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I would like to get into photography, and I'm thinking about buying a starter D-SLR camera (450D, 500D).

Which Canon lenses do think fit to my purposes as considering I'm a beginner and my budget is very tight for the moment.

I know this question will overlap some other questions, but my question is very specific.

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possible duplicate of Which are must have lenses for Canon? –  Jay Lance Photography Jan 30 '11 at 9:20
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Since we don't have any idea of what you plan to do with your camera, it isn't very specific at all... In fact there's not really enough information there for us to give you a useful answer. Have you taken a look at: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/5245/… –  Jay Lance Photography Jan 30 '11 at 9:21
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Like just I said I'm a beginner and I'm not very sure what will I do with my camera. I'm looking for a cheap starter and I will continue according to my interests. –  metdos Jan 30 '11 at 10:24

9 Answers 9

up vote 14 down vote accepted

You have all of my sympathy, because a few years back I was in the exact same position as you are (well to be honest, I'm still on the budget). So, with only some point & shoot experience, this is what I did. This might be partially subjective rant, but I think it offers a good beginner perspective when considering the first lens.

After gazillion hours of reading through almost the whole Internet (it felt like it) I decided that 450D was the way to go (note: this was the Q1 of 2009). On the side I came to understanding that the lens is what matters more than just the camera body — and usually the kit lenses are mediocre at best. So getting camera body and lens separately felt like it was the way to go. Reading between the lines, I think you've stumbled into this same conclusion.

Two things at minimum should be answered when searching for the appropriate lens:

  1. What kind of pictures you want to shoot?
  2. What is your budget?

So what lenses to consider? I had absolutely no idea. While our soon-to-get puppy was one of the primary reasonings for buying a camera, at the same time I wanted to shoot all the shots mentioned e.g. in What is your favourite photograph? and Which photographer do you find inspirational? questions. I really had no idea what I wanted to do with the camera. Also, with only some P&S background, I had no real experiences on focal lengths and what they would mean in practice — and surely I didn't take e.g. the APS-C crop factor into account. I found myself sighing at the sample shots of different lenses. Like you didn't in your question, I couldn't answer the question #1.1 What I knew was that I didn't want to settle for one style only.

Now, after reading some experiences and technical details on different lenses I was trying to get some grip on what my budget should be. I grouped the lenses into three price-buckets:

  • Priced for the pros (e.g. Canon L -line), starting price near 1 k€ (1,3 k$)
  • Too cheap, price sub 320 € (430 $); would be good lenses for temporary use ie. replaced with better later on, but the resell price would be disappointing
  • Sweet spot for hobbyists, in the middle. Not perfect, but very good and resell price is adequate.

What I wanted was something from the "sweet spot", but the problem was that they would at minimum double my budget. Sadly, I had to go with the cheap.

If I wouldn't wanted the versatileness of different focal lengths (or zoom, as I could'd said) I might've settled to the mentioned 50 mm/1.8. NB Now that I have a 50 mm lens, I can say I would've got disappointed if it would've been my sole starter lens. 50 mm is rather long with 1.6 crop factor and too long for many situations when shooting inside our small apartment.

The two answers so far to my questions:

  1. I don't know what I want.
  2. Whatever I want, it is going to rocket my budget — and as a beginner I don't want that, not just yet.

I slept on it and considered I should save money for a good lens; but then again I didn't want this to be a too big of an investment. I also didn't want to wait for another few months.

The sanest conclusion I personally came to was to go with the 18-55 mm kit lens. I read another gazillion articles on it and accepted that while it was mediocre and probably sold at 50 € (68 $) on auction sites, it still is OK for a kit lens. Also buying the kit wasn't too much more expensive than buying just the camera body.

If you're on a tight budget and as beginner as I was, the kit lens is a good introductory lens. While I am an engineering student and like the technical specs and quality over quantity, I think, based on own experiences, it is more important for a beginner to use a versatile lens, which has

  • varying focal lengths
  • range of aperture options
  • autofocus, which can be turned off
  • image stabilisation, which can be turned off.

