The Must Have Lens For Anyone Starting Out as a Professional Photographer

The Must Have Lens For Anyone Starting Out as a Professional Photographer

So you upgraded to a DSLR to take your photography to the next level and you now feel a strong urge to step into the big bad world of professional photography. You have the kit lenses, but you know they won’t cut it. Let me introduce you to the must-have kit lens of professional photographers.

Your Direction in Photography

When I transitioned from a hobby photographer to a part-time professional, I started off with model portfolio shoots and event photography. Then came weddings, portraits, editorial and commercial shoots and so on. A fair few of you will start off your professional photography career in a similar fashion. Or at least cover some aspects of the above-mentioned path.

When I was feeling that strong urge to make the jump to professional photography, I was given some great advice by a senior photographer: your next purchase needs to be a fixed aperture lens, preferably f/2.8 or lower. Upon further exploration of that advice, I fixed my gaze on a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8. I saved up for it, bought it and can confidently say that it was the best return on investment I’ve had from a single piece of photography gear ever!

Hey Versatility, Meet Your Photography Twin

I call this my bread and butter lens. That’s because it may not be a specialist lens or rated top-notch at any of the focal lengths or have the creamiest bokeh, but you can use it to shoot events, weddings, portraits, editorials, products, travel, landscapes and so much more at a comfortably high quality. So versatile!

Reliability, Are You Sure Your Nickname Isn’t 24-70mm f/2.8?

Whatever the situation, whatever the lighting, this lens will deliver. Over the years, as I became better at photography, I relied more and more on primes and other specialized lenses. But if there is one lens I always carry, it’s the good old 24-70mm f/2.8. For example, in low light conditions, certain primes like the 50mm f/1.2 might struggle with auto-focus and when shooting an event or a wedding that can be a risky affair. I’ve found my 24-70mm f/2.8 to be much quicker in this regard.

Arguments Against Purchasing the 24-70mm f/2.8

“It is not as versatile as 24-105mm f/4”

One could argue for the 24-105mm f/4 as an alternative but I’ve found that extra stop between f/2.8 and f/4 to be a lifesaver many times. When I started shooting weddings, I came to understand why f/2.8 felt a whole lot more magical than f/4. For one, in low light situations that one stop of light made a huge difference if I wanted to maintain a reasonably low ISO and could not use external light (e.g in a low lit church during the ceremony). Secondly, I found f/2.8 to be a sweet spot between blurring the background to bring focus to my subject and not blurring my background so much that it loses context (e.g. shooting dynamic groups during events). Yes, at times I did wish that my lens also had a focal length of 105mm but it was always an easy compromise given its advantages over f/4.

“It makes you lazy as a photographer”

This probably has some truth in it. It’s a classic zoom lens and you can get comfortable with it. But if truth be completely told in context, when you’re starting out as a professional photographer, you are learning so many new things about your craft that it can be overwhelming at times. You can run out of poses for your client to do or your lighting may not be working with a particular scenario and on and on. You can allow yourself a crumb of comfort in the form of this lens as long as you keep developing your skills as a photographer. Moreover, I’m sure, further down your career, when you have the cash, you won’t mind honing your skills on your brand new bokehlicious 85mm f/1.2!


The best part about this lens is that because it is so popular among professional photographers, pretty much every lens manufacturer has had a go making this lens. So you have a variety of prices (with some variation in quality) available to you. I won’t get into what is the “best” 24-70mm f/2.8 option out there but if you have one of the unenviable kit lenses that came with your starter DSLR, like the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, you will be better off with any of these options below. However, I do recommend hiring some of these out to try before you settle on a favorite.

The Best Starter

Tamron - from $1,199

I have found it to be slightly slower on the auto-focus compared to its peers along with a yellow-er skin tone. But overall, a great starter lens.

For the Experimenters

Sigma - from $1299

This one is about 200g heavier compared to it’s Tamron and Canon cousins but I’ve been impressed with its overall image quality.

