Lenses… are… expensive!  Fortunately, I’ve done the leg work for you by testing out tons of different lenses so that you can be sure that you’re spending your hard-earned money on only the best quality stuff.

I tried to create this list being as fair as possible to all brands, but unfortunately I don’t know enough Sony lenses to make recommendations there.  Sorry to be Nikon/Canon-centric.  I believe that these are the very best lenses available for either brand.

Recommended Canon Lenses

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Lens – This is a very well built wide-angle lens for the Canon system.  Although it isn’t quite as sharp as the famous Nikon 14-24mm lens, this one is still a keeper.  It is sharp as a tack, fast, and has a convenient zoom range; however, I would only recommend this wide-angle lens for photographers with full frame cameras.  If you own a crop sensor camera, then I’d get the 10-22mm.  If you don’t have any idea what I just said, check out this previous post on the difference between wide angle and crop sensor DSLR cameras.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM AF Lens – This is the best walk-around lens that Canon offers.  It has a convenient focal length for general photography purposes, and is quite sharp given the focal range.  It works for landscapes when traveling, as well as outdoor portraits and much more.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 USM Lens – For just $100, the price is outstanding and the optical quality for that price is very good.  For photographers who like to be close to the subject and don’t mind shooting primes for portraits, this lens is the obvious choice.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM – For professional portrait photographers, this is probably the most popular portrait lens on the planet.  I personally don’t own this lens because I feel more comfortable shooting portraits with a longer focal length, but I am in the minority on this point.  This list would be incomplete without this lens.  Note that Canon came out with a version II of this lens, but you can save a thousand dollars by buying version one.  I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison of the versions.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 II USM Lens – This is one of the most coveted lenses for Canon portrait photographers.  While I personally prefer the convenience of a zoom lens for portraits, there can be no argument that this lens is anything other than outstanding.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens – This is truly a fantastic macro lens.  Perhaps its greatest feature is the silent-wave motor.  The only negative to this lens is that I generally prefer to shoot at a slightly longer focal length than 100mm for macro shots, but this is perfect for any subject that won’t move away from the lens (i.e. no bugs).  Canon offers a 180mm macro lens, but it is so expensive that there is nothing “outstanding” about it at the price of $1,800.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS USM Lens – Many portrait photographers prefer shorter focal lengths for most portraits, but this lens is my go-to choice for portraits.  I would feel quite comfortable shooting almost an entire wedding using only this lens.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

 

Recommended Nikon Lenses

Nikon 28-300mm ED VR AF-S Lens – I know of no other lens on the market that offers such fantastic optical quality at such a low price point and with such an OUTSTANDING zoom range.  Great photowalk and travel lens and I love that it is FX format.  The only drawback to this lens is that I found it to be slow to focus considering the large focal range.  See my full review of the Nikon 28-300mm lens here.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 AF-S Lens – Incredibly wide angle, unbelievably sharp, and solidly built.  It is widely (sorry for the pun) considered to be the best wide-angle landscape lens ever produced.  The only drawback is that it is so wide that you can’t really use filters with it.  For filters, you’ll have to use the Nikon 16-35mm lens.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens – This is NOT the 50mm f/1.8D that we have seen for years.  This is the new, updated version of the lens that came out this year with a new silent-wave motor and improved optics that make this lens outstanding.  I was thrilled when Nikon announced this lens because I never recommended entry-level Nikons since they don’t have a focus motor that was required for the old Nikon Nifty Fifty.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 ED AF-S Lens  – For professional portrait photographers, this is probably the most popular portrait lens on the planet.  I personally don’t own this lens because I feel more comfortable shooting portraits with a longer focal length, but I am in the minority on this point.  This list would be incomplete without this lens.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II Lens – Many portrait photographers prefer shorter focal length primes for most portraits, but this lens is my personal go-to choice for portraits.  I shoot most weddings with the 70-200mm and only feel the need to switch lenses occasionally.  Sharp as a tack through most of the focal range, too.

