When you buy a camera, most entry level cameras are sold as part of a bundle with a kit lens. A kit lens is generally an all round lens that is great while you are getting to know your camera and what it is possible of it. The most common kit lens has a focal length of 18 – 55mm. This means it can shoot from fairly wide angle (at 18mm) to reasonably zoomed in (at 55mm) and everything in between. A common question on my beginners photography courses is what lens to buy next?
Kit lens have limitations, most noticeably the maximum aperture available. The maximum available aperture will likely vary depending on what focal length you are working at. This may however be as high as f5.6. In short, this means that you struggle to take images where there isn’t lots of bright light. This isn’t ideal when you want to take photos of your children, often indoors.
There are thousands of different lens available to buy, so how do you know which one is best for you? It comes down to you, what you want to take photographs of, and your style as a photographer. If, having spent some time getting to know your camera, you have discovered a love for architectural photography, then your choice of lens will be different to if you discover a love for photographing wildlife. Since you are reading this article, it is likely you are looking for a lens that is good for taking photos of your family, both inside and outside. There are 2 main factors you want to think about when choosing a lens for family photography:
Aperture is one of the factors that determines how much light enters your camera when you take a photo. When learning to use your camera to take photographs of your children, you will be most interested in the widest aperture (the lowest number) available with a lens. The wider the aperture the more light can come into the camera, meaning you can take photographs where ambient light is not that bright.
A wider aperture is also helpful when taking photos with only one part of the image in focus, with a nice blurry background. With more expensive lens, the maximum aperture available will stay consistent no matter how zoomed in you are. As a general rule, the wider the maximum aperture of a lens the more expensive the lens is. This means it is worth thinking about what kind of aperture you will need.
2: Focal length
The kit lens included with your camera was probably a zoom lens. There is another type of lens, called a prime lens, which doesn’t have allow you to zoom with the lens at all. You can still zoom, it’s just your feet do the zooming by walking backwards and forwards. Zoom lenses offer convenience, but the moving parts means this is often at the price of aperture and sharpness.
Prime lens generally allow you to buy a higher quality lens for a lower price than a zoom lens. By eliminating the zoom functionality, you can get a lens with a much wider aperture. This allows more light in to the lens. Prime lens can also develop your creativity as you look for alternatives to using the zoom. As well as deciding whether you want to be able to zoom, you want to think about the focal length you want. For family photography, you may want to consider 35mm or 50mm prime lens, or a 24 – 105mm zoom lens.
Some other things you might want to think about are whether you want image stabilisation (yes, if you can afford it). Consider weather sealing, how much you can spend on a lens, and whether or not you want to buy a new lens. There are several reputable sellers of second hand lens online, most of which include a warranty for the lens. Examples are Wex and MPB.
Most people attending my beginners photography courses only have a kit lens, or two kit lens (one a telephoto) that came bundled with the camera. These lens are great for learning, and in a lot of situations. You will start to notice they are not always the sharpest, and they may struggle to be effective when the light starts to fall.
My number one recommendation for nearly everyone is a 50mm f1.8 lens. I have one of these in my camera bag, and absolutely love it. It’s cheap (as far as lens go, roughly £75), is sharp and works brilliantly in low light situations. It’s a small lens, so it isn’t too heavy to carry around either. You just need to make sure you get one that fits your camera (so if you have a canon camera, you want a canon fit lens).
If you’re worried about whether it’s the right lens for you, it’s worth borrowing or renting one for a day or two, or even going into a camera shop for a play. The 50mm is a great lens, and will definitely help you take the next step on your photography journey.