The Thoroughbreds

Canon / Nikkon / Sony - from $1599

These are the steam engines of the business: quick, easy, rugged and either one would be a great investment for the long term.

On a side note, these lenses hold their monetary value quite well. So if you wanted to sell these a few years down the line, you’d still get a decent return on your original purchase.

Is there another lens you’re considering purchasing as your first on your way to becoming a professional photographer? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.

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Previous comments
Charles Burgess's picture

Yin Ze, your comment about F2.8 vs a 5.6 in low light conditions (we need to quote candle power to be precise) is a very good description of what I've experienced, one of the main reasons I change lenses during a shoot. Attach a lens filter always reduces how much light enters a lens, thus making the 5.6 even slower, even to the point that AF does not function as well.

Charles Burgess's picture

Oli Aponte, "Lenses are wide open everytime you look inside the viewfinder of a DSLR" is only true to a point. Whether AF or manual focus mode, low light scenarios can be challenging. The higher the f/stop, the darker the image in the viewfinder is (and that is not factoring in any lens filter(s) attached. If you need a circular polarizer filter, you lose on average about 1.5 f/stops in front of the lens. Having a lens with a lower f/stop capability allows the photographer much more flexibility in the shot.

My preference would be for a 70-200 f2.8 as I don't shoot portraits or weddings.

Yup. That's the lens i use 80% of the time.

24-70 is more versatile than the 70-200.

What does “more versatile” mean? They are both approximately 2.9× zooms.

As a portrait photographer, the 70-200‪mm —50-200‪mm in my case, APS-C— is far “more versatile,” and most often used, (my 18-50‪mm hardly ever being touched). As an event photographer, it matters as to what kind of event, but still usually the 50-200‪mm works. (Typically, a 50-135‪mm f/2.8 for APS-C).

The term, “more versatile” has to be applied to a specific context, and, as such, becomes meaningless.

It doesn’t have to be applied to a specific context. It’s more versatile because it can be used in a wider range of photography areas/jobs/whatever.

It is not wide enough for real-estate, not long enough for wildlife, sports, headshots (without coming in close, and having perspective distortion), not versatile enough for landscapes, (it covers from just not wide enough to just not long enough)…. It misses quite a lot. I can go on, but I concede this….

It is great for street, photo journalism, and indoor events. It is not “as versatile” as a 28-300‪mm f/3.5-5.6 all-in-one zoom. Even a 18-135‪mm F/3.5-5.6 (APS-C) or a 16-85‪mm f/3.5-5.6 (APS-C) is “more versatile”, «because it can be used in a wider range of photography areas/jobs/whatever.»

Over 70% of the time, I use the 50-200‪mm (75-300‪‪mm F-type equivalent), so the 24-70 (or the 18-50‪mm APS-C) would not be “as versatile” if I were to speak in terms of «a wider range of photography jobs,» where most of my jobs are portraits, and outside corporate events.

So, yes, context is very important to decide “versatile” as, by your definition, the long member of the trinity is more versatile in my set of jobs than the middle man. I have 5,164 images taken with my K-3 between 18-47‪mm, and 8,411 taken between 55-200‪mm, with 3,127 taken at 50‪mm (rated at 3-stars or higher). This means that most of my best shots wee taken at 50-200‪mm, proving its versatility. Indeed, most of the images taken with the 18-50‪mm were product, tabletop, landscape, indoor events, flora, documentary, and environmental portraits. Funny thing is that even then, most of my flora, fauna, product, table-top, and landscapes, were taken with the 50-200‪mm. The 18-50‪mm only out-did it in documentary, indoor events, and environmental portraits.

Some other photographer may show most of their best shots at the 16-24‪mm range, the short end of the trinity, displaying the great versatility of that lens. The question now becomes, “why is their a difference between them and me?” The answer is, “context.” They may also be a portrait photographer, like me, but maybe they tend to shoot mostly environmental portraits in close proximity to the subject for intimacy.

TLDR sorry. I can tell you’re hellbent on proving me wrong.

