Buying your first fancy SLR camera is a big step in learning photography. On top of all the buttons and wheels to learn, now you have to figure out what equipment to purchase. A camera is useless without a lens, but where do you start? As a professional photographer, I invest many hundreds to thousands in each lens. But as a new, aspiring photographer there are options for much less that will still get the job done and help you develop your skillset. Here are a few of my recommendations for those that are new to the hobby (I will mix Canon and Nikon recommendations, but both companies have similar options to the other). 

50mm Prime

Both Nikon and Canon make great 50mm f/1.8 prime lenses for a low price. The fifty millimeter focal range is close to what our human eyes see and is a common range for street photography. It also produces a nice view for portraits of people. 

The wide open aperture (or f-stop, the smaller the number the larger the opening) provides two benefits: it allows for more light to enter into the lens for low-light situations and it gives a much narrower depth of field. The narrow depth of field allows the photographer to isolate their subject by blurring the background.

All of this makes a 50mm prime lens great for beginners wanting to practice. The lens is fairly inexpensive, it is a great focal range to start with, and the wide aperture allows the photographer to learn about depth of field and how that affects the photo.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens - Fixed
Amazon Price: $125.00 $110.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 28, 2015)
This is Canon's recently updated version. Nikon also has a 50mm f/1.8 at a slightly higher cost.

General Zoom

Nikon and Canon have similar wide range zooms. Nikon's is a 24-120 and Canon has a 24-105, both f/4 as their widest f-stops. These lenses provide a great focal range on the wide angle side (24mm) and a decent range on the long end (120mm and 105mm). For landscape, portraits and street photography this range will encompass the majority of photographs. Going with a wider angle of view can begin to distort the image, and going with a longer range is more common with sports and bird photography. 

These lenses can be a bit more expensive when purchased new, however they can be purchased at a discounted price through the grey market on Ebay. Grey market items are still new, but were intended for sale in a different country. With the dollar being strong internationally, retailers from Japan will purchase their lenses locally and then sell on Ebay to US customers. 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Zoom Lens New in White Box
Amazon Price: $599.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 28, 2015)
This focal range will give a new photographer the ability to practice with wide angle and telephoto shots.


A macro lens gives you the ability to focus really close to the subject, which can take small objects (like bugs) and make them large. It provides a high level of detail, similar to a microscope. These lenses are also good for taking portraits of people, as their level of detail is high and they can focus close, giving the photographer a creative perspective. Adding a macro lens to your lineup will provide a different way of seeing your subject, which aids in developing the creative eye that makes photography so wonderful.


Telephoto lenses can be the most expensive in a photographers toolkit, but there are inexpensive options for getting your feet wet first. The Canon 75-300mm f/4-5.6 is a great starting point. It will allow you to capture photos of objects that are far away (300mm is a long zoom!) and still give some flexibility for zooming out to 75mm.

The downside to these lower end, long zoom lenses is the f-stop value. The wide open f/4 value is common and provides a decent opening for letting in light and providing a narrow depth of field. But as you zoom the lens further, the minimum aperture changes to f/5.6 (that's what the range means in the f-value). This isn't terrible, it just makes it a bit more difficult to isolate a subject when the f-stop is at f/5.6. It will also mean less light can get into the lens, requiring a slower shutter speed to get the right exposure. The longer the zoom on the lens the faster you need the shutter to keep things in focus. As a rule-of-thumb, your shutter speed should be a fraction of one over your focal length (e.g. 1/200 if shooting at 200mm). 

Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
Amazon Price: $199.00 Too low to display Buy Now
(price as of Jul 28, 2015)
This will allow the photographer to try out the long zoom range, but with f-stops in the 4-5.6 range it will be difficult to isolate the subject. Still, a great lens for taking photos of objects far away (such as the moon!).

Start Low and Work Your Way Up

If you're new to photography, start with lenses like the ones listed above. Splurging on a fancy lens that costs $1,000 or more when you're still figuring out the basics of ISO, aperture and shutter speed is somewhat foolish. It might look fancy, but if you cannot take advantage of the qualities that make the lens so expensive you're wasting money. You can always purchase the lower cost lenses now and wait until you have outgrown them. Once that happens, lenses sell well on Craigslist and that money can go towards the next latest-and-greatest to add to your toolkit. Also, do not be afraid of third-party makers, such as Tamron and Sigma. They cost much less than their name brand counterparts and still produce great lens options.