Must-Try Lenses for Beginner Photographers

Must-Try Lenses for Beginner Photographers

When starting out in photography, you might want to purchase as much gear as possible. However, professional photographers who have been doing this for decades seem to have every lens in the world. It is natural to strive to buy as much gear to be as professional as possible, but the devil is in the details, as it takes decades to amass gear, and even then, the pros still have some things they want to purchase.

For example, I have been toying with the idea of owning a medium format camera for a while now. I’m not saying I will purchase it, but I just might. It all depends on how well work goes in the summer. I digress. While the natural instinct for many beginners would be to simply buy gear, there is an alternative few consider: renting. Renting costs way less, and you can rent any piece of gear you want. For example, if I want to try out something particular before buying, I can just rent it and do the testing. In this article, I will suggest some high-end pro lenses that you should rent and test out as a beginner photographer. These mainly apply to portrait and fashion photographers, however, any image creator will find these lenses useful to some degree in their line of work.

50mm f/1.2

Starting with the king of 50mm lenses, this goes directly against the first piece of advice every photographer gets: get a 50mm f/1.8. While it is a great lens, it is nothing compared to the pro version, which is sharper and more accurate. When I tried that lens out, I noticed that it was quite heavy, which made me realize that I would probably not invest in it.

70-200mm f/2.8

The second lens that always caught my attention when I was a beginner was the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. It just seemed like a perfect piece of gear that I am simply missing out on. In fact, when I saved up, it was the first piece of real pro gear that I bought back in the day. I still have that lens. It’s a beast. Nowadays, though, I rarely use it as, once again, it is a heavy piece of gear. Another reason is that it forces me to be naturally distant from the subject, which is not desirable if I want to make a connection and really work with the model in front of my camera. The only reason for not selling the lens is that if a client requests to have a shallow depth of field, I end up using the f/2.8 at 100+mm to get it.

24-70mm f/2.8

The most boring lens, which I coincidentally reviewed as well. The reason it is boring is that it has none of the cool features that other lenses do. The zoom range is average, the narrow depth of field is almost nonexistent, and the excitement is mild. At the same time, this is the lens I use 95% of the time. While the zoom range does not offer super wide or super-telephoto images, it offers enough to produce fashion, beauty, and other work. I can get full-body, half-body, and close-up images with the 24-70mm. I strongly believe that this is a lens every photographer should try and use.

35mm f/1.4

Going to wider apertures and focal lengths, this is a lens that many photographers enjoy using for full-body portraits. No wonder, as it offers both a relatively wide field of view, as well as a wide aperture which can help create shallow depth of field. Such a lens can be great in an event, wedding, portrait, or fashion photography bag. The high-end versions of this lens offer extremely good sharpness and accuracy, as well as fast and responsive autofocus.

85mm f/1.2

This list would not be complete without this lens. I mean, can we honestly skip this marvelous piece of gear that so many portrait photographers use to capture their images? It offers everything needed to make interesting images: long focal length, wide aperture, and, what's more, sharpness. At the same time, if you try out this lens, you will quickly find out that it is not all sunshine and rainbows, and it, in fact, has a few downsides, such as weight and focusing. If you shoot a close-up portrait at f/1.2, you will quickly realize that the subject's nose disappears, as well as the ears. The 85mm is better used for half-body images as then you get the subject more or less in focus. Then again, sharpness and focusing are big problems with this particular lens. The elements are huge, and if you get your hands on the older versions of this lens, you might quickly be disappointed with the results. For Canon 5D Mark II owners: forget it. I have never seen anything focus worse than a 5D Mark II with an EF 85mm f/1.2. This is where I have to admit that having a mirrorless camera is much better than a DSLR. Due to the focusing technology that modern cameras and lenses have, you can easily get incredible shots with f/1.2 at 85mm. It really helps you focus on shooting and not the tech.

Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, as a beginner photographer, it is a must to test out lenses before making any big purchases. Renting gear is an affordable and effective way to determine which lenses work best for your style of photography. I strongly recommend doing this. I think that selecting the right lenses can make a significant difference in your photography. It is important to consider your style and the type of photographs you want to create before making any purchases. Remember that it takes years for pros to amass gear, so take the time to test and experiment before buying gear. With time, practice, and the right gear, you can take your photography to the next level.

What lenses have you tested out throughout the years? Did you end up buying them? What were the best and worst lenses that you tried? We would love to know in the comments.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.

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I bought a 70-200mm and tried using it for a couple years before I finally got frustrated and sold it. It's <3x zoom range was killing me, as was it's lack of ability to focus on things that were really close. I thought it would overlap nicely between my 24-105mm and 100-400mm. But it wasn't nearly as useful as either of those lenses.