And it’s actually laughable you’re comparing a 3.5-5.6 to a 2.8. Good glass only please. You’ve missed the point.

«…hellbent on proving….»
Why do people who are not giving good arguments always conclude that the other person is nothing but a troll? Bring an actual meaningful thought to the discussion. The troll is the one who has nothing meaningful to say.

«… comparing a 3.5-5.6 to a 2.8.»
What is wrong with a 3.5-5.6? Can't get bokeh? WRONG! Can't get low-light photos? MOSTLY WRONG!

Most people shooting with a 24-70‪mm or 70-200‪mm f/2.8 hardly shoot at f/2.8. Why? Not enough DoF! Unless one requires extremely short exposure times, plus extremely wide apertures, and have very low light, a trifecta which rarely comes up, it is a great hypothetical.

Shooting wildlife? Focus stacking is out. DoF required. Shooting sports? Likewise. The beautiful thing about sports, is that low EI settings are not necessary. (…And short exposure times are also not always necessary). The beautiful thing about wildlife is that, for most of them, super short exposure times are not necessary. (…And it may be nice to avoid super shallow DoF also). May be necessary for concert photography, though, where the stage is dark, the movement is both fast and unpredictable, and the background can be distracting.

But let's look into what we are discussing; the versatility of a given lens for a person just getting into (unspecified) pro-photography. Yes, I will compare an f/3.5 wide, to f/5.6 long, to an f/2.8 constant. Why? because at the wide end, the DoF is of no consequence, and at the long end, the background separation becomes easy. The only issue is low-light performance, and that is NOT the big issue for the general shooter with no specific genre or style.

Most people shoot either outside in bright sun, or inside with strobes. Either case, low-light is NOT a problem. That is why, when speaking of “more versatile,” context is necessary. Let me go again to my 3-star or more collection. only 1,317 (about 7%) images are less than f/3.5 (all lenses included, wide, normal, & tele, and zoom & primes). For less than f/5.6, that number climbs to 5,432 (about 32%). The vast majority lie at f/5.6, followed by f/8.0, then f/11.0, f/4.5, f/4.0, then f/7.1. Only 101 at f/2.8, (Mostly darkly lit venues, and street photography after sunset), and about 224 at f/1.7, same situation, with my 50‪mm prime).

You see, the vast majority of my images are shot at or near the “sweetspot” for my aperture on any given lens. So, yes, I will do that comparison any given day!

…Unless some context is given to, “versatile.”

You’re not comparing like with like. It’s not about the bokeh or Dof. And you come across as too argumentative to have a meaningful discussion with. I stand by my comment that the 24-70 2.8 is one of the most versatile high quality lenses you can buy. None of you’re anecdotal points will change my mind. Btw in the last 20 years I’ve worked in almost every field of photography you can name.

«…one of the most versatile high quality….»
Ah! No you are qualifying it. I agree with that statement.

…But that is NOT what you said earlier. Previously, there was no context at all. Now you have qualified it with some context, and I cannot disagree with that new statement at all.

When I say "one of the most" I mean it is the first choice lens I would recommend for a new photographer looking to start a business. As, when starting a new photography business you must be completely diverse and open to any kind of photography work you can get your hands on. You won't be specialising for quite a while so no need for specific genre related lenses. In short, when starting off, buy the 24-70 2.8 and rent anything else.

«When I say "one of the most" I mean….»
You should say what you mean.

«…first choice lens I would recommend….»
Not a problem. I would also recommend that if people can afford it, get the zoom trinity, starting with the one most suited to one's preferred genre, then eventually the other two. For some, like those loving wildlife and sports, would be the long member. For others, like those into real-estate or architecture, it would be the short one.

They can always rent the other two until they can afford them.

«… and rent anything else.»
Good point, but I thought we were discussing the one lens that they MUST have, from the title, “The Must Have Lens For Anyone Starting Out as a Professional Photographer.”

