One of the top questions I get from beginning photographers is: What’s one thing I could buy to greatly improve my photography? After evaluating their current setup, my answer 95% of the time is for them to upgrade to a better prime lens in their favorite focal length. Why do I keep recommending this?
The main reason is quality. Prime lenses are known for having better performance than zoom lenses. They are built to perform well at one focal length so they have less moving parts. In prime lenses, their able to achieve wider apertures (low f numbers). As you know from this post on the Exposure Triangle, wider apertures allow more light in, leading to higher quality images because shutter speeds can be increased (sharper images) and ISOs decreased (lower grain images). Another added benefit is that prime lenses are often significantly less expensive than zoom lenses in the same class. The final benefit of working with Prime lenses is that you learn and get comfortable with the focal length. You know where it does best, you learn how to better compose photos and you know what it won’t work for. Eventually you develop your photographic eye based on the focal length. For instance, I shoot at 35mm 97% of the time, I now see the world through a 35mm photographic eye. I can guarantee that other professional photographers that work in other focal lengths have adapted the same way to their cameras.
Before you go out and buy a new lens make sure to read this post about Crop Factor to help you determine what focal length lens you should buy.
I try to guide people to buy 35mm lenses if they have non-full frame cameras, this means that they will be shooting at roughly 50mm. My number one most recommended lens is the Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art. I own this lens and can attest to it’s quality, it’s also significantly less expensive than the Canon and Nikon versions most comparable. If you do decide to purchase one make sure that mount will match your camera.
If you can’t commit to one focal length and know you want to use a zoom, I recently found a great option. This Sigma 18-35mm 1.8 Art is built for APS-C sensor cameras. I’ve never used this lens but I know the Art line of lenses are all high performance. On an APS-C sensor you’ll get an effective focal length range of 27-52.5mm, great for Landscapes, Travel, Lifestyle and Portraits. At f/1.8 it’s the widest aperture I’ve ever seen on a zoom lens. To give you a comparison, my Canon 24-70mm has a max aperture of 2.8. Comparing the two, the Sigma allows in more than double the amount of light and a lot more background blur at it’s widest aperture setting.
At $800 and $900 neither of these lenses are cheap. If you are a beginning photographer and you’re just starting to fall in love with photography and have some money to spend, I highly recommend that you buy the best lens that you can afford. In the long run, you will save money by buying the right lens for you from the beginning.