm prime @ f1.5 or 1.8 to the bag for's hard to beat such a lens for clarity and DoF!

  • Jeremy February 19, 2010 09:20 pm

    I fully agree with most of the posters here. If you are new to photography a nifty fifty prime is a much better buy than a macro. Macro photography is one of my passions but you need to like it before you invest money in a specialist lens. And if someone is new to photography there's no better way to learn than using a 50mm prime to get comfortable with composition and depth of field. Otherwise I agree that the standard or kit zoom and a telephoto are good to have.

  • go15 February 19, 2010 09:02 pm

    I have a kit lens, 18-55mm, from Canon 1000d, then this year, **after 6 months owning it**, I bought two lens...50mm f/1.8 and a 55-250mm lens....but if I have the means, I would love to own a wide angle lens.....I love to shoot landscape...but I only have the 18-55mm to use.... most of the time, I have to change lens .. so if I have the budget...**someday..**...I would love to own 18-200mm....

  • Don February 19, 2010 08:26 pm

    Good article and I'm sure I'm rehashing allot of what's already been said but here's my 2 Cents.

    A good prime Lens is perfect for the beginner because it makes you physically get into what a Lens does.
    Just keep in mind in the dSLR age that all have Lens to Sensor ratio's so a 50mm prime isn't actually 50mm.
    Whatever model of camera you have, do the math and get the right focal length to get a true 50mm length.
    A very good example is the equipment I use, Olympus.
    Olympus uses the 4:3 standard.
    Even though it's a 4:3 ratio it actually works out that whatever focal length the lens is, it's doubled.
    So if you purchase a 50mm prime, it's actually 100mm and you will be disappointed and confused if you're not aware of this.
    If you do the math then you'll need a 25mm prime lens to get the coveted 50mm focal length and yes, Olympus makes one, as do all the other manufacturers to compensate, at least I think they do.
    I know Nikon gets real confusing because their models are all over the Map as to Lens Sensor ratios so make sure you do your math before purchasing a prime lens.

  • bigd February 19, 2010 08:23 pm

    I love my nifty fifty (great boka). I also have the 18-55mm "Kit lense" Looking for a good tele and want a macro, 85mm prime, wide angle, fisheye, and I want to play with the lensebaby. anyone use a lensebaby?

  • Bernard Collen February 19, 2010 06:24 pm

    I have a Nik D80. I was convinced the NIK18-200 VR was the answer to almost everything but I've now kept that ib the box and picked up the NIK 70-300VR - a superb lens in my opinion and great for wildlife. Alongside this I now uses the NIK 18-70 non-VR. Compact, lightweight and I think sharper than the 18-200. My go anywhere, everday lens. I also use a 105 Micro-NIK VR when the occasion arises; also good for tele-portrait . The VR option really is useful. Do own a Sigma 10-18 which is great for interiors, landscapes and close-ups - great depth-of-field.

  • Ndmervin February 19, 2010 04:47 pm

    I seriously must get the 50mm f1.8 very soon! And a flash gun too! Great article here, Chris! Keep it up please! :D

  • mike February 19, 2010 04:41 pm

    The only lense that I now have in my bag is nikon 18-200, based on that which other ONE would you guys recommend?

  • hdeyong February 19, 2010 04:26 pm

    Each lens has strengths and weaknesses and has to suit a particular need. For the next year or two, we're travelling almost constantly and I carry the Sigma 18-125 OS HSM, (28-200 on a 40D) and a Canon 28 - f 1.8
    USM which acts like a 45mm. Both are excellent, and between them, have done everything I need them to.

  • Garey Eason February 19, 2010 03:39 pm

    I wish the folks saying 50mm would say what camera sensors they use. In my day (Minolta X700) 50mm was typically sold as 'standard' but produced the world's most boring image format to look at. I carried a 35mm for everyday use: much more versatile and engaging. But if by 50mm they mean 75mm equivalent ... why ...? I now use an Olympus, so on the four thirds sensor 50mm = 100mm. Again, why would you except for portrait work. The 12-60mm kit lens is brilliant. I drool over that Zuiko 7-14mm though... give me an excuse someone!

  • Henry Koesoemo February 19, 2010 02:24 pm

    I will try to use macro lens, I have already 17-50mm f2.8 and tele 75-300mm f4.5-5.6.

  • Ed Hamlin February 19, 2010 01:50 pm

    I think all three lens choices are great. Definitely works for a beginner. The only change I would make is to have a fast 70-200 in a f2.8. The slower lens is definetely limited in low light portrait situations whereas the f2.8 opens up a lot more possibilities.

    I began with some primes when I started out which really teaches you to work when you create an image. You have to move to get the right composition, and perspective you want. It also create a habit of getting the image you want without post work. I think the one that was the most fun was the 135mm f2.0.

  • Wilson Wong February 19, 2010 01:03 pm

    Out of the 3 lens, the 50mm macro can be had with a sigma 18-50mm F2.8 macro. So one lens lesser and not much sacrifice to the image quality as a whole.

  • KimmyVC February 19, 2010 12:20 pm

    I have a 17-85mm lens & the 50mm/1.8 (nifty fifty). For portraits, if the light is good enough, I MUCH prefer the 17-85 lens. The 50mm is great in low light conditions & for creative shots of "things", but I when I use it for people, the coloring and overall quality is not so great, in my opinion. I get a lot of "chromatic abberation", especially in the shadows. Sometimes I wonder if I got a lemon lens because everyone else seems to love it more than I do. Not bad for $100, though.

  • rick lumpas February 19, 2010 11:59 am

    I am happy I bought the Canon XSI with 18-200mm IS lens. I don't have to change lenses.

    So I only need one: a macro. But it is very expensive.

    Thanks to this forum: i will really get my second lens : 50mm f/1.8 when i celebrate my 1st year as hobbyist photohgrapher this April.

  • Rakesh Panara. February 19, 2010 10:14 am

    I want to purchase 70 X 300 for full zoom or telephoto for D-60 Nickon Camera for more tele and good results so which co lense is much better for that NICKON-SIGMA- or Temron i like Temron results is much better .than other so pl guide me thanks .Rakesh

  • Rakesh Panara. February 19, 2010 10:07 am

    i have two lenses one is 18 x 105 Nickon VR but so many time we have mark that while i am taking photo through this Nickon lenses picture is come slightly Yellow shaded so what ill have to do for this we are using this lens with Nickon -5000 camera .while i have one onther camera Nickon -D60 its s have a 18 x 200 tamron lens pictures and photos are show much natural & real colors than Nickon -18 x 105 Lenses . so tell me what i can do i have some problems with Temron Lenses while i am taking full focal length Photo it will be slightly ot of Focus so pl guide me properly .Thanks Rakesh

  • Roy............. February 19, 2010 09:27 am

    I have a 80-400 VR lense, it is attatched to my camera in my bag all the time, I find I can use it for most shots, including portrait, I use it with a shoulder stock, which gives more stability, the only shots I find I need another lense are Macro, then I switch to a Macro VR lense, or landscape, then obviously I swithch to my 18-70 lense. I have other lenses but they are very rarely used.

  • nic February 19, 2010 09:00 am

    agree on the 35 mm - used it on a full and cropped camera and absolutely love it.

  • gbmax February 19, 2010 08:47 am

    I would disagree that Macro lense not needed. Olympus makes 2 exellent Macro lenses: 35/3.5 and 50/2.0 that are very good for portraits too...Macro doesn't mean that need to be used for macro only...

  • Federer Photographer February 19, 2010 08:39 am

    Macro? As the second lens for a new photographer? No way...

