Camera Lenses 101

You spend a bundle on a fancy new camera and people say you need to spend a bundle on fancy new lenses. But is that really true?

Photographer Kristin Wilkerson breaks down what lens you need and when.

Why is the lens so important?
I think lenses are almost more important then the camera. Lenses control the amount of light that you can use and they determine the focal length (explained below) both of which are main aspects of good photography.

What’s wrong with the kit lens?
The kit lens is a little restrictive. It’s a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 and it’s meant to be an “all around lens” It’s priced at $90 for Canon and $196 for Nikon. This lens fine for someone taking everyday photographs but it also doesn’t specialize in any one area. So if you are looking to get those amazing portraits with beautiful blurry backgrounds it’s not a great choice. The kit lens doesn’t let in very much light and therefore you are restricted to shooting in good light all the time. If you already have a kit lens I wouldn’t necessarily say you have to upgrade right away. I would get to know your camera really well and practice taking pictures in all kinds of light. Once you feel like your lens isn’t going to allow you to grow anymore it’s a good time to invest in something new.

Zoom range of the kit lens.

Zoom or Prime?
There are two types of lenses zooms lenses and prime lenses. The kit lens is a zoom lens. If you don’t want to loose the ability to zoom a step up would be the Sigma 18-250mm f3.5-6.3 (, $399). This lens is better in that it you have more flexibility with your focal length or how far away you need to be from your subject. If you stand further back and zoom in you will get a more compressed background but you also don’t loose the ability to take great landscape shots.

Zoom range of the Sigma 18-250mm.

Here is a zoom range comparison between the 18-55mm and 18-250mm lenses.

The other kind of lenses are called prime lenses these lenses have fixed focal length but they generally have wide aperture abilities. This means that your lens lets in more light. These lenses are beautiful and yummy when it comes to taking portraits. They give you that beautiful bokeh or “blurry background” that you see from most of your favorite photographers.

A great affordable option would be the 50mm 1.8. Canon sells them for $114 on and $121 for Nikon. It is an amazing portrait lens. If you haven’t already purchased your camera I would even recommend buying a body only skipping the kit lens and moving right to this. It would probably cost nothing extra. This lens let’s in a lot of light and allows you to get crisp pictures even in low light situations with the right exposure.

A step up from the 50mm and one of my favorite lenses is the 85mm. This lens runs $299 for Canon and $325 for Nikon. I like that I don’t have to be right up in my subjects face to get the right framing, and I also love how I get a beautiful compressed background that really helps the subject pop.

What is your all-time favorite lens?
My favorite lens is the 24-70mm 2.8 lens, it brings me happiness. The Canon lens is $1925 and the Nikon $1886. It’s an expensive lens so it might be something you would rent on special occasions or purchase if you are making money with your photography. This lens shoots wide angles at 24 mm and also allows you to take great portraits with a beautiful compressed background at 70mm. You have a lot of great options with this lens. It’s my go to lens.

Where to rent?
Amazingly there is a growing trend in online businesses that allow you to rent a lens. This is an absolute must when you are thinking about purchasing an expensive lens or just want to try a lens out on a special occasion. I have been eye balling the Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 lens. Priced at over 2000 I didn’t want to take the chance of not liking it after my purchase. I decided to rent from Lens Giant to try it out. They ship it to your house you have a set number of days to play and then it comes with a shipping label to send it back. I absolutely fell in love with the lens and I knew that I wanted to turn around and make the purchase. Lens Giant was great to work with. Not only can you use it as a way to experiment before making a purchase but sometimes you can rent it for special occasions.

Get 25% off your lens rental from Lens Giant:
with coupon code “Studio5”.

Taken with the 70-200 2.8 lens.

Kristen Wilkerson is a professional photographer in Logan, Utah. You can find more of her work at

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