Lets talk about lenses today, shall we?
I get asked the question a lot “What’s the best lens for my Canon DSLR.” Well, there is no clear cut right answer for that. It really depends on your style of shooting, where you’re shooting, where your subjects are and more. I can answer this question based on my recommendations as to which lenses are best on my Canon DSLR. You’ll have to come to your own conclusions on which lenses are best on your Canon digital SLR camera. So remember, what I write about here is just a guide based on my opinions. There is no law to any of this, just what I’ve found works best for me. I have had many, many lenses over the years and I have used many, many more. A lot of the photographers I know can’t leave their house without 6 or 7 lenses in their bag. Not me. I travel with three lenses, maybe 4, and 90% of the time I’m using the same one. Which one? Keep reading, I’ll get there.
How Do You Know Which Lenses to Buy to Take Great Photos?
Well, this really depends on what type of photography you’ll be focusing on. Are you planning on shooting a lot of people? If so, you’ll want to make sure you have something with a really big aperture like an f2 or f2.8. What a big aperture like this does is it helps to take in a lot of light very quickly so you can take very fast photos. Usually the benefit of this is not just to capture moving objects, but it also allows you to have your subject in focus and the background blurred away. All those model photography shots, those wedding portraits or family portraits, yep, f2.8 or wider. Not only do you want to look at the aperture, but you’ll also want to stay away from wide angle lenses as they will distort your subject.
Say, however, you’re not as interested in shooting people as you are with shooting landscapes. Typically, landscape photographers aren’t as concerned with the big aperture numbers as they are with the focal length of the lens. A good wide angle lens is key, something in the 16mm to 18mm range is usually very desirable.
Maybe you fall in between. You want a lens or lenses that are very versatile. If this is the case you’ll have to look at the focal length capabilities of a lens and get something that can shoot wide enough yet still zoom in far enough to get those nice close shots of people, with a little background blur.
Now before we go any further, I have to warn you, lenses vary in price quite a bit. And that old saying, “you get what you pay for” really rings true in this department. Plan on spending your money here. But the good news is, a good lens, well maintained, can far outlive your camera body. So even though you’ll likely gawk at the price, the value of lenses doesn’t depreciate very much if taken care of. And they can last a long, long time.
Best Lenses for Portrait Photography
Many off brand companies like Sigma and Tamaron make really nice lenses, but if you want the best, you really can’t go wrong with a good Canon or Nikon lens. They’re just better. Better glass, better internal components, smoother operations and built tougher. I use Canon products, so I’ll be speaking about Canon lenses, though Nikon makes a lot of very similar lenses at similar price points. If you shoot Nikon, use Nikon glass. If you shoot Canon… you get it. There are exceptions of course. Zeiss makes awesome glass too. A bit more pricey, but really good stuff.
And when you’re looking at Canon lenses, be sure to look for that little red ring around the rim of the lens. This lets you know that its going to cost you a fortune, but you’ll be getting “L” glass as well. Which is the best that Canon makes. You may also see lenses with a few other colors. A dashed gold ring indicates the lens has an Ultrasonic Motor (USM). Pretty good stuff. A Green ring signifies the lens uses Diffractive Optics (DO). These are lighter weight lenses that are built very well. A silver ring means that it is a non-professional series lens. Definitely a more affordable lens, but not as good of construction or glass involved.
Many portrait photographers really like prime lenses. When I say prime, I mean lenses that are at a fixed focal length. 50mm prime lenses are very nice, 85mm prime lenses are very nice, 100mm and 135mm lenses are very nice. Prime lenses generally have much bigger apertures than telephoto lenses. f1.2, f1.8, f2 these are not uncommon sizes for prime lens apertures. Which is one reason they are GREAT for shooting people. You can blur out the backgrounds and focus only on the subject’s eyes if you want to.
Because I shoot a full-frame camera, the 50mm and 85mm primes are my favorite lengths. There are different aperture sizes to both of these lengths, which affect the overall price dramatically. The wider apertures like a 1.2 or 1.4 can cost over $2,000. If you can settle for a little less aperture, there is a f1.8 of the 85mm that goes for about $420. For the 50mm there is a 1.4 that comes in around $350. Big difference in cost, yet both are excellent.
