Your First Lens For Your D-SLR

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You have your eye on that shiny new DSLR that you’ve been stalking for months.  You’re fairly certain you’re going to get it, but you’re on the fence about the lens.  Do you go with the kit lens, or do you buy the camera body and lens separately so you can get a different – possibly better – lens.  Here’s another scenario:  What if you already have a DSLR with your kit lens and you’re thinking it’s time to upgrade.  What do you get?  How do you go about picking a lens?  I wish I could say that there’s a simple answer for everyone, but that is never the case.  What I can do is offer a few things to consider.

Zoom vs. Prime – The zoom vs prime lens rivalry is a much debated topic.  There are of course pros and cons that can be flaunted by either camp.  But one fact still remains:  Zoom lenses are more versatile.  Your first lens should be a zoom lens.  Even if you’re upgrading from a kit lens (which is likely also a zoom), you’ll want to get something to fill the focal length gaps or something with additional features or sharper results.  As a general rule of thumb, zooms with a wider range (like Nikon’s 18-200mm) are not as sharp as the tighter ranges (like a 10-24mm) which can rival the crispness of even the best prime lenses.

Shooting Style – What you’re shooting, when you’re shooting and how you’re shooting should influence your decision.  If you’re shooting regularly in low light, consider a lens with Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction (unless you have a camera body like a Sony that has in-camera stabilization).  Landscape photographers will want to look at wide angle lenses (example: 10-24mm) or standard zooms (example:  16-85mm) while wildlife and sports photographers will want telephoto zooms (example:  200-400mm).  If shooting details is your thing, consider lenses with macro support.

Camera Body – This is a bit of an obvious point:  You need to make sure the lens will fit your camera.  But remember that third party manufacturers, like Sigma, make some great lenses for bodies other than their own (Sigma makes lenses for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax as well as their own).

Budget – Budget is probably the most obvious point.  But I want to point out a scenario you may not have considered, especially if you haven’t bought a camera body yet.  There are some who believe that your photos are only as good as your camera.  In truth, your lens has a greater impact on the quality of your photos.  It’s really hard for first time camera buyers to justify spending more on your lens than you do on the body, but it should be considered.  If you can afford to buy the camera body separately (without a kit lens), it may be worth doing so, even at the sacrifice of some great kit discounts.  Note that some retailers have their own recommended combinations, often pairing great third-party lenses with a camera body, that may earn some discounts.   

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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