Recommended Lenses

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.

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. Peter M says

    I’d like to suggest you look at the Tamron 70-200 f2.8 VC as an alternative to the Nikkor 70-200. The new Tamron 70-200 f2.8 VC is an upgrade with much better built quality and optical performance, compared to the older Tamron non-VC. With about 95% to 98% of the performance but only 50% of the price (compared to Nikon) this lens is really worth looking at.

  2. Steve says

    Another excellent option is the Sigma f/2.8 70-200 HSM OS (optical stabilization). Excellent constant f/2.8 throughout the entire focal length. Fantastic for indoor low light when flash is not allowed. Great price-value as compared to the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 holy grail!!

  3. Brian says

    A comment on Nikon. The 14 – 24mm is a great lens, but it is HEAVY and attaching filters is impossible, except for the giant Lee Filter Holder. Even then filter choices are limited. I shoot landscape so filters are very important. I traded in my 14 – 24 for an older 17 – 35mm. Love it. Easier to handle and uses 77mm filters like Singh Ray.

  4. David D. says

    How can one be sure they are getting the Tamron AP 28-75mm f/2.8 XR ZL Di LD Aspherical Lens that you handled? It seems to be difficult to separate the new lens from the older version.

  5. Georgia says

    In your opinion do you think the Tamron 28-75 is a better bet than the 24-70? I’m looking into buying something in that range and can’t decide which!

  6. says

    I’m using a Tamron 70 – 300 lens. I was able to capture some great Baseball and Softball shots. The USM drive is very fast and the lens quality is great.
    Best
    Alexander

  7. says

    Great review and summary. These lenses seem mostly suited for full frame cameras. I was wondering if you have ever reviewed lenses that are more suited towards crop sensor cameras? Based on what I read here, I extrapolated it along with reviews found elsewhere and purchased a Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom lens to replace the kit lens that came with my D3100 – an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom lens. Note that the new lens is a constant f-stop lens throughout the zoom range — how do they do that?!?!?! I opted for a new lens vs. a new camera — was thinking about the D7100, but thought I’d see if a better lens would improve my images more than moving from a 14.2 to a 24 MP camera.

    I’ll post my comments on my choice once I’ve had a chance to compare the kit lens vs. the MUCH better lens.

  8. Risaala says

    Hello,

    First of all i must say “Thank You!!” for nicely written easy to understand step by step guides for endless number of topics. Thanks from bottom of my heart.

    I am planning to buy Nikon D90 with 18-105 kit, and one more telephoto lens.
    I am confuse between two one is “Nikon AF Zoom-Nikkor 70 – 300 mm f/4-5.6G (4.3x) Lens” and another on is “Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70 – 300 mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED (4.3x) Lens” they have big price diffrence, please suggest me if the camera is ok? or which lens should i shoose from these two telephoto lenses.

    Thank In advance :)

    Regards
    Risaala

  9. Foto Nunta Brasov says

    Hello!
    I use for wedding this lenses:
    Canon 35 f2 IS
    Canon 100 mm Macro
    Canon 24-105 f4 IS
    Canon 70-200 f 2.8 L IS II

    Thank you for the review.

  10. Denise says

    I am looking to upgrade to a better lens for my Nikon D5200. I am a beginner and am looking for an everyday lens for vacations, an on-the-move toddler and baby #2 due in March. I think I have it narrowed down to the AF-S 50mm f/1.4G or AF-S 50mm f/1.8G (unless you have other suggestions). I am drawn to the lower aperture, but read a review that the optical quality is better and the autofocus speed is faster on the AF-S 50mm f/1.8G. Also, is there any reason for me to go for the AF-D 50mm f/1.4?

    Will either of these lenses perform well for sunset beach photos? What about newborn photography?

    Any advice is much appreciated!

    • Ashley says

      Denise, I would stick to the 1.8G for your uses. It is a very handy lens and a great value. I am also a sunset aficionado and it has taken me many a good photo. The 50mm is also one of the chosen lenses for newborns. It would be a great starting point for you.

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