    Get something 'general' (or cheap and confining like a 50/1.8) and see where your talents and desires take you.

  • uliana February 19, 2010 08:28 am

    my first lens was a 18-50mm, which came with the camera, but I soon found that it's not what I want to shoot with (it's just like with cars, first you're delighted to have a fiat, but after getting to know and trying an alfa romeo, for instance, the fiat looses its appeal :). now I have a tele 70-210/f3.5-4.5 (though used rarely) and the classic 50 mm/f1.8 and saving for 35/1.4 USM L...i much rather prefer a classy prime lens than zoom, and although there are formidable zoom lenses now, prime is prime.
    macro is good but, only few people really 'need' it...

  • Juan February 19, 2010 08:19 am

    If use (and carry with me) 3 lenses: Nikon 18-200 VR (stays in my camera 90% of time), Sigma 30mm 1.4 and Sigma 105 2.8 macro. This is also my suggestion as 3 lenses kit. Not too expensive and not too heavy. If I could add another one it would be something like 10-20 mm...

  • Kansas A February 19, 2010 08:17 am

    Excellent article! After reading some of the comments I would say I wouldn't drop the macro for the 50mm f1.8... but I'd certainly add it to the list. That's exactly what I did and it's a big part of my collection. :)

  • Robert Taylor February 19, 2010 07:46 am

    I think this combination of lenses works great. I use a 24-105, a 70-200 and 100mm 2.8 Macro and find this combination handles nearly everything I want to do. Yes, I shoot Canons. The 100 F2.8 macro is also a great prime when I need ultimate sharpness and it also works as a great portrait lens when i need one. I also own a 50mm f1.8 but seldom use it, the 100 Macro visits my camera often and opens the world of Macro photography to me. I highly recommend a good macro lens, it's not just another lens it's another way to shoot.

  • David February 19, 2010 07:32 am

    Thought provoking article as ever! I have a few too many lenses but haven't shifted any yet...nevertheless less I am thinking of sticking with my Nikon kit lenses esp. the 55-200vr (super sharp). Additionally I have a Tokina f2.8 wide angle, again super sharp. That's 3, I should add in the 50mm f1.8, the extensions tubes and because its afs the 35mm f1.8 though its not any sharper than the 18-55mm kit! So that leaves an unloved 70-300mm....But in a pinch I'd just use the 55-200 for its quality! and I frankly pick up my Canon S5IS super zoom for GP uses and the stereo sound on the avi's is a real plus never mind hd video in mono!

  • Logan February 19, 2010 07:30 am

    I have absolutely no use for a 70-200, I have no interest in sports or wildlife photography or anything of that nature. I still have the cheap 75-300 kit lens that came with my first dslr a few years back and I have kept it so I have that range covered but have only used it maybe a dozen or so times since I have had it and then only for weekend walkabouts. I don't think I have ever required a lens in this range professionally.
    For me, being a people shooter, my three lenses would be the 24-70, a 50mm prime, and a wide angle zoom to fit "below" the other zoom, maybe the 16-35. That way I can use the extra wide angle to add a bit of zing where required.
    Having said all that I do agree with the idea a good macro lens should be in there. I don't have one, I need one... and I really could have used it this week. Definately next on the shopping list. :)

  • Steve Tye February 19, 2010 06:52 am

    I just replaced my much-loved 50mm (1.8) Prime lens, which I unfortunately dropped, with a 50mm (1.4) lens. I adore the new lens, and already couldn't do without it!

  • Don Bird February 19, 2010 06:50 am

    Befor buying a macro lens make sure you like macro photography because if you find out you dont like it
    you wont use it or not to often that makes it a wast of money.

  • Paul Saxon February 19, 2010 06:49 am

    I purchased my Canon 40D and bought a 24-105mm macro f4, awesome lens that fills most all my needs. Macro, wide, portait and normal 50mm ranges all in one lens. I do find times when I need a longer lens, but overall a great lens.

  • Matt February 19, 2010 06:46 am

    A lot of people are suggesting a 50mm prime, which is certainly fantastic, but I'd say anything from a 35mm to a 135mm prime would serve the purpose. A prime gives you more versatility in aperture, and gets you thinking more about yourself in relation to what you're shooting... they also get you to see things cropped in ways you might not choose to shoot with otherwise. A 35 would provide a fairly similar crop factor on an APSc to a 50mm on 35mm film, giving a fairly classic look. The 50mm is gonna provide a lot of bang for your buck and be the easiest to add to a starting kit. The 85mm is my personal favorite and will net a lot of very intimate portraits if you're indoors and not planning things out too much. And 100/135 will get a lot of mileage outdoors for intimate portraits without interrupting your subjects. For my money though, just having any prime on your camera is going to make you think harder about the process, and make you a better photographer for it.

  • Don Bird February 19, 2010 06:44 am

    My 50mm1.8 is one of the best lens i ever bought realy good in low light.Starting out thats the lens to go with hands down.And when starting out read your cameras manual.

  • melvin s February 19, 2010 06:35 am

    im one of those beginers that you all have been talking about. Im using a nikon D40,my daugters wedding is come up and i would like to be able to take keepable memories of the event. shoild i go with the 50mm 1.8 or 35mm. right now i have the 2 kit lenses that came with it and have been looing for a 3rd lens.

  • Paul February 19, 2010 06:08 am

    I have 2 out of the 3 lenses in my bag the only one i don't have is the macro lens which i didn't know it would be god one for me but I think i am putting that on my list to purchase in the future since i am a new photographer. i am planning on trying out taking portraits to see how much i like it so i feel that this lens would be a good investment for me. I mainly shoot sports at this time. Thank you for you advice on this.

  • Scottyea February 19, 2010 06:00 am

    Well I'd buy around 5 or 6 manual 50mm primes of various sorts to see which one suits best, and a bunch of assorted other Takumars cos they're so cool. Add some others that were priced right at the time, and bingo!!!

    In the end I have got what's been recommended here, plus about 15 other lenses!

  • Anne February 19, 2010 05:46 am

    I thought the article was interesting. Shows me once more that our camera bags are as unique as each of us are.

  • Marla-Dee February 19, 2010 05:34 am

    I recently received my first dSLR camera and started pursuing my passion for photography. It wasn't too long after getting the camera that I realized I kept trying to get in "really close" for a lot of shots. So, yes, the macro would be great for my bag! It's on the wish list. :-)

  • Jeruel February 19, 2010 05:12 am

    I agree with most of the posts.

    I would rather get a 50mm 1.8: for general portraiture AND can also be used for macro using reverse ring. You just need a little skill and patient to successfully to this. To see samples, here:

    [eimg url='' title='Macro14.jpg?et=EfWgsoBNffGBMELi1b9V4A&nmid=78442696']

    Then, for DX a 17-55mm would to and 70-200mm for zoom.

  • Gilberto Netto February 19, 2010 05:03 am

    Funny.. It's been a year since I bought my first DSLR and the only three lenses I have are something around those 3 in the article! Ha!

  • V February 19, 2010 04:55 am

    again *must* is optional never a necessity for me. i'm not offended by the "musts" of the world and what people think i should have. i doubt this article was meant to be literal, like if one doesn't own these three lenses, then they are not serious. i do well with the equipment i have that some may consider inferior, but i am selling my prints and not for pennies to business and individuals. not one client has asked what equipment i'm shooting with or what's in my bag, they only care about the final product. i did enjoy the article and the comments. it's fun to read what everyone would like to have or keeps in their bag. we're all different.

    the three lenses i must have are the three lenses that are in my bag. period.

