The one lens that will put your images on the next level.

Lenses.  So many to choose from…what the heck is the difference?  After this lesson, you’ll understand why lenses do so much more than just ‘zoom,’ and why the “best” lenses don’t even zoom at all.  We’ll talk about what makes a lens “fast” or “slow.” In short, you’ll finally understand lenses, and what all those numbers mean.
We’re going to get straight down to bizness.  I had an entire lesson typed up that was pretty typical, reading like a well written, well rounded article that went from broad and basic to narrow and focused.  But then it hit me: “this is what everyone else does Kyle.”  And so I’m just going to tell you up front the ONE single lens that you should absolutely save up to buy (actually, it’s an investment).  This lens is moderately priced, yet optically, performs as good as almost any lens out there.
And then I’ll tell you why.  In doing so, you’ll know all you really need to know about lenses.


Buy this one if you shoot Canon: 
canon 50mm 1.4
Or  this one if you shoot Nikon:

 nikon 50mm 1.4


Because it’s FAST.

Remember, fast doesn’t mean fast focusing (although, yeah, it’s that too).  It means that it has a very large max aperture, thus allowing gobs of light to very quickly enter your canvas, which in turns allow you to have very fast shutter speeds.  Refer back to your understanding exposure module for the full serving.
What it means in practice… AWESOME low light capabilities.  Indoors with minimal windows?  No problemo.  f/1.4 Will gather SO much light that you can pull off some amazing shots with just a sliver of light.  It’s just so much fun to take pics inside without having to deal with that nasty flash.  You’ll find brand new worlds of possibilities waiting at f/1.4.  It. Is. FUN!!

Because it’s BEAUTIFUL.

And by beautiful, I mean the pic it produces more so than the lens itself.  
Want that dreamy, buttery-smooth bokeh?  f/1.4 baby.  It’ll give you drop dead gorgeous background blur and razor thin depth of field.  There’s nothing quite like nailing the eyes in focus, with everything else soft and creamy.


Stop it down (that’s cool photog talk for going with a smaller aperture, say f/3.5 etc), and it’s still beautiful, with the added benefit of at least a few inches of depth of field.  Keep in mind that prime lenses are so much more sharp and contrasty than cheap zoom lenses.  Only the best of the best zoom lenses can compete.  And although a $2300 zoom lens is more incredible for all practical purposes, pixel peepers will be able to tell you that a prime lens is still shaper and contrasty-er.

Because it’s the BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK.

Okay okay…keep in mind I’m speaking to my core audience: moms and dads (and the like…which includes just about anyone) who want to take better pics of their kids, their vacations, their every-day moments at home, their veggie garden, their rose bush, etc etc. 
What SOO many of you want is a lens that will, to put it quite bluntly, make your work look professional.  Well, you have a few options.

  1. Buy this for $2500 (this is Canon, although Nikon has the same thing for their system)
    canon 70-200
  2. Buy this for  $1800 (this is Nikon, but again, Canon has the same thing)
    nikon 24-70
  3. Buy this for $1600 (if you’re shooting Canon.  Nikon’s version is f1.4 instead of f1.2, and thus much cheaper, and is linked above)
    Canon 50mm 1.2
  4. Or buy the one I’m suggesting, for $450.
Will it be as fast as the Canon 1.2 (linked above) ? Well, not quite, but 1.4 is awfully close, and for 4x less $$$.  Will it have the versatility of a professional zoom lens like a 70-200 2.8? No, but last I checked, 95% of the parent-like folks in SPS aren’t looking for a great wedding/event/portrait/sports/do-everything lens for $2300, but a great every day lens nonetheless.  And that’s why I suggest what I do.  

Keep in mind that the quality of the image produced will be every bit as good and better than the very best professional zoom lenses, and perhaps 98.7% as good as an OEM lens, according to my own experience and that of many others.  But at a fraction of the cost as that $1600 OEM lens.
Do I own Canon prime lenses? Sure.  Do I own the lens I’m suggesting? Yep.  Keep in mind I do this for a living (photography), and so it’s easier for me to justify to my spouse.  🙂
Bottom line, I’m trying to get you genuine, true, professional optics at the best possible price.  This lens is IN MY BAG, and it’s one that I use all the time for my professional work.  If you have this lens, you no longer have an excuse for not having a wonderful lens.


