The Basics: Choosing Your First Good Zoom Lens for Your Camera

In the past couple of years, photographers have finally been able to pick up their first good zoom lens. By that we mean lower end zoom lenses have become much better at delivering high quality photos. For years, photographers turned to higher end zooms and prime lenses for good quality optics. When you combine these new zoom lenses with high quality sensors though, you’re able to create photos that really stand out to you and others around you.

So we’re going to take a closer look at how you determine what your first zoom lens should be.

For the record, I personally want to express my excitement for the fact that more and more cameras are coming bundled with a prime lens as an option. This is something that was the industry standard when film photography reigned supreme. So some folks may be going for these kits instead of the options offered with kit zoom lenses. Kit zooms, as stated earlier, were not always that great quality but were instead designed to deliver convenience for the photographer and consumer. These days though they’re surprisingly good, and for a lot of people they’re the only lens they need. Most folks still only buy the first lens and don’t buy a second lens option–at least that’s the decision made with people who buy DSLRs. That’s because they don’t understand what a DSLR is really meant to do.

Mirrorless camera buyers though often end up going for more than just a kit zoom. They also completely understand quality imagery.

What Do You Want to Shoot?

Part of buying a new zoom lens has to do with knowing and understanding yourself a bit more. Any good photography and camera salesman will ask you this question. And for this section, I’m going to use and reference various conversations I often get pinged with each day and one that hits close to home with my own father. My dad was looking for new lens and camera options after he came back from a trip to Thailand and India. So naturally, I asked him what he wanted to shoot.

For my father, he travels a fair amount for freelance work and so he would be using the camera to shoot travel photography. Now, consider what comes up with travel photography:

  • Rough weather
  • Cities
  • Landscapes
  • Food
  • Tourist stuff

For many reasons, a good zoom lens is more than enough for lots of folks. In my dad’s situation, his first serious zoom lens is a great option beyond the two kit zoom lens kit he’s got.

But obviously, he’s not the only type of consumer out there. Other people want to use zoom lenses to photograph their kids, sports, etc. So identifying this is important. When you photograph kids, you’re often photographing them running around outside, moving very fast, etc. Kids can be unpredictable and iPhone cameras genuinely don’t cut it. Standard kit zooms are pretty good but the first zoom lenses we’re talking about are often better suited to do this type of work.

When Do You Want to Shoot?

The question of “when” brings up a whole lot of other sub-questions. This question used to be bigger years ago but in subsequent years, it has started to not be so important. For example, if you plan on mostly shooting during times when there isn’t a whole lot of light, then consider the fact that your shutter speeds will be slower and therefore you’ll need to raise your camera’s ISO settings. If you’re fine with that, then that’s perfectly okay and we can move on. But if you’re shooting during the daytime, then there is a big assumption that there is a lot more light. With that said, you won’t have any sort of problems.

A lot of people tend to buy new lenses when they go to travel, as we stated before. So when you’re traveling, or when you’re going to shoot, you’ll need to consider the weather. Sometimes you may need a lens that is weather sealed from the environment in addition to a camera that is also weather sealed.

When is very important, but modern cameras can handle low light with little to no issue–providing you’re using a pretty modern camera made after around 2012.

Where Do You Want to Shoot?

Where you’re shooting is also pretty important and usually a lot more than when these days. If you’re shooting in a city with lots of architecture and everything is pretty tight around you, then you may want to reach for a wide angle lens. Though many times you’ll be happy with an option like a superzoom lens. Where also has to do with how much light is available at a given spot and time. But more importantly than anything else is how.

The biggest question involved with “where” though is: indoors or outdoors? Both of these affect light and color. Some lenses tend to render very saturated images while others are less so.

How Do You Shoot?

So how could “how you shoot” be so important? It’s pretty simple, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you the person to get up close to people (even strangers) or keep your distance?
  • Do you demand super fast focusing to shoot candids or do you want to sit there and take your time composing and creating an image carefully?
  • How much time do you really spend behind the camera?
  • Are you very likely to actually take your camera out with you?
  • How good of a relationship do you develop with the people you’re photographing?

Based on these questions you can figure out a whole lot for yourself when considering your first zoom lens. If you’re the person that keeps a distance you may want to consider a telephoto or superzoom lens. If you need fast focus, then the best offerings are usually wide angles. If you’re the person to take one photo and then be done with the camera, then you obviously don’t NEED to spend a whole lot of money. Heck you could even be better off with renting a lens instead.

Your Sensor Size

And of course, you’ll need to consider your sensor size. But we’re going to make this even easier for you by straight up just recommending lenses that work for specific brands.

Recommended Zoom Lenses