Best Lens Choices For Your New Camera

Getting a new camera usually means getting a slew of new accessories and one of the first most people start looking for are new lenses.

There’s a big risk labeling anything the “best” when it comes to either cameras or accessories. Photography is a very competitive field from an equipment standpoint and the best of anything will frequently depend on the type of camera you have and what type of shooting interests you the most. Beyond that is figuring out the context. The best value for the money? The best quality at any price? The highest rated?

If you’ve looked at ten different site rating lenses, you’ll find ten different sets of recommendations. That’s not because they’re being bought off by manufacturers, it’s because there is so much good equipment on the market.

What I tried to pick here are lenses that have a loyal following and prove themselves useful in a wide variety of situations. I’m also going to assume you got a kit lens with the camera, most of which are fairly good lenses.

50mm lens

Canon Nifty Fifty and The Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

The 50mm lens has proven itself in 35mm photography for decades and the new breed are lighter and faster than ever before. A good 50mm lens is one of the few that will serve you equally as well with either a full frame or crop sensor camera.

Equally good for portraits and landscapes, the 50mm will be the most consistently useful lens in your bag.

sigma 17-50mm
The Sigma 17-50mm is hard to beat for sheer speed and versatility

The Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8

Available for Canon and Nikon the Sigma 17-50 is a great lens for shooting fast and on the go, making it a great choice for photojournalism. It gets 4.5 stars on 65 reviews at Amazon Marketplace.

This lens is very similar to the Tamron 17-50mm, which is my favorite portrait lens but I should clarify that is in the context of photojournalism, not studio portraits. Gets a slightly lower overall rating compared to the Sigma because of the focusing noise and sometimes clumsy zoom ring. Compare the two here.

Canon 70-200 f/2.8L

The Canon EF 70-200 and Nikkor AF-S 70-200

These two lenses tend to be the workhorses for many professional photographers. The zoom range gives you plenty of stand-off range for shooting weddings and events, particularly on an APS-C camera. I’ve seen them shot under almost every conceivable shooting situation, including studio work, and they always deliver consistently good results.

Certainly these lenses are not the best choice for every shooting situation, but they have proven themselves useful and reliable over the years. It’s hard to go wrong with any of these in your bag.

Five Things To Do With Any New Camera

nikon d5100
Step one with any new camera is reading the manual

Quite a few of you may be getting new cameras for the holidays. Most people are going to charge up the batteries, plug in a new storage card and start blazing away. That’s fine, that’s part of the fun of getting a new camera.

Once you get past that first enthusiastic blast, you’ll want to settle down and follow up with these five things.

Read The Manual

You really should do that before you start blazing away the first time, but try to tell someone with a new camera that they have to spend an hour with a book that appears to have been designed to be as dry and uninteresting as humanly possible.

But you will want to read it. Cameras are so complex, so jammed with features, that a lot of the neat things your camera can do are buried deeply in complex menus. While any camera will work in Auto mode, some of the real goodies will only be found browsing the manual.

Buy A Skylight Filter

If your camera has a kit lens or if you got a new lens for Christmas, then job one is ordering a skylight or sky 1-A filter.  Check the barrel of the lens to get the proper size for your lens.

Skylight filters are the cheapest insurance you can buy for a new lens.

Get a Rain Sleeve

While you’re getting the skylight filter for your new lens, get a rain sleeve, fold it up neatly and keep it in the bottom of your camera bag. That way you know where to find it without looking, day or night, in any working conditions.

Take a Class

Even if you’re an experienced photographer, you can learn a lot taking a photography classes. If you’re either a part-time pro or very skilled enthusiast, instructors will sometimes let you structure your class work to focus more on the elements of photography you’re interested in working on.

Go For a Walk

A photo walk in this case. Photo walks are organized by local photographers, photography clubs, nature clubs and bird watching groups. Many of them are free, some charge a small fee. It’s a great way to get out and spend the day taking pictures and getting to know other photographers.

I’ve met many of the local photographers on photo walks, it’s a great way to network and make connections in the business.

Discount Photography Goodies

Sites like PhotoWhoa will email you hefty discounts if you're patient

Everyone likes a deal and for those with a little extra cash in your pocket and some patience, there are deals to be had in photography gear.

Almost all them have some kind of strings attached. One might have deals that show up on a one-time only basis, others may have shipping times that are measured in weeks. Hence the reference to being patient. But when you do find a product you’ve been waiting for, the savings can be substantial.

PhotoWhoa is one of those sites that has a particular deal for a day or two before the next one rolls along. Your only choice is the current deal but the savings are significant.

PhotoWhoa will send you emails as new deals become available. Worth watching just for the size of the discounts.


