Your Second Lens

So, you’ve had your dSLR for awhile and you’re pretty thrilled with it.  But… you’re also a little surprised.  You thought the pictures would look really different from the pictures you used to take with your point-and-shoot.  And they don’t.

What’s going on?

It’s your kit lens. There’s nothing wrong with it.  I love my kit lens and have taken hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures with it.  But kit lenses have the same limitation your point-and-shoot camera has: the maximum aperture isn’t very big.

A lens with a wide aperture will let you do two things you haven’t done so far.  First, you’ll be able to take crisp photos in low light.  Second, you’ll be able to blur out your backgrounds more.

Taken at 35mm f/2.8, 1/60 sec. At f/5.6 this would have been a 1/15 sec exposure and I probably would have gotten motion blur.

I recommend a standard prime lens with a wide aperture. In other words, the focal length should be somewhere between 28mm and 50mm and the maximum aperture should be f/2.8 or larger.  Smaller numbers mean the aperture is larger.  (I’m probably the 517th person to offer this advice online.  Also see NYTimes Gadgetwise, Ken Rockwell, and Phil Greenspun.)

If you’re on board, let’s get started.  First up: budget. There are so many lenses out there, especially if you’re open to the idea of used lenses (and you should be!).  Your budget will rule most of them out and some of them in.  Decide what you’re comfortable spending: $100 is adequate, $200 is good and $400 is comfortable.

Second, get advice. If you haven’t discovered yet, this is your lucky day.  Head over there and sign up for an account.  Check out the forum for your camera line.  There will be lots of threads about the best standard prime lenses.  But don’t be shy: go ahead and ask people which lens they’d recommend for you.  Be sure to include your camera model, budget and favorite kinds of photography.

Third, get shopping. If you have a local independent camera store, start there.  If you’d rather shop online, try Adorama, B&H Photo, Beach Camera and even Amazon.  All these sites have used sections, but you can also check out KEH and, yes, ebay.

Finally, start playing with your new toy.  Have fun!

And by the way, if you have “new prime lens user” success story to share, let me know in the comments section.


About Rachel

I'm a grad student in the physical sciences at the University of Michigan and mother of one.
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3 Responses to Your Second Lens

  1. Kirstin says:

    What a great post. I have a Nikon D50 and love it. I have two lenses,
    My zoom is a Quantaray 70-300 1:4-5:6 LD Tele-Macro (1:2)
    My smaller lens is an AF-S Nikkor 18-70mm 1:3.5-4.5G ED DX

    I love them and know that they aren’t the best, but they work for me, for now….I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to get some nicer ones and a newer camera…maybe someday. I’ve enjoyed browsing your blog.

  2. Donna says:

    This post was really helpful! I just bought my first DSLR this summer (a Canon Rebel T1i) and went through a lot of the same discoveries.

    I love your site, I’ll have to visit more often!

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