I am frequently asked for lens recommendations by my students and so I have compiled the following list. Lenses that appear on this list are lenses that I have personally used and feel comfortable recommending. I have included an icon under each lens name to indicate if the lens is Full Frame or APS-C compatible. Remember that Lenses that are designed for full frame cameras can also be used on APS-C “Crop” cameras as well.
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- Ultrawide Zoom Lenses
- Standard Kit Lenses
- Standard Pro Lenses
- Telephoto Kit Lenses
- Telephoto Pro Lenses
- Super Telephoto Zoom Lenses
- Standard Prime Lenses
- Portrait Lenses
- Macro lenses
Ultra Wide Zoom Lenses
Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
The Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4-5.6 IS STM is the least expensive ultrawide zoom lens currently available. At $299 this lens not only shatters the price barrier, but with it’s small size and low weight this lens is also a joy to carry with you at all times. Other manufacturers take note! Read Dave’s Review
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM
The Canon 17-40mm f/4L is a perennial favorite due to it’s legendary “L” class build quality, image quality and relatively low price. This is a great lens on your 5/6D series cameras for ultra wide compositions, or a great standard lens on APS-C Canon bodies.
Nikon AF-S 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED DX
Although the price is a little high, the lens does offer Nikon’s silent wave focusing motor for fast and silent auto focus. This lens will also autofocus on all Nikon DSLR cameras including the entry level D40, D60, D3xxx and D5xxx models.
Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR
Nikon’s “budget” ultrawide zoom for full frame cameras features Image stabilization and Nikon’s Silent Wave motor for fast and silent autofocus operation.
Nikon AF-S 12-24mm f/2.8G ED
From the “If you have the means, I highly recommend it” category, the Nikon 12-24mm is the widest ultrawide zoom lens available, and even had the Canon guys using adaptors to mount this lens on their Canon bodies. Yes, it’s THAT good!
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM
The Sigma is a great alternative to the Higher Priced Canon and Nikon APS-C ultrawide angle lenses. This lens features Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) focus system for silent and fast autofocus operation and great image quality.
Standard Kit Zoom Lenses
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
Featuring a 7x optical zoom range, Super fast and silent STM focusing and a good build quality, this is the better Canon Standard Zoom lens for APS-C Cameras. The best way to buy this lens is with a camera in a kit. You can save around $200 from the retail price this way. If you are looking to upgrade from a cheaper kit lens, this is still a good lens, but the price starts to get a little high.
Nikon AF-S 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR DX
Just like the Canon EF-S 18-135mm lens above, this 7x Zoom from Nikon is also offered in a kit with Nikon’s mid to high level advanced cameras at a significant savings. I am happy that Nikon has upgraded this particular lens to use a metal mount and VR Image Stabilization.
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
When purchased with the Canon 6d or 5D bodies, this lens saves around $400 off the regular price, making it an extremely good value. You are getting Canon’s “L” build and image quality at a tremendous discount. Buying it new it is still a great lens, but for the same or a little bit more I would be tempted by some of the other offerings available.
Nikon AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
The Nikon 24-120 is another great value when purchased witha qualifying DSLR as a kit. You can typically save hundreds of dollars this way. On it’s own, it is a great lens, but the value is not as great, but still a worthwhile purchase.
Standard Pro Zoom Lenses
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II
Typically found in every wedding photographers bag, the 24-70 f/2.8 is a workhorse lens adn the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM delivers. I only wish it had Image stabilization and that the filter size was still 77mm. I also liked the lens hood and “reverse zoom” of the original version, but the new version improves on the image quality, which is quite a feat!
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM
If you are looking to save a lot of money and weight then the Canon EF 24-70 f/4L IS USM is a great lens choice, plus it features Image Stabilization over the f/2.8 version.
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 G ED
Of course Nikon makes their own version of the 24-70 f/2.8 lens and recently they announced a new version that will incorporate Nikon’s VR image stabilization. This lens may be replaced on this list if the image quality remains the same just for the added VR, but in the meantime I wouldn’t be surprised to see discounts on this version until sold out.
Telephoto Kit Zoom Lenses
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
The Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM is a surprisingly good lens. The only downside is the build quality is not as good as I would like, but Canon was able to keep the weight and size down as well as the price. Of course the best way top buy this lens is when it is on sale with a DSLR body.
Nikon AF-S 55-200mm f/4-5.6 G ED VR II DX
Another very good quality lens that is an especially good value when purchased on sale with a qualifying DSLR. The plastic mount is not my favorite, but th elens is small and light enough that I haven’t seen too many of them get broken. Image quality is very good and the extra reach is appreciated for kids sports, large or close wildlife and even portraits.
Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VC USD
I really like the Tamron 70-300 f/4-5.6 VC USD lens. The build quality is quite good, image quality is also good, the image stabilization works very well and the fact that this lens covers full frame sensors means it will work on your APS body and if you upgrade to full frame, it will work on that, too.
Telephoto Pro Zoom Lenses
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II
The 70-200mm f/2.8 is another lens that you will find in most pros ags and the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 is superb. Featuring a fast f/2.8 throughout the entire zoom range, image stabilization and tank-like build quality, this lens is built for great images and will last pretty much forever.
Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS USM
If you are wanting a 70-200mm but your budget is limited, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM is a great choice at nearly half the cost and weight. It still has the great image quality and build of the f/2.8 but is a better choice for many photographers.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM is another one of those amazing bargain lenses in the Canon “L” line-up. At nearly half the cost of it’s image stabilized sibling, and nearly 1/4th the cost of the f/2.8 IS version, this lens is one of the best values in Canon lenses.
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM
If you are looking for a pro calibre 70-300mm zoom lens, look no further. Typically the 70-300mm class of lenses are geared more towards consumers, but Canon decided to break that mold with this lens. Excellent image quality and build shows that photographers really do get what they pay for when they purchase this lens.
