3 Questions to Answer Before You Buy Your Next Lens

November 20, 2018

So I know which camera to buy, but what lenses do you suggest for what I want to photograph?

Okay YES! If you are still on the fence about what camera to buy, read this post here!

Guys, if I had someone experienced at my side when I was purchasing lenses, it would’ve saved me some bucks! To start, I still suggest purchasing the nifty fifty first! There are THREE questions I’d say you want to answer before you purchase and TWO FACTORS of which you need be aware.

3 questions before you buy:

  1. What kind of camera do you have? Is it crop sensor or full frame?
  2. What do you mostly want to photograph?
  3. Consider the aperture of the lens—this is what makes lenses $$$ to $$$$

#1 is important because for Nikon, IF you have a crop sensor camera, then you must purchase the DX version of some lenses—specifically the DX 35 1.8. Nikon has a DX version of this lens for ONLY crop sensor cameras. If you don’t think you’ll upgrade cameras, then THIS is what you want. And it’s a great price! If you think you’ll upgrade to a full frame OR DO have one, then you want this 35 1.8. Now, if you have an even higher budget, then you can upgrade to the 35 1.4—remember, aperture makes the $$ go up! 😉

And if you’re a Canon-user with a crop sensor and don’t plan to upgrade to full frame, the 35 f/2.8 is for you!

#2 is important, because different subjects/purposes are best with different lenses.

  1. For example, I’d recommend the 35 1.8 for kiddos, newborn or lifestyle, because it’s a wider lens, and it allows you to capture more (imagine little kiddos running and trying to capture them—a wide lens is helpful!!). I’d recommend the 85 1.8 to someone who loves portraits, like seniors, engagements, maternity, etc. Keep in mind, you’ll need to often shoot in wide open spaces (outdoors, fields, etc.), because the 85 is a telephoto lens. However, it’s known as the “cream machine” because of it’s glorious condensed blurry bokeh background! As stated above, if you’re a mom with a crop sensor camera and mostly plan to photograph your family, the 35 1.8 is a GREAT option for you! Again, just know it won’t work on a future full frame camera you may buy!
  2. The 85 is known as the “cream machine” because of how it condenses the background and creates a creamy bokeh blur.
  3. I was talking with an interior photographer at a local coffee shop who said he loved using the Nikon 24-120 f/4 lens, because of it’s wide range inside and the fact that he WANTS to capture what’s inside the room, and the higher aperture starting at 4 simply works for him. This lens would also be excellent for traveling with its wide range. Just take note that in darker situations, its aperture of 4 may not give you the best leverage. Becuase of that, we own the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 lens.
  4. If you want to capture details, like insects, jewelry, even food photography, considering a macro lens like the 105 f/2.8 might be a good option for you.
  5. For anyone shooting weddings, I always recommend having at least a wide lens (35) and a telephoto lens (85 or above). You want the leverage to be in tight spaces with a wide lens, and you the leverage to be able to zoom in in large, potentially dark areas (for example, inside ceremony venues). This brings me to the most expensive lens we own and always suggest new photographers start out renting: 70-200 2.8. Anything in between is fluff—you want at least 1 wide lens, 1 telephoto and your nifty fifty. We rented the 70-200 2.8 from BorrowLenses.com for our first several wedding and never regretted it. The telephoto range of 200mm allows us to zoom in on the couple’s faces during the ceremony and open our aperture as low as 2.8 in low lighting—dang low aperture # is what makes the price tag so high!

#3 is important, because depending on your need or use of your lenses, you can very well save a lot of $$ by purchasing the 1.8 aperture versus the 1.4. You notice that I suggest this above, because I’m assuming many of you are first starting out. In my opinion, investing in a lens with a 1.8 aperture when you’re starting out is a wise financial decision and will get the job done. When you’re at the point professionally where you want to invest in more professional glass—specifically 1.2 or 1.4 apertures, you can DO that with profit AND either sell your original 1.8 or use it as back up (we do).

2 factors to be aware of:

  1. Is the lens DX (crop sensor) or FX (full frame); meaning, will the lens work on BOTH types of cameras or only one? Usually the more cost efficient lenses will work ONLY on crop sensor cameras and not full frames. You’ll see DX or FX in the name or description when buying. If you never plan to upgrade your camera, it’s a budget-friendly idea to purchase a DX lens—specifically the 35 1.8 for moms.
  2. Does the lens have a varied aperture? This means that on lenses with a zoom, as you zoom in and out, the maximum aperture changes based on the focal length. For example, while using the 18-55mm lens, you can zoom out wide to 35mm and utilize the maximum aperture of 3.5, but when you zoom in to 55mm, the lens automatically jumps the aperture higher and you’re limited to an aperture of 5.6 . It’s difficult to have control and to learn how to use your camera in manual and have full control when your lens doesn’t allow you that. These lenses, again, are for more of the amateur photographer needing a cost efficient lens. The 18-55 kit lens has a 3.5-5.6 range. When you look at the lens, you’ll know if it has a varied aperture if the aperture # behind the focal length of the lens has a dash: 70-300 (focal length) with varied aperture 4.5-6.3.

While this is probably enough to get the wheels turning, there
is SO much more I could share on lenses. Maybe this will get you started!

The order in which we purchased our lenses for wedding photography in mind:

  1. 50 1.8 (later upgraded to 50 1.4)
  2. 24-70 2.8 (versatile in the beginning but now I use mostly prime lenses)
  3. 85 1.8
  4. 70-200 2.8
  5. upgraded from Nikon D3100 to Nikon D610
  6. 35 1.4
  7. 105 2.8 (macro lens used specifically for ring + detail shots—5% of wedding day)
  8. 50 1.4 (upgraded and moved 50 1.8 to back up)*We now use Sigma Art 50 1.4 and Sigma Art 85 1.4, because I like their quickness, clarity and sharpness better than the Nikon 50 1.4 and Nikon 85 1.4. Our 50 1.4 and 85 1.4 are moved to back ups.

Relevant posts:

I want a camera, but which one?! 

Crop sensor vs full frame: 3 most important differences explained 


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Lindsay Davenport is a newborn and motherhood photographer + educator based in Dallas and available for travel worldwide.

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