This post is for the average picture-taker who has invested in an SLR camera and uses the kit lens that came with the camera.

I’m going to try to keep the information very basic. I’m not going to talk about focal length, aperture, sensor, mounts, etc because this kind of information is overwhelming for the average person that doesn’t know a lot about cameras. I just want to recommend two, less expensive, lens options that are guaranteed to improve your photos. I won’t be recommending anything over $500 and will try to keep it to options under the $250 range.

Choosing a better lens will significantly improve your photos and is arguably the most important part of taking better pictures. It’s even more important than the type of SLR body you buy.

The lenses that I’m going to recommend to you are called prime lenses. A prime lens has a fixed focal length – this means it does not have a zoom. Your body and your legs are essentially your zoom. I realize zoom lenses are incredibly convenient but this convenience comes with trade offs in performance.

Wide Lens

I call this a “story” lens because it captures wider than a portrait lens. I would say that most of the images I capture are captured with a wide lens. Why? Because I like being able to show more than what my kids look like. I want to expand my frame to show what they are doing – the story is most important to me. It doesn’t mean I don’t ever take close up portraits, I definitely do, but most of the time I’m picking up my camera to capture something that is happening. If my lens is too narrow, most times it cuts out too much of the story that I’m trying to incorporate.

Did you know your iPhone is a wide lens? You’ll notice that it captures quite wide which makes it a great story-telling camera – not only because of how convenient it is to use but how wide it captures a well.

If you are like me and prefer to capture the story, consider the 35mm lens.

  1. Nikon 35mm F1.8 $256
  2. Yongnuo 35mm F2 for Canon $127 (Canon’s 35mm lens is quite expensive ($700) so I’ve chosen to recommend a less expensive option)

Portrait Lens

If it feels more natural for you to be close when you take pictures, then a portrait lens might be a better fit for you. The 50mm is a favourite lens of mine because I find it versatile enough to get close for a tight shot  and I can also step back and still capture a bit of the story too.

  1. Canon 50mm F1.8 $163
  2. Nikon 50mm F1.8 $282

If you can afford to spend a little more, these more expensive options are crazy good lenses that are incredibly good for the price. Many pro photographers use these lenses. What you’re gaining by paying a bit extra is a faster lens and more light – so if you take a lot of images inside your home, you’ll find these options do a great job and most times you don’t need flash.

  1. Canon 50mm F1.4 $454
  2. Nikon 50mm F1.4 $580
  3. Canon 85mm F1.8 $479


I should mention that I don’t personally own any of these lenses. I own the more expensive versions because I use these in my work. I could have recommended what I actually have but realistically you would not spend $2K on one single lens so the point of this is to offer you a less expensive option that will give you a similar look for a lot less. The main benefits to the really expensive lenses are better quality glass which means pros can shoot faster, images are sharper and the lenses perform better in low light. These are differences that an average shooter may not even recognize.

What if these lenses don’t work with my camera?

If you have a different brand of camera or the mount requires a different lens, the things to keep in mind are:

  • Stick to PRIME lenses. Forget about the zoom.
  • Choose lenses that will allow you to shoot at an aperture under 2.0 – ideally no higher than 2.8

Where can I buy my lens?

If you don’t know a whole lot about cameras and lenses, I would recommend buying your lens in person rather than online. Here in Edmonton, I would recommend McBain or Vistek. They both are willing to price match so if you find your lens for a better price somewhere else (within Canada) just show them the listing on your phone and they will match it. There are other places to buy camera equipment (Best Buy, London Drugs, Memory Express) but I find the customer service is usually never as good as a place that only specializes in camera sales. The knowledge is always helpful and reassuring.

Any purchasing tips?

When you go in person to choose your lens, please bring your camera! They can let you test out the lenses you are interested in directly on your camera body. This will give you the best feel for how wide or narrow the lenses feel on your camera. Depending on whether you have a full-frame or crop-sensor the lenses will look different so it’s always a good idea to look through the lens to decide if it feels right for you.

I also highly recommend renting a lens before you purchase it. Both McBain and Vistek offer rental service. You can rent a lens for as low as $25 per day.

If you have any related questions, please feel free to post them in the comments section below and I’ll try my best to respond!

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