 Keep in mind I know I’m talking to a crowd that mostly owns consumer level DSLR’s.  This means that your sensor is a bit smaller than full frame, and thus your focal length effective field of view will be multiplied by 1.5 for Nikon and 1.6 for Canon.  
 Say what? Click here for a bit more depth, but otherwise just know that this 50mm lens I’m suggesting behaves like a 75mm on a Nikon body and an 80mm on a Canon body.  That is…unless your camera body is a full frame body (if you have to ask what that means, I highly doubt you have it.  If you do, and didn’t know it, congrats, you have a very nice camera 🙂 )  As of now, the general rule of thumb is that if you camera body (body only, not including lens) costs 2k or less (new), then it’s not a full frame body, and thus you’ll have the multiplier deal going.
And because it’s more like a 75mm/80mm focal length, it’s the perfect length for portraits.  50mm is about the same field of view as the human eye.  But I prefer the background compression and reach that you get by going longer than 50mm.  80mm is great and gives a slightly more pleasing shape to the face than 50mm.
If you remember from this lesson, I love the background compression that happens at long focal lengths like 135mm and 200mm.  Love it.  BUT, 75/80mm is more versatile.  200mm is very often difficult to use inside because you can’t back up far enough.  35mm is often too wide as you always have to be right on top of your subject for simple ‘fill the frame’ shots.  75/80mm is great (again, for what we’re shooting most of the time as the focus of SPS).
If you do have a full frame camera and 50mm is actually 50mm, would I suggest an 85mm prime instead? Hmm.  Tough question.  My answer: since you’ve already spent $2,000 plus on a body, go ahead and buy both.  Or buy the 50mm prime and then a really nice 70-200mm 2.8 zoom lens, which will cover that 80mm focal length.  Or if you want to stick with the fastest primes, this lens is considered the gold standard ($2,000).  This one, however, is almost all of the aforementioned, but at under half the price ($895).  If you’re a Nikon shooter, this one is hard to beat ($1400), and this one gives it a run for its money ($895).
Canon 85mm 1.2
**I suppose I do want to add one disclaimer to the choice I’m suggesting.  And that’s this.  While I think that the 50mm prime works well on the smaller sensor cameras (thus the equivalent 75/80mm), putting an 85mm prime one these same cameras gives the equivalent of about 128mm.  And that focal length, my friends, is in my opinion, one of the best portrait focal lengths available.  It’s the perfect length for distortion free portraits.  The drawback, it’s less versatile indoors due to the longer focal length (sometimes you back up into the wall, and can’t go back any further).  The other drawback? Price.  And that’s why I suggest the 50mm prime that I’m suggesting.  If money is no object, by all means, an 85mm prime should be on your wish list.  But I’d still own the 50ish mm focal length because 85mm will still be too long in a lot of situations.  Okay, disclaimer done.

Because it’s BUILT TO PRO SPECS.

 If you want it to say Canon you can check out this option for a similar price, but it’s not weather sealed as well as my suggestion, and my suggestion has better specs ‘under the hood.’ Canon’s flagship 50mm costs 1600 bucks.  (Kyle’s original suggestion was a Sigma 50mm f1.4, but it has since been discontinued in favor of their Art line which is not even close in price to the Canon and Nikon 50mm f1.4.)
Nikon, on the other hand, has the same lens at the same price point.  So, sure, buy the Nikon.  It’s FANTASTIC.  
You’ll find this truth over and over.  Pick up one lens … it’s heavy, chunky, and feels like a big ole hunk of solid glass.  Pick up another … it feels light, plastic-y, and flimsy.  Which one do you suppose is better.  You better believe it.  This and this have a few things in common, one of which is that they’re ALL HEAVY.
Understand all 3 companies are great.  They’ve all been making lenses for a long time.  And no, I don’t get paid anything for saying what I’m saying.  I. WISH.

Okay, those are the big reasons I suggest what I’ve suggested.  Now let me answer some of your frequently asked questions and objections.


