“This lens is amazing!”
That’s what you’ll think when you upgrade to your first DSLR.
To be fair, modern kit lenses are pretty awesome. For example, Canon’s 18-55mm kit lens has a great focal range for the casual photographer and even comes with advanced features like Image Stabilization.
But as you grow in your photography journey, you’ll start hitting the limitations. Then, you’ll start wondering if it’s time to move on to a different lens.
The short answer is “yes!” Read on to learn about the lens you should move on to.
The 50mm Lens
Instead of keeping you in suspense, we’ll just tell you that we recommend getting a 50mm lens for your first upgrade. There’s a reason this versatile little lens appears in nearly every serious photographer’s bag.
On a full-frame camera, the 50mm focal length best approximates the focal length of the human eye (excluding peripheral vision). Thus, it produces natural-looking images of a wide variety of subjects.
Photographers can use this lens for portraits, landscapes, still life, travel, food, street, and many other types of photography. Combined with an inexpensive set of macro filters, you can even start delving into the world of macro photography. You’ll get some surprisingly good results without having to drop several hundred dollars on a macro lens.
Because of its versatility, photographers have dubbed this little lens “the nifty-fifty.” All major lens manufacturers make some version of the 50mm and you will be happy you decided to upgrade.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why.
This is of particular interest to portrait photographers but the ability to create smooth, creamy bokeh is important for many types of photographers.
In simple terms, bokeh is a blurry background that helps direct the viewer’s eye immediately to the subject of the image. You get it by shooting with your aperture wide open (lower f-stop number). This creates a narrow plane of focus
On your kit lens, the lowest f-stop might be 3.5 (and that jumps up to 5.6 when zoomed in). You can get a decent bokeh at those f-stops, especially if there is enough distance between your subject and the background. However, you can never match the beautiful, soft images you can create with your aperture open to f/2 or 1.8 on the 50mm
Though it would be nice to say that price isn’t a consideration, few of us have that luxury. However, this is another reason why the 50mm is a great choice for your first upgrade.
The 50mm focal length doesn’t require a lot of fancy parts. The design is relatively simple and there are few lens elements, which makes the lens itself quite small in comparison to others. All these factors contribute to the low price tag.
How low? The price varies by manufacturer but both Canon and Nikon have a 50mm f/1.8 lens available for less than $150. By lens standards, that’s super cheap!
Note: keep in mind that you can get a 50mm in an f/1.4 and f/1.2 version. However, these versions run from a few hundred dollars to almost $2,000 depending on the features and manufacturer. While these are “better” lenses, for most photographers the f/1.8 version is more than adequate.
Kit lenses are great for a lot of purposes, but shooting in low light isn’t one of them.
Shooting indoors will typically always require a flash. Unless you’re setting up an off-camera flash, this will lend an amateurish quality to your images. Night photography will be limited and require extremely long exposures. Even so, you may find too much noise creeping into your images.
A 50mm lens with its wider aperture capabilities will let in about 3-4 times more light than a typical kit lens. You have to be careful when shooting at wider apertures to ensure that your subject is in focus. The smaller depth of field makes this more difficult. But your photos will have a more professional look to them.
A common workaround for shooting in low light with a kit lens is to bump up the ISO. This allows you to compensate for the low lighting.
However, it also introduces a lot of noise to your images. You can remove some of this in editing software like Lightroom. However, your images will always have a cleaner look if the noise is never introduced in the first place. Tack sharp images won’t be possible in low light until you upgrade your lens.
The autofocus on your kit lens probably works fairly well under most circumstances. But, depending on which direction you head with your photography, you may find it starts to limit you.
Unless it’s a bright sunny day, even getting your kids in focus as they run around the yard can be a challenge. The autofocus is just too slow to keep up with them.
As the light wanes, the problem gets worse, and you’ll probably notice your camera struggling to focus. By the time the focus finally snaps in, you’ve already missed the shot.
Advancing In Your Photography Journey
Have we convinced you yet? A kit lens is a great starter lens and there is a lot you can do with it. Even after you upgrade to a 50mm or another lens, you might still find yourself carrying the kit lens around for its versatility.
However, there will come a day when you want to start exploring the more advanced capabilities of your camera. You’ll want to shoot handheld in low light without having to use a flash and still get tack-sharp images. Perhaps you want to make your portraits look more professional with that dreamy bokeh behind your subject.
Regardless, your kit lens just won’t cut it anymore. The 50mm is a great option to start more deeply exploring the wonderful world of photography!