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo and on Amazon.com.

Nikon 400mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Lens – I know… I know… this lens costs more than many used cars.  However, it would be difficult or impossible to argue that there is a better sports lens than the Nikon 400mm f/2.8.  I shot it a few months ago and was BLOWN AWAY.  Can I give a more positive review of this lens?

Check the price for this lens on B&H Photo.

 

Best “Other” Lenses (Available in Sony mount, Nikon mount, Canon mount, etc)

Tamron AP 28-75mm f/2.8 XR ZL Di LD Aspherical Lens – The good folks at Tamron let me test out this lens a few weeks ago.  This specific lens was INCREDIBLE!!!  It only costs around $500 and is sharp, fast-focusing, and is a remarkably good macro lens to boot.  I was focusing to within 6 inches!  Seriously, this lens is a truly outstanding alternative to the Canon and Nikon 24-70mm lenses that cost FOUR TIMES more than this lens.  I have no problem saying that this is the most outstanding third-party lens ever made.  Here’s a link to the Nikon version of this lens.  Here’s a link to the Canon version of this lens.  Here’s a link to the Pentax version of this lens.  Here’s a link to the Sony version of this lens.

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens – This lens makes the list for being the cheapest high-quality wide-angle lens available.  Its fast aperture and advanced optics set it apart from the competition at this price point.  This lens is made to fit both Canon, Nikon, and Sony DSLRs.  Here’s a link to the Canon version.  Or here is a link to the Nikon version.  Or here is a link to the Sony version.

Sigma 50-500mm Lens – This is the only lens being included on this list that does not have drop dead amazing optics.  This lens produces acceptably sharp, but not ridiculously sharp, images.  It has a good autofocus and a convenient focal range, but what makes this lens outstanding is that it allows tens of thousands of hobbyist photographers to shoot wildlife and sports who otherwise would not be able to afford a true telephoto lens.  Generally, wildlife/sports lenses cost well over $6,000; therefore, the availability of this lens has broken down barriers in the industry and created opportunities for photographers.  Here is a link to the Canon version of this lens.  Here is a link to the Nikon version of this lens.  Here is a link to the Sony version of this lens.

  • Marg Huxley

    Hi, I’ve just gone mirrorless. After a lot of deliberation I have purchased the Olympus OM DE 1. Could you help advise which lenses would be essential for me to aim for. I have the pro 12-40mm f2.8 lens and love it. My lifelong passion is travel. I love people photography…natural not studio. I also enjoy wildlife photography, specifically bears….black, brown, kermode and polar, also koalas, and pandas. I do enjoy landscape photography as well and feel that one day in the not too distant future I will delve into the macro world.
    I gave up my Nikon as they are just too heavy when travelling.
    I would appreciate your advice very much.
    Regards
    Marg Huxley

    • Jacques Wood

      Marg,

      I like you got tired of logging my SLR, Canon in my case, on trips. I bought the Olympus OM DE 1 in January. It is great for travel, such as a trip to Italy in October.

      I have the 12-40 and a Panasonic Lumix 100-300 F 4-5.6 which is great lens for the money ( $500). I did not miss any wider lens than the 12 mm on my trip. I may buy at some point the new 40-150 mm 2.8 pro lens.

      Good shooting,

      Jacques

  • http://vietnambestplace.com/ Led

    I own the 24-105L, it is good with comfort price.
    Thinking to buy Sigma 35 1.4 or Canon 135L.

    With me, two lens : one zoom, one prime, is complete.

  • Becky K.

    I have a Sony SLT-A58 DSLR camera…. do I have to use a Sony Lens or can I use other brands, like Nikon? I am a beginner and looking for a zoom lens. Thanks!

    • Tom E

      You can find lenses by Sony, Minolta, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Rokinon and others that will work with the Sony A58.

      These lenses must have the Sony A-mount on them so that they will be able to be mounted onto the Sony A58 (or any other Sony A-mount camera like the A77 Mk2, A99, etc).

