Which Lens for What?
Providing specific lens recommendations is tricky business. The recommendations below are fairly standard. By no means do these recommendations imply what a lens shouldn’t be used for. In the right circumstances a 50mm can be the perfect lens for a bird shot.
- Bugs – a 200mm macro lens. The 200mm lets you take the shot farther away, so you are less likely to spook the bug. Strapped for cash? A 100 or 105mm is much cheaper, but you’ll have to get closer and risk scaring the critters.
- Landscapes, cityscapes – a wide angle zoom is very convenient, 24mm-35mm are popular focal lengths. In general a small aperture isn’t a huge issue with wide angles, so you can save some money getting a slower (and lighter!) lens.
- Party photos and around the house shooting – get a good old 35mm or 50mm, f1.8 or 1.4. In a pinch this will be your “go to” low light lens.
- Portraits – something between 85mm and 135mm.
- Sporting events and indoor recitals – something in the 70-200 range, f2.8, and with some form of image stabilization. This is a bread and butter lens for the pros, so both Canon and Nikon make magnificent zooms in this range. Along with this, a 1.7x teleconverter will convert it to a 120-340 for longer range shots. It’s a bit heavy, but it’s fast, sharp, and versatile. And if you don’t want to spring for a macro lens and sport lens, then get the Canon 500D close-up lens attachment and screw it onto the 70-200 to quickly convert it into a macro lens.
- Birding – Birders say the perfect lens is always 100mm longer than what you have. 400mm is the minimum for serious birding. We’re talking serious cash to be a serious birder.
- “Vacation” – When you don’t want to screw around carrying 50 pounds of lenses on vacation get the 18-200 from Canon or Nikon. (If you have a “full frame sensor” camera, you want the 28-300 zoom.) A number of compromises had to be made to get this huge range, so it doesn’t have stellar image quality. For shots up to8x10 or the web, it’s more than adequate. If you shoot at f8 or f11 and spend some time in Photoshop correcting the image, this lens can produce much larger prints.
- If your primary interest is general photography and you’re just starting out, I’d get the 18-200mm zoom and a 50mm f1.8 lens.