I am an absolute beginner in serious photography. I'm a position to get a Nikon D70 body for $100 or so.

I've been researching lenses and I'm debating if I should get the one that originally came with the camera (18-55mm II) or a 50mm f/1.8. Like I said at the beginning, I really don't know enough yet to make an informed decision.

I plan on mostly taking portrait photos. Occasionally some outdoors shots, like park outings and such, nothing too fast-moving.

I'd like to keep my budget for the lens below $150.

If you need any more details, please let me know.


6 Answers 6


The 50mm F/1.8 is certainly best suited for portraits. Its bright aperture lets you shoot in lower light and allows for much more background blur as seen in classic portraits, because it separates the subject from the background and tends to remove distracting elements.

Honestly, I would not use the other one for anything. Getting a poor lens is the easiest way to cripple the performance of a DSLR.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the 50mm. I'm a portrait kind of fellow and I only break out my kit 18-55mm (stead of 50mm f/1.4) in extremely rare occasions when I have to go wider. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 18:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ For many reasons I agree the 50 f/1.8 is the lens to go (at least in most cases) among these two, however the nikkor 18-55 is not a poor lens by any means. It's not fast nor sturdy, still its good image quality (talking of contrast, sharpness, chromatic aberrations and flare) and versatility are quite a matter of fact. \$\endgroup\$
    – MattiaG
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry but the 18-55mm II is a poor lens. I had access to 4 samples of it (each sent along with a different camera) and there is no way its performance could be confused with a semblance of quality. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 17:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "bright" doesn't seem like an informative adjective to use when describing a lens to "an absolute beginner". \$\endgroup\$
    – Octopus
    Commented Jan 7, 2016 at 23:50

If you're really sure you'll mainly be doing portraits, then the 50 1.8 is a good choice. But considering your beginner status, you might find you don't like portraits and actually prefer landscapes, for example. Where the 50 1.8 is obviously limited in focal length but better quality, the 18-55 will be much more flexible.

Given that the 50 1.8 is relatively cheap, and that the 18-55 will still do a pretty good job of portraits, I'd consider getting the 18-55 with a view to getting the 50 further down the line.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The situations in which the 18-55 does pretty good portraits is extremely limited compared to the 50mm f1.8. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ true, you'll get much better portraits from the 50, but you can still do portraits with the 18-55, as well as many, many other things that the 50 can't do as well. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 19:21
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There is a sub-genre called telephoto landscapes, and a wider landscape can still be stitched with nifty fifty. \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 20:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm aware of telephoto landscapes - an 18-55 would do both 'traditional' wide-angle and telephoto landscapes. And stitching is a pain in the neck. Incidentally, I'm really playing devil's advocate here - just giving Jaquer both sides of the argument \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 20:40
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ The "need" for a fast portrait lens is just a for-the-moment thing -- when I was a working pro, the "first thought" aperture for a portrait was usually in the f/8-11 range (f/5.6-8 equivalent for a crop sensor). Believe it or not, there was a time when environmental portraiture was supposed to include the environment rather than blur it out. It's a matter of taste, I suppose, but I prefer the more considered, deep-focus genre to the bokeh-based easy way out. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 4:31

I bought my D70s with the 18-70 kit lens. I added the 50mm f/1.8 to my bag a few days later. Aside from an occasional need for a wider angle, the 50mm stayed mounted on that camera easily 95% of the time.

When I got serious about macros, I bought a set of extension rings, and occasionally slipped a 12mm ring under the 50.

When the D70s developed some "quirks" with its CF card slot and I was ready to upgrade the body, I moved that 50mm onto a D90, where it also stays nearly permanently mounted.

The thing that really keeps the 50mm on the camera is that it works so well wide open, and when shooting wide open at a higher ISO, I can get casual shots in remarkably dim light. I've really come to enjoy its slight reach over a "normal" lens as well.

When I next buy more glass, my next lens is likely to be either a full circle fisheye or a fast prime in the 30mm range.


I agree with Itai's answer: for portraits, 50 mm f/1.8 is a better choice. Optical quality for this Nikon lens is incredibly good, probably the best optical quality-price ratio for the brand. And it is fairly fast, which helps to take pictures in the dark. As the D70 doesn't have a low-light sensitive sensor, this should be a huge argument in favor of the prime lens.

