Which Lens Should You Buy as a Beginner Photographer?

Embarking on a photography journey can be overwhelming. Perhaps you’ve spent hours pouring over articles, forums, and YouTube videos looking for advice on which lens is the best for your needs. You may have gone to your local camera store and listened to the salesman, who, as friendly as he seemed, probably only recommended something he could’ve sold you on the spot. It can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating because lenses aren’t cheap, and you want to ensure you’re making the right decision.

I can’t tell you exactly which lens will be the best for you, but I can tell you what I have used in my eighteen-year professional photography career. I’ve shot everything from weddings and events to family portraits, wildlife, packshots, properties, corporate headshots, and landscapes. I’m aware some people will disagree, and there may be newer lenses which I haven’t discovered yet, but I’m writing from my perspective and what has worked for me over the past eighteen years as a full-time professional photographer.

Before we get into the details, I should mention that I use all Canon gear. I don’t have anything against the other brands. It’s just that I started tinkering in 2006 with a little Canon 400D and slowly built my collection from there. All the manufacturers have similar focal length options, and they all have consumer and pro-level ranges. Since I do it for a living and customers pay me with their hard-earned money, I’m obliged to use full-frame camera bodies and pro-level lenses exclusively, and you should, too, if you’re serious about photography. Even if you can’t afford to upgrade from your kit lens right now, I encourage you to work towards it.

Here are my recommendations. You may need one or all of the below:

A Standard Zoom

The lens that lives on my camera about 70% of the time is my EF 24-70mm f/2.8L. It’s an excellent do-it-all lens for general shooting of most subjects, including weddings, families, and landscapes. The focal length at around the 50mm mark replicates what the human eye sees, and you can zoom in or out to include or exclude items in your frame while you’re composing your shot. The wide aperture of 2.8mm enables it to perform well in low-light situations. If I had to choose only one lens to shoot with forever, this would be it.

A Longer Zoom

My next most-used lens is my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L. This is an excellent lens for individual portraits, events and anything else that requires zooming in to get the shot. It’s even made it onto the camera during landscape shoots when I wanted to zoom in for a tighter crop. I also used it for wildlife photography when I was too close to a subject to get a wide enough shot with the longer zoom lens I was using. This should be your second purchase if you’re looking to shoot multiple genres.

A Wide Angle

My EF 17-40 f/4L is my go-to lens for shooting properties and landscapes. You can back yourself into the corner of a room and get great interior shots for hotels and real estate agents. I also bring it out at every wedding for dancefloor photos and big reception hall or chapel shots when I want to include the entire room in the frame. It’s an excellent lens that I never leave behind. Be careful, though, because this is not a portrait lens, and you should never use it for portrait shooting unless you’re doing wide landscape-style shots with people in, sometimes called ‘environmental portraits’. An EF 16-35mm f/2.8L would be one step up from this lens, but I never felt compelled enough to upgrade it.

A Trio of Primes

For those who need to become more familiar with prime lenses, they are fixed-focal-length lenses that step down to f/1.2 or f/1.4. This lets a lot of light in, enabling you to shoot handheld in dark environments. The other benefit is that you can get beautifully blurred backgrounds, which helps your subject stand out. I have three prime lenses: an EF 35mm f/1.4L, a 50mm f/1.4, and an 85mm f/1.8. I use these lenses in dark environments when I can’t or don’t want to use flash, like a wedding ceremony in a dimly lit chapel. The 85mm is a great portrait lens because of its wide aperture and perfect focal length. These aren’t my essential lenses, but I do use them. If you’re considering getting just one prime lens, go for the 50mm. The nifty-fifty is a standard, inexpensive lens that you’ll find in almost every photographer’s bag.

A Macro

I purchased an EF 100mm f/2.8L macro lens specifically for weddings. I needed a good lens to shoot the bride’s jewellery and the wedding rings, and then I got hired to shoot packshots for a jewellery brand when they came across those shots on my website when they were searching for a photographer. Then, I also shot their catalogue shots with models and make-up artists, which ended up in Vogue magazine UK. It’s also a good portrait lens with pleasing contrast and colour reproduction. It gets used the least out of all of them, but I always have it in my bag and reach for it when needed.

With all the above aside, one thing that I must stress above all else is that having lots of expensive lenses will not make you a better photographer, but they will help achieve your vision or enable you to get shots that you couldn’t get without them. Ultimately, the best lens is the one on your camera when you’re in the moment and need to get the shot.

I wish you all the best with your photography journey.

Aim, set exposure, focus, and fire.