beach flag using 85mm lens review

Choosing a Lens: Which lenses are good for what?

remember the conversation. “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, whether photography is a hobby or a small part of you business, it may be tough to decide which lens to buy 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. If you want to check out how I store my lens and keep them organized see this post.

What camera lenses are good for what?

This is the most common question asked by new hobbyist photographers relates to understanding lens options and without basic knowledge of photography, it’s pretty tough to answer but this post is going to make it easy for you with photo examples.

organizing lenses in a drawer. see this reveal in a photographer's home office closet and organizing camera lenses in drawers #photography #lensdrawer #lenses #organization

In this post I’m going to give you my opinion on what works for me as a professional, what’s in my photography 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, and Nikon has comparable lenses as well and is an excellent brand I will link to them as well.  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.

I’m going into the archives of old photography shots and it’s giving me so much nostalgia. It’s great to see that my style hasn’t really changed much, I still edit clean and while there are trends in photography (styled and props) I still love these images. So let’s look at the photos you can take using specific lenses!

50mm f/1.2L Review – $1500
Basic go-to lens

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 one of 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
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens for Canon Digital SLR Cameras - Fixed

I own:

Less pricey alternatives

how to choose lenses which to buy and use 50mm lens reviewlens reviews on 50mm and other lens options and examples

35mm f/1.4L Review – $1300
The standard wide angle

I couldn’t live without this lens either.  Since I shoot with prime lenses (aside from 70-200mm), 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

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Wide Angle Lens for Canon SLR Cameras - White Box (New) (Bulk Packaging)

I own:

Less pricey alternatives:

Wider angle lenses:

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85mm f/1.4 review – $900
A beautiful portrait lens

I am obsessed with this lens. 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. You might wonder why I didn’t go with Canon on this lens, it came highly recommended by other photographer friends they preferred this over Canon. The 85mm lens is 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

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon EF

I own:

Less pricey alternative:

Upgrade lenses:

85mm lens portrait review of lenses, corporate photography posebeach flag using 85mm lens reviewmaternity pose in field in Prescott by lake. using 85mm lens, lens reviews and examples on the blog

100mm f/2.8 macro review – $549
Shooting small objects and details

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 photographed 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. I use this one. Great if…

  • You photograph babies (fingers, toes, ears)
  • You photograph 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
  • You can also use this as a portrait lens

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Fixed Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

I own:

Upgrade lens:

wedding ring shot using 100 macro lens reviewwedding ring shot using 100 macro lens review straws

70-200 f/2.8 telephoto review – $1200
The ultimate zoom lens

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.  Great if…

  • You want to bring that background closer to the foreground (mountains + cityscape), see images below
  • 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 and you can’t be up close (like at the alter)

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

I own:

Less pricey alternative:

Upgrade lens:

70-200 lens review on the blog and photo examples using 70-200 lens during wedding, review of lenses on the blogusing 70-200 lens during wedding, review of lenses on the blog

^^ See how the mountains are closer to the subject, it adds character to the background of the image by bringing it closer to the foreground.

Camera lens tips

  1. Better gear doesn’t make you a better photographer, but –
  2. Having a good range 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 at the end of the year, if you need any tax deductions, buying equipment might be a good idea!

When to rent lens and when to buy

  • 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 can teach via Skype to students across the world! I would love to teach you!

This post was updated and originally published on December 11, 2012.

Blog Post keywords: lens choices, lens recommendations, lenses, canon lenses











Diana Elizabeth is an author, photographer, and obsessive thrift shopper. You can typically find her in the garden wrist deep in dirt, at a local estate sale or planning her next epic party. She continues to blog weekly.


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  • Joel and Amber

    Excellent recommendations! I just shot an engagement session and ONLY used the 85mm 1.8. It was amazing! I love the look of a longer lens (even tried to shoot a 28 member wedding party at 70mm :) and plan to keep it up. My wife leaves the 100mm on for pretty much the whole day too.

  • BJ

    Jeneile is absolutely 100% correct. I do a lot of watch photography, along with corporate head shots, and I use the 100mm f/2.8 macro for both, along with my 70-200. Great post!

  • jeneile

    One thing to add is that the 100mm/2.8 L (macro) is a very versatile lens- it can be used for detail shots, but it is also a fabulous portrait lens- I use it as much as the 50 mm for portraits.

  • audrey

    I am currently unable to decide between a wide angle or macro. Thanks for the post! Love your weekly posts at slrlounge too.

  • Sheila

    Thank you for sharing, Diana – I love reading about photographer’s gear! My dream lenses are the 85 mm 1.4 (I shoot with Nikon), and the 50 1.2.

    Being able to rent lenses is the greatest thing ever – I recommend it to everyone!


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