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New to photography and have found myself wrapped up in it, what an exciting and fun art form! I have a Canon Rebel T6 (1300D) that came with the standard kit lens as well as a 75-300 lens that came as a package.

My interests are really in people - photographing people's seasons of life wither it be engagement sessions, weddings, newborns, etc. I absolutely love photographs with a shallow depth of field, I love bokeh, and I love taking shots outside.

Here's my question - I am ready to purchase a lens on it's own, I just don't know where to start with all the conflicting information you find online. I would love to purchase the nifty fifty, however with my cropped sensor I know it will act more like a 75mm lens and that seems to present some issues with shooting, for examples, newborns inside their home. I really don't know where to start here and would love some advice - keeping in mind that I'm a beginner and would like to keep the budget reasonable.

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A good place to start is in analyzing your current shots. Between your two zooms, you've got 18-300mm available. Where do you spend most of your time?

You say you like bokeh. Bokeh is a byproduct of subject/background separation and a decently open aperture for the focal length. Common portrait lenses are anywhere from 50mm to 135mm and f/1.2 and up a few stops.

I'm glad you noticed that you're on a crop sensor and what that does to angle of view, as that will impact your decision.

The next step is in figuring out whether or not you can live without a zoom.

Decent, fast primes come pretty cheap. The pancakes (24mm f/2.8 and 40mm f/2.8) offer a great lens for the money (IMO), the 50 f/1.8 as well, and the 85 f/1.8 on top of that.

However, if you want the normal zoom with a faster, constant aperture...you'll notice that the 24-70 f/2.8, f/4, and 24-105 f/4 are all much, much pricier.

You should never let your gear outpace your skills. Generally, until you can describe exactly why your current gear is inadequate, you shouldn't purchase something new. This is because new gear doesn't make you a better photographer. But, it will open some doors, if you know where they are (it's tough to shoot at night with available light for example without better than f/2.8. But if you're not shooting at night...you wouldn't know that).

So, the best advice I can personally give you is to figure out where you spend the most time given your current set up and buy a prime with a much wider aperture in that range, whether it's the 24/40/50/85. Buy it used if possible. Use it and only it for awhile to see how you feel about it. Then, make your next move.

  • "You should never let your gear outpace your skills." Following that advice leads directly to the Letter to George problem. If you've already got, say, a moderate telephoto prime like an 85/1.8, certainly don't buy a Zeiss 85/1.4 just because you heard it was "better." But if you don't have an 85mm prime at all, there's nothing wrong with considering both of them. – Michael C Jan 4 at 8:23
  • @MichaelC hadn’t seen that before but it’s not really the point I was trying to make. Moreso, if you have an 85 1.8 and know all it’s quirks and can describe how you would benefit from the Zeiss or Canonball for that matter...then you are ready to buy it. – Hueco Jan 4 at 15:00
  • But in this case the OP has no 85mm prime of any kind already. There's nothing wrong with considering either if the OP determines they need an 85mm lens and the limitations of the Zeiss (manual focus, high cost) are worth the higher resolution and other optical performance metrics. If the OP is going to ultimately wind up with/need the Zeiss, then it makes better sense to just buy it than go through two or three other, lessor 85mm lenses first. – Michael C Jan 4 at 20:54
  • @MichaelC If OP decides they need an 85 and can justify the Zeiss because they have shot using manual focus and know the limitations and are also pushing their current gear to the sharpness limits...then I would say that their skills are on par with the gear they want to acquire. But, if they've never shot manual before and just take internet posters word for it on pixel peeping, then I would say that the gear is outpacing their skills. – Hueco Jan 4 at 21:17
  • You never know how a mule will pull until you hook him to a plow. Everyone who is proficient at manual focus had to manually focus a lens for the first time at some point. Those of us old enough to have learned before AF existed perhaps don't think MF is as hard to learn as those who started in the past three decades and take AF for granted. It is true that current viewfinders don't provide many of the MF aids that pre-AF era viewfinders did, but those old film cameras didn't have 10X magnification on a rear LCD, either. It all depends upon what one is shooting. Astro is easier now. – Michael C Jan 4 at 21:51
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This goes against my instinct to straight-up recommend a lens, but I just did a quick faceted search on the B&H website: Prime lens, less than $300, Canon EOS... I came up with: Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM Lens.

You get a max aperture of f/2.8, a reasonable angle of view on your crop-sensor camera, and maybe the nicest feature... macro capability of 1:1 magnification with 5.1" minimum focus distance.

NB: I don't shoot Canon and have no idea how this lens performs, but it has been said that "it is difficult to buy a bad macro lens".

Edit: I forgot to mention... See if you can rent the lens to try it out for yourself.

  • I didn't know that lens even existed (granted, I don't really dive into EF-S lenses that often). That built in ring light looks dope! – Hueco Jan 3 at 23:02
  • Yongnuo makes an inexpensive 35/2 lens. Haven't used it, so no idea how good it is. – xiota Jan 3 at 23:05
  • @xiota The Yongnuo 35/2 is not a Macro. The word in reviewland is that you either get a good one or a bad one, but not much in between. – Michael C Jan 4 at 8:28
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Some/most of these points are covered by Hueco, though my perspective is slightly different. Hueco appears to advise going with primes, but I'm a bit more deferential to zooms.

Analyze your current focal length usage.