  • Jim News February 19, 2010 04:53 am

    50mm 1.4 if you can afford one or 50mm 1.8 if you can't. A 24mm to 70mm 2.8 and a 70-200mm 2.8. This way, I'm covered for just about anything I want to shoot, even in low light. To my thinking, a macro is a specific use lens, not a general purpose one. That's not to say I don't want one : )

  • HH February 19, 2010 04:48 am

    What you need as a new photographer, is to learn how to zoom with your feet instead of with your lens. The 50 mm f/1.8 is very affordable and will challenge your creativity. My first purchase was this lens. I had it glued to my camera for one year before I exchanged it for the Sigma 50 mm f/1.4. I was quite happy with just that one lens until I got lazy and bought a telephoto zoom lens to do the work my legs had done.

    Currently I have 2 lenses - a Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 and a 70-200 f/2.8 IS (Canon DSLR). My next will probably be a 18-50 f/2.8 and then a macro. Sure, every lens has areas it just can't cover, but learn how to shoot with a prime first, then move on to other lenses when you have the need. I really do think almost everyone needs a fast (50mm) prime.

  • Andrew February 19, 2010 04:45 am

    I think we need to stick to the original topic of this article which was three lenses..and why. 17-55 is plenty for the beginner (and 17 is wide enough on the APS-C for the beginner as well) and you can use it as a portrait at eith 35/50..or whatever..think everyone is missing the point..MULTI-PURPOSE vs. DESIRE.

  • Nancy February 19, 2010 04:43 am

    I would also drop the macro and add the 50mm, 1.4 prime lens. The macro lens is much more specialized. When I travel, I take my Canon Rebel, an inexpensive Sigma telephoto lens which maxes at 200mm and the 50mm, 1.4 for inside low-light photography when flash is not allowed. It's a great two-lens combination.

  • Joe D Silva February 19, 2010 04:23 am

    I agree, the order in which I added lenses for my 5D Mk II was 24-105mm, 100-400mm, 100 mm macro (which is also a great portrait lens) and then the 50 mm f 1.8 (very cheap).

    The 16-35 mm wide angle is on my wish list ... and the MPE 65 mm macro.. :)

  • Michael February 19, 2010 04:10 am

    As an Oly user, this is on the specifics level a Canon/Nikon discussion. For me, a "nifty 50" is 100mm which is not as universal a lens. That being said I have a old Pentax 50mm 1.4 that I do enjoy with an adapter.

    A few others have said this already in different words, but what do you shoot or desire to shoot - not 3 lenses you must own. Personally I rarely do portraits or people for that matter, and love macro and birds (i.e., macro & long zoom).

  • Silverzz February 19, 2010 04:09 am

    I would much rather have a nice wide 10mm than a macro lens.

  • Tom February 19, 2010 04:01 am

    I have the Leica 25mm f1.4 and it is amazing in clarity and DOF. Use it on the DMC-L1 and the 14-50 f2.8 IS lens.
    For me this is perfect.

  • Hans Willemsen February 19, 2010 04:01 am

    For me the 11-16 and 50-135 Tokina's (both F2.8)are perfect, combined with the Nikon 35 (fixed, F2.0) for my Nikon D60 and D80. I like to creep-up to my subjects!

  • Guest February 19, 2010 03:59 am

    There's much redundancy in comments here so I suppose some people must need to vent or feel compelled to just share. I say, "point and shoot".

  • Sammy da Bull February 19, 2010 03:58 am

    28mm f/2 is on my cam nearly all the time, JUST LOVE IT!....

  • Lens Lust! February 19, 2010 03:55 am

    One thing I was told when I started (with a Canon 450d) was to concentrate on the glass as you will keep it much longer than the body. I started with the 24-70mm, and soon got lens lust! I then got the 70-200mm IS and the 10-22mm. I wanted a macro, but got the 25mm and 12mm rings instead (which do the job). Then I started on the primes 50mm 1.8 and 85mm 1.2. Now I feel I have the right lens combo, so now down to the body which I've just upgraded to the 7D (which is ok, but to be honest I can't tell a hell of a difference from the 450d - so I wish I got the 5d Mk II instead.

  • dspaulding09 February 19, 2010 03:53 am

    I think this article makes a good point. Obviously which lenses you buy depends on what type of photography you do. I own an 18-70, 50mm f/1.8 and 55-200. I wish my two zoom lenses were faster ( 5.6 doesnt cut it al the time) but I'm not about to drop $2,000 on a f/2.8.

    i have wished that i had a macro lens, but i dont see a macro lens being very cost-effective for the general photographer. instead i ordered some close-up filters, which, despite a small reduction in image quality (particularly at the edges) will allow me to get a macro-ish effect for 1/20 the price.

  • sandeep February 19, 2010 03:52 am

    any suggestion on nikon p90 cam.......

  • E J Buzza February 19, 2010 03:39 am

    I tend to agree with the chatter about the lack of verstality of a short macro lens, and I do love my 50mm 1.4 prime. However, about 4 months ago I acquired a Canon 100m 2.8 IS macro prime. It has proved versatile for the macro close-up and the portrait situations, and has become "my current favorite." Note: I use this lens on a full-frame Canon 5D, Mark II. It might not have the same versatility on an APS-C body.

  • Lynn Tait February 19, 2010 03:22 am

    and actually the Canon 100mm macro F2.8 does a wonderful job on portraits and one can get it with IS

  • Lynn Tait February 19, 2010 03:21 am

    and actually the Canon 100mm macro F2.8 does a wonderful job on portraits and no one can get it with IS

  • Andrea McLaughlin February 19, 2010 03:18 am

    I can't live with out my:
    1. Wide angle Lensbaby.
    2. 28mm wide angle for street photography.

  • Lynn Tait February 19, 2010 03:18 am

    Sorry but i'm for the micro. People more interesting than things? Well, that depends. Most won't buy photos of strangers, and then there are modeling releases to deal with, yada yada. If one is a studio professional that's different, and I've won a few awards with my 'people' pics - but I've sold and had my 'things' pics sold and published more often.

  • Dami February 19, 2010 03:17 am

    Wow, this article sure hit a hot button.

    To those who say people are more interesting than things, well, not everyone thinks so. I much prefer things and I use my 100mm macro a LOT. I *hate* taking people-pictures. That's not to say if I had the nifty fifty I wouldn't use it, but for me, right now, I prefer having my macro.

  • bethwex February 19, 2010 03:14 am

    Thanks for the post- it's great to hear this as I have an 18-50 and 55-200 and am looking to get a macro lens. I have a nikon and am looking at the Nikkor lenses- 60mm, 85mm, and 105mm. Any thoughts on what length is best if I'm looking to have the most versatility? (Very new to macro, so I'm not sure how close I'll need to get to the subject- if it's a bug, I'd prefer to be as far as possible, but flowers I don't mind getting close to). Thoughts?


  • Nikhil Rawal February 19, 2010 03:10 am

    I have a Nikon D89 & 90 and I would say a good prime 50 mm f1.4 and 18-200 VR is good enough for "should have in the bag". Additionally if you are nature inclined a 90 mm f2.8 Macro and 200-500 (for birds and wildlife) are good add ons.

  • Susanne February 19, 2010 03:04 am

    I just bought a Nikkor 50mm 1.8 and hopefully this will be my favorite lens...

  • duncanlauri February 19, 2010 03:04 am

    My pennyworth:

    I'm assuming everyone advocating a 50mm prime has a full-size sensor?

