What should I buy?

This question keeps cropping up – no surprise there. Photography equipment is expensive and making the right choices is therefore very important. Here’s just some of my gear:

The lenses are:

  1. Prime 35mm f/1.4
  2. Prime 50mm f/1.2
  3. Prime 100mm f/2.8 macro
  4. Prime 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift
  5. Zoom 16-35 f/2.8
  6. Zoom 24-70 f/2.8
  7. Zoom 70-200 f/2.8

Cameras are 1.0 sensor (full size); 1.3 sensor (the 1D) and 1.6 sensor (the 7D). Which means that range of lenses can handle pretty much everything. My lenses are all I could wish for. Just about.

But do you need that kind of investment? Not if you don’t make a living from photography. I have a few tips for you when considering buying a lens:

  • Lenses are much more important than cameras. Invest in your lenses – the camera makes little difference.
  • I would simply start with a kit lens and a fast prime 50mm lens (“50mm f/1.4” or “50mm f/1.8”).
  • Always buy the fastest lenses you can afford (the lowest f-numbers). As you see here, none of my lenses are slower than f/2.8.
  • A lens that “does everything” is a compromise. The more a lens does, the more of a compromise it is. A 18-55 (crop) or 24-70 (full frame) is a better general purpose zoom; for longer and wider you add separate lenses.
  • IS/VR (Image stabilization/Vibration Reduction) is a great function, and is definitely worth the money if you can afford it.
  • If you shoot travel, if you like perspective, if you shoot street, etc – add a wide angle lens – for crop camera that means a lens in the 10-20mm zoom range. Super-wide lenses are the great under-appreciated secret in today’s SLR photography.
  • If you shoot macro, get a dedicated macro (close-up) lens.
  • A macro lens is also a great portrait lens.
  • If you shoot birds or go on a safari, get the longest lens you can buy – perhaps even adding 1.4x or 2x extenders.
  • For specialized product or architecture shooting only, get a tilt-shift lens.
  • For events, get a 24mm (crop camera) or 35mm (full frame camera) prime lens.

Now that you know those ground rules:

  • No, you cannot do it cheaper if you really want to do it well.
  • But yes, you can do it cheaper if all you want is the shot, and pro quality is not important.
  • Yes, an expensive lens is better than a cheaper lens. Sharper, faster. stronger.
  • Yes, lenses cost a lot – but then, they last a long time (decades), both technically and in terms of depreciation.
  • Yes, you really have to carry more than one lens if you want quality. I would not have those seven lenses if I did not need them. You may not need as many – but to stop as one is being over-optimistic.
  • Yes. you can buy third-party lenses (Sigma, etc) but try them out before you buy and make sure you are happy!

The above pointers should get you started. The faster the lens, the better: go have fun with lenses!


6 thoughts on “What should I buy?

  1. I’m pleased to see that you’re recommending a fast standard prime as the ideal first or second lens.

    Most of my shooting these days is with the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.8. These, and their Canon equivalents, are under $200 each- and they’re faster, sharper and easier to carry than the $1400 zooms.

    It would of course be nice to have a 10-22 and 70-200, but you can do an awful lot of neat stuff with one fast Fifty.

  2. Not sure if Michael will agree…but an option I’ve had good fortune with, so far, is going “used”. I too have seven lenses, five of which, I bought used from craigslist (2 Canon, 2 Tamron, 1 Sigma). So, far, I’ve been happy with all of them. I’m not sure I’d buy a used body or flash, or buy a lens from eBay…with craigslist, they’re local and you can inspect them first before buying (I have backed out of a purchase after inspecting). I’ve made one exception to the eBay rule…a purchase from Henry’s eBay store…got my G9 from there (the camera that’s always with me…unless I’m out with my Rebel).

    I’m still a bit new at this, only have two primes…50mm f/1.8 and 100m f/2.8 macro (both Canon)…my others are zooms…if I get more, they’ll likely be low-f number primes. However, after attending Michael’s flash seminar tomorrow, I’m expecting to shift my priorities to a couple of speedlights.

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