Besides, from my point of view, if you are a serious beginner and want to improve your skills, the choice of the prime lens really makes sense. Prime lenses force you to prepare your composition, to think where to place yourself, to carefully choose your settings and give you good habits. Zooms tend to make you lazy...

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't see how zoom lenses make you lazy. You can use a zoom just like a prime if you wish. It just gives you more flexibility. Of course, you can't just not think about the zoom and just change the dial until your shot looks right, but I think the argument of "some people get lazy with zooms" isn't an argument against zooms, it's against those who don't learn to use them properly. (For what it's worth, I've never seen a professional photographer using a prime at an event -- 70-200mms everywhere!) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 20:02
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Oh don't get me wrong, I like zooms, they are very handy in some situations where you need flexibility (well that was the goal...). But seeing friends starting with zooms, I have observed that they tend to zoom in/out instead of moving. That causes them to lack depth-of-field sometimes for example (particularly true for zooms with sliding aperture), or to get a perspective they didn't intend to get. Of course if you are methodic enough, it is not an issue. Otherwise having a prime lens helps. \$\endgroup\$
    – drolex
    Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 20:15

One home truth before I get started: $150 as a lens budget could actually mean that a dSLR is not a great choice for you, because equipping yourself with a dSLR system is expensive. While a camera body can easily be picked up in the $300-$500 range, to get a good basic system is more in the $1000-$2000 range. If $100 one way or the other is going to break the bank, you may want to consider a fixed-lens camera, instead. These days, some of them even come with APS-C sensors.

If you're seriously into photography and using a crop-body, neither of these lenses is likely to be the tool of choice for you, because they are consumer grade lenses--good, but not fantastic and there's undoubtedly a better lens out there for the specific thing you want to shoot. The problem is that as a beginner, you're caught in a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma. To know what lens you want, you need experience enough to know what lens you want.

"Body only" packages aren't really for a newb to order up their ideal system à la carte, but for someone who already has all their glass not to be lumbered with another 18-55 kit lens when they upgrade bodies.

18-55 kit lens

The reason the camera comes with a cheap, consumer-grade 18-55 lens, however, is so that you have something to shoot with out of the box, and you can get experience. It's also not a horrible terrible lens that will turn all your images butt-ugly just from being used. It is limited. It has shortcomings. There are a lot better lenses out there. But it delivers well enough that you should be able to distinguish between good and bad technique while using it. And, if bundled with the body, it's cheap.

But most importantly, its focal length range covers wide angle to short telephoto, so it's a good versatile walkaround lens that covers the typical vacation, landscape, and daylight portrait shots non-photographers buy a camera for. Learn to light, and you can do crazy good things even with an 18-55 for portrait work. And if you amass a number of photos with it you can begin to see where you like to work in terms of focal length, so you can determine the appropriate prime lenses if you want a low-cost wide-aperture lens.

50mm f/1.8 lens

The 50/1.8 used to be the kit lens on film SLRs. It's also very cheap. But unlike an 18-55, it doesn't zoom, will be a lot faster, and probably optically superior to an 18-55. It probably won't be stabilized and may not have a focus motor, if you're really bargain hunting. And to top it all off, on a crop sensor, its field of view is narrower than "normal", so its use as a general-purpose walkaround lens is far more limited.

It could be a better portrait lens than the 18-55, if you prefer doing natural light or using a thin depth of field. And you can shoot landscapes with it, albeit with a limited FoV. It's certainly nicer in terms of how wide you can open the aperture--an 18-55 lens is typically limited to f/5.6 or smaller by the time you get to 55mm. But the fixed framing can be very inconvenient, especially if you can't move around, or are shooting in tight spaces.

And here's the thing. Roughly the same amount of money could also get you a 35/1.8, and quite a bit more can get you an 85/1.8. And the 35/1.8 would be better as a walkaround, and the 85/1.8 might be better for portraits. And there you'd be, with an almost-but-not-quite-fits 50mm for your money. Chicken and the egg. To really know if the 50/1.8 is the lens you need, a little more experience is invaluable.


The 50mm 1:8 is a great lens. I have a couple of d810s and a d300. I fitted it out of curiosity to the d300 and was stunned at the quality of it. It would be ideal on a DX body as a portrait lens. The 18-55 is...well..."nasty" and cheap. Possibly its worst feature being the plastic (yes PLASTIC!) Lens mount! You'd be surprised how many of these mounts break in no time flat! Go with the 50 and steer well clear of that zoom!


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.