    If you don't (I have the D90), then I'd strongly recommend a 35mm instead, in order to capture the image as it appears in front of you, as the 50 would with a full-size sensor. I got a 50mm (nikkor 1.8) as my first extra lens on top of the kit zoom. Excellent value and great quality, but I found it limiting in social situations. The 35mm has allowed me to just raise the camera and click when a moment arises, rather than having to step back five yards first in order to make sure the moment fits in the frame.

    The 35mm has barely been off the body since I got it.

    Just a thought.

  • EllieBB February 19, 2010 03:03 am

    I will drop the zoom lenses. Good idea when you are a newbie photographer and don't know any better. My choice is 50mm- 1.8 or 1.4; 85mm- 1.4 or 1.8 and a wide angle lens (35mm is good). I can't go without my macro lense though as I like taking pictures of bugs and stuff like that. I have a 60mm 2.8 Canon lens that also produces very good portraits.

  • Adam Clymer February 19, 2010 02:58 am

    To Steve Combs: I love my Canon 85mm f/1.8 but having a crop style body it doesn't work so well in my studio as I am limited on space, sure glad I didn't drop the extra cash to go with the 85mm f/1.2!!! I'm really considering the 50mm f/1.4 for studio work but really need to make the decision between the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L and the 24-105mm IS f/4. I just can't decide whether the extra speed or the IS will be better for what I shoot (portraits, weddings etc.) So many people are on one side of the fence or the other. Maybe I'll just get both and write mine own review!

  • Steve Kotvis February 19, 2010 02:58 am

    Agree with the three lens in general. But it seems the choice of lens need to follow the passion for what it is you want to shoot. I just traded up to the 24-70mm 2.8 because I understand it's the photojournalists' lens of choice. Great in most walking around situations. My focus on sports photography means I have to havemy go to 70-200mm 2.8 for outdoor sports. And my the 50mm 1.2 for indoor sports is wonderful. But again it depends on the sport. I use my 85mm 1.8 a lot too. My wish list still includes the 12-24mm 2.8 for my growing appreciation for wide angle (I have the 15mm 2.8 fisheye which is fun for ambiance) and 400mm for my sports shooting. We can all dream.

  • Barry February 19, 2010 02:53 am

    I agree about the 50mm prime, i'd rather that than a macro 100 times over. I've started using my Sigma 50mm 1.4 it a little more than my 24-70mm 2.8L. 50mm is good for portraits on a cropped body, after the 24-70 i use an 85mm on a cropped body, which is the longest lens I own.

    To start of with an amateur photographer can survive with a kit lens 18-55... then see how his/her style progresses. Then buy a lens that suits there style.

  • Jason Collin Photography February 19, 2010 02:53 am

    Like most people said, I'd drop the 50mm macro and get a 50mm 1.4/1.8 instead. 50mm is a bit short for any macro work you are not doing on your desktop in your studio.

  • paulson February 19, 2010 02:52 am

    and this is all i have in my bag... 17-50mm f2.8 tamron... 90mm macro f2.8 tamron... and 70-200 F4L..

  • Blake February 19, 2010 02:44 am

    I disagree with the last part of this article completely.
    A wide angle lens is absolutely necessary for any photographer.
    Not only can they be used for large landscape shots but they can also be used for portraits, they're excelelnt for city shots and are perfect for parties or where ever any group of people meet.
    I have a telephoto, macro and 18-55 and since buying my 10-22mm I don't think I’ve ever taken it off (apart from when needing to zoom).
    My 10-22mm Canon lens is my everyday lens.
    Distortion can be tweaked in Photoshop if it effects any shots with people.

  • Christine February 19, 2010 02:40 am

    I really like my 60 mm macro lens. I bought it used on ebay and I tend to manually focus with it. It is very versatile and I use it for people shots in addition to the closeups of flowers,etc. It may not be quite as fast as my 50mm 1.8, but i tend to use it more often than the 50mm. If it is not on my camera, it is almost certainly in my bag with me.

  • Idene February 19, 2010 02:32 am

    Fast prime over macro anyday.

    If you have a fast prime you have the ability to shoot in low light and that imo is far more essential then shooting small things.

  • Lauren February 19, 2010 02:32 am

    Thanks for the very helpful post. I already have 2 of the 3! Yeah!

  • susan February 19, 2010 02:28 am

    i just got a 50mm 1.4 and i'm loving it!

  • Karen Blanck February 19, 2010 02:15 am

    I am wanting to rent before I spend a lot of money, I am looking at the 24-70 2.8L lens. The article mentioned a 24-70 lens but I really don't see anyone else talking about it. I guess it is not a lens to use for family photography? I have a large family, kids, grandkids, brothers, sisters and so on. I do not plan on doing it for pro but I would like them to show off their families as if a pro took the pictures.

  • Adrian February 19, 2010 01:25 am

    Thanks Chris for the tips. I'm a newbie in photography, and this is the questions that runs in my mind. The lens that I need. Thanks again.

  • Eric Mesa February 18, 2010 11:45 pm

    I currently have a crop sensor camera. I started off with the 18-55 kit lens. Then I got the 55-200mm to extend my range. I got a 28-105 as a good mid-range compromise and then a 50mm macro. At that point I started to evaluate my lens purchases since lenses are pretty expensive.

    I LOVE my macro and have taken some very fun photos with it. But it tends to be slow to focus, so it's not as useful for low light as its f/2.5 might make it seem. Also, in general, it makes it annoying as a general purpose lens. So, after hearing everyone in the world talk about how awesome the 50mm f/1.8 (nifty fifty) was, I got one. It is awesome and has allowed me to photograph in low light conditions without flash when I never thought I could.

    Then, since I'm into wildlife photography I got a 120-400mm lens. This made the birds in my yard much closer to filling the frame than my 200mm ever could.

    Next I'm getting a 10-22 (it's on its way via ups!) to round out my range. Although I doubt I'll use the ultra-wide very often (you never know!), I've definitely found myself in situations where I wished I had a wider lens. And, because of the crop factor, I needed to go this wide to get what I could normally get with a 16mm on a full frame sensor. (Differences in angle of view as mentioned above notwithstanding)

    If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same thing. (Well, if I could have afforded a full frame back then I would have done all full frame and the accompanying lenses) What I like about my selection is that I can grab whatever I need based on where I'm going. When I was in NYC last weekend I took my 18-55mm because in a city environment it's often too cramped and you can't go walking out into the street to "zoom" out. When I'm going out and about I usually take the 28-105 because I can zoom in and out as necessary. If I want to give myself a challenge or I know that light will be an issue, I take my 50mm. And, for wildlife it's the 120-400.

    Eventually (starting this year), I'm upgrading all my crop sensor lenses (one at a time) to the equivalent full frame lens in anticipation of finally getting a full frame camera. So, for me that's the 17-40mm,24-70mm, and 70-200mm. Once I have those, I'm set! Any lenses I buy after that are for specialized purposes. So, I might buy a 24mm prime if it's got an f-stop greater than 2.8 for when I want low light or if I know I'm going to be on the wide end and don't want to lug around the [very] heavy 24-70mm. And I want a 100mm macro because Canon's 50mm macro is not a true macro. (So I've read nearly everywhere on the internet - I think it lies about 1:1 and only captures 1:2)

    So, despite the disagreement of other commenters, I enjoy having the full focal range to choose from and I grab based on what I'm doing. Some lenses get used more than others. But just buy non-L (or the equivalent in your manufacturer) lenses for the focal ranges you don't use as much.

  • Jason Lloyd February 18, 2010 11:33 pm

    Oh - buy a decent flash with the money you saved on lenses 2 and 3 :o)

  • Jason Lloyd February 18, 2010 11:32 pm

    Surely this is going to depend on your budget and anticipated use??

