“Dad, I think I’m going to buy a lens,” I said, ” It’s $1500.”  Silence.  Then, “Well, it’s nice to see you’re buying something with a return on investment instead of your purses,” he replied.  Good point, dad.

As you build your lens collection, it may be tough to decide which to go to next depending on what you want to do with this new hobby, make it a career, or just have a good lens collection for creativity.  The most common question asked by new hobbyist photographers relates to understanding lens options, “What camera do I buy and what lenses are good?”  And without basic knowledge of photography, it’s pretty tough to answer.  The latest Canon Rebel series (body only) and a 50mm/1.8 lens is great, paired with a photography class (I’ll be posting new dates for the new year soon).  For a list of what I’d recommend for a newbie to buy, click here.

Here’s where I’m going to give you my opinion on what works for me as a professional, what’s in my bag, and what works for my style of shooting.  This doesn’t mean you should do the same, but I’ll be referencing Canon lenses since that’s what I know, but Nikon has comparable lenses as well and is an excellent brand.  Also if you’re a hobbyist, while these lenses are very pricey, you should understand focal lengths at this point and know there are other alternatives to the lenses, cheaper apertures can be 1.8, 2.0 or 2.8.

50mm f/1.2L – $1500
This lens was on my “to buy” list when I realized the 50mm was my go-to lens that I shot with for 75% of the time, so upgrading was a MUST DO for me.  If you love your 50mm/whatever it is, you’ll love the f/1.2’s excellent glass. This lens is by far my greatest lens investment.  Great if…

  • You don’t mind being close up to your subjects
  • People are your main subjects
  • You already have a 50mm and you shoot with it all the time

Less pricey alternatives:  50mm f/1.4 ($400) (Nikon version), 50mm f/1.8 ($100)


35mm f/1.4L – $1300
I couldn’t live without this lens either.  Since I shoot with prime lenses (aside from 70-200), a wide angle was a necessity to my lens collection. It gives me crisp images and at times, competes as the favorite with my 50mm/1.2 Great if…

  • You find yourself in small spaces (like bridal suites)
  • You shoot in gorgeous scenery and need to get the whole picture
  • You don’t have enough time to run far away to get the whole shot

There is also the 24mm f/1.4L  which makes people fairly tiny and for me, too wide, though I love seeing how other photographers use it.

Less pricey alternatives:  35mm f/2 ($300) (Nikon version)


85mm f/1.4 – $900
I shoot a lot of portraits and there are moments when I don’t want to be the third wheel during an intimate moment.  That’s where the 85mm came in.  I first started with the 1.8 but then fell in love with the compression and upgraded to the Sigma f/1.4 because friends raved about it over the Canon f/1.2 ) which is for $2000.  So for me, the 1.8 is just peachy considering I try not to shoot portraits below f2.0 anyway.  Great if…

  • You shoot a lot of portraits
  • You want to give more space with your clients and not be “up in their intimate moment”
  • You like compressed backgrounds
  • You want to add a different look to your portrait sessions

Less pricey alternative: 85mm f/1.8, $350

100mm f/2.8 macro – $549
Not everyone needs a macro lens, that’s for sure.  I used to joke the only things you could shoot with it would be things that are tiny, which includes bugs.  No thanks.  However as I dove into weddings, every one needs a ring shot, and so steps in the macro.  Is it worth buying?  Only if you shoot enough.  For me, it’s a convenience factor of having one and knowing I can resell the lens later if I decide I don’t need it.  If you can find it on sale for around $400, I’d say pick it up, it’s a beautiful lens.  Great if…

  • You shoot babies
  • You shoot weddings often (rings, earrings, details)
  • You do find yourself getting pretty close up to things and the 50mm won’t let you focus on it (it means you’re too close)
  • You shoot cute, little things

Upgrade lens: EF 100mm f/2.8 IS ($1,000)


70-200 f/2.8 – $1500
I never thought about shooting portraits with the 70-200 until I realized how much I wanted the focus to be on my subjects and for the background to be sucked in close to the foreground.  If your client wants the mountains or a cityscape behind them, a 70-200 will do wonders, just wonders.  Wedding photographers tend to just use it for the ceremony and put it away – not me.  I heard a presentation by Susan Stripling at WPPI and she showed images using a compressed lens and I was blown away.  Her photos blow me away anyhow.  Great if…

  • You want to bring that background closer to the foreground (mountains + cityscape)
  • Photos with a sense of intimacy
  • You have subjects “walk” often so you can adjust the lens as they move
  • You really want to give your subjects some distance at times

Less pricey alternative: 70-200 f/4 ($700)
Upgrade lens: 70-200 f/2.8 II ($2300)

Remember:

  1. Better gear doesn’t make you a better photographer, but…
  2. Having a span of lenses can easily change a shot without you having to move, and so you can…
  3. Think of the look of the image you want to capture first, then decide what lens to use.
  4. Also it’s the end of the year, if you need any tax deductions, buying equipment now might be a good idea.

When to rent:

  • You aren’t sure if you like the lens yet
  • You won’t use it enough over a span of time that you consider getting your money’s worth
  • You don’t have the cash to buy a lens in full.

If you are interested in learning more about photography, please get in touch with me. I teach via Skype to students across the world! I would love to teach you!

Diana Elizabeth will not be getting any new lenses, she did however get a new camera.  The 5D Mark III is her new companion and she already can tell it will be a fantastic relationship.

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