These are good to have, because they teach you how varying one aspect affects the whole picture. Getting to know these features will help you to decide what do you want from your second lens: Do you like the versatileness of varying focal lengths? Do you mostly shoot in 18 or 55 mm? Would you like shallower depth of field in portraits? Can't reach the birds in the sky? Autofocus too slow? Do you want all the same features but just sharper pictures? Etc.

If you don't have any experience, like I didn't, it is hard to even ask what to look for. It is good to keep options open. Kit lens is the safest choice. Go and shoot! Reading reviews only makes you sad (made me).

Bonus: After I got to know my camera and features of the lens, but still on a budget, I bought a couple of old film SLR all-manual lenses and adapters for them. Shame the 450D doesn't have a split-prism viewfinder2, so the manual focusing is a bit tricky.


1) In my opinion, this makes the question perfectly valid in its current form.
2) Well, it can be changed, but then the AF-lights won't blink anymore.

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I'm almost in the same situation once upon a time you were, thanks a lot :) –  metdos Jan 30 '11 at 13:51

The 18-55 IS kit lens is actually an excellent lens, especially for the money. It covers the normal walkaround range, is stabilized, and is surprisingly sharp. Getting this is a no-brainer. (Not getting its older brother, the 18-55 without IS, is equally a non-brainer; that was an absolute piece of dreck). Replacing it means spending quite a lot of money if you are going to get anything that is usefully better.

The question then becomes what to get in addition to the 18-55.

The 50 f/1.8 that others have suggested (a suggestion that I second, or maybe I should say fourth by now) will give you a very useable portrait lens for minimal money. It has a lot larger max aperture than the kit lens; f/1.8 vs f/5.6, which lets in about 10 times more light, which also helps for moving subjects in poor light. Or you could look at the 55-250 IS which will give you a cheap, useful telezoom to match the 18-55. The 18-55, 50 1.8 and 55-250 have similar build quality, or lack thereof, which is good enough for amateur use even if a pro photographer would wear them out quickly.

Personally, I'd NOT get one of the 18-200ish superzooms. Yes, they are one-stop shopping solutions to all the needed focal lengths. But they are rather large, slow and frankly not very good optically. Any other lens with less zoom will do a better job within its zoom range.

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The nifty fifty (50mm f1.8) will always be suggested as a "must have" lens in any camera kit due to it's great value. It's true that it's a great lens for the money. However as a beginner you may find it a bit too long for most situations, if you have an EFS camera. For portraits, it's brilliant. If you have the spare cash it's a no brainer.

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The Canon 50mm f/1.8 II is really cheap and quite nice. It's construction is not top quality (in fact it looks almost like one of those lomo cameras), but it's image quality is good.

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This lens is indeed very good for its price, however it is a bit too long as the sole starter lens on an APS-C sensor (like 80mm on FF). –  eWolf Jan 30 '11 at 9:49
    
As everything, it depends on what he wants to do. I find that it's a really nice lens for portraits. Also, it has a pretty large aperture so it's good for low light situations. –  Carles Jan 30 '11 at 10:10

Assuming you have the 18-55mm kit lens:

  1. 50mm f/1.8
  2. 55-250mm f/3.5-5.6

These two are the most affordable lenses for the people in tight budget (like me lol)

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This is exactly what I did, and it covers all the bases. Sometimes I'm annoyed at having to swap lenses or carry multiples, like when going on vacation, but when starting out, it didn't make sense to me to get the "superzoom" 18-200mm. –  khedron Jan 31 '11 at 6:28

OK. That's easy. The EF 50mm f1.8 offers the best bang for the buck on the market. I recently bought one for $128 new. It's fast, it's easy to use and the focal length has lent itself to many of the greatest images made.

Down side? It's not a robust build. If you're roughing it, this lens may not handle the grind.

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My opinion is, for your first lens don't go the fixed ones.

You can't know and be sure about the usage locations of your camera. Will you shoot birds ? will you shoot people ? are you working in studio or outside. At the begining you will do all of them and fixed ones will limit your camera or you.

Going with general lenses like 18-70, 24-135 or similars you will start to learn the differences of focal lenghts, sharpness and your usage range.

After that you will buy a more specified lenses.