    Best thing I have done is buy a 2.8 24-70, which is sweet, sharp, works in low light, melts the background away beautifully, small enough to use all day and has enough range for anything other than speciality stuff such as wildlife. Anything like portraits or general landscape type work it's perfect for.

    Not cheap, but what a difference!!

  • Murmeli February 18, 2010 10:55 pm

    For a beginner that 50mm f/1.8 lest is essential. Good for low light and very good for learning. Also cheap.

  • Jonathan Bourke February 18, 2010 10:52 pm

    While I agree with so many of the commenter's, the single lens which opened up the most creative opportunities for me was, and remains, my Canon 50mm F1.4. It is my pride an joy. It makes nearly any setting look great:

    * Dark venue; bring out the fast F1.4
    * Cluttered backgroud; got to love the bokeh* of F1.4
    * Travelling light; yep, the F1.4
    * Stuck in a rut; the F1.4 again!

    Some of my better efforts are @


  • Hans February 18, 2010 10:48 pm

    I cannot stress this enough, but there is no way 18mm on a cropped camera can compare to 24mm on a full frame.
    It's not the focal length that makes the difference, but the angle of view.
    No way an angle of view of a 18mm lense (75 degrees) is going to magically change into a 84 degrees when you put in on a full frame camera.
    The only thing you're changing is the huge chunk of your image that will be lost forever on a APS-C camera.
    Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't buy a cropped camera, but I am saying that no serious photographer should ever compare focal distances as the main feature of a lense, they're not called wide angle-lenses because of their focal lengths, you know.
    For example: I have a medium format camera with a 50mm lense.
    If I were to cut out a third of the picture around the edges, the picture would not suddenly look the same as a picture taken with a 50mm lense on a 35 mm camera.
    You can however, but lenses espacially made for APS-C camera's but those will suffer in the dept-of-field range.
    I agree that every starting photographer needs a walk around and a telelense.
    The macro would be more on a need-to-have-basis, I'd rather buy a 50 1.8 first, as many mentioned before me.

  • Jay Pettitt February 18, 2010 09:19 pm

    "However, for someone who is new to photography or who has just bought their first DSLR, these three lenses will give them the versatility to shoot in almost any situation."

    Which sums up, in a neat little nutshell, the problem that I have with this and all such 'must own' articles. Why would anyone, let a lone a beginner, want to be covered for all kinds of photography? It's easy to forget the simple truth is that 'stuff' is also a burden. Lenses are expensive, they need looking after, tending to and lugging around if you're going to get use them (no point having a camera if you don't have it with you). And most of all it requires a great investment of time and patience to learn how to get the best from them. Given that all those things are limited where is the wisdom in trying to equip yourself to do everything?

  • Joshua February 18, 2010 08:31 pm

    I have 3 lenses... In my recently establishes Dale bag. 60mm macro., 18-75mm general and 70-300mm telephoto. The only thing I am missing is a wide angle. I have had so much fun with the macro lens - should definately be in the top 3!!!!

  • Richard February 18, 2010 06:36 pm

    Actually I agree with the original Post, Dave and Osmosis
    The macro opens up an area the is unavailable with the other lenses
    and the 50mmPrime/portrait is covered by both the macro and the general purpose zoom

    as he said at the end of the article
    "I am sure many of you reading this have other lenses you would consider essential. A fast 50, or a wide angle or a longer zoom… and all of those are great lenses to own also. However, for someone who is new to photography or who has just bought their first DSLR, these three lenses will give them the versatility to shoot in almost any situation."

  • RAP February 18, 2010 06:33 pm

    After carrying around many lenses in my bag and not using most of them, I noticed three that where basically what I needed.
    70-200mm f/2.8L
    50mm f/1.2L
    16-35mm f/2.8L
    With these lenses I've been able to cover all my needs and they usually walk around with me. Additionally I have a 2x converter that comes out only for special purposes.

  • mikko February 18, 2010 05:32 pm

    Everyone is right as in any matter: each photographer has their own preferences.

    To me, price is relative: I just bought another used 50/1.4 MF lens for $25 + postage. The 85/1.5 was $300. The tilt shift is a DIY, the parts cost me $40. Most of the time, I have a Russian 58/2 lens from 1980's on my DSLR - the lens cost me $20 and has a special color rendering and bokeh that I just can't get with my kit lens. I actually sold the kit lens and all the lenses re now MF. It's a hobby to collect and use these vintage MF lenses, I agree.

    As for photo bag size/weight - I have a huge metal case with all the lenses, flashes etc. that I take with me if I go out with a car. But usually, I just pick 1 or 2 lenses to use and put them to my pockets. I do not do point-and-shoot that would require me to have a 17-200 mm AF zoom lens to be able to take random photos of a shy bird and a landscape panorama at the same time. Instead, I make up my mind before I take pics: "Today it's going to be a portrait day".

    To be able to record ANY moment anytime as fast as one can, I agree - a multi-purpose AF zoom or the kit lens is the choice to use. Or a good point-and-shoot camera.

  • OJ Photography February 18, 2010 02:36 pm

    I would definitely add a 50mm F1.8 (or faster) Also, I've got a long zoom 70-300mm Nikkor but I just got a Nikon 200mm F2.8 prime that beats the long zoom amazingly in quality and of course depth-of-field. I blogged the new lens here

    Good Post!!

  • ClaytonB February 18, 2010 02:33 pm

    I think that everyone is right, except;

    I have discovered that you shouldn't turn your nose up on your kit 18-55. I've probably shot 40,000 frames with my kit lens and there were a lot of good ones. Some of them were so good I couldn't believe I shot them.

    A 70-200 taught me that I was going to need a 300. Birds are challenging enough with a 300. The 70-200 is an awesome portrait lens though.

    Not having a macro is sad when you want to take that kind of shot a just can't quite do it.

    Wanting to do a certain kind of photography to the exclusion of all other types gets dull.

    Don't forget to check you mother-in-laws closet or a box of your dads junk for unused camera equipment. I don't have any interest in shooting film but still came up with a couple of vintage lenses that work (although manually) on my cameras. Turns out these are great lenses.

    Last piece of advice. There is a lot of talk about fast lenses here. Fast lenses can be very expensive (excluding the nifty 50). Don't be afraid to buy some run of the mill lenses while you are trying to figure out what kind of photographer you are. You can buy a whole kit worth of lenses for what some of the fast lenses cost. If you discover that one particular lens is your thing, sell your other lenses and buy the premium glass. Note - it is hard to sell your stuff if you get the bug real bad.

  • Ramón February 18, 2010 01:09 pm

    I think that the lens finds the photographer. I won't list the lenses that I have, rather I'll mention the lens that seems to spend a great deal of time on my current camera body; it's a Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM.
    I do a great deal of urban photography cityscapes, graffiti, parades, protests and candids, as well as portraits of dogs and urban wildlife that ranges from hummingbirds to hawks and sea lions. Image stabilization is a boon when carrying a tripod isn't a good idea.
    When I do have a tripod, I screw on a Canon 500D and it allows me do to some interesting closeups.

  • Richard Lehoux February 18, 2010 12:41 pm

    Many cheap compact camera a really great for macro and telephoto. Had I known that, as a beginner, I would have bought only a 17x50mm 2.8 and a 50mm 1.8

  • Cornell February 18, 2010 11:15 am

    Odyn, you're wrong -- very wrong.

