Your first prime lens

About prime lenses

Do you have a digital SLR camera and the lens that came with it (the "kit lens"), but you're frustrated at the photos you're getting?

There is one simple thing you can do to improve your photography. Well, after you've attended one of my beginner's photography courses that is! Yes, after that, my next suggestion is to invest in a prime lens. Read my blog post to understand what's so great about prime lenses and why you should ditch the kit lens.


Choosing the right focal length

If you don't know what size sensor is inside your camera now is the time to find out, it is crucial to know this when choosing a lens. For your first prime lens I recommend a 50mm focal length lens as it is an economical but flexible choice for many reasons.

For a FULL FRAME SENSOR camera you should purchase a 50mm prime lens.

For a CROP SENSOR camera you should ideally purchase a prime lens around 35mm focal length. Read more about how lenses work differently on crop-sensor cameras.
 

Criteria

For this list of recommendations, I have only models suitable for Canon and Nikon cameras, being by far the most popular camera manufacturers. However I may add other camera and lens brands as and when I research them further.

I have also only added models that retail at £200 or less, as this is about the level that most amateurs considering their first prime lens are happy to invest at the start of their photography journey. If you are willing to spend more, then you will indeed get a better lens, and I would look to those same lenses but with larger apertures, as the larger aperture lenses as well as producing shallower depth of field also see all-round improvement in quality across the board in terms of sharpness and other factors.


NIKON recommended prime lenses under £200
 

OPTION 1 :  Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G Lens

Price : around £160 - check current price on amazon

Recommended for :

  • Crop sensor cameras

This lens says it is 35mm on the box, but because you have a cropped sensor, this lens is effectively a 52mm lens on your camera - a "nifty fifty".

The only real downside is that this lens won't work with a Full-Frame camera body, should you wish to upgrade in the future. However if you are investing that amount of money - as full-frame bodies are generally used by professional photographers so they aren't cheap - then you probably won't mind buying another lens anyway.
 

OPTION 2 : Nikon AF-S NIKKOR f/1.8G Lens - 50 mm

Price : around £190 - check current price on amazon

Recommended for :

  • Full frame sensor cameras
  • Crop sensor cameras - if you already have a 35mm and want to add to your lens collection, this is an excellent lens.

This is a 50mm lens, but on your crop sensor it will act effectively like a 80mm focal length lens. That means it has higher magnification - ie. you have to stand further back to use it in the same way.

This lens also gives you fantastic bokeh. However, on a crop sensor it is a less flexible than the 35mm one. Being a longer focal length it doesn't work so well where space is limited such as at home, as you need to be standing at a greater distance to take the same photo.

This lens is a good choice if you’re on a crop sensor camera and planning to upgrade to a full frame camera body, as you it will also work on full-frame cameras too.

 


CANON recommended prime lenses under £200
 

OPTION 1 : Canon EF 50 mm 1.8 STM Lens

Price : around £100 - check current price on amazon

Recommended for :

  • Full frame sensor cameras
  • Crop sensor cameras

This is a 50mm lens - however on a cropped sensor it's actually a 80mm lens  - a much longer lens. Combining this with the large aperture of f1.8, this makes it a fabulous portrait lens on a crop sensor, producing dreamy bokeh.

The downside with that long focal length is that you need to be at a greater distance to your subject, this can be a little tricky when first learning and therefore makes it not a flexible as a "nifty fifty" lens. Although it has the highest aperture of the Canon lenses listed here, it will also be the most difficult to use indoors if space is limited.

However it is incredibly good value - £100 for a lens like this is peanuts. As long as you understand the limitations it is a good choice.
 

OPTION 2 : Canon EF 40 mm f/2.8 STM Lens

Price : around £160 - check current price on amazon

Recommended for :

  • Full frame sensor cameras
  • Crop sensor cameras

This lens says it is 40mm on the box, but on a cropped sensor it is similar to our "nifty fifty", with a focal length of 56mm. The only real downside is the maximum aperture of f2.8. This is vastly different to the 50mm which has a maximum aperture of f1.8.

However, the good news it that it will still produce a better bokeh than your standard kit lens, which generally goes to only f5.6 on the longer focal lengths. And it is also more flexible that the 50mm, having a shorter focal length so not being so bad in limited space and for taking wider shots.
 

CHOOSING BETWEEN OPTIONS 1 & 2

Unlike the Nikon choices, there is no obvious choice for your first prime lens here and it's worth thinking a bit more about what you most want out of the lens.

If you know that you want to take lots of close-up portraits with maximum bokeh, Option 1 (50mm) will be a better choice on a crop-sensor camera. This lens will also perform better in low light due to the wider maximum aperture.

However If you prefer to take wider shots, including the scenery or getting the whole family in the photo, the Option 2 (40mm) would be better for that, with a more flexible focal length. However you have to bear in mind you would get less pronounced bokeh.
 

Option 3 : Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM

Price - around £150 - check current price on amazon

Recommended for :

  • Full frame sensor cameras
  • Crop sensor cameras - if you already have a 35mm and want to add to your lens collection, this is an excellent lens

On a cropped sensor, this lens works out as effectively 38mm focal length. That's a bit wider than the "nifty fifty" we would like and with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 you will see some good bokeh but not as great as on Option 1 or Option 2.

If however, you think you will be taking lots of documentary shots, or landscape and group shots, this would be most suitable for that. And if you have very restricted space in your house and plan to shoot there a lot, this could be a good choice.
 


Where to buy photography equipment in the UK

The other question I'm often asked by my photography workshop students is where's the best place to buy photography equipment?

If you want to buy from the high street or want to take a closer look at products before purchase, I would recommend Park Cameras and Wex Photo. However they do only have a handful of stores across the UK, so unless you are in London or one of the largest cities they are unlikely to be close to you.

When I purchase photography equipment therefore, I usually choose the best priced option amongst Amazon, Park Cameras or Wex Photo.


 

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