      There are no adapters (at least that I’ve found) for the A-mount that let you attach Nikon, Canon or any other non-Sony branded lens to these cameras. Although, there are adapters to attached Sony A-mount lenses to a Canon or Nikon body.

      If you want to use Nikon or Canon glass with a Sony camera you need to pick up one of their E-mount cameras like the a6000 or the A7/A7 Mk2. There are adapters available for the E-mount cameras that let you use almost any brands lenses with these cameras.

      Hope that this late response helps anyone out there.

  • Mark Franks

    Is the lens chooser website still in the works or have I missed an announcement about it?

  • http://thephotoist.weebly.com/ Larry Coles

    I am old school were buying a quality name camera meant a quality lens, but not much any more. I have Canon both film and DSLR, and have been struggling with what is sharp and compared to what. I purchased several Tamron lenses a WA zoom and Telephoto Zoom, but just felt like I was not getting shap images, So I bought a couple Canon USM models, though they are not low and end they are not “L” for sure, but I still was not pleased with my shots, So finally I decided I would try a Tokina, after all I used to sell them in my studio/camera shop years ago and shot Rodeo with my Canon A-1. two years out in the arena for horse shows and rodeo and the lens never loosened up like so many including my canons that did. I had aquired a 600mm Follow Focus Novo Flex made in Germany around 1965 and put it to the test on a mountain about 10 miles away, and was so pleased to see that a tree on the skyline was sharp, so now I had a reference point to compare to. Well my Canons failed as did my Tamons. I found a Tokina 28 to 105 macro Aspherical and put it to the test and it was sharp, next I picked up a Tokina 30-300 but it got damaged in shipping, the data ribbon had been torn in half, but it still would shoot wide open, and it was sharp, and finally I got a 28-210 and shooting from the valley to the top of the area ski resort where the repeater tower were, probably 10 miles as the crow flys, anyway with the Tokinas I can see the tower and cross arms, with the Canon USMs I could barely see the tower. I strongly recommend Tokina, however, the only long lenses I have see currenly from tokina are primes, but in the wide angles a good sellection are available, and reviews are claiming it is better than comparable “L’s” for a third the price, and some new features are lens coating that shed water, dust and fingerprints. When you go shopping consider used at least until you find what I have found and decide to spend the cash.

  • Shanni

    Advice for a sort of beginner. I have a Canon 18-55 and 55-250 I love taking landscape and wildlife photos and want a telephoto lens that wont involve me selling one of my kidneys. I have looked at the Canon 70-300 with I.S. but its rather $$$ so I was informed of a signa lens that could offer a lot but not super at 300 quality/sharpness is lost. Anything over the 300 tends to be way out of the budget and really rather bulky. This is just purely a hobby and a way to document travelling around the USA whilst living here. The world of photography is really rather complicated with too many options especially for newbies. I feel I may add I have taken one or two half decent photographs, honestly!!! Thank you

  • Marc

    Hi Jim,
    I am so thankful for your work and I love what you do. Your advice has heavily influenced all of my strategic decisions. I’m in the process of upgrading lenses to the ones recommended and the first one I bought was a minty fresh nifty fifty from Amazon. I went out to the woods and tested it. I was pleased with the result, though not overwhelmed, and I suppose I will have to get more practice with it (especially the focus seemed odd maybe off but again I’ll practice more). The problem was when I took out my camera next time to switch lenses my 50mm would not come off! I did a google search and apparently this is a fairly common problem. The word on the web is the lens is already done for and the hope now is to save my camera! I’ll go ahead and bet that this is still rare and get a new 50mm 1.8 but what is the best way to get this equipment problem handled so that I can have my camera back and also get a refund for my lens?
    Thanks,
    Marc

  • Vernon

    I have a Nikon D7000 and am interested in taking landscape photos. What lens do you recommend? I currently have the kit lenses that came with the camera ( 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6g ED VR AF-S DX and AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G).

  • Alex

    I think, 18-35 f 1.8 of sigma is a terrific basic lense, do you?