The Best Lenses To Help You Learn

Many photographers start out timid and not wanting to do what they have to in order to unleash their true creativity. Once you start shooting though, and you start to become braver, bolder and more confident in your craft. Your lenses are really what teach you to do your job. Even when you become advanced, semi-pro and pro there are always certain lenses that you can go back to in order to learn more about what you can do with your creativity and vision: and they’re not always 50mm’s either!

For that, here are some of the best lenses to learn with no matter what experience you have:


The Canon Normal EF 50mm F1.8 is an autofocus lens that is essentially the lens that almost every Canon user learns on. At $99.95 it is very cheap and provides very good image quality. Even better for a beginner is the fact that it doesn’t have IS built in so starters will have to learn how to keep their nerves calm and control their breathing while shooting: even if you can shoot at faster speeds with it. For the more advanced users, the bokeh that a 50mm delivers will allow for lots of creativity in your shots.  Furthermore, the 50mm focal length is just right as a portrait lens on “crop-sensor” Canon DSLRs (like the Rebel series and 10D-50D series).


The other Canon lens is the standard kit lens that one receives with their APS-C DSLRs: the Canon EF-S 18-55 f3.5-5.6 lens.. Using this slow lens will give you a little bit telephoto zoom than the 50mm will and can give you more creativity with your wide angles. Because the lens is so slow and since the low-light focusing system on Canon’s isn’t as superior as Nikon’s, you may sometimes be tempted to switch it into manual focus in order to achieve your shots correctly. Many users will go with this lens and stick with it for a while, especially when trying to shoot and travel light.



The Nikon 35mm 1.8 DX lens is one that is extremely versatile and is highly regarded by many Nikonians. Because of the angle of view, the pictures it takes look most natural to the human eyes. This can lead to the conclusion that it would be an excellent lens for street photography: a style that Magnum Photographers are famous for. Further, beginners and advanced users alike will go for this lens because the of the low-light capabilities it offers and the fact that it should work perfectly when using it with the video capabilities of your D90 or D5000.  It is a true “normal” focal length lens on these crop-sensor bodies.


Another lens that you may want to consider is the Voigtlander|Nokton 58mm f1.4 manual focus lens. It’s the closest that you can get to something like the higher grade Zeiss lenses without dropping the equivalent of this month’s rent. If you screw it onto a DX format camera it will act as an 87mm lens would on a 35mm or full frame camera. Photographers that plan to shoot lots of portraits or work in a studio often may want to go for this lens as it will teach you a lot about lighting, metering and focusing absolutely perfectly with a wider aperture.



Sony, for the most part, is known for putting lots of megapixels onto a sensor. To get the most out of those megapixels it is in your advantage to use a lens like the Vivitar 85mm f1.4 because of the fact that you’ll be able to get very nice portraits with a lens like this. Utilizing your megapixels to the fullest will become commonplace for the growing Sony shooter. Advanced users and pros may want to move onto the nicer (and costlier) Zeiss, Minolta and Sony lenses that are highly praised in the photography world.

Sigma 18-200mm f3.5-6.3

Similarly, the Sigma 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 is a superzoom that delivers high quality images . . . in good lighting. This lens was used to shoot my graduation by a photographer (not a pro) that had to move from location to location. In a situation/event like that, this lens will excel. Most photographers have problems with superzooms and prefer their primes instead. The usefulness of this lens will last with even the advanced users as their lens collection builds up.  Assuming the lighting is good, this might be the perfect walkaround lens.



Due to the fact that Olympus has such a small sensor because of the 4/3rds system, they take pride in their 2x crop factor. Which is why their advertisements are usually shot in bright daylight and show action that will require a faster zoom lens of some sort. This is why a lens like the Sigma 70-200m f2.8 II EX is a great lens to start off on; despite the steep price. On the plus side, you’ll be able to shoot all the wildlife and sports shots you could possibly want or need. The lens will stick with you for a long time as well since there aren’t many very fast lenses for the 4/3rds format.


For those looking to be more discrete about their photography, there is always the option of the pancake lens that Olympus and Olympus users take pride in (I have my personal gripes with it.) This 25mm 2.8 lens is the equivalent of a 50mm and is recommended for street photography and close-ups. If you’ve got one of the smaller bodies it will make your camera more compact as well: I’m able to put this on my E-510 and shove it into a pocket of my winter pea coat without any significant bulging.



Pentax’s are ideal for travel photography and I’ve even seen them used for studio and photojournalism work. This lens is the one I see in every Pentax user’s bag: the Normal SMCP-FA 50mm F1.4 autofocus lens. If you’re a photography student using Pentax and you plan on sticking with the system, why not use this lens with the theatre majors at your school to take headshots?


For your photojournalism or wildlife photography the Pentax SMCP-DA 50-135mm f2.8 lens will suffice your needs. For the cost, it is a lens that you will learn on and become very much accustomed to using. I’ve seen this lens shoot everything from close-up candids while strolling the Coney Island boardwalk to creative High ISO shots for documentary styled photography.

What About Your Lenses?

