Should you upgrade your lens?  Image of a tamron and canon prime lens.

Today we are going to talk about whether or not you are ready for a lens upgrade? Whether you just got your camera or have had it a while trying to learn the ropes, the question about upgrading your lens is bound to come up. 

Well, the first thing I or any other photographer will tell you is that your camera is only as good as the lens you have on it! This is why people always ask “what type of glass have you got on that camera”. The glass is referring to the lens. The reason the lens is so important is that it determines the range of your aperture or allowable depth of field. (If you need a refresher on Aperture go HERE!)

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So my answer to “Should you upgrade your lens?” is a categorical yes!!!  Having a lens that allows a larger aperture range, say from f1.8 to f22, is so much better than the stock lenses that only have a range of f4.5 to f22.  When you get the larger aperture range you get so much more creative freedom.  Leaving the stock lens on your camera is basically the same as carrying around your iPhone for pictures.  Let’s talk about some lens upgrades that may make sense for you and how to choose the right lens.

Most Common Lens Upgrade

The most common lens upgrade most photographers make is to purchase a prime fixed 50mm lens.  This is also the most versatile and gives you the biggest bang for your buck if you think you will only ever buy 1 prime lens.  There are two options for both Canon and Nikon.  Both Canon and Nikon offer 2 different 50mm lenses.  The main difference between the two options is the aperture.  Each offers an f1.4 and an f1.8 with the former being more expensive.  I can say that spending the extra money for that extra f-stop is worth it in terms of the bokeh and ability to operate in low light conditions.  

Different Prime Focal Lengths

There are many different focal lengths you can get in a prime lens.  What you choose depends on where and what you shoot.  Common focal lengths are 24mm, 35mm, the aforementioned 50mm, 85mm, and 135mm.  If you shoot in tight indoor spaces you will want to opt for the 24mm or the 35mm.  If you primarily shoot outdoors and/or like to or need to be a good distance from your subject the 85mm or 135mm would be a good fit for you.  

One thing to note with both Canon and Nikon is that they both have a beginner line and a professional line for their lenses.  The way to distinguish the difference is obviously price but also by just looking at the lenses.  Canon beginner lenses will have a gold line and the professional lenses will have a red line.  For Nikon the beginner lenses will not have a line and the professional lenses will have a gold line.  

Below I also recommend two brands other than Canon or Nikon.  I have both Sigma and Tamron lenses and love them, so don’t be afraid to change brands.  The only word of caution is that if a lens brand is significantly cheaper than another it probably means you are getting lower quality and may cause issues in your actual photos.  

Prime Zoom Lens

If you are a photographer that just doesn’t like fixed focal length lenses there are prime zoom options for you!  You won’t get an aperture as low as f1.4 but could get as low as f2.8, which is still pretty great and gives you zoom versatility.  My absolute favorite prime zoom lens is the 24 – 70mm.  This lens gives you great flexibility to shoot indoor and outdoor.  If I could only take one lens with me on vacation it would be this lens.  (I also use this lens for many of my family sessions as going below f2.8 for groups of people can be challenging!)

Here is a list of Prime 24 – 70mm lenses to choose from.  (I personally shoot with the Tamron!)

How To Choose The Right Lens Upgrade

So now that you know your options, how do you choose the right focal length? This depends on what type of camera you shoot with, where you shoot, and what you shoot.

Type of Camera – Crop Sensor or Full Frame

Choosing a focal length will depend greatly on what type of DSLR camera you have meaning do you have a crop sensor camrea (all beginner DSLR cameras) or a full frame sensor (intermediate and above DSLR cameras). The reason it makes a difference is because with a crop sensor camera the actual focal length is different than the stated focal length of the lens. Here is an article on the differences between crop sensor and full frame sensor cameras. The article includes a table of actual focal lengths for crop sensor cameras. If you have a crop sensor camera my suggestion is either to go with a prime zoom lens or a 35mm prime lens. For a full frame sensor camera you can pretty much choose any lens based on what your end goals are.

Where You Shoot

Where you shoot will have a great impact on what type of lens you upgrade too. If you primarily shoot indoors, you will want to go with 50mm or below in focal length. If you shoot outdoors you can choose pretty much any focal length it just depends on how far away from your subject you want to be. If you like being close to your subject, choose 50mm or below. If you like being further away from your subject choose 85mm or above.

What You Shoot

The subject of your photos makes a big difference on what lens you will want to choose. If you are wanting to capture photos of kids or portrait type photos, I would suggest going with 50mm or below as these focal lengths allow you to get close and be apart of the action. If you are a still life or macro photographer, I would pay more attention to the aperture of the lens as the lower aperture will allow you to capture photos that make the primary subject stand out.

I think that about covers lens upgrades! If you have any other questions about lenses drop them in the comments below!

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