After days of indecision I've decided I'll be buying the Nikon D5100. Now my only issue is what lens/lenses to go for. I think it will be best to give you an idea of what types of photographs I intend to take and information about the type of environment and space I'll be working in as well as the type of video footage I intend to shoot. I'll throw in a few example photos to show you what my expectations are in regards to the full potential of the camera and lens/lenses.


I'm going to be taking a mixture of headshots, head and shoulder shots, head to waist shots, the occasional full body shots and photos with family. But my photos will mainly be above the waist. Also 90% of these photos will be of myself, in other words they'll be self portraits.

I will be taking a lot of gym progress photos to track my weight gain (suffered muscle atrophy due to injury). Most of my photos will go into online albums on facebook, flickr, instagram etc. They won't be blown up for now, I'm still a beginner and want to use myself as a guinea pig to learn. It will also be nice to be able to take photos of nice places I travel to.

Most of these photos will be shot in the home gym (12 x 12 feet) and in a small room (furthest walls at 9 x 8.8 feet). I don't plan on doing any self portraits outside the house at the moment.


I will shoot gym sessions from different angles. We have a summer house we have converted into a mini home gym and the space I'm working with is about 12 x 12 feet as mentioned above.

Additional Accessories

I'll be buying a cheap tripod for under £20 via ebay, not sure if theres anything else I'll need. I'm guessing the camera will come with a carry case.

The Needs

I want a lens in my budget that has the potential to produce the most sharpest possible realistic images. Check the photos attached and you'll see what I'm aiming for. Also background blur would be great.

Additional Info

Originally I wanted to go for the 135mm lens but they're costly and I've been told by many this will be too long for the space I want to shoot in. I then looked at Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.8G Lens and seen it for £419. I could push my budget but again various people have said it will be too much for the space I'm shooting in.

I decided to call Jessops on Tottenham Court Road in London and a 35mm lens was recommended. I do know I definitely want a prime lens but then again the flexibility of using a zoom lens would come in very handy. I'm just obsessed with clarity, whether it's clarity in music, clarity when I'm writing code or taking photographs, I just demand quality.


I've come to the conclusion that I may need to buy 2 lenses. I was thinking I could go for this deal http://www.jessops.com/online.store/categories/products/nikon/d5100-digital-slr-camera-18-55mm-vr-lens-80903/show.html which comes with a 18-55mm VR Lens. Then purchase either a 35mm prime lens which I'm not liking the idea of or going for a 50mm prime lens to accompany the 18.55mm VR lens.

I don't want to go overboard with my lens selection then not be able to produce great photos and I don't want to aim too low and get something that just isn't good enough. I'm not a photographer but I seem to be able to notice the tiniest of details in various compared photographs. On top of this the motivation to learn is there. Being a programmer I'm patient, good at problem solving and willing to put in the work to learn this craft.

I've often been told I'd make a great photographer because of my attention to detail and to be honest lately I've been intrigued by how much there is to photography. It's like a whole new world that's not just about picking up a camera and pressing a button. It's a complex art and this is part of the reason I decided to take it up as a hobby. The other reason is because I often find myself saying "I wish I got this on camera". Well no more.

It seems I need balance. I need all my equipment to work like a successful marriage. I understand I could spend £1000 on a lens that wouldn't work well with the environment I'll be working in. So it's about weighing my options and making a good decision.

The Question

Taking all the information I've provided, if you were me and had a £700 budget what lens/lenses would you buy to accompany your Nikon D1500 and why would you choose it/them?

  • \$\begingroup\$ for the quality at low price, and for ease of setting too (ie: always the same frame without remembering where the zoom was set) : go for a Fixed lens! (as opened as possible! especially for low light, and for shallow Depth of Field and Bokeh). But you want to add a (cheap?) zoom lens for the outdoors... just to be able to frame shots differently in places where you can't afford to "feet-zoom" quickly enough. For a crop 1.5, i'd buy a fixed 50mm lens (aperture 1.8 if affordable? or as low as possible!). For the zoom, "anything" [for example: a 20-70 mm ?] if the quality is not a factor. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 18:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want shots like the nicer ones from your samples, make sure to save some of your budget for lighting! \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 18:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ In addition to lighting, note that the photos you linked to are all clearly shot by photographers who know what they're doing (or are lucky). You should not expect to pick up the camera and take photos like these -- you should expect to have to do work to learn how to take photos like these. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's almost automatic at this point, but if you're going to be doing any sort of portraiture, you want to read Lighting 101. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 20:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can tell you're a programmer, so am I. Don't sweat the lenses right now. The quality of your shots will be far more affected by your technique than your gear. Like Philip said, concentrate on lighting, not lenses, that's what make a great shot. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 23:52

2 Answers 2


If you're limited in your interior space I would consider looking into exterior skills/options. You'll be subject to the weather, but the additional space has it's advantages. I find that if I'm too near a wall and/or ceiling then bouncing light becomes problematic.

