Choose The Right Lens For Your First DSLR

If you've taken the plunge into the wonderful world of DSLR photography, you probably quickly learned that your choice of lens is nearly as important as the camera you buy. Tech blog Tested offers a few tips for picking the perfect lens.

Naturally, if you're really serious about your photography and you've got oodles of disposable income, you could pick the perfect lens for any occasion. But if you're just getting started with your DSLR and want a versatile lens that's a bit nicer than the one that came with your camera, Tested's tips offer a good starting point. The post covers the basics of lenses (explaining things like f-stop and focal length), then jumps right into a few different suggestions for what you might want to try for your first lens — starting with the budget basics:

Chris Gampat of The Phoblographer knows his lenses, and brings up a handful of options for replacing the mediocre kit lens that came with your SLR. There are many, many different lenses available, but Gampat recommends that first-time DSLR owner start off with a simple 50mm prime lens. Canon and Nikon offer 50mm, f/1.8 lenses for $US99 and $US125 respectively, and they can get you started shooting sharp, vivid images on a shoestring budget. If you can afford to spend $US300 to $US350, you can pick up an f/1.4 lens that's even sharper and brighter, but for the moment it's best to take baby steps and ease into the photography game.

Hit up the full post for more details and other lens suggestions, and if you're a DSLR junkie, share your advice and tips for a good first-timer lens in the comments. Photo by Claudio Matsuoka.

How To Choose The Perfect Lens for Your First DLSR [Tested]


    A 50mm prime is a good starting point... if you buy a DSLR with a full-frame sensor. This is likely NOT going to be the choice of someone starting out.

    If you're new to DSLRs then you're likely going to buy something with a Nikon DX or Canon APS-C sized sensor, which have a sensor crop factor of 1.5x or 1.6x respectively compared to a full 35mm sensor. these smaller-sensor cameras includes the Nikon D40/60/90/300/3000/5000 line & the Canon 350/400/450/500/550/1000D line etc (plus equivalent Sony/Panasonic/Pentax/Olympus etc entry to mid-level DSLRs).

    If you put a 50mm prime lens onto a DSLR with a smaller sensor (DX, APS-C etc) then you're going to get an effective zoom of around 75mm - which is FAR too close for an every-day lens or for portraits (unless you're standing way back).

    What you need for these smaller-sensored entry-level cameras is something like a 35mm lens, which is the equivalent of a 50mm lens on full frame sensor. I know Nikon have an f/1.8 35mm DX lens (I have one for my D90). It's the equivalent zoom to a 50mm lens on a full-framed D3 for example.

      Stew makes a good point, and while I agree with most of what you've said I don't think you can say that either a 35 / 50 mm lens will be the perfect follow up lens for everyone.

      It really depends on what you'll be shooting and how you want to shoot it.

      Hopefully by the time they are ready to upgrade, they'll have a better idea of what they need / want.

      In my case the 2nd lens I picked up was a nice ultra wide (10-20mm).

      On top of that - my first camera was a Nikon D60 with the 18-200mm DX lens (equiv. 27-300mm on a full-frame 35mm sensor). Fantastic all-rounder lens with good wide angle & good zoom capabilities.

      The 18-200mm lens is a "jack of all trades, master of none" kind of lens with some distortion & only medium low-light capabilities - but to start out with it was (IMHO) the perfect choice for travel since it was the only lens you needed. 18mm for wide-angle landscape shots, 200mm for things off in the distance (eg. animals).

      After owning it & playing with it & learning its limitations, I got a much better understanding of what a dedicated zoom, macro or prime lens would be able to accomplish.

      I then upgraded to the D90 and got the 35mm DX f/1.8 to complement it (52mm equiv for a 35mm sensor as per my previous comment above), and that's my current kit. Oh and an SB-600 flash - but that's a whole other story.

    The lens can be more important than the body if someone is starting out and planning to stick with it. I've had 2 camera bodies (both still going strong, but looking to get another) but only upgraded one of my lenses in 9 years. Lens tech doesn't move as fast as the body, and it pays to get quality the first time if one is reasonably serious about it.

    I recommend to first-timers that they go for an entry level body and get the most suitable lens/es with the budget they have remaining. What's suitable depends a lot on what they want to take photos of. A single 18-200mm might suit budget travel photography (convenience over end-to-end quality), whereas a good separate wide angle in addition to a mid-range zoom would suit a landscape shooter who doesn't mind lugging an extra lens.

    I wrote a lengthy tirade about this and more a little while back...

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