Sometimes, your subject isn’t sitting still and you want to shoot sports photography or wedding photography. Then you’re going to want a telephoto lens. Probably one that can still hit those big aperture numbers. One of the most common lenses in this arena is the Canon 70mm -200mm Lens. Now, there are several variations of this lens, but basically, one has a big f2.8 aperture and one has a slightly smaller f4 aperture. There’s even variations with an Image Stabilizer and Ultrasonic Motor. The best one is the EF Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM lens. It’s pricey, but just about every wedding photographer out there shoots this lens. This bad boy will run you about $2500, but its well worth it. This glass is incredibly sharp and fast.
For sports photography, you may want one with an even bigger focal length. 400mm, 500mm, 600mm maybe more. A 600mm f4 IS lens from Canon can run around $10,000. These are really nice if you’re on the field for a football game or shooting surf photography from shore.
I don’t shoot a lot of portraits, sports or weddings (in fact, hardly ever… just not my thing), but I do have a few lenses in my quiver that are excellent when I have to shoot an impromptu portrait. I choose the ultra versatile Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM lens.
Best Lenses for Landscape Photography
Wide angle lenses are the favorite of most landscape photographers. If you can pickup a lens between a 14mm and 18mm you’ll be sitting pretty. Especially on a full-frame camera. If you forgot what the benefits were for full-frame cameras, click here and read up! Generally, however you may want something more than a prime lens here. Something that can give you that wide angle, but also have a little bit of a zoom. Well, you’re in luck. Canon makes a couple top-notch lenses in this field. Both of which are L glass and will blow your socks off. First is the 16-35mm f2.8L II USM lens. This thing is unbelievable. Excellent in every factor. Cost on this lens is $1700. The second lens in this category is a 17-40mm f4L USM lens. Another very good lens, at about half the cost. It does have a smaller aperture, but for landscape photography rarely is that a factor.
If you can afford it, the most versatile lens in this category from Canon and the one I use is the 16-35mm f2.8L II USM.
That said, another lens I really like is the 14mm f2.8 prime lens. It’s really wide, but I find it very handy in certain situations. It is another good lens to look into…
Best All-Around Lenses for Everyday Shooting (Most Versatile Lens)
For versatility you’ll want something with a wide enough focal length to get those landscape shots but something that can zoom in enough to shoot people on the far end of the room. Canon makes quite a few good lenses in this range. One is the 24-105mm f4L IS USM lens. This lens goes for around $1000 and gives you everything you need. Great range, super sharp clarity, its fast, quiet and rugged. Canon also makes a 24-70mm f2.8 lens that is incredible. I really like this lens for the clarity of the glass, quickness of the lens and overall use. The wide aperture is a real winner too. This is a bit more costly than the 24-105mm at $2300, but its a really fantastic piece of glass. The other lens I think is very good in this category is the 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM lens. It is a steal at $470. I used this lens for years with great results. Personally, I think it is the best, most versatile lens on the market for under $500.
I shoot the 24-105mm f4L IS USM lens, more than any other in this category. The reason for this is because that extra little bit of focal length makes it a great lens to take around on a day trip instead of carrying a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm. I rarely use the super wide apertures unless I’m shooting at night. And even then I generally will shoot something a bit wider like a 14mm or 16mm.
So, What do I Shoot with Most Often?
90% of the time I use the Canon 16-35mm f2.8L USM lens.
5% of the time I’m using the Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM lens.
4% of the time I’m using the Canon 24-105mm f4L IS USM lens.
1% of the time I’m shooting a different lens altogether.
As an avid traveler, I try to limit my gear to just what I need. That said, it seems lately I “need” more and more gear. One thing is for sure though, I NEVER check camera gear. Make sure you can bring your gear with you on the plane. Get a good bag that meets the carry-on requirements of the airlines you are flying and pack accordingly. If you need more than you can fit in one carry-on, bring an assistant and have them carry the rest of your gear. That may sound pricey, but you saw the prices of the lenses alone above, bringing someone with you is almost always more affordable than losing good glass.
So what’s in my bag? That article is coming soon…
Hope this helps give you a little better glimpse into the world of lenses. Here’s a link to Canon’s extensive lineup. Don’t just take my word for it, read up! Learn more, shoot more and you’ll figure out which ones are the best for you!
Sunset from the West end of Moloka‘i
Ferocious tide coming in over the lava rocks on Moloka‘i’s West end.
Kepuhi Twilight again, from the West end of Moloka‘i.
Beautiful Halawa Valley.
A hui hou, Moloka‘i! We will be back!