For example, i used my 400d with it's kit lens and learned that 18-55 is not my type lens for daily use. Than i bought my Canon 7D with 24-135 and i didn't change it like 6 months. But when i started to shoot short films, i realized that i need 50mm f1.8 lens for sharpness.

For general usage and travel photos i am still using the 24-135 for its wide and tele options. But in studio or movies, i use my fixed lens to maximize sharpness.

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As you are on a tight budget, 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens.

However, I find the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX to be the most used lens I have ever owned. It is fast, sharp and has the perfect focal length for almost all occasions for a non-full-frame camera.

I find the 50mm f/1.8 to be a bit too long and rarely end up using it, whereas the 30mm f/1.4 is absolutely amazing and useful.

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That's for Nikon... –  gerry Jan 31 '11 at 21:10
    
They make it for Canon, it's a superb lens. It is a bit expensive for a beginner and it's a prime so you lose a lot of versatility. –  Ron Warholic Jan 31 '11 at 22:50

There are basically three schools of thought on what lenses to get as a newb. I favor the first, but that's what I did; you may feel differently.

A lot of newbs, I think, make the mistake of thinking that the "Body Only" option with cameras is for someone leaping into a system to build their own a la carte. I think that option is there for all of us oldsters who already have lenses to avoid picking up YA 18-55 kit lens. :)

Option 1: Shotgun Approach

The biggest problem you have as a newb is that you a) don't know what you want, and b) don't have enough experience with lenses to know how to get what you want if you did know. It's a chicken-and-the-egg problem. Until you've shot with lenses, you have no idea what you want in a lens. So, my general advice is to get a "training wheels triple" (assuming you started out with a crop body), and go with the 18-55 kit lens (in a body and lens kit, the price is substantially discounted from getting it on its own), a 55-whatever telephoto (e.g., EF-S 55-250 IS, or Nikkor 55-300 VR), and a single super-cheap fast prime (Canon: EF 50mm f/1.8 II or EF 40mm f/2.8 STM; Nikon: AF-S 35/1.8G, or AF-S 50/1.8G).

For less than the cost of a good mid-grade lens, you'll have gotten a wide enough spread of lenses to cover wide angle to telephoto, fast and slow, zoom and prime, stabilized and not. None of these lenses is so spectacular you won't be tempted to eventually move on, but by then you should have a more targeted idea of exactly what it is you're looking for, be it more reach, a wider field of view, more max. aperture, etc. etc.

Option 2: All-in-One Approach

Instead of going with a passel of cheapies, some folks would advocate getting a superzoom 18-200ish type lens to replace the 18-55 + 55-whatever telephoto. Because once you upgrade to your higher-end lenses, the superzoom can still be useful as a travel lens or for simple walkaround convenience when you want to avoid changing lenses. This will, however, probably cost more, and may involve some additional image compromises you won't have with the twin kit. OTOH, it's more likely to be a permanent lens in the collection.

Option 3: Just Go Pro

Some other folks will say, why the hell bother with all these cheapies or compromises, just get the best possible lenses and be happy.

But. If the advice on what "the best possible lenses" are is wrong, you'll have spent a lot of money (a LOT) on gear that it turns out wasn't a great fit for you. If, however, you have a trusted advisor who knows their stuff, and can judge what it is you want to do with your camera gear, and can put aside their own prejudices to find the best fit for you, this path could work.

Final thoughts

When taking advice on online messageboards on "what lens should I buy?", remember that a great many people can tell you what works for them. They are not you. Everybody can have different needs, budgets, and styles of shooting. How they use a piece of gear may not be how you use a piece of gear. The copy they got is not the copy you will get. Judge the source of the information as well as the information itself. And remember that the task is not to find the best lens evah--it's to find the best fit for you and for what and how you shoot.

My second lens, contrary to the advice I'm giving, was an 8mm circular fisheye. Yes, I know I'm really weird. It's a lens very few people will ever want to shoot, let alone buy. but I got a dSLR to learn how to shoot QuicktimeVR cubic panos (spherical view; 360x180 full spherical coverage). My fisheye has always been a staple in my bag. And when I got a mirrorless system, one of the first lenses I got for it was a fisheye. If you know what's right for you, it's ok to ignore all the advice.

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