Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned pro, every photographer needs a good variety of lenses in their kit. Here are the top lenses every photographer should have no matter your experience level or preferred subject matter, and when to use each one! If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.
Normal or Standard Lenses
Standard lenses have a mid-range focal length between 40mm and 60mm. The most common focal length is the one that falls right in the middle– the 50mm, giving you roughly the same field of view as the naked eye. When should you use this must-have camera lens? Standard lenses are great all-rounders given they closely mimic what we see naturally. They are generally the basic lens used for portraits, street photography, indoor photography, and landscape photography. They aren’t too big or too heavy so they’re perfect for just throwing in your bag and taking with you wherever you go.
For many newcomers, a standard lens may be a kit lens or the one that comes with entry-level DSLR kits such as 18-55mm. Any seasoned photographer will tell you to shy away from kit lenses and invest in a good standard lens such as a 50mm. A 50mm lens is a great lens to have in a photographer’s arsenal because it has been said that it’s the most comparable to your natural line of sight. If portraits or natural-looking images without distortion are your game, then a 50mm lens will be right up your alley.
Why do you need a normal prime? By this, I mean you need a 50mm lens or its full-frame equivalent if you shoot on a crop sensor. 50mm, to be honest, is not particularly masterful at anything, but it is good at a lot of things. I especially like 50mm for portraits where I really want the context of the background.
These types of environmental portraits are where a normal lens really shines. It’s also very stellar at small group portraits with maybe two to four people. 50mm is also decent for street photography and decent for particular types of landscapes, although I would reserve this responsibility for the other lenses.
But a normal 50mm is a great lens for videography, offering a nice, standard look for interviews. 50mm is always that jack of all trades but master of none, and given that you can buy 50mm lenses for almost any camera ecosystem for under $200, it’s just simply a must-have. Considering I’ve hinted that you don’t really need something like a 24–70mm, the 50mm is the key to filling that normal focal range too.
When to use a standard lens
Standard lenses are great all rounders given they closely mimic what we see naturally. Some concrete examples genres these lenses are good for include:
- Portrait Photography
- Street Photography
- Indoor Photography / Still Life
- Landscape Photography
Another one of the lenses every photographer should have is the telephoto lens. Telephoto lenses have a longer focal length (anything above 60mm) and magnify the subject. This allows you to take photos of subjects that are further away. They also give great background blur, helping separate your subject from the background.
The typical focal lengths for this might include 85mm, 100mm, or 135mm. I personally own a 100mm f/2. Wide-angle telephotos are an outdoor portrait photographer’s bread and butter and provide nice compression and background blur to really make your subject stand out. If you prefer more full-body portraits, I’d recommend 85mm but for specifically headshot oriented shoots, 135mm is probably better (although 85mm is also a solid headshot lens too). If I could buy this lens type again, I would probably buy the 85mm over the 100mm so that I wouldn’t have to walk so far back to get the wider framing I want in portraits occasionally. But really, the decision is up to you, the reader, and you can’t really go wrong with either one (especially if you have the next lens type I recommend which covers any lost focal range). As for the video, a stabilised telephoto prime like the Canon 85mm f/1.4 L IS or the 100mm Macro f/2.8 L IS also make for great b-roll workhorses when the shot needs to be tighter and you’d prefer to go handheld. Paired with a 35mm or 50mm on the A-cam, a telephoto prime also makes for a nice, tighter shot on a B-cam when doing video interviews with two cameras. In general, a telephoto prime provides a nice compressed shot and a wide aperture, especially good for dark situations too.
A “mid-range” telephoto lens is around 70–200mm. Then there’s the must-have camera lens, the super-telephoto. This is anything over 200mm! As the focal length goes up, so does the weight and size of the lens, in which case you’ll need to use a tripod, or seriously increase your time in the gym. At Wild Romantic Photography, we have the best Melbourne wedding photographer to take memorable photos on your wedding day.
When to use telephoto lens
Given they’re usually pretty big, it’s best to use a telephoto lens outside, especially when you have some distance between you and your subject.
Telephoto lenses are a must-have camera lens for shooting wildlife photography, sports photography and astronomy.
- Wildlife photography
- Sports Photography
For jobs that require you to get closer to a subject without physically moving close, telephoto lenses are key. Sports photography, nature and wildlife, and basically anything far away from your line of sight can be captured using a long lens or telephoto. A 70-200mm focal length is a standard telephoto lens that’s spot on for beauty and close-up portrait photography.
As you get into the longer lenses like the 300mm, 500mm and even the 800mm, the heavier they are so you’ll need a tripod to eliminate camera shake. These lenses are not to be confused with macro lenses which allows a photographer to view subjects at almost microscopic levels. We have the best wedding photographer in Yarra Valley to capture your beautiful moments on your wedding day.
Wide Angle Lenses
Wide angle lenses aren’t your typical, everyday lens. But they’re still one of the must-have camera lenses. They’re the exact opposite of telephoto lenses, as you can fit more into the frame in a much shorter distance. The focal length of these lenses is pretty much anything below 40mm. The smaller the focal length number, the more you’ll be able to fit into the frame. Because of the distortion you can get, wide-angle lenses aren’t particularly great for individual portraits, but they can be great for shooting in cramped interiors, large group shots, and landscapes!
Wide-angle lenses allow for more use of your camera’s frame. From landscapes and group photos to fashion and advertising, wide-angle lenses visually give you the world; especially if your camera body is a full-frame camera. Anything with a focal length of 35mm and less is considered to be a wide-angle lens, such as a 24mm lens or 18mm-35mm wide-angle zoom lens.
Planning your dream wedding and don’t want to miss out on the special moments on your big day? Worry no more, Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.