Also, being confined to a space like that can be problematic for your focal lengths. Take the picture of Ben Stiller. If you want it to be that dark in the back, which that much light on the face, you'll need to move him away from the wall. That means that you'll be up against a wall with a person right in front of you. This then means you need a wider angle lens to get everything in the shot, but can cause issues with perspective distortion (generally you want 100mm or longer for headshots).

However, if you go outside with a scrim and a reflector you could probably open up a lot of options.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll be taking photos indoors for convenience at the moment. The iPhone camera just doesn't cut it. Also reading up into lighting 101 suggested above it looks like apart from a tripod, I may need to buy an external flash, a light stand, an optical white, shoot-through umbrella and a sync kit. Things just suddenly got more complicated. I really just want to take a photo that has detail like the Idrs Elba one (photo 2). \$\endgroup\$
    – LondonGuy
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Having a good camera with a sharp lens will get you that. Make sure you don't push your ISO too high and have good technique (using a tripod certainly helps). If you have to crop too much or don't control your aperture right then that will lead to loss of detail as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – tenmiles
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 22:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LondonGuy, photo 2 may be doable with just camera and lens. This could be done with a big window with light streaming onto the subject, and perhaps some reflectors to help even things out. Done! Of course, there are details to accomplishing this. Programmer to programmer: it's like when somebody asks you to write something that just gives you a button to do a task -- it's never that simple and there are always details behind the scenes to figure out that need to be decided. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 22:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you will very quickly find that any built-in flash on a camera that even has one (the top models don't) will be sub-standard. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 2:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Londonguy, you can use duct tape to permanently shut off the in-camera flash. Or did I misunderstand something, when I read your words quality and clarity? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 10:48

I've chosen an 18 - 55mm VR lens and an 85mm lens. I managed to try them out yesterday and I really like them. My aim was to make a purchase and not need to upgrade in a long time and I feel my chosen lenses will cover most of what I intend to shoot. I chose the 85mm over the 50mm for a number of reasons such as reviews, sample images, recommendations and I feel it's a nice balance between the 135mm and the 50mm.

Below is my final list of my "beginner" equipment, well sort of final list. I can get a Nikon D7000 for a little more or if I want to be a little extra and get a Nikon D7100. I'm looking at this as a long term investment and seeing as I saved all throughout 2013 and just paid bills I'm seeing this a kind of treat to myself. This is a hobby I'd like to take seriously, it will be a way of freeing my mind from the stresses of software development.

Who knows I might be able to make some money out of it one day. I'm feeling really drawn to the Nikon D7000 because of how convenient it will be in regards to my external flash. One thing that bothers me is not having the swivel screen but to be honest that's not a big deal. I don't care for the big amount of megapixels for the bill board.

Final To Buy List

Nikon D5100 + 18 - 55 VR Lens

£399 or D7000 or D7100

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G Lens


Nikon SB-700


Westcott Shoot-Through Umbrella


Sandisk 64GB SDXC Memory Card


Nikon ML-L3 Remote Control


Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod


Giottos GTLC325-1 4 Section 322cm Lighting Stand


Manfrotto 026 Lite Tite Swivel + Umbrella Adapter


Manfretto 498RC2


Total spend: £1016.44 (If I end up going for the D5100 camera)

Update: I ended up going for the D7100. It made sense as it cost me an extra £300 or so, with my lenses and all my above gear I feel I'll be good for a few years. Looking forward to the experience.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Next you'll buy a flash? Click here for a list of flashes compatible with your Nikon. I have a Sunpak PZ42X for my Sony camera, it is on that list of Nikon compatibles too. Perhaps you'll want more power in a flash, but otherwise I find my Sunpak very useable. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 6:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there a reason you choose 85mm over a 50mm lens? on a crop sensor camera which Nikon D5100 are it seems to me like a 85mm lens with a field of view of a lens of 127.5mm full frame which is imho a bit too much for a room of 2.5-4 meters (8-12 feets). Personally i would suggest you would go with the 50mm 1.8g or even 1.4g \$\endgroup\$
    – Yao Bo Lu
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 14:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @EsaPaulasto I ended up choosing the Nikon SB-700 because I managed to get a good price of £140 for one. \$\endgroup\$
    – LondonGuy
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 16:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ The D7000/D7100 have the ability to control the SB700 wirelessly when it's off of the camera, which the D5100 can not. I'd say that's worth the upgrade and worth giving up the articulated screen for. \$\endgroup\$
    – mpr
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 1:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's definitely a nice kit to get started with. Now you can stop worrying about the gear and get shooting. (Of course, it's pretty likely that as you are working, you'll figure out specific additional things you want to add. But hopefully you will know why!) I really do recommend taking Philip Kendall's advice above — check out the Strobist (free) online series of lessons. Start by skimming Lighting 101 and then work through Lighting 102 excercise by excercise. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 18:45

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