    Telezooms might not equal primes; but, you can miss a picture because of an unsuitable prime lens being on a camera. You can't always back up. Other times, using a prime lens will result in you being too close to a subject such that you encroach within the subject's safety zone. Then there are times, when you can't physically get closer to a subject, such as when you are in a boat. The flexibility of a telezoom is very handy. I have a 75 - 300 zoom and have been very glad to have it when shooting wildlife. For example, many people have been injured by bison in Yellowstone because it quickly charged at them at 30 miles per hour when they got too close to the bison. (Bison cause more injuries in Yellowstone than bears do.) I will be able to zoom in or away from a subject, while the person with a prime lens will lose the fleeting opportunity to take a picture.

  • Tim February 18, 2010 10:55 am

    In general, I think this post was spot on. The 24-105 F/4 is what sits on my camera most of the time and is my walk-around lens (although a bit heavy). The 70-200 F/2.8 is a great lens for sports photography. I have a 100mm macro lens which I use quite often -- and makes a good portrait lens as well. The 50mm F/1.4 would definitely be my fourth lens. I would like to get a something in the 18-70 F/2.8 range, but I recently upgraded to a full frame camera instead of the 1.6x crop lens, so the 24mm "feels" like an 17 or 18mm lens to me.

  • Odyn February 18, 2010 10:30 am

    Tele zooms are overrated. If you can't do it with 100mm 2.8 macro (or something 135mm 2.8-ish) lens, then a 70-200 f4 won't give you all that much advantage. And I don't suppose one will carry 70-200 2.8 around all the time.

  • johnp February 18, 2010 10:26 am

    I agree with some of the posts. Rather than a beginner buying 3 lenses get a camera body and a light zoom (e.g. Tamron 18-250). It will cover all situations except maybe low light for which you could add a cheap 50mm prime.

  • Mikel Daniel February 18, 2010 09:22 am

    Really, a macro? I mean, you might as well say every photographer should own a fisheye or tilt-shift lens. When you say lenses every photographer should have, the first thing that comes to mind is general purpose every day photos. So really, a fast prime for low light, like a 50 or 35 1.8, a telephoto zoom and a wide angle zoom. Something like a 18-55 kit lens and 55-200, or 18-200 if you prefer. While I personally own a 105 macro lens, it was the 4th lens I bought, AFTER I got my nifty 50, 70-300 and 17-35. Cover your focal range first, and then look into specializing.

  • Odyn February 18, 2010 09:05 am

    For aps-C I'd say:
    kit lens (or Sigma/Tamron 17/18-55 2.8)
    50mm fast prime,
    70-105mm 2,8 macro/portrait/tele prime
    should cover most of the stuff.
    In fact I go around with 35 2.8, 50 1.4 and 135 3.5 (manual) primes.

  • Mike February 18, 2010 08:46 am

    On further thought a couple of other comments:

    1) I have a 50mm 1.8, I find the sigma 18-50 f2.8 to be good enough a lot of the time so the zoom stays on the camera.

    Seems like the general consensus is:

    People should also consider:
    1) weight and size of the camera bag loaded they are willing to carry around for no specific reason.
    2) what they are willing to invest over a 2 year time frame
    3) and all things being equal, what should be on the camera if you have to leave the bag behind.

    For me it is:
    1) small and light bag for non-photo-specific occasions: camera w/ 18-50 f2.8 mounted, 70-300 VR in the bag (off topic but important: SB-800 flash)
    2) way too much. I knew I would be willing to invest more than the first purchase and soon.
    3) All things equal, I have kids too young for sporting events so its the 18-50 f2.8 (I can live without more bird pics, can't get youth back).

  • Mike February 18, 2010 08:34 am

    On DX format in order of importance to me:

    Sigma 18-50 f2.8 (most of the time)
    Nikon 70-300 f5.6 VR (for any tele/birds, fast enough with VR)
    Tokina 11-16 f2.8 (ocasional but essential when I need it)

    I don't do much macro, and see the argument of an 18-200 type lens for the photographer who isn't certain they'll want to continue to invest in photography.

  • Jeff W February 18, 2010 08:24 am

    Good tips to think about in general, but as others (and the author) have said, the key question you need to ask yourself is what you like/have to shoot. I had a macro early, because I do a lot of closeup and miniature photography. Chuck: If having only the 18-200 worked well for you, great; but I've always shot tons of sports, inside and out, so it would have been a terrible choice for me. A couple of fast primes and a fast 70-200 was the ticket for me.

  • Lev Bass February 18, 2010 08:23 am

    Another vote for a fast 30mm or 50mm prime instead of a macro. I think most people would want the ability to shoot indoors and in low light. How many people just have to have the 1:1 magnification? How many people know what 1:1 is?
    Also agree with 18-200 for beginners (or travel).

  • Alastair February 18, 2010 08:18 am

    I'm assuming this is Three Lenses every SLR Photographer should own? Because I don't believe there are any zoom lenses, particularly the ones described above, are available for my camera (a Sinar F2 large format camera) !

  • Vin Thomas February 18, 2010 07:22 am

    I have a Canon 40D. I hope to pick up the 18-55mm 2.8 EFS lens next. Then I am setting my sights on the 70-200mm 2.8 IS II.

    I would agree 100% with this, but I would swap the 50 macro for the 50mm 1.8 as well.


  • Ron Cornelison February 18, 2010 07:11 am

    Three Lens? How many ways can I screw up a photo, let me count the number of lens I have with me. If it's far away, I have the 18-55 mounted. If it's close up, I have the 55-200 mounted. If it's dark, I can’t find the nifty fifty. When I get it straightened out the photo has disappeared. Some days I want to go back to my old Kodak P-850 with it's 36-432 mm attached glass! Not really though, I love the Nikon 50mm 1.8 on my Nikon D80, as every one above stated it still surprises me with the quality shots it takes. I do believe it is a better lens than I am a photographer. So right out of the bag, the 50mm 1.8 is mounted on the camera, works so very well well for a first response lens.
    The Nikon 55-200 with VR, well that’s my walk around lens when I am at events, I love it also. For a beginner on a budget, I would highly recommend both of them to you.
    I also have the Nikon 18-55 VR I just can’t seem to get a good working relationship with it and feel I need to trade it in on a 10-20 wide angle. Odd how some glass feels so good and some simply do not feel good at all. Thanks for the article, I really enjoyed the responses from everyone.

  • Greg Taylor February 18, 2010 06:57 am

    My two lenses that are my go to lenses are my 50mm 1.8 (at the price point every photographer should have one of these) and my 24-70mm 2.8 - worth every penny for my concert photography.

    Zoom lenses are nice but with my subject matter I do not find much of a need for them. When shooting landscape photos I prefer a nice wide angle vs. a zoom.

    Consider your subject matter and pick the fastest appropriate lens you can afford. Fast glass is where it's at.

  • X February 18, 2010 06:48 am

    To B: a 50/2.8 macro does not render the same bokeh as a 50/1.4. I'd buy both (I actually did).

  • Mikko February 18, 2010 06:44 am

    WHAT? Only three lenses?
    A zoom, *macro* and a tele?

    What about some fast primes as others suggest as well? A sharp 50 mm for general use (bokeh & low light) and a smooth 80 mm for portraits.

    I have 11 lenses and looking for more. Three different 50 (1.4, 1.8 & 2.0) for different usages - each has a unique character. One 85/1.5 for smooth portraits with stunning bokeh. One tilt-shift, one macro, one 135/3.5, one 17/3.5, a very unique rendering 28/1.9 and a few others. Now looking for a fish-eye and a longer tele. Maybe a faster 135 as well. And then there's that special 50/1.2 I've been looking for...