So why do you need a wide-angle prime, and what wide-angle prime when to use you need specifically? As for our recommendations here, regardless of your camera ecosystem, you will want the full-frame equivalents of around 24mm, 28mm, or 35mm with an aperture that is at least f/2 or brighter to really get the benefits of owning a particular prime lens. A wide-angle prime is particularly useful for many different things. Going on vacation? A wide-angle prime is pretty nifty for taking landscapes and taking your large, group family photos (in fact, this lens is great for any group photo of more than three or four people). A wide-angle prime is also the ideal lens for street photography. And if you’re really creative, shooting single person portraits with a wide-angle prime is also very, very rewarding.
If you’re shooting full-frame, this is most typically 16–35mm, but there are also other possible variants like a 12–24mm. On a crop sensor, these types of lenses tend to look like 10–18mm. Now, this type of lens is a favourite because of the particular creative disciplines they cover. I specifically got a 16–35mm to shoot both video and photo for real estate and architecture and let me tell you, this lens is amazing for shooting both of those things. Wide-angle zoom is also the go-to lens for shooting landscape. I know I’ve probably said a lot of these lens categories are good for landscape, but the 16–35mm is easily the best lens for it, especially towards the wider end of the lens. 16–35mm makes a great lens for both street and travel photography and competes with its wide-angle prime counterpart here. The wide-angle zoom is best during the daytime usually because 16–35mm lenses typically come in an aperture of f/4. You can get an f/2.8 if you’re willing to pay for it, but I don’t believe it’s worth it as much as getting the f/2.8 variant for telephoto zooms. For that reason, I still advocate for a wide-angle prime in your kit since the brighter aperture will come in handy when you need more light and f/4 doesn’t cut it.
Macro lenses are your basic lens for close up photography. They have a 1:1 ratio, which basically means they can capture your subject at life-size magnification. All of this means that macro lenses are perfect for taking nature photography, insect photography, and detail photography. Extremely beautiful portraits can also be taken with these must-have camera lenses. Making a macro lens a good all-around purchase.
Macro lenses are for close up photography. They have a 1:1 ratio, which basically means they can capture your subject at life-size magnification.
When to use a macro lens:
The above means that macro lenses are perfect for taking:
- Nature photography
- Insect photography
- Detail photography
Extremely beautiful portraits can also be taken with macro lenses making it a good all-round purchase.
Fixed Prime or Zoom?
Once you have an idea of the focal ranges of the different types of lenses, you then need to decide whether you’re going for a fixed prime lens or a zoom lens.
One of the best lenses for photography is the zoom lens. Zooms allow you to change through the whole focal range of the lens, just by turning the barrel, so you can zoom in and out to fill more or less of the screen. The benefit of zoom is simply that you can get multiple focal lengths in one handy lens. This is great if you only want to invest in one lens! However, they’re heavier to carry and don’t have quite the same image quality as you get from fixed prime lenses.
Zooms allow you to change through the whole focal range of the lens, just by turning the barrel, so you can zoom in and out to fill more or less of the screen.
The benefits of zoom are simply that you can get multiple focal lengths in one handy lens and so are great if you only want to invest in one lens
However, they are heavier to carry and don’t have quite the same image quality as you get from fixed prime lenses. Starting to think about hiring a wedding photographer? Check out our range of Mornington Peninsula wedding photography here.
Prime Fixed Lenses
Prime lenses are those that have a fixed focal length such as 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 135mm and so on. They don’t zoom in or out, so you have to physically move closer or farther away from your subject. They generally can shoot at lower apertures and therefore are must-have camera lenses for letting in more light, and also for creating background blur, especially if you have a telephoto lens. Finally, prime lenses tend to give you sharper images, and better overall image quality than zoom lenses!
The lenses you use are the most important gear in your bag. So the more time you spend researching and learning about must-have camera lenses, the better off you’ll be.
Any lens that has a fixed focal length and/or lacks the ability to zoom is a prime lens. The aforementioned 50mm lens is one of the more popular prime lenses. Prime lenses have an added sharpness that sometimes gets distorted with zoom lenses such as wide-angle zooms and telephoto lenses. Many professional photographers swear by prime lenses and only use them for this reason.
Primes lenses are those that have a fixed focal length such as 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 135mm and so on. They do not zoom in or out, so you have to physically move closer or farther away from your subject.
They generally can shoot a lower aperture (such as F1.8 or F2.0) and therefore are great lenses for letting in more light, and also for creating background blur, especially if you have a telephoto lens.
Finally, prime lenses tend to give you sharper images, and better overall image quality than zoom lenses!
A good all-purpose lens will allow you to shoot a plethora of subjects in varying scenarios without having to change your lens. Many novice photographers start out with just one lens. Purchasing a good all-purpose lens will allow you to shoot everything you need until you can afford to build up your kit. Something along the lines of a 24mm-105mm lens runs the gambit from wide angle all the way to telephoto. If you have a simple job and don’t want to bring your entire kit along, then the all-purpose lens is the perfect way to travel light without skimping on the range.
Lenses are a photographer’s next best friend after the camera body itself. Therefore, it’s important to invest in quality camera lenses if you’re interested in taking more than just snapshots. Buying camera lenses can be pricey, but you don’t have to break the bank for high-quality glass.
There are many lens choices available, all of which will give you a different image. The genre of photography you set out to do will depend on the lens right for the occasion. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.
So to end things off, these five lenses: the wide-angle, normal, and telephoto prime and the wide-angle and telephoto zoom, make the perfect combination to shoot almost anything. And for the focal lengths that aren’t explicitly covered like between 35–70mm expect by a single 50mm, this one 50mm feels more than sufficient. Certainly, each of the five lenses fills particular creative niches, and ultimately, when you use tools that are catered for specific types of work, you get better results.