How to Choose Your First Camera Lens

How to Choose Your First Camera Lens

Once you get your hands on your first DSLR or mirrorless or even film camera, you’ll instantly start to dream about the future upgrades you will be making to your kit. I know so many new photographers struggle with figuring out how to choose their first camera lens – that’s because I was one of them! I wanted to create a detailed guide about picking out your first lens so it’s less daunting of a decision. Once you read through the tips and suggestions, you’ll know very well how to choose your first camera lens.

There are two reasons why choosing your first camera lens can be intimidating. For one, there are tons of lenses on the market of all different sizes serving different purposes. Secondly, lenses can be expensive.

If you’re going to purchase a new lens, budget is a huge consideration. (Luckily I have some budget lenses and tips for you below!)

All that said, I’m going to delve into the information that’s finally going to help you decide on your first camera lens.

Some of these links are affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through that link, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my full disclosure!

How to Choose Your First Camera Lens

I wanted to preface the rest of this post by noting that I use a Canon 80D. This is a crop sensor camera (more on that below.)

I only have experience with Canon DSLRs, so those will be my reference and framework on which I’m basing my tips and suggestions!

There are Nikon models very similar since they are the next most popular DSLR camera brand.

When Should You Buy Your First Camera Lens

Kit lenses are great starter lenses to master before purchasing another lens.

The first subject I wanted to talk about related to this topic is when there is actually a need to buy yourself a new lens.

So many people receive a camera and get shutter-happy, immediately wanting to acquire more gear to do more cool stuff with their photography.

That’s awesome buuuuut, have you really exhausted and learned all you can from the camera and lens you already have?

As most of you know, when you buy a camera you’ll probably buy one with a kit lens.

A kit lens, that is the lens that comes with the body of the camera if you purchase them together, is normally a great starter lens. The focal length is usually a decent and average range so you can start taking photos right away.

The focal length is the distance between the lens and the image sensor, displayed in millimeters on your lens. It indicates how wide or how tight you can zoom in (except on a prime lens which is fixed at one focal length.)

So, technically, your kit lens is your first camera lens.

But in this guide, I’m talking about the moment you realize you want to expand. You’ve outgrown the kit lens functions, or you want a different kind of lens to experiment with new photo-capturing abilities.

And that’s when I suggest you start searching for the first camera lens that you will choose.

Learn all the camera basics you can and how to work with the lens you already own and master it.

I would say even for myself that I was too quick in purchasing another lens. I don’t even think I knew how to shoot in manual when I picked up my second lens!

So don’t rush into choosing your first lens!

What Kind of Lens Fits You & Your Photography?

That being said, I don’t regret getting more lenses ever. A new lens provides new opportunities for learning and creating more unique photos than you may have had the chance to before.

When you do feel ready to purchase a new lens, how do you choose your first lens to best fit the kind of photography you love?

If photography is your passion and hobby, you have to build up a kit over time because of how expensive lenses are.

So, I suggest your first lens correlate to the type of photography you love to do most.

Then you can expand your gear to incorporate more lenses to play with, even if they won’t be your most used.

If you’re looking to start making money with photography, which you can learn 6 ways to start doing that now, you may want to upgrade your kit lens to a better quality universal lens of a similar focal length.

Portrait Photography

If you love portrait photography, a prime lens will be your best friend. These are lenses at a fixed focal length, like the 35mm the 50mm. They have lower apertures that can create deeper depths of field, which is how your subjects will stay out.

As a first lens for portrait photography, I suggest the nifty 50 – the 50 mm 1.8. It’s a great budget-friendly prime lens with an aperture low enough to help create those beautiful smooth and creamy backgrounds.

Nature Photography

If you love nature photography, you may want to consider a telephoto lens. These are lenses with increased and wide range focal lengths. They are best for shooting things at a distance without sacrificing quality.

A budget-friendly starter option for a telephoto lens is the Canon 75-300 mm f/4-5.6.

Travel Photography

For travel photography, I use a combination of my kit lens and my prime lens. The focal length of the kit lens is ideal for versatile shots.

You could also look into a wide-angle lens, which is great for landscape shots. The Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 is another somewhat inexpensive starter wide-angle lens.

The Crop Sensor vs. Full Frame Consideration

I wanted to throw in a little something to consider, which you may or may not be familiar with.

That is the difference between a crop sensor DSLR camera and a full-frame camera and how this affects the lens you are using.

Crop sensor cameras are less-expensive and better start cameras. These include the Canon EOS Rebel series and the camera I use, the Canon 80D.

The crop sensor is what is built into the camera. No matter what focal length lens is used, the camera automatically crops the image by 1.6.

This means if you are using a 50mm lens, what the camera is really capturing is what is like an 80mm lens (50mm times 1.6.)

Full-frame cameras don’t crop the image. A 50mm lens is the exact distance it says it is, so you get the full scope of the 50mm lens. They are extremely professional cameras and allow for more versatility in their use.

That being said, consider what kind of camera you have when choosing the right lens. If you have one with a crop sensor, take into account that a lens at 24mm is not going to actually be 24mm when you use it!

Budget Tips for Buying Lenses

Photography is an expensive hobby. While budget-friendly gear isn’t always around, I do have some suggestions to help you keep the cost down.

Check out my travel photography gear guide where I talk about both my favorite budget gear and what equipment I suggest to invest in.

Buy Used

My suggestion to buy a used lens at first may seem odd. However, most photographers take great care of their equipment and eventually want to make upgrades to their gear, just like you.

That’s how well-preserved lenses of all types end up on eBay. I’ve actually purchased all of my lens used and have never had an issue with the quality.

Used lenses usually mean a significant difference in price to used ones. (For the priciest lenses, however, you may still see prices over the thousand dollar mark – even used!)

Of course, be a smart shopper on these marketplaces. If something seems like a scam, don’t go through with a purchase.

Seasonal Discounts

Rarely will prices ever change for camera lenses. One hope though is for seasonal sales, such as Black Friday.

Cameras at least usually get a sale price, but sometimes lenses are also thrown into the savings circular of stores such as Best Buy.

Consider looking into purchasing a new lens during these seasonal sale times, your best bet being the holiday season.

Sell Your Old Lens

If you’re looking to completely upgrade a lens, replacing it rather than adding to your kit, then don’t miss the opportunity to sell your old lens.

As long as you take care of your lens and keep it in good condition, you could still reap a hefty amount of money for it depending on the lens. Money that you can put towards a new one!

I hope after this guide you’ve learned a bit more on how to choose your first camera lens. It can be a daunting task, but worth the investment!

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Michela is a travel writer and photographer living in northern Italy. She is passionate about helping people make the most of their travels by sharing advice gained from her personal experiences, off-the-beaten-path destinations and time-saving quick itineraries. Browse her top articles or have her help you plan your itinerary to your dream destination!

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