    Three lenses is not enough. Primes can do wonders for your composition skills. Fast primes render wonderful bokeh that makes you hate the kit-zoom-lenses.

  • B February 18, 2010 06:36 am

    Everyone commenting that they'd rather have a fast non-macro 50mm rather than a 50mm macro f/2.5 or f/2.8 are seriously confused.

    The macro lens can be used for shooting all of the same things as the non-macro prime. Sure, it will be more expensive and a little slower, but the point is that it's generally more versatile. As for speed, you're talking 1.5 to 2 stops, not enormous, and image quality in macro lenses is usually excellent.

    There are very very few things a macro 50mm can't do that a non-macro can, but in reverse the macro lens adds a world of functionality in one package. The point here is, if you can only have there lenses and you want as many options as possible, these are your three. I still think the premise is a bit ridiculous but let's please remember that a 50mm macro lens is a 50mm prime that can also focus closeley.

  • rmrf February 18, 2010 06:36 am

    Zoom lens are great, but unfortunately they cripple feeling of perspective and feeling of frame.

    I recommend to all newbies to stick with 28/30mm on crop or 50mm on full frame and develop culture of using zoom. And after year of using exclusively prime lens to decide to buy zoom lens or not.

    My recommendation: Do not touch zoom ring on lens to have different crop - use your legs to zoom. And use zoom ring to have different perspective, feeling of picture and to create different picture.

    Just try to get the same frame using different focal lengths to understand what I mean or look at that article to see how many things you change by touching zoom ring,.

  • Pippa February 18, 2010 06:34 am

    That was so helpful!

    I'm about to buy my first DSLR camera so this is all new to me and somewhat daunting for a complete novice! It was also quite reassuring as those were the lenses that seemed most relevant to the type of photography that I enjoy. Thank you,

  • Newb February 18, 2010 06:23 am

    Could someone help a poor chump out and explain the difference between a prime and macro lens?

  • Wolfgang February 18, 2010 06:15 am

    I disagree with the overall article and agree with many of the previous commenters:

    I wouldn't recommend the macro lens as essential because it's no general purpose lens. It's a very special lens you'd only need if you're interested in macro photography. (I for example never longed for a macro lens, despite having quite a collection of lenses.)

    While a telezoom is a good addition to any DSLR I still think a fast 50mm prime should have a higher priority. I did recommend this to some people before and everybody thought that was the right decision.

  • Chris February 18, 2010 05:48 am

    I would have to agree with most of the posters to this great article. If I were to start my lens collection again I would have started with the 50mm 1.8. It is cheap and it opened up a whole new world for me. I primarily wanted to shot macro and wildlife.

    My 1st lens was a 90mm 2.8 Macro and I love it and don't think I could ever give it up. My second lens was a telephoto 70mm-300mm 4.5 -5.6. I can't afford the faster telephoto at this time but one can lust...

    My third lens was the Canon 50mm 1.8. Best $100 I ever spent. That lens is on the camera more than any lens I own now. It does make a great portrait lens and is also great in low light situations. It also made me work to compose my shots. My advice to friends looking to buy a Dslr and are serious about photography is always to consider buying a nifty fifty.

    This was a great article and I agree with the points made by the author but I also agree with commenters that the lens you buy should be related to what type of photography you see yourself doing. Lenses are expensive and their purchases should not be taken lightly. I always ask three questions:

    Why would I need this lens?
    When and how often would I use it?
    Is there a better lens for this use?

    Advise is good but it all comes down to your photographic style.

  • scott February 18, 2010 04:46 am

    I learned more from my 50mm 1.8 than from any other lens I have owned. It forced me to learn composition as I didn't have a zoom on which to rely. Every photographer should own one of these and make a habit of shooting with it quite often. See my portfolio for lots of ideas.

  • sp February 18, 2010 04:34 am

    For new photographers, I'd recommend the versatile 18-200 with stabilization. You should add lenses as you start developing affinity to particular types of photography. Even after you add other lenses to your arsenal, the 18-200 will still serve as a good "vacation lens" for situations where you want to travel light.

  • Douglas Tanner February 18, 2010 04:30 am

    I only own one lens, a 10-22mm wide angle. Works for me!

    But, I did use a 17-85mm for the first year while I was working out what type of photography I liked.

  • Ed V. February 18, 2010 04:20 am

    A 24-70 (or 28-75) f/2.8 on a crop sensor makes a great portrait zoom and short indoor sports tele. I own the Tamron version for my Canon 40D.

  • Dennis February 18, 2010 04:06 am

    Any opinions on a 24-70 on a crop sensor?

  • David February 18, 2010 03:55 am

    One question I have is, if I have a 50mm at 1.4 do I really need a macro lens (I also have the 60mm at 2.8) ?

  • B February 18, 2010 03:50 am

    The three lenses every photographer should own, so that every photographer can make the same kinds of photos as everyone else.

    Not everyone wants to express themselves with closeups of fortune cookies, or wide angle landscapes, or telephoto shots of sports, or whatever.

    There are no lenses that every photographer should own.

  • Khürt Williams February 18, 2010 03:47 am

    Don't forget about crop factor. The 50mm prime will most likely be more like 80mm with a 1.6 crop factor. A 35mm lens may be better.

  • jptibirosen February 18, 2010 03:46 am

    just out of curiosity, what are your 3 primes? i suppose one of them is a 50mm, right? what about the other two?

  • Bjorn February 18, 2010 03:39 am

    I doubt that most people new to photography will spend the money on a couple of f2.8 zooms plus a macro.

    That's cost me (shooting Nikon) about $3000+CDN in lenses if I shoot Nikon glass. I'd go further and say that lenses everyone should own are either:

    1) A lens which will allow you to take the kind of photos you want
    2) a 50mm f1.8 equivalent (i.e. 30 or 35 mm on a 1.5 crop factor)

    Better yet, spend $40 on a film rangefinder (not a Leica) and learn to work to the lens that it came with. Now _that_ will teach you something :)

    Good article for discussion. Good for everyone to _think_ about what photography means to _them_ :)

  • Eric February 18, 2010 03:37 am

    Most people can't afford a decent zoom lens. They're either cheap and compromise on image quality or they don't and they're expensive as hell. And most people considering "more lenses" is probably already aware of the flaws in their 18-55mm kit lens.

    Simply, every photographer should own:

    1. A good wide angle. A dedicated wide angle or ultrawide lens will simply have better image quality at 18mm than a kit zoom lens, and won't break a budget too badly.

    2. A fast mid-range prime. A 50mm f/1.8 or 1.4 is cheap and is a good walk around lens, striking a good balance between reach and field of view, while offering that shallow depth of field you'll want for most subjects. But anything between roughly 35mm and 85mm is just as well, depending on your style and whether you're dx or fx. Odds are this lens will be good enough for most macro work, and a few of them even offer 1:1 macro.

    3. A telephoto. Admittedly, it's hard to find a good, affordable telephoto, but just about every photographer needs one - at some point you'll be shooting either an event or wildlife or something where you'll really need the reach.

    If you carry those three, you're covered for most anything you might wind up shooting, and you won't have to compromise on image quality to get it.

  • matejMM February 18, 2010 03:35 am

    Fast prime is essential...

  • mihai February 18, 2010 03:03 am

    I started off with a 18-200 VR. Added a 50 f/1.4 and later a 11-16 F/2.8. These days, I guess I would prefer to have a fast 35 prime instead of the 50, but can't bring myself to sell it. It's just that good :)

  • Kirsteen February 18, 2010 02:45 am

    Very helpful article and comments. Have been swithering about buying a fast 50mm prime to go with my 18-55 and 70-200 zooms, hadn't considered a macro. Now I want both! But I think I will probably start with the 50mm.