Which lenses have helped you grow the most as a photographer?  Are you a prime shooter or do you prefer the flexibility and convenience of a zoom lens?  Let us know in the comments below.



  1. says

    I must say, after having these lenses –
    Nikon 18-55mm
    Nikon 50mm 1.8
    Nikon 18-200mm and Nikon 70-210mm, I found that the best one to suit me, on my daily street walks, is mainly the Tamron 17-50mm 2.8. It cheaper than the Nikon 17-55mm (cheaper by far) and weight less. I’m thinking of maybe trying the 10-24mm but it’s just way to expensive…

    Here is a shot from Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 –

  2. Jacob says

    The best lenses to learn on are cheap manual lenses. You can get a nice f/1.8 or f/1.7 for under $50 (in general). They’re built like tanks, and won’t break the bank.

  3. Bit says

    For Olympus… I would highly recommend the Olympus ZD 50-200mm SWD 2.8-3.5 lens instead of the Sigma, nearly the same price and MUCH MUCH sharper weather sealed and SWD AF, a little more zoom range… also can serve as a 50mm 2.8 portrait lens in a pinch

    while only losing the constant Aperture… by merely 2/3rd of a stop at the long end

  4. Bit says

    also… have to comment about the “not many fast lens” part… quite a few Constant F2 wide angle and mid-tele lens, and constant F2.8 long tele… pretty much the entire ultra high grade line up….. they just cost an arm and a leg and normally outside most users budget.

  5. Chuck says

    The lens that I enjoy is the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM. This Lens opened up my eyes to seeing a total difference in taking photos in low light situations. The Lens is remarkable with clarity along with smooth Fast AF.
    Comfortable to have on my Cannon XS Rebel, makes taking photos especially at family events a real joy. Strongly recommend this as the upgrade from the kit lens to truly see all that your investment can offer.

  6. says

    You are right. After purchasing 50mm lens for my Canon, I changed the way I shoot pictures. f/1.8 are incredibly cheap lenses for both Canon/Nikon and deliver great images. One learns quite a lot about DoF with 50mm. I ended with f/1.4 USM, but I believe the only REAL difference between f/1.4 and f/1.8 lenses is the autofocus speed – not the quality of the picture it delivers :-)

    As for composition – the wider lens, the better. The wide lens forces you to think twice about composition – be it 18-55 kit lens or 16-35 beast ;-)

    I force my friends to buy 50mm f/1.8 – c’mon it is for the price of better polariser filter for my 70-200mm now :-)

  7. says

    Please don’t forget about the Sigma 20/1.8. It’s awesome on crop and 35mm sensors. And sharp! Buy em so they keep making them!


  8. says

    Back in the 60’s it was the Nikkor 50mm f/1.2, (hey, it came with the camera!) In the eighties when I switched to Pentax and just had to get another 50mm f/1.2 and as you mentioned for other lenses, it’s built like a M1-A3 tank!

    Great lenses!

    Sure I had other lenses but the 50’s were the first and the best.

  9. Laura Twining says

    The lens system that has helped me the most…Lensbaby Composer. Having a LB with my Nikon forced me to get out of program and only use manual. With the various additional options that are available, such as the Optic Kit–using magnets directly on the lens with different aperture sizes has helped me learn what shutter speeds are needed to get the shot. While my learning curve was high–the journey has been MORE than worth it! Try one out and I bet you’ll buy it before you know it!

    Best wishes!

  10. Gary Loh (Malaysia) says

    I started my photography in 2006, using body A200, Sony lens SAL1870 and SAL70300. Later, my body had internal dust, while changing the lens, then i bought the DT18250 and body A700, which i find more convenients. Then i bought another lens DT1116.
    My personal experience, after a year plus photography, i feel a little regret having DT1116, because i hardly used it.
    But I personally recommend the DT18250 for beginers and much more practical. With this only one lens, i can shoot almost everything. So that after a while i can check the data, my habit of photography, what lens i needed most. (Actually with this lens, i am very satisfied already).
    Later after 2>3 years, having extra money, then only i started to fuss of this lens 18250, lack of detail, lack of brightness and the zooming.
    Then mid of this 2009, i bought the Sony Zeiss 1635z, G70200. This both lens is SSM built in motor, so that at times when our lens lean to the fence, it will not out of zoom. Quiet, Smooth and f2.8. This both lenses really give me the very very satisfying pictures.
    Whatever it is, there is always a better brand, better camera, a better lens. But i feel it is better not to compare, n i feel best i get within my budget when the time comes, so that i can really enjoy my photography hobby, rather then buying a very good expensive camera beyond my budget giving me a headache.

  11. lichtloper says

    In the ‘old’ times zoom lensen were said to be of inferior quality. So in the beginning of my photography life I only used primes – the well known quartet: 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 90mm. That was indeed a lot of -expensive Zeiss-]glass, but it taught me to make more conscious choices as to perspective, field of view and depth of field.
    Having learned a lesson or two I now have become more confident to use the 14-45mm digital Zuiko.

    lichtloper (Peter),
    the Netherlands