Recently I bought a 105mm macro lens and I end up using it quite a bit. It is extremely useful for true macro work as well as close-up work that isn't quite true marco.

I also recently bought a 60-600mm f6.3 zoom, and it immediately became my most-used lens.

I had a 400mm f2.8 for many years, but when I got a 300-800mm zoom I found the ability to zoom was so useful that I quickly got to a point where I barely ever used the big 400 anymore, so I sold it off and haven't missed it at all. I usually want MORE depth of field, not less, so wide fast apertures aren't as useful to me as they are to many photographers. Been there, done that ... don't really prefer the results one gets with very shallow depth of field.

Perhaps a bit of a divergence in the messaging here, as it seems like this is written for a "Beginner" photographer with a rather large budget.

What do you think of the Nikon 18-140mm?

I'm a fan of fast prime lenses, the 50L in particular and I recently bought a used Sigma 35/1.4 that is impressive for the price. Even though the 70-200/2.8 is rather heavy, it's a great tool but I wasn't impressed with the sharpness of the 24-70/2.8 when I rented one for a shoot.

Assuming all beginner photographers are using Full Frame Cameras.

Not necessarily. I use the same lenses on my crop frame cameras that I do on my full frame cameras. Just because one has a different size sensor doesn't mean one needs different lenses in one's arsenal. It just means that at any given time for any given purpose one may choose to use a different lens from the arsenal.

Using a super telephoto lens the effect is not a big of a deal. In fact I'm sure in some cases the crop sensor works to your advantage getting extra reach. Shooting a 35mm on full frame vs 1.6 crop the difference is huge.

Yes of course, but you seem to have completely missed my point. My point was that whether one has a crop body or a full frame body one should have all the same lenses, and simply select a different lens for each use as the case dictates.

The point you're missing is that sensor size does make a difference when choosing a lens especially at the wider end. If you have both full frame and crop, you wont get the same coverage using the same lens.

No, I am NOT missing that point. Sensor size makes a difference when choosing what lens to pull out of the bag to use for a particular thing. Sensor size does not (or at least should not) make a difference when choosing what lenses to buy.

Why? Because we should outfit ourselves to be able to capture a very broad range of fields of view when building an arsenal of lenses. If we want lenses to cover everything from super wide angle all the way up to extreme supertelephoto then we will buy the same collection of lenses regardless of whether we happen to be using a 1.3 crop, 1.5 crop, 1.6 crop, or full frame at any given time.

I disagree. Shooting portraits with a full frame sensor I'll use an 85mm. That same lens will be too long for a crop given space requirements. You won't build the same arsenal of lenses for full frame as you would for crop. Shooting animals in the field is not the same as portraiture and sensor size will dictate your lens choice.

You should have ALL of the lenses that you'll need for a wide variety of subject matter and shooting conditions. This means cover everything from ultra wide to supertelephoto. If you fail at this, then there are certain types of images that you will not be able to shoot.

If one is a "beginner" photographer I would think budget is important as I assume you just purchased your 1st mirrorless camera. The list of lenses mentioned in the article should only be considered once the beginner has mastered a bit of photographic technique and what type of photography they want to focus. I suggest starting out with a 24-105 mm F4 zoom. They are not as expensive as some of the lenses listed, it produces quality images, and is a great walkabout lens while you are learning the craft. Even after acquiring new lenses over time, I still use the trusty 24-105 from time to time. Also, don't forget the used lens market which helps save some money.

Surprised 24-105 was not on the list. Quite a number of pros (especially canon shooters) say this was their first pro lens.

I'm an amateur photographer, professional artist. I shoot a Nikon D7500 to capture reference photos of the animals I paint for clients. When I first started decades ago, I would not have understood this article. Of course my emphasis was painting, not photography. I've been slow to wake up to photography as an art.

Fortunately, the owner of my local photography store saved me from myself. When I bought my D200 in 2005, he dumped the kit lens in favor of an 18-70 f3.5-4.5 zoom. Not pro, but better. He also recommended the 70-200 f2.8.

Since I shoot mostly moving animals, that longer zoom lens has been my most-used lens. I also get less distortion and great bokeh on still shots, especially of horses, when I shoot from some distance. I didn't even know why until a pro friend explained it to me. I have been a happy, dumb photographer enjoying a good measure of success, thanks to good advice.

I learn from all of your comments. Fortunately for us all, I don't know enough to argue with anyone.

Oh, just for interest, my first camera was a Canon Ae-1. My dad bought it for me in 1977 for my college photography class. I took one of my best photos with that camera and a cheap zoom lens, and a teleconverter. I captured a close-up of a Grand Prix jumper. I set the ASA wrong, but the photo developer caught the mistake and fixed it.

As I said, a happy, dumb photographer.

And, by the way, I have sold two photos. They are gorgeous.

My hat is off to real pros.