What lens should I use as beginner?
Quick camera lens guide

Written by Ophelie
Published 27th October 19
Will take 8mn to read​

What camera lens should I buy? This exciting question comes inevitably as soon as you feel officially a beginner photographer… and are ready to dive seriously into photography equipment considerations. Zoom or prime lens, wide angles or tele objectives, wide or small aperture: want to see clearer? Then, a quick camera lens guide might help you to see clearer!

Disclaimer on a camera lens guide: there is no perfect lens for one given situation! This camera lens guide is rather about guidelines. From a beginner photographer, to you.

What lens for what? Camera lens guide for 4 disciplines

Overview

  1. Lenses for portraits
  2. Lenses for landscapes
  3. For macrophotography
  4. For street photography
  5. For astrophotography

Zoom versus prime lens – What’s the difference?

When buying new lenses, you’ll meet two new words: zoom and primes. What’s that? Quick explanation of the difference between zoom and prime lens in this camera lens guide. It’s quite easy to get, no worries!

Why zoom lenses in your photography equipment?

Zoom lenses are defined by two focal lengths (max. and min.). That’s to say: a zoom lens 24-70mm (min. and max. lengths) covers all the focal lengths in between. They allow to adapt the distance between subject and lens without moving that much, thanks to the zoom. Zoom lenses are versatile and that’s the big advantage for beginner photographers: the flexibility of practicing landscape, portrait, macro photography… with one single camera lens type.

Why to go for Zoom lens as beginner? This camera lens type is often cheaper than prime lenses. Its versatility lets you practice on several disciplines with the same lens.

What about prime lenses?

Also called fixed focal length lenses, the biggest difference with the zoom lens is precisely the absence of zoom. A prime lens 50mm f1.2 will cover only one focal length, namely 50mm. The f/number is the maximum aperture. Prime lenses give indeed very wide apertures, as wide as f/1.2 or f/2.8, used for portrait.  More light can enter the sensor, letting you use faster shutter speed. A prime lens is also beloved to create bokehs, thanks again to the wide aperture – the environment around the subject gets a nice blur.  They offer often better image quality, especially in low light situations. The focus performance can be faster and superior.

Why to buy a prime lens as beginner? Sharper image quality, wider aperture. The way to go when you want to specialize in a specific discipline (portrait, landscape, astro…) and need certain performances from the lens.

Camera lens guide for beginners: What lens do you need for what?

Portrait photography

Either as closeup or portrait americain, portrait photography is the art of rendering emotions out of your model. Especially when you’re beginner, it’s both challenging and exciting to lead and photograph a person. But which camera lens type to use when starting with portrait photography? Here are some useful facts to help you choose a camera lens for portrait photography:

A camera lens guide with tips and lenses for portrait beginner photographers 

How to choose a camera lens type to practice portraits?
  • Zoom or prime? In most articles, you’ll read that it’s recommended to use a prime camera lens – better performance and higher image quality, primes are the way to go for portrait photographers.But is it best for beginners to have this camera lens type in their photography equipment? Yes, if you are sure you want to go serious with portraits. The prime lens gives indeed higher image quality, in general. However, if you are still exploring different types of photography, I advise to go for a zoom lens. It’s flexible, cheaper and you can still obtain good results.

  • What focus length? Favorite portrait lenses tend to go from 35 to 85mm, passing by the star of portrait lenses: the 50mm. This range of focal lengths captures less elements into the frame, since they have a narrower angle of view than landscapes lenses. Everything is made to draw attention to the subject.

  • What aperture (or f/stop)? Ideally, choose apertures from f/1.2 up to f/5. It’s again about highlighting your subject! As it’ll be the very star of your photo, the full attention should be focused on him/her. For that, what’s better than a blurry background? The bokeh technique blurs the environment and make the subject stand out. For that, photographers use a low depth of field. They obtained it by opening the aperture – defined by a small f/number, between f/1 and f/5 or 6.

  • What price? Good news: no need to empty your bank account. Portrait lenses can be found as low as from 200$ and for good performance. In this camera lens guide, you’ll find an affordable selection.
Quick camera lens guide for portraits: concrete tpyes of lenses
  • Zoom 18-55mm: In my opinion, this lens kit does the job! It’s still an affordable lens, it’s lightweight and is a very good start for portrait photography as well as for landscape captures.
  • Prime 35mm (f 1.4) : finally a simple, easy to use prime camera lens! Suitable also for street photography and landscapes, given to its wide angle of view, the 35mm will give you quality and flexibility of use.
  • Prime 50mm: I’d say, the best option if you want to dive into portrait photography as beginner. The 50mm is also a reference for many other types of photography.
  • Prime 85mm f/1.4: seen as ‘top lens’ for portrait photographers. Why? The 85mm reduces distortions, even at a close distance from the subject. It’s particularly good for closeup portraits and to capture details on the face. It also flattens the face traits. It belongs already to more professional photography equipment.
  • Zoom 70-200mm: definitely for professional use! This camera lens type is a powerful tele objective, suitable for closeups. If you’re into macro photography or photo journalism, it’s an investment. But it’s super expensive and heavy – more a paparazzi equipment than a beginner photo tool!
You’ll find a comprehensive camera lens guide just for portrait photography on the blog The Phoblographer.
Quick selection of portrait lenses
Olympus 45mm - camera lens guide portrait photography
Olympus 45mm
  • Olympus 45mm F1.8 MSC – 280$
  • Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary – from 360$
  • Tamron 85mm F1.8 Di VC USD – from 690$
  • Kit lens 18-55mm Sony A6000 – from 600$ (price including the camera)

