I often get asked by interested customers if there’s a particular lens I would recommend for beginners, or if I have a favourite lens. It’s fair to say that over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to photograph using a whole heap of lenses. There’s so many lens options available and each lens has been carefully designed and engineered for a slightly different purpose. In just the same way you probably wouldn’t buy a mini to transport a family of 7, it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to buy my favourite wide angle lens if you were looking to photograph sport action. I’d therefore always recommend that before you buy any new lens, you start by hiring or borrowing one to check it’s going to fulfill your needs. I’ve therefore chosen more than one favourite, in fact i’ve chosen 5. These aren’t necessary the VERY BEST you can buy, just the ones I particularly like to use. Sometimes I may choose a lens that feels natural to use over one that is technically slightly better.
1. The wide angle lens – As a portrait photographer I spend very little time photographing wide angle. These lenses are typically more suited to landscapes or static scenes as they can easily distort human subjects into strange shapes. I used to own the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 but after only using it a handful of times in two years I decided to sell. This is great example of why I would recommend hiring a lens before buying!
2. The ‘standard zoom’ lens – For general photography, these are probably the type of lens you would start out with. Typically covering a focal range of between 25mm – 100mm they allow you to capture a whole host of scenes and objects without having to switch lens. They’re great for holidays where space can be limited. I can’t choose a favourite here. For holiday and family use it would be the Nikon 24-120mm f/4. For low light or indoor use, it would be the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. In reality, there’s very little between them though.
3. The ‘prime’ lens – A prime lens is typically a lens that doesn’t zoom. Because they’re less complex in design, prime lenses are typically sharper and cheaper than their zoom counterparts although this is not always the case. I’d recommend the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 for portraits, although I also own the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 which is great for scene setting and documentary photography.
4. The ‘telephoto’ lens – Telephoto lenses have large zooms so that you can crop tightly into a scene without losing resolution. There’s a wide range of telephoto lenses available, with some being priced below £100, and others well in excess of £10,000 so it really is hard to give a favourite. However, for portraiture mine would be the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8. It’s super sharp and super versatile.
5. The ‘starting out’ lens – OK, so I lied! I only really chose 4 favourites and then added my own category to the end. However, I thought it was important to say that if you’re new to photography then any lens is better than no lens. Please please don’t spend all your cash buying ‘the best’ kit until you’re 100% sure about which equipment you need and why. You’d be far better investing that money into training and practicing and then buying what you need at a later date. Even the very basic Nikon kit lenses, such as the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 are capable of producing incredible images with the right knowledge.
So, there you have it. My short and sweet guide to choosing my single four favourite lenses for portrait photography. Do you regularly use a lens not listed here? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear what you shoot when you’re out and about with family and friends.