I've become my family's un-official photographer, pretty much, and found myself in need of a better camera. (We have a large local close young family, so 20+ running around the house occasionally — cousins, grandparents, nephews, etc.) I've recently purchased a Nikon D3100 with the kit lens. It's pretty obvious that the kit lens isn't going to cover the variety of situations I'm going to need to shoot.

Situations mainly fall into three categories, like most families:

  • Around the house when we're all just hanging out.
  • Trips (mostly local — zoos, pumpkin farms, etc. — not exotic)
  • Portraits

I feel like the kit lens will probably suffice for the first one, so its the second and third that I'm really after.

Research leads me to believe the Nikon 50mm f/1.8d AF is probably a good choice for the portrait lens. I know the D3100 requires AF-S to autofocus, but the AF-S version is probably out of my price range for the moment (another $300 or so) considering I need another lens as well. Since they would be staged portraits mainly, I feel like manually focusing, wouldn't be a big deal. Does this sound correct?

For the "trips" lens, I really would like something with a little reach to it since we're often spread out. These would be mainly outdoors, catching the moments when they don't know I'm shooting. I feel like the Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX would be good choice, but I'm not sure if I really need the VR shooting those kinds of scenes. The 55-200mm version is much more in my price range, but experience with my P&S tells me I probably need a bit more range. If I don't need VR, the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SLD DG looks good, but with the crop factor, the 70mm seems a bit far on that end.

I'm in semi-rural area and renting lens isn't really a great option.

Any advice? Is there a reasonably price lens I'm overlooking that better covers both situations?

UPDATE: My concern on the range for the "trip" lens is based on my P&S experience, but I looked at the EXIF data from a fully zoomed picture on my P&S and it lists it as "200mm (35 mm)". At the 1.5 crop factor of the D3100, should I expect approximately the same distance from a 200mm lens like the Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR ? If so, I'm probably leaning towards that and the 35mm 1.8.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The other answers all recommend the 35mm AF-S f/1.8, and I totally agree. It's a fantastic lens for a decent price. \$\endgroup\$
    – Evan Krall
    Commented Nov 3, 2010 at 1:21

7 Answers 7


I'll base my suggestions on a budget limit.

If you want to take more photo's inside of the house, the kit lens might be a bit to slow. I myself experience this and I've found that the AF-S 35mm 1.8f/1.4f is a very good way to avoid using a flash. The popup flash is not bad, but the results are very flashy, another way to solve this, is to diffuse the light, a nice working DIY solution for this is: DIY diffuser using a old film canister. I have used this and am very pleased with the results.

For trips I would say, get the AF-S 55mm-200mm VR, a very nice addition to your kitlens, and it is also very suited for creating portraits. In your update you mention you find the 350mm range important, and indeed, with the crop factor of the DX body, the 200mm will become 350mm. Another advantage you shouldn't forget is that the quality and amount of mega-pixels is high enough to do some serious cropping and still be able to print without visible loss of quality. The downside of this lens is that you have to switch your lenses for a wide shot, but the other option is to get the 18-200, but this is a much more expensive lens.

Both these lenses are the "cheapest" AF-S with a very good reputation on several review sites.

As already discussed in the comments, you're just beginning with DSLR photography, so in my opinion, try not to spend too much on a very high quality lens, but first try to find your personal style and preference. If you have this, you can base your next purchase not only on advice online, but also on your personal requirements.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I thought that while the focal range on the 55mm-200mm VR might be appropriate for portraits, it would be difficult to get a good bokeh with an aperture that small. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 20:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ just have to take some more distance from the subject. than you can get very nice bokeh, or position the subject further from the background. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 20:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ At 200mm you could get some nice bokeh - people often forget or don't realize that long focal lengths get bokeh even at narrower aperture \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 20:55
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty new to photography, so its more of just not knowing. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 21:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that comment was aimed at you, but since your new, you got a nice body, and a pretty good kit lens, try not to spend money on expensive lenses before you know you own style. The 55-200 really is a cheap lens to have fun with. And I have been very pleased with my portraits shots. For budget reasons, you can also find this lens on ebay for a even more easy price to bootstrap your experience. (do get the VR though) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 21:06

I have the 35mm 1.8 and its a great little lens - I have used it for portraits until quite recently when I bought a 2nd hand 35mm-70mm 2.8, this now lives on my camera for portrait work.