Landscape photography

Do you want to start with landscape photography? It’s a great choice as beginner photographer. Not that landscape photography is super easy or boring! It’s actually fascinating, you can practice it everywhere with little photography equipment, be creative with composition. So, which camera lens types will be the most useful to you? Professional landscape photographers tend to use a combination of 3 lenses – fisheye, standard zoom, tele-photo-lens. But what to know before buying, as newbie? 

Short camera lens guide with tips and lenses for landscape beginner photographers:

What to know before buying a camera lens to capture landscapes:

  • What focal length? Landscape photography is best to practice by using wide angle lenses, especially if you start out. Why? Capturing landscapes often requires to get a large portion of the scene into the frame and sharp details from the background to the foreground. Focal lengths starting usually from 16mm to 35mm let capture more elements of a scene. It’s basically the contrary of portrait photography.

  • What aperture? The aperture will control the Depth of field you give  to the shot – depth of field is, simply put, the zone where all objects will appear clear and sharp. In landscape photography, it’s common to use lenses with smaller apertures from f/6 to f/11 and upwards. Why? To get sharpness from the foreground to background. The Depth of field is increased thanks to small apertures. But you can also capture details such as a tree, a rock… in this case, you’ll use lower depths of field – and thus, bigger apertures. Tip: f/11 is popular among photographers as it would give the best measure for sharpness in an image. I personally use often f/13, which also works well on my Sony A6000.

  • Zoom or prime? This question isn’t as important as in portrait photography. Zooms are frequently used by professional landscape photographers. On travels, they are also a gain of space. A prime lens can be considered -the 50mm is a sure value-, especially for urban landscapes or to capture details in the Nature. But it’s definitely not a requirement.

  • Price range of landscape photo’s camera lens type? It varies from 180 to 2000$, for most common lenses. Like portrait lenses, there is a choice for all budgets.
Most frequent camera lens types in landscape photography
  • Fisheye: 8 to 10mm. I like the name… though, I wouldn’t recommend this lens to beginners! It’s a ultra-wide-angle, also used in architecture photography. The images will look like through a kaleidoscope. Distortion factor is important with this lens. The obtained effect is extremely specific. In my opinion, not worthy as a beginner. Except if you have the budget!
  • Standard zoom lens: 16-35mm. Sure value! This zoom lens lets you play around with the focal length, to capture what you need from a scene. You can also go for the 18-55mm lens, which is a very good starting point for beginners and often sold with the camera as lens kit.
  • Tele photo lens: 70-200mm. A photo lens is also part of the landscape photography equipment. To isolate a subject in a distant landscape capture, to photograph a detail and make it stand out within the landscape. These tele objectives tend to be (very) expensive and heavy. That’s why I don’t recommend it to beginners!
Quick selection of landscape lenses
Canon EF-S 10-18mm - camera lens guide landscape photography
Canon EF-S 10-18mm
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.8G – from 180$
  • Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens – ultra-wide-angle zoom, from 270$
  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM – wide-angle from 1000$
  • Sony 70-200mm f/4 G OSStele objective from 1350$

Find more inspiration to buy landscape lenses in this camera lens guide from Digitalcameraworld.

Curiosity makes the awesome traveler you are.
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Macro photography

Already dreamt of photographing like BBC nature channel’s photographers? Well… you might need camera lens types for macro! Macro photography is the art of capturing very small size subjects… and of making them appear life-size. This photographic discipline aims to capture objects at 1:1. To photograph insects and other small objects, the photographer needs a specific lens – which is made to perform at close focusing. Macro camera lens types are also used for landscapes or portraits. Lenses with wider allow to photograph subjects in closeup and to realize nice bokehs. Macro photography might not be the most obvious choice as beginner but it’s for sure a very entertaining discipline.

What to know before buying? A camera lens guide for beginner photographers in macro photo:

A camera lens guide with tips and lenses for beginner photographers in macro photo

Useful tips on camera lenses to practice portrait
  • Zoom or prime lens? To get a better magnification to a 1:1 ratio, which is the essence of macro… prime lenses are THE solution.