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G Ed VR II
The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II is every bit as good as it’s Canon counterpart and deserving of it’s place in many photographers camera bags. Of course Nikon includes VR in the lens to help hand held photography when the light gets low.
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR
For years Nikon users have begged for an f/4 version of the lens like their Canon brethren have had and a few years ago Nikon finally delivered. Just like the Canon version, this lens features excellent image quality, image stabilization and build quality in a package that is lighter and less expensive than the f/2.8 version.
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 VC USD
If you want/need f/2.8 in your 70-200, but can’t afford or justify the Canon or Nikon branded versions then the Tamron is a great choice. For years Tamron has had a very inexpensive 70-200 f/2.8 lens but the lack of image stabilization and super fast and quiet autofocus kept the Tamron from finding a home in many pro’s camera bags, but with this newer version Tamron has really upped the ante. Additionally, the Tamron features a weather resistant build just like the Canon and Nikon versions. Way to go, Tamron! (Available in Canon, Nikon, and Sony A mounts)
Super Telephoto Zoom Lenses
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM II
The original Canon 100-400mm lens was great, and the new version is even better. I prefer the 2-touch zoom to the push-pull zoom of the original and the image quality is improved as well. This lens is worth the price!
Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR II
Another example of improving over the original, this lens brought the much needed AF-S fast/quiet autofocus to a workhorse lens that sits at the upper reaches of the “Consumer” budget. When announced I thought the price was a bit high until I tried it out – the price is justified.
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Vc USD
If you can’t afford the Canon or Nikon xx-400mm zooms, or if you need more than 400mm for you photography this is the lens for you. The image quality is excellent, build quality is very good, and the image stabilizer and fast/silent autofocus works as advertised. This is an excellent lens for wildlife and birding, especially on an APS-C body.
Standard Prime Lenses
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
The 50mm f/1.8 lens has always been a staple for photographers who need low light or depth of field control. The new Canon STM version fixes the biggest downfalls of the previous 50mm f/1.8 II: Autofocus and build quality. What is amazing is that they didn’t bump up the price from the model it replaced. Don’t tell Canon, but I think this new lens would have justified a $35-$50 price increase.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
I used to recommend this lens over the 1.8 for the build and Autofocus as well as the 1/3 stop faster aperture, but with the neew 1.8STM the 50mm f/1.4 build quality is only marginally better, the AF is about the same, but the 1/3 stop advantage still holds. When it comes to low light, bigger is better, and the f/1.4 aperture is bigger. The 50mm makes a great portrait lens on APS-C bodies as well.
Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8 G ED
If you shoot with a Nikon APS-C (DX) body, this lens is a “must have” in my book. Closely resembling the 50mm “normal” view on a full-frame camera, this lens is great for indoors in low light where the 50mm is a little too long.
Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G ED
If you own one of the smaller consumer Nikon DSLR cameras such as the D40, D60, D3xxx or D5xxx bodies, this lens will autofocus where the “D” version of the lens will not. The lens also features a 7-blade aperture vs a 5-blade in the “D” version. This is a great compliment to the 35mm f/1.8 DX as well.
Nikon AF-s 50mm f/1.4G ED
Better build quality, faster Autofoucs, smoother manual focus, and of course 1/3 stop more light are the advantages of this lens over the 1.8 version. Although it costs nearly twice as much, it is worth the extra if you can swing it.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM
This lens is the minimum I recommend for portraits of individuals and couples on full frame, but it really comes into it’s own on APS-C bodies. By forcing the photographer to move back you get more natural perspective on your subjects, not to mention they are more comfortable since they don’t feel like the lens is pressed up into their faces.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L USM
Another “if you have the means, I highly recommend it” lens, the 85mm f/1.2 (yes, 1.2!) will give you so little depth of field that your subjects eyeball will be sharp but the eyelashes will start to be out of focus! Now I don’t recommend that, but because it is an “L” series lens you get much better build quality, image quality, and of course the envy of every other photographer who wishes they had faster than f/1.4 lenses.
Canon EF135mm f/2L USM
This is my preferred focal length for portraits of individuals and couples on full frame bodies and this lens is excellent. I only wish it had image stabilization, but in most cases a monopod will help out here, and is cheaper (and better) than IS anyway.
Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G ED
Everthing I said about the Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens applies here as well. This is a great lens from Nikon for both APS-C and Full Frame Cameras.
Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4G ED
Less depth of field, better low light and better build quality are what you can expect from this lens when compared to it’s f/1.8 sibling, and well worth the significant cost difference.
Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8
This is the hardest lens I have ever used, and the funnest. This is the ONLY lens to offer 5:1 magnification. Most true macro lenses only go to 1:1. This lens doees not even have a focus ring, you set the magnification on the lens and then move back and forth until your subject is in focus. A macro focusing rail really helps here.
Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro
The new Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro USM brings image stabilization to the Macro world for Canon shooters, and it uses a unique hybrid IS that helps when shooting close. This lens also makes a great portrait lens, a 2-for-1 lens.
Nikon AF-S 40mm f/2.8G ED Micro
A macro lens for under $300? Yup! If you own a Nikon APS-C (DX) body and are interested in Macro, this lens is a great place to start. I’ve seen extension tubes that cost more than this little guy.
Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8G ED Micro
This lens has been the “go-to” lens for Macro and portrait shooters alike in the Nikon universe and for good reason, it’s a great lens. Expensive, yes, but well worth it.
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 VC USD
Tamron has really stepped up their offerings with their great USD focusing for fast and quiet autofocus and VC image stabilization. The image quality on this lens is fantastic, and the price is not too bad, either. (Available in Canon, Nikon and Sony A mounts)