The 55mm-200mm is a good option for the range work

  • I'd recommend sticking with a lens that has autofocus. Definitely if the portraits are staged that is an easier situation to manual focus in, but manual focusing with the D3100's small viewfinder might be trickier than you think, especially if there are kids in the photo and you need to grab it quickly :).-
  • You might try the new 35mm AF-S f/1.8 lens for portraits, its not an ideal focal length for portraits, but it would get you some nice bokeh and allow you to shoot in natural light more often (the longer the focal length the nicer the compression and perspective for portraits, 85mm works well)
  • You'd need VR in situations where you don't have enough light to get a fast enough shutter, if you are shooting at 300mm, you usually need at least a shutter speed of 1/300s to avoid hand shake, if its too dark for that, then VR will help.-
  • Did you consider Nikon's 18-200mm VR lens? I'm sure it compromises somewhat, but it would be really convenient to have wide and telephoto in one lens. The less stuff you have to bring with you the more likely you will bring it all, and if you can avoid changing lenses you'll have more of a chance of getting the photo.


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    \$\begingroup\$ the 18-200 is fairly expensive though.. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 2, 2010 at 20:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for sticking with AF. DX viewfinders aren't really meant to manual focus fast primes, and trying to do so could lead to some frustrating results. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 3, 2010 at 8:48

I don't have a Nikon, but my DSLR is used mostly for exactly the type of pictures you're asking about - taking pictures of the family.

I have a number of lenses, and try to use them all, but I think I get most of my favorite shots with one of two lenses:

I have a 50mm/1.4 - this is great for portraits, and for taking pictures of the kids "doing things" using existing lighting. The ability to take candid shots in low light without the distraction of the flash can't be understated. Best $400 I've spent in a long time.

On the other extreme, I have an old 80-320 zoom, which is great for taking pictures of sporting events, and "sneaking" shots when you're far enough away that they don't notice you. Sometimes I'll use the 50-200 as well, mostly for sporting events, but that long zoom is really nice to have.


Have you considered the Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G? Is a pretty decent all-round zoom lens

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree. Yes, it's a kit lens and has its fair share of flaws but, in terms of value for money, it's hard to beat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nick
    Commented Dec 3, 2010 at 16:50

For family and individual portraits I love something in the 24-70 zoom range for a full or near-full frame camera body.

Kids are fast moving little critters and you need a fast focusing lens to track them. You also don't want to have to stand near them or they'll start mugging for the camera, which almost never turns into a photo you want to keep. The 70mm end of a lens puts you at a reasonable distance with kids and will work wonderfully for tight portraits of humans... err... adults. :-)

I used to shoot some events for special-needs kids, and they'd see a camera and concentrate on smiling instead of doing whatever it was that made it a good shot initially. After a bit I switched to a 70-200 f2.8 and worked from farther away. I could still pull them in for a full facial if necessary, but usually that was too tight so I'd shoot a bit wider to show their activity; To provide a "sense of place".

The first time I turned in photos from that event the heads of the organization were wowed. Everyone else shooting it tried to get in close with a short lens and never got the kids being themselves. Also, because it's a longer lens the backgrounds were soft (I shoot almost wide open), so each photo really isolated the subject from the background, making the photo very intimate.

So, depending on what you're doing and the style of the shooting you need, I'd either recommend a wide-to-medium zoom, or a medium-to-long zoom. If you can handle buying both you won't regret it because you'll need the versatility.


Since you recently purchased a D3100 with its kit lens (18-55 VR) I would highly recommend that you use it for a while (say 6 months or so) before you make another purchase.

Here is why

  1. You will miss some amazing shots if you carry more than one lens when travelling or shooting with family. Especially when there are kids around something always keeps happening and you will not have the time to change the lens before you shoot.

  2. Give yourself time to see what you really like and what is the focal length range you use most before you decide to spend even $200 on a 55-200 mm lens. Everyone is different, there is no solution that fits all- the only solution that comes close to fitting all is the kit lens :)

  3. The Kit lens is truly amazing, provides a good, most commonly used zoom range and has VR. It should meet all the needs that you have mentioned above. Even if you cannot zoom into something at 55 mm, you should be able to crop and get desired results easily. At 55 mm, it provides sufficiently good bokeh (see comments above in this thread and elsewhere on how to get good bokeh).

  4. Most people who start with photography buy a camera with a kit lens, then buy a fixed prime lens, then a zoom lens, then a wide angle, then filters - the list keeps going on. There is nothing wrong with buying a bunch of lenses but I would strongly recommend that you give yourself some time with what you have before you make a purchase.

PS: I have the 35mm 1.8 AF-S, but I am not sure how you can use that lens to click portraits. I almost can never get anything out of focus and if I do, the bokeh still sucks. I find that the kit lens provides me with much better results. Having said that it is great lens for low-light and like most prime lenses- it is very sharp.

If you have to buy, sell the 18-55 mm VR, spend a few 100 more and get the 18-200 mm VR. But I would try to do that only after I have used the kit lens for a bit.

Hope this helps.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I have since purchased a 50mm 1.4 and a 70-300mm. The 50 lives on my camera. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 2:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah.. Too late :) Do post in a few months about which lens you like/use most and for what. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 2:58

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