  • Best aperture? Finally, you can go wild on going down to very small apertures… f/18 seems to be a common f/stop in macro. Because depth of field is very limited when you’re shooting so close from the subject, a small aperture will render more details of your subject.

  • About focal length. Here, we go all the way opposite to wide-angle and standard lenses! No need of capturing much elements, if any, in the frame. So, no need for small focal lengths. Typically, macro lenses start from 90mm.

  • What price? From 300 to 1500$, in average. Tele-macro-lenses can reach way higher prices.
What camera lens type in concrete to do macro photography?
  • Prime 50mm. If you want to get a try in macro (however, it remains an all-rounder lens. No standard macro lens). 
  • 90 to 105mm. photography equipment for insects, flowers or other small objects you can still reach from a comfortable distance. 
  • 150 to 200mm. tele-macro-lenses which let you get remarkably close to hidden subjects, otherwise impossible to reach with normal lenses.

More on the subject in this article about macro photography , easy to read. I’ve never tried macro myself!

Quick selection of macro lenses
Sony FE 90mm- camera lens guide macro photography
Sony FE 90mm
  • Sony 50mm f/2.8 Macro
  • Canon EF 100mm f/2.88 L Macro IS USM
  • Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS
  • Sigma Macro 105mm f/2.8
  • Nikon 200mm f/4 ED-IF AF
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro

Street photography and photojournalism

This category is in my opinion the most challenging and yet interesting one in photography. It’s the essence of the photographer’s job – capturing scenes on the instant (sur le vif) to transmit the nude reality of the moment. As street photographer, you have to be ready to push the shutter at any time and in all different kind of situations. A street photographer has to be discreet and quick, to deal with various light conditions and fast changing environment. And to do so, a camera lens which covers a large range of photographic situations is useful.

Camera lens guide with tips and lenses to do street photography

What to know before choosing a camera lens for street photography?
  • Zoom or prime? Most advanced photographers prefer prime lenses to isolate the subject in a smooth bokeh or to be able to get better image quality while shooting at low light or in poor conditions. Plus, the use of selective focus will be easier with a fixed focal length lens – which again is very good for portraits. Nonetheless, zooms are more flexible and let you adapt quicker to the situation, without having to move.
  • What focal lenght? Street photographers go mostly for 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. Alike portrait lenses, these camera lens types have wide enough apertures and also allow to get more elements into the frame.
  • Recommended apertures. Usually, between f/5 to f/8. It’s a good compromise between having an aperture wide enough for portraits and still using fast shutter speed – to also capture elements around your subject.
Camera lens types in concrete, suitable to street photography
  • Zoom 35-50mm. This zoom is a standard and a good start. A nice compromise between acceptable wide angle of view and big apertures, to integrate portraits within their surroundings.
  • Prime 50mm. This one, again! Very suitable for street photography, the ‘nifty fifty’ renders perspective how the human eye sees it. And when we know that street photography is all about raw reality, what’s best than a 50mm? The prime lens 50mm allows to go down to very large apertures, such as f/1.8.
  • Prime 24mm. It surprised me first to see this wide-angle lens used by street photographers. But the 24mm seems to have nice advantages: it’s a very small and discreet lens, it lets you fill the frame with the environment. You’ll have to shoot very close to the subject though. To know more about shooting street photos with this camera lens type, visit Erik Kim’s blog – a good one for photo tips in general!
Quick selection of street photography lenses
Pana Leica 25mm - camera lens guide street photography
Pana Leica 25mm
  • Pana Leica 25mm APS-C (50mm FF)
  • Fujinon 35mm f/1.4
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

Astrophotography

You have always wanted to capture the stars and other celeste secrets. Astrophotography isn’t the easiest photography style for beginners but definitely worth the try. Here, a little camera lens guide:

  • Which focal length? Wide angle lenses are best for nightscapes – they have a larger field of view than portrait lenses for example and they allow crisp details on each plan of the photo even the furthest one (the elements in the sky).
  • What aperture? Astro photographers prefer to use a wide aperture (f/small number) to gather more light on the camera’s sensor – due to a quite dark sky at night.
  • Price range for astrophoto’s camera lens types? From 500 to 2500$. It’s already a real investment and often, more difficult to find cheap lenses
Quick selection of macro lenses
Canon 16-35mm - camera lens guide astrophotography
Canon 16-35mm
  • Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/1.8
  • Canon EOS T5i or Nikon D3100 18-55mm lens kit
  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM III

How to start with 

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I am made of photography,stories from the road and a good dose of passion. I am Ophélie, French-born traveler always on the go. My travel photography blog is about my travel experiences, tips and my addiction for adventure. To help you explore countries on your own… as an independent and curious traveller.

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