DealExtreme is one of the first of a new breed of Chinese retailers selling directly to consumers in other countries. They have a vast catalog that includes a bewildering array of electronics and gadgets, including many off-brand photography gadgets.

The savings are compelling and shipping is free but be aware that when I say shipping is a slow boat to China, that is not hyperbole. I’ve waited as long as three weeks for orders to arrive.

Not all the savings are that great. A Yongnuo YN560 Speedlight is $75.30 on DealExtreme and $79.99 on Amazon. Considering how long shipping takes, it’s up to you to decide if the savings are worth it.  Though on some items the price difference is worth the wait.

One caution with international retailers is that you can buy equipment, like cell phone jammers, that are not legal in some countries. Another caution is that they sell to an international market, so watch the menu languages for electronics.

Flash Umbrellas – Size Does Matter

wescot 7 foot umbrella
New umbrellas like this 7 foot Wescott for $99 are bringing umbrellas back

It may come as a surprise to many photographers today, but softboxes are relative newcomers on the photography and video lighting scene.

In the old days on movie sets there were huge hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide lamps (HMIs), and “hot lights” with names like “Blondes”, which was a 2K open-face light and “Red Heads” which were 1K. Only poor filmmakers used Red Heads, although I saw them sneak on to big sets as background fills occasionally.

About the same time in photography, you probably would have found floor flash units mounted inside large umbrella reflectors.

Photography has always had an edge on film lighting, until very recently. With the advent of DSLRs on movie sets, we’re also seeing some intersection in lighting gear. The old days of HMIs, jokingly referred to as standing for High Monetary Investment, are giving way to less powerful lighting options that produce more even lighting. Softboxes are now turning up in photography studios and film sets alike, although the lighting inside is somewhat different.

With advances in construction and materials, we’re also seeing flash umbrellas making a comeback in photography, although these are not your grandpa’s flash umbrellas.

When it comes to umbrellas in photography, size matters. The broader and more diffuse your light source, the more even the lighting on your subject. The older style umbrellas were small, not much bigger than an umbrella you might carry with you for rainy days. Today you have a better selection.

Companies like Booth Photographicare fielding umbrellas that would make any softbox owner blush with envy. Parabolics, because of the shape, are going to have less fall off at the edges. A parabolic light like a large umbrella, near your subject. is going to give you a bit of wrap around the subject, contributing to a very smooth overall lighting effect.

Booth umbrella
75 in reflective umbrella by Booth Photographic

Umbrellas lost favor to softboxes because, for a long time, the only large umbrellas you could find were really expensive. Today, they’re coming back into vogue with models like this 7 foot Wescott and this 75 inch silver model from Booth.

When you’re out shopping for studio lights, don’t forget to give some of the newer umbrellas a look. With price tags under $200, it’s possible that parabolics will stage a comeback.

Do I Need a Light Meter?

digital light meter
A light meter like this Shepherd/Polaris SPD100 are incredibly useful and relatively inexpensive

A fair question these days is whether or not you still need a hand-held light meter? In the old days light meters in the camera were pretty simple. There was a needle over on the side and a center mark on the scale. The closer the needle was to the center mark, the better off you were. Cameras were “center weighted” which meant whatever you had in the center of the field of view was what the needle was registering.

That arrangement seems hopelessly primitive compared to today’s cameras that use sophisticated multi-point metering systems that sample many points inside a photograph and use that sample set to compute the optimum average exposure value.

Despite the difference in applied technology, the meters are still doing basically the same thing: Reading the light reflected off a subject and calculating an exposure value based on 18 percent gray. Why 18 percent gray? Because it turns out if you average all the values across a scene it all boils down to that figure.

When considering the decision of whether to get a light meter, it also helps to understand the difference between reflected light and incident light. Reflected light is what allows you to see anything. When you look at an object, your eyes are seeing the light reflected off the object to your eye. Incident light is measuring the light falling on the object, irrespective of what’s being reflected.

Light meters work by filtering the light through a dome that approximates an 18 percent gray card.

When incident light meters are most useful is when you’re working with strobes. You can remotely pop your flash setup and get an exact light reading at your subject. You can also take readings from multiple sides if you’re trying to set up a particular light ratio.

Having a decent light meter can be a great way to add consistency to your photography, by helping you dial in your starting settings. That saves a lot of time when working with expensive models. As often as you’re changing the light setup and moving around, a good light meter will be invaluable for working fast and changing setups.

A good light meter does not have to cost a lot of money. Here are a few good models for under $300.

Sekonic L-308S

Gossen DigiPro F

Shepherd/Polaris SPD100