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What Camera Lens Should You Buy First?

A complete guide to upgrading your camera lens

So you have that wonderful DSLR that you now know how to use thanks to my Photography 101 series and you are now a regular shutterbug! BUT you want to upgrade from the camera lens that came from your camera to a better lens. Where do you start?

What camera lens should you buy first?

A guide to upgrading your camera lens

*This post contains affiliate links*

Deciding on which camera lens to buy first is a really personal decision, and a lot of factors should go into your decision. Because no matter what anyone tells you, there is not a one size fits all lens for anyone. But the key is to know what you shoot the majority of the time, know what will help you achieve your vision. But as you look to upgrade your camera, I have a few points that you should consider when you upgrade your lens!

1. Focal Length

Focal length is the distance between the center of a lens or curved mirror and its focus. In plain speaking, it is how “Zoomed” in your lens is. The larger the focal length, the more zoomed in your photo will be. So for instance, a 200mm lens will zoom in closer than say a 50 mm lens. Lenses with focal lengths less than 50mm are referred to as wide-angles lenses because they offer a wider view.  Lenses with focal lengths greater than 50mm are known as telephoto lenses, and these offer a much narrower view.

2. Zoom Vs Prime. 

The next thing to consider would be do you want a prime lens or a zoom lens?A Prime lens, is a lens where the focal length is fixed,. In general, the best quality and sharpness will be found in a prime lens.  But YOU are the zoom, you get closer and farther away from your subject by moving your feet.  A good prime lens that all photographers are told to start with is the Nifty 50. The Canon 50mm 1.8 lens or  Nikon 50 1.8D lens. Both of these lenses are a great value for the price and an excellent introduction into the world of prime lenses.

A zoom lens is a lens that the focal length can be varied. What you sacrifice( just a tiny bit in most of the newer lenses) in sharpness, you make up for in versatility. Zoom lenses usually have a focal length range and can go from wide angle to telephoto in one lens. A popular focal length is the 24-70mm lens. Both Canon and Nikon make this lens, and a popular third party lens, Tamron, also makes this focal length for Canon, Nikon and Sony.

3. Aperture

Remember that Aperture is the opening inside of your lens that can open up wide or can close down very narrow. Basically it controls how much light you let inside of your camera. All lenses have a minimum and maximum aperture. This is a very important thing for you to consider.

All lenses either have a fixed aperture or a variable aperture. If your lens has a fixed aperture of  f/2.8, that means that even if it is a zoom lens, you can maintain the aperture of 2.8 when you zoom in and out. With a fixed aperture lens, the aperture functions independently of the lens focal length. The barrel of the lens does not extend or retract when the focal length changes. But don’t think that a fixed aperture lens can only shoot at one aperture. They are able to switch to all apertures that are available.

If your lens has two numbers, i.e., f/3.5 -f/5.6, you have what’s called a variable aperture lens. This means your widest aperture (lower number) is different at different focal lengths.  In general, variable aperture lenses are less expensive, and when you upgrade to a fixed aperture lens, the price and quality of the lens also goes up.

4. Budget

This is VERY important when you go to upgrade your camera lens. you can spend anywhere from $180 for a Canon 40mm pancake lens to close to 2K for Canon’s 70-200 mm Lens! So either save for what you want or look for a used version of that lens or another brand with a better price.


I am including this list of  camera lenses that I recommend broken down by Canon and Nikon according to research that I’ve done.

Lenses for Canon when  money is no object

Canon 50mm f/1.2 L Lens

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II Lens

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L Lens

Canon 85mm f/1.2 L Lens

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L Lens

Canon 24mm f/1.4 L Lens

Canon 35mm f/1.4 L Lens

Tamron 24-70mm Lens


Lenses for Canon Under $1000

Canon 50mm f/1.4 Lens

Canon 50mm f/1.8 Lens

Canon 85mm f/ 1.8 Lens

Canon 24-70mm f/4 L Lens

Canon 24-105mm f/4 L Lens

Canon 100mm f/2.8 L lens

Canon 135 mm f/2 L Lens

Canon 35mm f/2 Lens

Canon 17-40mm f/4 L Lens

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Lens 

Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Lens 


Lenses for Nikon When Money is No Object

Tamron 24-70mm Lens

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 G Lens

Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G Lens

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 G Lens

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 G Lens



Lenses for Nikon under $1000

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G Lens

Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G Lens

Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G Lens

Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G Lens

Nikon 105mm f/2.8 G lens

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Lens 


WHEW! That was a lot! I hoped I helped at least one person find a lens that is perfect for them! I’ll share what’s in my camera bag at another post in this series!

Thanks for reading!

What’s lens did you upgrade to first?








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Thursday 29th of March 2018

I got a zoom lens and I love it. But the thing is I can't get a better pic that needs to be closer to the subject but needs a wide frame. I'm looking for advices.


Tuesday 13th of December 2016


I have a zoom lens. Not an expensive one. I've tried a fixed (a little) but couldn't get used to it. Maybe I should try again.

hidup mulia

Friday 22nd of April 2016

great tips, thanks, I know it’s a zoom lens.

Kita Bryant

Monday 11th of April 2016

I have the 50mm one and another one that I don't even know what it is because I rarely use it. I know it's a zoom lens. I am going to get a wide lens for mothers day but can't decide which one so I will rent them to see. Great list!


Monday 11th of April 2016

how wide do you want to go is the question! I like my 35, but think the 28 might be my perfect focal length