Having a great camera can help you get better photos, but it’s your lens that will be the game changer.
One of the camera questions I received for the Mother’s Day Camera Learning Sessions Giveaway was from a mom, Kelly, who thought her Canon Rebel (a really good entry-level DSLR) might be broken because it was taking blurry photos. I asked her to test the camera with a different lens to make sure it was actually the camera having issues. It turned out that it was just the lens which was really good news because that meant she could put her money toward a new lens instead of a whole new camera body.
Before we met for her camera learning session, I sent Kelly some ideas for choosing a new lens in case she was able to buy it before we met. Like most parents, she was interested in the ideal lens for family photos, vacation pics, and birthday parties.
Kelly said she found my email to be “way more informative than any information I’ve been reading online”, so I hope other parents with DSLRs or mirrorless cameras will find it helpful, too, especially if you are still using the “kit” lens that comes with an entry level DSLR like the aforementioned Rebel or like the Nikon D3400 or D5600. Read on for the info I shared with Kelly.
WHAT I RECOMMEND
The lens I recommend for most daily use is a 24-70mm f2.8 or similar. My first love was a Sigma 50mm f1.8 lens, and I now have a pro-series Canon 50mm f1.2 in my arsenal that I love even more, but it’s not as versatile when you’re regularly photographing kiddos like parents are. I used that 50mm on my “full frame” 5D camera so it was ACTUALLY a 50mm whereas on a Rebel, or a camera with the EF-S (or APS-C) sensor, it’d be more like an 80mm.
I think a zoom lens with a “fixed aperture” like the 24-70mm f2.8 is the best first choice of a lens for parents. You are able to immediately shoot wider or zoom in to keep up with your wiggly children running around the yard or giggling across the living room, especially if you don’t have time to move forward or back, or if you don’t have ROOM to move forward or back.
We also have to keep in mind that most entry-level DSLRs have a “cropped sensor” and lenses are made specifically for these cameras, which are called EF-S by Canon, or APS-C. Some lenses are made for a “full frame sensor” like my pro-level 5D Mark III, which are EF lenses.
That means that there may be a great EF lens that you can use on a camera like the Rebel, but because of the “cropped sensor”, a 50mm EF lens will act like a 80mm on a camera like the Rebel. (Note that you can use an EF lens on an EF-S camera, but not vice versa.)
Check out this link about full vs cropped frames to understand the concept more. Or go here for a quick visual of the different sensor sizes stacked against each other.
CANON EF-S LENSES TO CONSIDER
This is a list of “great” EF-S lenses for CANON from May of 2017. These are all relatively inexpensive, but better than the flimsy kit lens Kelly was using that ended up breaking. As you use any of these lenses over the next few years, you might upgrade to an even better quality lens (i.e. professional grade) once you know what you most enjoy using. Maybe you’ll find you prefer a 50mm lens, and you don’t mind moving around a lot more to be your own zoom. You might even upgrade to a nicer camera body, too, even a full frame DSLR, but it’s all a journey to learn from as you go.
A good rule of thumb is to spend as much or more, if possible, on your lens as your camera body. Really good “glass” usually has much better color, is more robust and often weather sealed, and can focus really well (and quickly) even in low light situations.
My top choice for daily, versatile use is the first lens on the list above: the Sigma 17-50mm 2.8 which acts like a 27-80 on a Canon cropped sensor camera (and similar on a Nikon cropped sensor camera).
The Sigma 17-50mm has 4.5 stars out of 715 reviews on Amazon. Personally, I like to buy my photo equipment from B&H Photo in New York. If you ever get the chance to visit, it’s like the Willy Wonka factory of camera equipment. It’s usually free 2-day shipping to Chicago for orders over $50. However, I recommend going to different sites to check out reviews, and Amazon is a terrific source for that.
This is the Canon version of that lens. About double the price as the Sigma. If money is not an issue, I’d go with the Canon because it’s made specifically for Canon bodies and the color is often nicer. Here is an article that tests them against each other. If you don’t want to read all the technical stuff, scroll down to the “Bottom Line” part where they sum up their findings.
