The best lenses for moms – here’s what you should know before you upgrade your lens.
Many photographers consider the quality of their lenses to be more important than the quality of their camera bodies. What does that mean for a mom who just wants to take great photos of her kids or a retiree who wants beautiful vacation photos? When considering which lenses to use for your photography, it’s important to know this:
Investing more of your photography budget on lenses than you do on a camera body is usually the wisest investment you can make for professional-looking photos.
In other words, if your camera itself is reasonably good, your photos will improve more with lens upgrades than they will with camera upgrades. What’s more? Lenses are designed to last for years and to be compatible with multiple camera bodies. Camera bodies grow obsolete quickly – the technology changes so fast, you’ll want a new body every few years. But can use the same lenses with a series of cameras.
All that goes to say that you should take your long-term photography plans into account when choosing your lenses.
The Best Lenses for Moms
Most cameras, especially entry-level models, are sold with lenses. These lenses are called “kit lenses.” Kit lenses are generally zoom lenses, meaning that you can twist the lens to adjust the “focal length” for shooting close up or far away.
The first major upgrade new camera owners usually make is a new lens. Buying a lens better than your kit lens can give you improved focus, better low-light performance, and deeper background blur. Before you shop, make sure you understand these terms & features. And then keep reading for a list of my favorite lenses.
- Focal Length – Lenses are usually named something like “Canon 24-70 f/2.8”. 24-70 refers to the focal length. A 24-70 lens can zoom out to 24 mm at its widest or into 70 mm at its closest zoom. Focal lengths are categorized like this:
- Wide-angle: 16mm-28mm. Suitable for landscape and real estate photography, plus fun, candid portraits.
- Normal: 28mm-85mm. Great for everyday shooting, without the wide-angle distortion that can come from wider lenses. The longer lenses in this range are good for portraits.
- Telephoto: 85mm and higher. The shorter lenses in this category can be good for portraiture, and the longer ones are better for sports (hello, soccer moms!) and wildlife.
- Maximum Aperture – Going back to that lens name (Canon 24-70 f/2.8), f/2.8 refers to the largest aperture size possible with that lens. The aperture is the opening inside the lens that lets in light. The bigger the size of the aperture, the more light can come into the camera. That’s good both for low-light situations and for creating background blur.
- There is an inverse relationship between the aperture number and its size. The smaller the aperture number, the larger the size of the aperture. (And the larger the price, in most cases.)
- Larger maximum apertures are better for low light situations.
- Larger apertures create more background blur.
- Practically speaking, you won’t find apertures larger than f/1.2.
- Fixed Length or Prime – Some lenses, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 for example, have a fixed length. They are called prime lenses. They don’t zoom in or out. If you want to get closer to or farther away from your subject, you have to move your body. Fixed length lenses are often of higher quality than zoom lenses and can provide sharper photos.
- Zoom lenses – Like the Canon 24-70 or most kit lenses, zoom lenses are designed to be flexible in a wide variety of situations. Having a good quality zoom lens is very helpful.
- Variable Aperture – Some lenses, like the Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6, have an aperture that changes based on the focal length (the amount you’ve zoomed the lens to). So, if you are zoomed out to 70mm, your maximum aperture is f/4. However, if you’ve zoomed in to 300mm, your maximum aperture is f/5.6. Fixed aperture lenses are of higher quality than variable aperture lenses, in most cases.
- Macro – Macro refers to the ability to take photos when your lens is close to your subject. You’ll often hear about them being used for product photography, nature and flower photography, and sometimes newborn photography. If you get too close to your subject with lenses that aren’t macros, you won’t be able to focus – nothing will happen when you press the shutter button. The minimum shooting distance is listed in the lens specifications that you’ll find when shopping, and it is often on the outside of the lens too. It will say something like .38 meters, meaning that you can be as close as .38 meters to your subject when you shoot.
- Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction – Many lenses come with Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction. (Canon’s lenses have IS, and Nikon’s have VR.) IS or VR reduces image blur that can come from shaky hands or camera movement while shooting.
- Brand names – Canon and Nikon have their own lenses. (Nikon’s lenses are called Nikkor.) While the name brand lenses can be more expensive, you know that they are compatible with your camera, especially in terms of auto-focus and Image Stabilization.
- Off brands – Tamron is one of the major producers of lenses that can be more affordable alternatives to Canon and Nikkor. I have heard that they are high quality, but I’ve never tried one myself. If you can play with one at a camera store, you might find that you like them. Make sure they are compatible with your camera in terms of both auto-focus and Image Stabilization before buying.
So, now that you know a bit more about what all these terms mean, let’s return to the subject of kit lenses. Kit lenses are usually zooms, something like that 70-300 f/4-5.6. Their maximum aperture is nearly always variable. They are also usually at the bottom end of the lens ecosystem. That’s the polite way of saying they’re cheap.
So, think about the lens you’ll use the most. Will you use your camera mostly for older kids at soccer games, or little ones at home?
Since camera bodies often come with a choice of one kit lens, and sometimes with two, you can be strategic in what you get with your kit. My recommendation is that you get no more than one kit lens, if that. Use any extra budget on the better lenses, the ones you will love forever.
The Best Lenses for Me
I have 2 zooms and two primes. The links below are for Canon products, because that’s what I shoot, but Nikon/Nikkor has comparable models.
- 50mm f/1.2 – The huge maximum aperture on this lens makes it great for low-light shooting and for producing beautifully blurred backgrounds. It’s pricey, but Canon makes an f/1.4 for about $400 and an f/1.8 for about $125. The f/1.2 lets in more light than the lower cost ones, but they are still great lenses. 50mms are usually the first lens upgrade that moms make. (My f/1.2 is 8 years old and still going strong.)
- 85mm f/1.2 – This might be my favorite lens in terms of the photos it takes. The colors and sharpness are amazing, and it’s a flattering focal length for portraits. However, it’s a bit long for using inside, at least in a house the size of mine.
- 24-70 f/2.8 – This is the lens that stays on my camera every day. Its zoom range is flexible enough for quick, unplanned shots of my kids inside or out, at home or at school. Tamron makes a more affordable version of this lens for Canon and for Nikon. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard good things about it.
- 70-200 f/4 – This is the lens I use for soccer games and the occasional Royal Wedding. Canon makes an f/2.8 version of this lens, but since I use it for outdoor daylight shots, the 2.8 wasn’t worth the extra cost for me.
The Expensive Lenses
Curious about what the red stripe means on Canon lenses? Or why some lenses are more expensive than others? This tutorial shows you the differences between two lenses of the same focal length but drastically different prices.
The Best Lenses for Moms: My Recommendations
If you haven’t already purchased a camera with a kit lens, think about what you’ll need for the next 10 or more years. A good combination might be a 70-135 kit lens with a 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4. That gives you good long-distance zoom plus a great low light lens that is a good size for shooting indoors.
Or, if soccer or longer distance shooting are more important, you could get a shorter kit lens like the 18-55 and buy a 70-200 for longer zooms.
Whatever you purchase, remember that it’s not all about the focal length. Try to avoid the variable aperture lenses and buy the largest aperture you can. And if you can’t afford the lens you really want now, don’t worry. Buy what you can afford, save the box and documents, and then resell it when you are ready to upgrade.
Do you have questions about lenses? that’s what I’m here for. Post them in the comments below.