What are the essential camera lenses every photographer must have?
In this article, I’m going to share the three key lenses that no photographer should be without. These recommendations come from personal experience; I rely heavily on these three lenses in my own photography.
They offer enough versatility to shoot in almost any situation, and they’re available for just about every camera system and lens mount on the market, from DSLR to mirrorless, from Nikon to Sony.
So if you’re ready to discover the must-have camera lenses for every photographer, let’s dive right in, starting with…
1. The general-purpose zoom
A general-purpose (standard) zoom goes from around 18mm to 70mm. At the wide end, you get an expansive field of view for environmental shots. And at the long end, you get a field of view close to that of the human eye.
These zooms are hugely popular and come in many shapes and sizes. For instance, you can grab an 18-55mm kit lens or a (more expensive) 24-70mm lens.
Out of all my lenses, a standard zoom sits on my camera the most. It lets me shoot fairly wide while also offering decent zoom for objects off in the distance. You can shoot landscapes at 18mm, environmental portraits at 24mm, street shots at 50mm, and tighter portraits in the 60mm+ range.
Ideally, your general-purpose zoom packs a wide maximum aperture for low-light shooting and precise depth of field control (f/2.8 is best, but f/4 also works). Of course, if you can’t yet afford a wide-aperture zoom, that’s okay; a standard kit lens will work fine in most situations.
Consider these general-purpose zooms from Canon:
- Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
- Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
These general-purpose zooms from Nikon:
- Nikon AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G II
- Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G
- Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
- Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S
And these general-purpose zooms from Sony:
2. The macro lens
A macro lens lets you get up close and personal to your subject so you can capture stunning details of insects and flowers – as well as close-ups of clothing, jewelry, and more.
Note that the length of your macro lens isn’t as important as its magnification capabilities (a 1:1 magnification ratio or higher is best; it’ll let you get insanely close to your subjects).
I currently keep a 50mm f/2.8 macro in my bag because it’s small and light. I carry it around with me all the time, and when I need it, I whip it out for a detail shot or two. My macro lens also doubles as a decent portrait lens (it’s very sharp and the f/2.8 maximum aperture provides a shallow depth of field). 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.
Consider these macro lenses from Canon:
These macro lenses from Nikon:
And these macro lenses from Sony:
3. The telephoto zoom
The most useful telephoto zooms span from around 70mm to 200mm – so you can capture standard field of view shots on the wide end and tight shots on the long end.
For instance, you might shoot full-body portraits at 70mm, tighter landscapes at 150mm, and headshots at 200mm. You can also use a 70-200mm lens to photograph sports, architecture, weddings, and more.
Regarding the maximum aperture: f/4 is acceptable and will get you decent low-light capabilities plus a shallow depth of field (especially when shooting at 200mm). But an f/2.8 maximum aperture is the holy grail of 70-200mm lenses; the depth of field is gorgeous at f/2.8, plus you can shoot indoors for basketball games, wedding ceremonies, graduations, etc.
The wider aperture will also let you shoot at faster shutter speeds so you can capture moving subjects such as birds and other wildlife. And a 70-200mm lens is a handy portrait lens; the focal length minimizes distortion and narrows the field of view to fill the frame with your subject.
So check out these telephoto zooms from Canon:
- Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS
- Canon RF 70-200mm f/4L IS
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II
These telephoto zooms from Nikon:
And these telephoto zooms from Sony:
Wait, what about…?
I am sure that many of you reading this have other lenses you would consider essential.
For instance, a fast 50mm prime is great for portraits and street shots. A wide-angle zoom is perfect for landscape, architecture, and environmental portraits. A longer zoom lets you capture ultra-tight landscapes, birds, wildlife, and sports.
And it’s true:
All of those lenses are great to own.
But I’m trying to give you the three lenses that are most useful for every photographer, including folks who are new to photography or who have just bought their first camera.
And if you’re new to photography, these three lenses will give you the versatility to shoot in almost any situation.
You can use them for:
- Family gatherings
- Street scenes
Then, once you hone in on the type of photography that most interests you, you might find that other lenses are essential for that specific subject – but until then, these are the lenses you should be carrying.
3 must-have camera lenses: conclusion
Well, there you have it:
The three camera lenses that every photographer should have, especially when starting out.
If you already own these lenses, great! And if not, consider adding them to your wish list.
Now over to you:
What lenses would you include on your own must-have lens list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
About the author: Chris Folsom is a hobbyist photographer who spends much of his time photographing abandoned buildings. His photos have been published in newspapers and on numerous websites.