A lens that covers your favorite focal lengths is more likely to get more use. However, if the reason you don't use certain focal lengths is because of problems with your current lenses, you may want to consider getting a more suitable lens to cover those focal lengths.

Prime vs Zoom?

Zooms:

  • Convenient. You don't have to switch lenses (as often) to switch focal lengths.

  • Larger and heavier.

  • Slower apertures. Few zooms are faster than F2.8. Most are slower than F3.5.

  • Weak focal lengths. Most zooms are weaker at the short or long end.

  • Cost?

Primes:

  • Can reduce your need for a gym membership. Since you can't twist a ring to recompose an image, you'll have to run around a lot more or carry more lenses to swap out.

  • Usually smaller and lighter. But not if you're carrying too many of them.

  • May have an edge in image quality. Of course it depends on the specific lens.

  • Can make you miss shots – If you are caught swapping lenses. You need to think ahead to what focal lengths you will need. (No need for those brain training games.)

"Character" and "Vintage" Lenses

Lenses differ in sharpness, color, contrast, glare/flare resistance, and bokeh appearance. If you are not after absolute image "quality", but are seeking a particular "character", you may consider "vintage" lenses. They often have variable sharpness, subdued colors, reduced contrast, and reduced glare/flare resistance. Bokeh is often quite good though.

If you are after absolute image "quality" as seen in various metrics, "vintage" lenses are not for you.

Your choices for the EF/EF-S mount will be limited mainly to M42, Nikon F, and Tamron Adaptall. You will also need to use manual focus, which isn't easy with the focusing screen, but doable in live view. There are also adapters with autofocus confirm.

How are your current lenses limiting you?

The next lens you should purchase will be largely determined by what you want to do with it.

  • If you don't like swapping lenses between 18-55 and 75-300, consider 18-135mm or 18-200mm. But understand you'll likely be sacrificing some sharpness.

  • If you want faster apertures to shoot in low light or to increase background blur, you can go to primes or you can go to a faster zoom, like 24-70/2.8 or 24-35/2.

  • If you don't mind switching lenses, but find that the 75-300 is too heavy, you can get a telephoto prime to supplement the 18-55.

  • If you don't mind the 75-300, but are limited by the 18-55 somehow, you can replace the 18-55 with a set of primes. For instance, 28/35/50 would make a reasonable set.

  • If you want a wider field of view than the 18-55 can provide, you can get an even wider zoom or prime.

Some options to Consider

This list is nowhere near exhaustive.

  • 28mm prime – Good focal length for group photos. Street photography? I don't use mine much, and wouldn't recommend it unless you really like this focal length.

  • 35mm prime – "Normal" focal length on crop sensor. It is arguably the most useful focal length, and you can try lenses with different characters. Bubble bokeh, swirly bokeh, sonnar-like bokeh... This is a fun focal length to play with, but tends to cost much more than 50mm.

    Yongnuo makes an inexpensive 35/2. I don't know what quirks you should expect because I haven't used it.

  • 50mm prime - Some of the sharpest lenses are nifty fifties. This is the normal focal length on full frame. I rarely use mine (50/1.4, 50/1.7) because they are "too close" on crop sensor.

    I also don't like 40mm because it's also too close on crop sensor.

  • EF-S 18-135/3.5-5.6 IS USM – You may be able to carry around only one lens. Pretty sharp, but aperture is similar to the 18-55 kits.

    The EF-S 18-105/4L IS USM is faster at the long end. The EF 24-70/2.8L USM is faster, but doesn't have as much zoom. It's also expensive and lacks image stabilization.

  • Vivitar Series-1 28-90mm f/2.8-3.5. Inexpensive. Reasonably sharp. Reasonably good color and contrast. Fast F2.8 aperture at the wide end. Minimum focus distance is less than 10 cm. Nice bokeh. Its main disadvantages are image stabilization and autofocus are driven by external biologic sensors and motors (aka manual focus). Look for one with a Nikon F mount to use with an adapter.

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    Indeed, I am very partial to primes. Cause gyms are just too expensive :-D – Hueco Jan 4 at 0:37
  • In reality, "May have an edge in image quality" is more like "Almost always has an edge in image quality." – Michael C Jan 4 at 8:25
  • @Hueco But if you lug a set of fast zooms around all of the time, you can get the same workout without having to pay gym fees! – Michael C Jan 4 at 8:29
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    The real debate isn't over primes vs zooms. It's cardio vs strength training. – xiota Jan 4 at 12:09
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    Real men do their squats with a 600 f/4 after running a 5k with it on their back. – Hueco Jan 4 at 15:03
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A 35mm F1.8

fairly cheap, lightweight and a big aperture

the 35mm starts getting you closer to things, rather than just zooming, meaning that you engage with the subject a lot more.

and I haven't even mentioned that great feeling of getting those 'juicy' depth of field photos

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    Are you sure that 35mm f1.8 is going to get meaningfull separation in tight indoor spaces on a crop body? I have a 50mm f1.8 and does not get as much separation as I would like in a typical indoor scene, and thats on full frame. What have been working for me is an Kerlee 35mm f1.2 manual focus lens, I got that new for 300€. If autofocus is needed I would look at Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art, but befor commiting look for tests on a crop body. – lijat Jan 4 at 13:45
  • There's more to subject-background separatiin than just aperture size. I have a 35/2.8 that gets excellent separation at F5.6. (Same and similar model lenses go for ~$20 on auction sites.) – xiota Jan 4 at 16:32

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