Whenever we run these courses, we inevitably get questions on what cameras and lenses to buy, especially when it comes to those lenses which are capable of giving you lovely, creamy background. favourite lenses. 

So here is a little crash course on lenses with suggestions on what to buy: 

Kit, fast, prime, telephoto, superzoom - what IS my lens

Standard / kit lens

If you bought a camera which came with a detacheable lens, 95% of the time that lens would be what we call - a STANDARD or KIT lens. 

Typically it's a medium zoom lens with a medium aperture range ( I'll get to this in a sec)  and a medium-ish sharpness quality. I think you can see where I'm getting with this. It's a medium lens - not amazing, but usually not terrible either. 

Typically, your kit lens' zoom range will go from 18mm to 55mm with the smaller number relating to the 'no zoom' end and the larger - when it's zoomed in. In laymans terms, it's about 3x magnification.  Generally, the smaller the number ( or to give it its proper name - the Focal Length)  the less zoom you have, with numbers in their 'teens' giving you wide field of view and no zoom, and number is their hundreds giving you a more narrowed field of vision but bigger zoom. 

Telephoto Lens

There are of course lenses with longer zoom range - some will go to 200mm or even 300mm - we tend to refer to them as TELEPHOTO lenses.  Thise are useful if you want to photograph things from afar and bring them closer to you, but tend to be rubbish at home, because they require you to stand pretty far away from your subject. 

Prime lenses

Then there are lenses which have no zoom range at all. They only have one focal length, so they can for example be  JUST 50mm or JUST 18mm or JUST 105mm ( etc etc) . This means that if you want to change how close your subject will appear to you in the fianl image, you actually have to use your legs and walk up. You can of course still regulate sharpness on those lenses. 

And if you wonder who would willingly give up the ability to zoom and get one of these - the answer it : most photographers. And that's because these lenses tend to be sharper, often lighter, and also have amuch superior Aperture range ( easily capable of blurring the background into oblivion) .

Personally, I use my prime lenses nearly ALL of the time. I put on to my shorte length primes like 24mm or 35mm if I want to take photos of the scene and include a bit of the environment for more storytelling, and then switch over to my portrait primes - 50mm or 85mm when I'm after portraits or detail.

The great news for your is that many prime lenses are pretty cheap so you can get yourself the ability to capture those blurry background on a tight budget. 


Finally, if you are shooting with a standard point-and-shoot or a bridge camera, you may not be able to change your lens at all. Your camera comes with one lens firmly fixed to it, a lens which will often have an impressive zoom range - some of the bridge cameras on the market have superzoom lenses capable of zooming so much you can see craters on the moon. 

2. Aperture - what do I actually need

Aperture - which I referred to above, is a setting which relates to a size of an opening inside of your lens, which can get larger or smaller. 

The wider that opening can open, the more blurriness you can achieve in your image. But not just that - the wider that opening, the more light you can let into the camera at any one time which means you can take better photos in poor light, without having to resort to your flash. So big aperture = win, win

Somewhat confusingly, the larger the hole can get, the smaller the aperture number. Sorry. I know this doesn't make things easier. 

Your typical kit lens, will have numbers ranging from around F5.6 ( when fully zoomed) to F22 or similar ( when the hole is at its smallest)

A typical prime lens will have aperture starting from F1.8 or even F1.4. And I know that there doesn't seem to be that much difference between F1.8 and F5.6 but YOU HAVE TO TRUST ME ON THIS - the difference is massive. 

Then, you can also upgrade your kit lens to a BETTER standard zoom - so your zoom stays roughly the same it was on your kit * 18-55mm), but the quality of the lens and the aperture range increases a lot. In those lenses, you'll be able to get your aperture hole nice and big - at F2.8. 

3. What to buy?


When you decide to upgrade the lens, aperture is key. 

Remember - with a wider aperture, your lens will be able to create a wider opening for the light to get into the camera which means two things : your camera will perform better in low light ( like, you know, most of the year indoors in England) and you will be able to create that dreamy blurry background pretty effortlessly.

Two choices out there for you if you shoot with a DSLR or any other camera with interchangeable lenses: 

1. A zoom lens with improved aperture range

You are looking for a zoom lens which will have an F2.8 constant maximum aperture. This means the aperture won’t get narrower as you zoom in ( which it does on kit lenses). Branded lenses which do that tend to be pretty dear, but there are two brands which manufacture lenses for both Canon and Nikon and which will cost you a lot less: Tamron and Sigma.Here are the lenses I recommend students upgrade to if they want a better performing zoom lens:

Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 XR Di-II - version for CANON, version for NIKON

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM - Canon version,  Nikon version

If you're shooting with a mirrorless or different brand, just tag me on the FB group and I'll recommend alternatives.

2. A Prime Lens

While a 50mm prime lenses with F1.8 aperture seems to be very popular, we actually recommend going for a 35mm or 30mm prime for crop sensor cameras ( that’s pretty much all cameras below the pro level, so if your camera cost under £1000 when you bought it, it’s most likely a crop).

 The reason we recommend those is that we found that with a 50mm, students are always struggling for space as they try to shoot because you need to be physically further to get a shot which is anything other than just a tight crop.

Here are our recommendations:

Nikon 35mm f1.8 G AF-S DX Lens or a budget version from Yongnuo

Canon EF-S 35mm f2.8 Macro IS STM or a budget version from Yongnuo

Buying second hand

Nothing wrong with getting your gear second hand - photography gear tends to be very pricy, but if you go second hand, I would always always suggest you buy it from a specialist second hand seller which will service and inspect all the gear coming their way and give you a good length warranty in case you discover any faults with it when it arrives. We recommend MPB , Camera Jungle or the Used section of wexphotovideo.co.uk

Finally, if you're not sure what you want to buy is the right thing - just message me with a link and I'll be able to hep!