NIKON AF-S LENSES TO CONSIDER
Sigma makes that same 17-50mm f2.8 for Nikon also. The crop factor for Canon is 1.6 and for Nikon it’s 1.5. So for the Canon version of the 17-50, it becomes a 28.2-80, and on a Nikon it’s a 25.5-75.
Here’s a list from February of this year (2018) of great options for Nikon lenses in general – full frame or with a cropped sensor. Note that there’s quite a range of prices between them.
Don’t be confused by the Nikon 24-70mm. On a cropped sensor Nikon it would be 36-106mm. But that would be a very, VERY nice day-to-day lens if you have a really big budget to work with. If you wanted that similar focal length range but have a lower price point to work with, opt fo the 24-85 (which will be 36-127.5 on a DX sensor camera).
This article is a terrific read to learn about the difference between Nikon’s full frame cameras (pro-grade FX) and cropped sensor cameras (DX) as well as the FX and Nikkor DX lenses that Nikon makes. As the author of the article points out, sometimes it’s worth considering a FX lens if you think you might upgrade to a FX body in the future. (Same goes with Canon owners, of course. If you think you will eventually go full-frame, consider putting your money in a EF lens, or even the pro-grade L series.) I think most parents will stick with their entry-level DX cameras for many years to come and that it’s more important for them to have the best lenses for their budget.
This list is focused (no pun intended) specifically on DX lenses. It’s basically the “twin” list of the Canon one I list above in the EF-S lens section, and the Sigma 17-50mm 2.8 is listed there as well.
YOU CAN FINALLY GET THAT BEAUTIFUL BLURRY BACKGROUND
A f2.8 lens is fairly “fast”, meaning it lets you shoot pretty well in lower light situations. But the really beauty of that 2.8 fixed aperture is that you can get a really nice blurry background with your subject popping super nicely against it.
Don’t be afraid to “open” up your aperture all the way to 2.8. You’ll get some really artful images this way. You’ll find yourself starting to purposely decide on a “creative exposure”. You’ll start to get more and more compliments when you share your photos to social media.
If you’re still shooting in auto, this lens will inspire you to try out AV mode, or even Manual mode. Don’t worry if there are a lot of “bad” photos along the way. You only need a few awesome ones anyway. Like we tell our kids, mistakes are how we learn.
WHEN YOU’RE READY TO BUY A SECONDARY LENS
As you get into photography more, you might want an awesome zoom lens like the 55-250mm (mentioned 5th on the Canon list above) for vacation trips. On a Rebel, it’ll actually be an 80-400mm zoom (wow!).
That would a fantastic secondary lens for mostly outdoors shots, especially architecture and amazing sights that you can’t get very close to. Or MAYBE indoor for a dance recital if the stage is brightly lit. My boyfriend just bought that lens for his niece as a graduation gift. She has a Rebel, and she wants to be able to photograph her horses from far away.
If you were considering a 50mm lens for a Canon cropped sensor, the closest you’re going to get to a 50mm equivalent for an EF-S lens on that list is that second one listed. I would only consider it if it was 1.8 or “faster”. You pretty much already have that 38mm f2.8 in the range of that 17-50 that I’m recommending so it’d be redundant. It would be amazingly lightweight, though, which can be a plus if you ever find yourself feeling like your DSLR is getting cumbersome to carry around. In which case you might also consider a mirrorless camera like what I recommend in this blog post about choosing a great vacation camera.
For Nikon users, referring back to the Nikon DX lens list, the 55-200 f4-5.6 would be nice for some extra zoom (it’ll be 82.5-300), and it’s only $150. Personally, I’d spring for the 18-300mm f3.5-6.3 for that incredible versatility of range, especially if my kid is in a lot of sports. The 55-200 will be a bit lighter, of course, but with the 18-300 (which is 27-450) it gives you such a greater range so you don’t have to switch lenses to achieve both wider shots and ultra zoomed in shots.
To circle back to the beginning of this article, Kelly bought the Sigma 18-50mm. She said it’s amazing, and she couldn’t believe she didn’t upgrade before. I’ll check in with her over the summer to see if she is still loving it, but judging from the hundreds of 5 star reviews about it on Amazon, I think she will be enjoying it for years to come.
LINKS USED IN THE ARTICLE:
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