«As, when starting a new photography business you must be completely diverse….»
I respectfully disagree. No one wants to hire a macro photographer for their wedding, or a wedding photographer for their product shoot, nor a product photographer for their corporate event. I feel that one ought not put themself in a box, but when one is ready to go professional, one ought to have already picked a favourite genre and run with it.

As the article said, “When I transitioned …to a part-time professional, I started off with model portfolio shoots …event photography. Then …weddings, portraits, editorial and commercial shoots….” There is always a starting point, no matter where it eventually takes one. One needs to have what it takes at the start. The 24-70‪mm f/2.8 is a great lens for model portfolio shoots. …but so is the 24-105‪mm f/4.0, a much more versatile lens with a one stop difference.

The one stop loss, and the very —insignificantly— slightly deeper DoF is not an issue for model portfolio shooting, (as one wants focus from the ears to the nose), and more versatile for those distortion-free head shots. With strobes at hand, —and who shoots model portfolios without strobes, except maybe Jessica K, (love that girl)— low-light situations is not an issue.

«You won't be specialising for quite a while so no need for specific genre related lenses.»
Which is why I suggested the super zooms. Far more versatile if there is no context of genre. Losing ⅔ stop at the wide end, and 2 stops at the long end is not an issue. Getting slightly deeper DoF is not an issue. Reaching further than 70‪mm and getting more than 24‪mm is a far more important when all genres are under consideration.

In short, buy the super zoom, and, in the rare case you need something longer, or wider, or “faster”, rent it.

…Unless one already has a preferred genre, in which case, buy the lens best suited for that genre. This is why context is important for the word, “versatile.” Text without context is a pretext.

As I already thought you’re far too argumentative to bother with and one of these types who pick apart every statement to try and prove it wrong. You’re also, I can tell, a last word freak. Yes. You are.

There’s been a few like you around this site and they, without fail, end up getting banned because they simply do not know how to post a reply without pissing off the person they are replying to.

Regardless of your point, the way you construct your replies - picking apart the post line by line, statement by statement is extremely annoying.

I can predict that you will not last long on this site.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you go about it. But you’re clearly low in EQ so I doubt this reply of mine will make an lines of difference.

I’m done.

Oooh! Good response! Clever.

I am only discussing one thing, and one thing only; the use of the term, “versatile,” without context. The one time you gave context, We agreed! We did! You made a statement with context, and I agreed! (In fact, I agreed with you several times in your previous post, but I guess you missed that and only saw…. I don't know what you saw).

Then YOU, —yes, you— chose to try and tear me down, and now I am the bad guy?!? I am the one who will get banned?!? I am the one doing wrong?!?

I was not insulting. I used no derogatory tones. I was not disrespectful. I had valid points, which I stated as precisely as I could to avoid misunderstandings. …And I should get banned, because you are annoyed at not being able to follow my premises and conclusions?

I do not understand why you are so upset about me, and think that I am the bad guy (and an argumentative freak with an obvious low EQ ;-) ), but you really are under no obligation whatsoever to respond. Bare in mind, however, that when one makes a public post on a public forum, and someone else thinks that one's premises are faulty, or ones resonings are fallacious, or one's conclusions are premature, or anything else, that someone else is free to also comment on the same public forum. I have violated no rules.

If you have something to say as to why “versatile” does not need context, or why your assertion that lens, x, is “more versatile” than lens y in any and all situations, context not necessary, then please feel fee to elaborate, (but expect me, or someone else, to feel free to either agree, —as I did before— or respectfully disagree —as I did before).

I go line by line in my replies —and not every line— so that when I give a response, people will know to what precisely I am responding. It is far more difficult to follow a conversation when one has no idea as to why a certain thing was said or suggested.

Insulting me for having a dialogue is not respectful. If you cannot have a respectful dialogue, then don't. I have my choices, and you have yours. We can both decide to respond or remain silent.