  • alan February 18, 2010 02:21 am

    i agree with the fast, prime lens. macros are cool and all, but the fast prime is much more useful. my 35 f/1.8 rarely leaves my camera.

    chuck, i have to disagree with ken rockwell on that one (and on a lot of his stuff, for that matter). while i did start off shooting with only my 18 - 105VR to get a feel for the ranges i tend to shoot in, i quickly grew tired of that lens. the bulk and heft are unpleasant to use. it would be worthwhile if i could produce pictures that made me happy but those kit lenses just leave a little too much to be desired. i would much rather have a lightweight prime specially for walking around with it.

    i have no idea how you can say DOF on a wide angle lens is meaningless. not real sure where you're going on that one.

  • Patrick Hoof February 18, 2010 02:13 am

    "I’m with Ken Rockwell – all you really need AS A NOVICE photog is a 18-200 lens."

    No, no, no!

    All you really need as a novice photographer, is to work out what it is you want to take photos of, and buy the most appropriate lens(es) for that.

  • Marco February 18, 2010 02:11 am

    a fast prime f2 or better is a len I really love!
    35mm is very nice on aps-c because 50mm is a bit too long for me...

  • tate February 18, 2010 02:06 am

    I personally have 3 primes (1 of which is a macro), and a 4th lens which is a super-wide (10-20mm). It really depends on what sort of impact you want to make as a photographer, but my choices are combining image quality and affordability.
    All except the wide are 2.8 or better … and my total cost was about 1300$: essentially the same price as a 17-55mm 2.8 Nikon and I get a great deal more options. Of course, I have to change lenses quite a bit.

    THe 17-55mm won't do all that a macro can: give you mind-blowing closeness that makes jaws drop and it won't do what super wides can: show a vastness that gives the viewer a similar excitement and a different view of life than we can see with the naked eye.

    So for a budge and maximum impact look at affordable primes.

  • RayPG February 18, 2010 01:55 am

    Well I do not agree having a macro lens must be one of the lens you should own, I think if you have a good zoom lens like a 18-200 can cover all your needs if you need macro you can get for a cheaper option like close-up filters, what I really think you should have a prime lens 50mm f/1.8 is the best affordable option so you can only need 2 lens if you are new in photography.

  • chuck February 18, 2010 01:48 am

    I'm with Ken Rockwell - all you really need AS A NOVICE photog is a 18-200 lens. I'm very happy with my Nikon 18-200vr.

    It's really important to hold yourself and NOT buy anything else for at least a year. The next lens I bought - in over a year of using 18-200vr - was the portrait lens: AF 135D F/2 DC. That's it. I'm set for whatever.

    Speaking of DOF - any book on photography worth its price will tell you that DOF on wide lenses is almost meaningless. And on teles the relative distance between the subject/background/photog is way more important than the aperture. So there.

    Some $2+k saved on lenses (2*$1.5k for fast zooms minus $800 for 18-200vr) is WAY better spent on flashes and other strobist equipement.

  • Kimberly February 18, 2010 01:43 am

    This is what I have in my bag, but I also have a 50mm lens for portraits although I rarely use it, but someday....

  • Patrick Hoof February 18, 2010 01:40 am

    You can't state categorically "these are the three lenses every photographer should own" because every photographer will have different requirements for their equipment.

    Just look at the first response to this article - "People are more interesting than things, right?"

    Well ... it depends. The commenter in this case appears to think so, but other people may disagree. Other people may have a need to photograph 'things' more than 'people' and so their equipment should reflect that.

    Give me a fast 50mm lens and I'll shoot all day. On the other hand I've never wanted to shoot sport through a telephoto and I doubt I ever will.

  • John Yu February 18, 2010 01:37 am

    I will echo what a lot of people have said, but it's true: 50mm f/1.8 prime has made me a better photographer.
    It was the first lens i purchased after getting my SLR, and it was the best $100 I've spent.

  • Derek February 18, 2010 01:32 am

    Great article, thanks Chris. I agree with all of the above comments, save one major point: if you are new to photography, you probably shouldn't be worrying about multiple lenses for different situations quite yet. I used the popular 18-200mm for a long time with a 50mm prime which allowed me to cover all scenarios and focus on technique without worrying about lens swapping. After my technique and skills were better, then I started looking at higher quality specialized and faster lenses.

  • Hd72 February 18, 2010 01:31 am

    Being able to shoot in relatively low light is essential... Macro photography can take a backseat to having a significantly bigger aperture. f1.4 opens the door for a lot of possibilities.

  • Joshua February 18, 2010 01:31 am

    I would definitely drop the macro and pick up a Nifty-Fifty f/1.8. It'll be the best money and most fun for anyone starting out. Macro, as far as I see it, is a specialty scenario, whereas 50mm is portrait to walk-around on any SLR/DSLR. I believe the wide aperture of my first 50mm 'opened' me up to much much more than any macro lens could have. - Plus, some 70-200's can get almost close enough to get the job done.
    I'm with you on the general zoom and the 70-200 - great lenses. Personally, I ended up dropping my 17-55 for a nice, fast 20mm f/1.8 and haven't looked back since.
    Move with your feet, not your zoom.

  • MeiTeng February 18, 2010 01:07 am

    I would go for the 50mm prime lens.

  • Steve Combs February 18, 2010 12:38 am

    I currently have the following lenses for my 40D, EF-S 10-22, EF 28-135 and the EF 70-200 F4L. Next addition will be a 100mm Macro (hope I can justify the new EF 100mm F2.8L IS, but may be the EF 100 F2.8 non-IS. Will depend on the pocketbook!). I've thought of the EF 85 F1.8 as a good GP Prime for my APS-C body...

  • TBrinkman February 18, 2010 12:38 am

    Agree with Dave and Osmosis....for a beginner photographer, or one just building their DSLR bag, a fast 50 would serve more of a general purpose than a true macro. The sigma 70-200 2.8 can serve as a pseudo macro..or atleast it works for what I need it to do...

  • Zack Jones February 18, 2010 12:37 am

    I'm going to side with Chris on this one, assuming we can only have 3 lenses in this basket. A macro can also shoot portraits but a good, sharp prime can't shoot macros without extension tubes, reverse rings, etc. If we were to expand the basket to 4 lenses then I would say 100mm macro and nifty fifty would be must haves as well.

  • gaerun February 18, 2010 12:36 am

    I also agree for the fast prime. The 50mm for most brands has the advantage of being really cheap, and that's an important point, especially for someone who is new to photography. Investing money in lenses that you won't use is pointless. So for me, the minimal list would be 50 f/1.8 or equivalent, and a good 18-50.

    The fast 70-200 are wonderful lenses, but heavy and expensive...

  • Kapil February 18, 2010 12:27 am

    About 2 years now since I have been shooting with the Canon 400D with the kit lens 18-55mm. Been good, but nothing gets better than shooting with the Canon 50mm f1.8.
    Did a few trips with a borrowed set and it's been a wonderful experience, truly. Got some lovely shots. Browse my if you interested.

    [eimg url='a 50mm shot' title='a 50mm shot']

  • OsmosisStudios February 18, 2010 12:25 am

    Agreed with Dave: Drop the macro for a fast prime of some sort: 35 or 50mm

  • Dave Hodgkinson February 18, 2010 12:16 am

    I'd drop the macro for a good, fast, sharp prime for portraits. People are more interesting than things, right? My Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 is lovely or maybe the 85mm f/2.8.