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How to choose the first lens upgrade for your digital camera kit lens

By Edited Jan 22, 2014 0 0

The kit lenses supplied with most entry level digital cameras, such as the Canon EOS1000D, Nikon D3100, Pentax K-x, Olympus E-450 and Sony Alpha A290, are more than adequate to get started in the world of digital cameras and digital photography, however there will come a time when you will seem to have outgrown the digital camera. When this time arrives you need to look at upgrading the kit lens in order to get better performance and more features as your experience and picture taking skills develop. Deciding on the first digital camera lens after the kit lens is often a difficult decision and can be a mind field. So how do we go about choosing a digital camera lens for our Canon EOS or Nikon?

If you have decided on an area of specific interest during your time learning with the kit lens choosing the upgrade lens is much easier. For example;

i) If you have developed a passion for motorsports the ideal upgrade will be a long and fast telephoto lens, such as the Canon EF 100mm – 400mm f/4L IS USM lens, or something similar.

ii) If you have developed a passion for close up work the ideal upgrade would be a macro lens, such as the Canon EF100mm f/2.8 USM macro lens or something similar.

iii) If you have developed a passion for landscape photography the ideal lens would be the Canon EF 16mm – 35mm f/2.8L II USM lens or something similar.

iv) If you have developed a passion for portrait work the ideal lens would be the Canon EF 50mm F/1.8II USM lens or something similar.

Finding an area of photographic passion provides some direction and will help give a clear indication of the focal length and speed of the ideal upgrade lens. Deciding on these features is often the hardest part of choosing the ideal upgrade for the digital camera kit lens. However, even if  you have decided on the speed and focal length it will not necessarily help you decide on the specific make or brand of lens to purchase. For example, Canon users will have the choice of a Canon lens or an alternative third party lens such as one made by Sigma, Tokina or Tamron to name but a few. Deciding on the speed and focal length will allow you to devise a short list of potential lenses which can then be further researched on the internet by looking at photography websites and those discussed in related photography forums, and physically seen and evaluated in local photography shops.

In many cases, it is likely you have not developed a real passion for any particular genre of photography whilst developing your photography skills and this is where the headache often begins. In these circumstances it is pointless going for a specialized lens and compromises will have to be made. The type of lens you will look to buy will be a ‘jack of all trades but master of none’ however image quality will still be required.

An ideal first upgrade is a good telephoto zoom lens. The variable focal length makes these lenses far more versatile and user friendly than fixed length primes. Whilst some people argue that prime lenses give superior image quality over zoom lenses the quality of the modern day zooms is fantastic. Technology has come a long way and it is possible to get some exceptionally sharp shots using a modern day zoom lens. The image quality between a top end zoom and a prime is now so slight that only the pickiest of photographers are likely to be bothered.

An ideal medium or general use telephoto zoom is one in the 24mm – 70mm range. Zoom lenses in this range are wide enough for good quality landscape shots yet long enough for head and shoulder portraits. When using a digital SLR with an APSC sensor the ‘crop’ effect will give an effective focal length of 38.4mm – 112mm, which is still a useful length although many may consider this not wide enough at the short end. Fortunately, there are lenses designed specifically for digital SLR cameras with these crops, such as the Canon EFS 17mm – 55mm f/2.8 IS USM, which gives an effective focal length of 27.2mm – 88mm, which almost covers the 24mm – 70mm although there is a bit left out at the wide end, which is not too disadvantageous. So, if you are the sort of photographer that doesn’t tend to zoom in too much and prefer taking pictures at the wider end this size zoom may just be the ticket.

For those photographers that prefer a zoom lens with a slightly longer reach a then a short telephoto zoom in the 70mm – 200mm range, such as the Canon EF 70mm – 200mm f/4 L IS USM lens, is an ideal choice and with very good reason. The 70mm short end is wide enough to take head and shoulders portrait shots and some nice landscape shots although it is not wide enough for the ultra wide panoramic style photography shots. The 200mm long end is a nice length that will enable the photographer to zoom in for some frame filling close up shots. On a digital SLR camera with a crop factor a 70mm – 200mm focal length will have an effective range of 112mm – 320mm, which may even be enough for wildlife photography.

Choosing the first upgrade for your digital camera lens is a decision that should not be taken lightly. You need to think about your photography, critically analyze it and decide where your real interests lie before researching, researching and researching some more. 

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