Nesh Soni's picture

The 70-200mm f/2.8 has to be my most used lens. However, if I was going into a shoot with a few unknowns (tightness of space, number of people, how wide will I need to shoot, etc.) and I could only carry one lens, it would, without a doubt be the 24-70mm f/2.8. So the "versatility" has to be seen from a perspective of a newcomer jumping into professional photography and being able to only afford one lens in the beginning. Try taking that 70-200 into an 18th birthday party in a bar! The 24-70mm on the other hand.... :)

Try taking that 24-70‪mm into a wildlife reserve or a sports arena. The 100-400‪mm f/4.5-5.6 on the other hand…. ;-)

«So the "versatility" has to be seen from a perspective of a newcomer jumping into professional photography….»
But we are talking here NOT about a newcomer to photography, but a newcomer to the professional world. He already has some idea of where he is going. “Versatile” has to be seen from that perspective. From the perspective of the writer, starting professionally in model portfolio shoots, the 24-70‪mm was a good bet.

Andy Day's picture

Worth mentioning: if you want results at the widest aperture, spend some money. I bought a second hand Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 IF EX DG HSM for my Canon as a stop-gap a few years ago and regret it to this day. At f/2.8 it's fairly useless.

Deleted Account's picture

Yes, used it the last 10 years and I was very surprised that the 24-70 mm f / 4 delivered the same performance on the Nikon Z6 and Z7, the f / 2.8 version is available within a week. I am very curious about that version.

I never found 24-70 my first wish for a lens. I wish they would make a 35-85. Or even 42-105. Preferable f2.
The wide part makes for a larger and more complicated design.
Doing portraits a 24-70 is pretty perfect, on a crop sensor camera. The range is good, and you use the sharpest part of the lens:)

Motti Bembaron's picture

"...It is not as versatile as 24-105mm f/4..."
I agree with you that the 24-70 is a better choice than the 24-105 but not because of the extra stop. Today's camera can go to such high ISO that the extra stop does not matter as much. Image quality, however, is the reason the 24-70 is a better choice. It is way superior to the 24-105. The sharpness and the details are so much better.

I owned the 24-70 and when I stopped taking wedding assignments I sold it. Although the 24-105 is much more versatile in wedding receptions and parties in general, the picture quality is not as good at all. Not to mention focusing speed in the dark conditions. When going to high ISO and fast moving subjects the 24-70 perform amazingly well.

Generally I agree with you regarding your lens choice when starting, but adding a 50mm to your bag is a no brainier, especially when you can find the f/1.8 for around $200 new. Here is a lens I will never sell.

Xander Cesari's picture

Stabilization has also made the 24-105mm f4 much more competitive. In the Sony world I recommend that lens over the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 to everyone except those who want to shoot moving subjects in low light. The combination of OSS and IBIS is good for more than the single stop of light that the faster aperture offers.

Edit: Obviously f2.8 AND stabilization would be a better option yet but the Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 doesn't offer it so the choice for Sony FE is one or the other.

Ben Bezuidenhout's picture

I would say Sigma 17-50 F2.8

Motti Bembaron's picture

Never owned a Sigma but I have the 17-35 Nikon. I don't use it as much since I have the 20mm f/1.8. I use it for portraits but for a small percentage of shots.

Deleted Account's picture

All depends what kind of professional photographer you are (or want to be)…
If , for example, you are specialized in jewelry or little objects you surely don't need a 24-70…
Same is you are a still-life photographer, or a portrait photographer, a wildlife photographer, an architecture photographer…
Yes, the 24-70 is an excellent lens for reportage, landscape, and "general" photo… but not the lens "For Anyone Starting Out as a Professional Photographer"

A “thumbs-up” is not enough. I have to give you a…

Nesh Soni's picture

Most people don't have a clue of what photography assignments are going to come their way once they decide to become a pro, hence my recommendation is for a great "general" photo lens. And yes, I agree that it is not the perfect lens for any field, pretty much. But it's one of the better "general" photography lenses.

Deleted Account's picture

Yes, the problem is that most people don't have a clue…
Here we are speaking of Pro or people wanting to pretend be a pro?
I think that if you begin to do a job without knowing what you will do, it is damn serious… and it is better that you do something else…

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