“But, I really want a zoom lens.  Are you really telling me to buy a lens that doesn’t even zoom? That seems so 1954.”

So, I honestly know pro photogs who refuse to shoot with zoom lenses.  Fact is, the best prime lenses will always beat the best zoom lenses in terms of sharpness and contrast.  And the best prime lenses will also always be the ‘fastest’ lenses by far.  Zoom lenses typically only get f2.8 fast.  Prime lenses can get f0.95 fast (and that kind of speed costs $11,000).  Granted, reasonably priced prime lenses frequently get f/1.4 fast.
Other photogs see it as advantageous to actually “have to move your feet to zoom.”  Why? Because it changes your perspective.  And in doing so, you have a chance to … see more perspectives.  Go figure. In doing so, you see (and therefore capture) images you otherwise would not have seen.
That said, I hear you.  And the advantage to zooms is that, well, they zoom!  You can go from 70mm to 200mm in under a second (in the case of a 70-200mm lens).  When you’re shooting weddings, there’s no substitute.  That kind of versatility is a big fat layer of security. 
Even for general use, it’s nice to have a zoom.  Sure.  If you’re set on it, go for it.  Zoom away.  Just know that nice zooms will cost you.  Some folks might prefer the convenience of a zoom and value that more than a fast lens with state of the art optics.  So long as you know the trade off and what you’re in for, I can dig it!  Hey, I shoot with this zoom lens ALL the time (more than any other lens by far, truth be told).  So why am I not recommending it as THE official recommendation.  Simple.  Price.  How can I possibly give a blanket recommendation that costs $2500?  If you’re a legit pro, sure, I’d say it needs a spot in your bag.  If you’re a normal guy/girl, I’ll stick with my recommendation.

What about Image Stabilization? Should I get one of these lenses?

Yes.  Get it.  There’s nothing worse than an image that would have been great if it weren’t so blurry.  Spend the extra few bucks.
By the way, Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction (VR).  Canon calls is Image Stabilization (IS).  Other manufacturers might have their own variation…shake reduction, OIS, etc.  It’s all the same.  It’ll allow you to overcome the 1/focal length rule by as much as 3-4 stops.  What that means is that you can get crisp, clean handheld shots at 1/25th of a second on a 200mm lens (as opposed to 1/200th of a second).  Basically, it lets you keep that tripod where it belongs (in a box lost somewhere).
Keep in mind not all lenses have IS.  Most prime lenses do NOT, in fact.  It’s more of a zoom thing, presumably because prime lenses are already the fastest on the planet.

Can you explain exactly what all the numbers mean on all the lenses I’m looking at?

This is review for many, but I still get asked it a lot.  If you’ve been around awhile, feel free to skip this part. Otherwise, here you go:

  1. Focal Length
    This is the number before “mm” and simply designates how much “reach” a lens has.  Wide angle is traditionally 35mm (we’d say “35 millimeter”) and below.  Standard and medium telephoto lenses include lenses from 50mm-100mm.  And telephoto lenses are above 100mm (including super telephoto lenses 400mm and up).  
    Might go without saying, but we had better. If there’s a dash in between 2 numbers with the “mm” following, it just means it’s a “zoom” lens.  So, a 70-200mm lens will zoom from 70mm to 200mm.  If there’s just one number, such as 50mm, it means it’s a fixed focal length, and does not zoom.  We call these “prime” lenses, or “fixed” lenses.
  2. Aperture
    Designated by “f/” or “1:”, this number indicates the lens’ maximum aperture.  Sometimes there will just be one number, such as f/4.0 (or 1:4.0).  This means that the lens has a max aperture of 4.0, no matter what the focal length.  Sometimes there will be two numbers, such as f/3.5-5.6.  This tells you right away that it’s a zoom lens.  The numbers simply correspond to the max aperture at its widest and longest focal lengths.
    So a lens designated 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 has a max aperture of 3.5 at 18mm (its widest focal length), but a max aperture of 5.6 at 55mm (its longest focal length).  A lens designated 24-70mm f/2.8 will zoom from 24mm to 70mm, and maintain a max aperture of f2.8 throughout the entire range.  In general, the zoom lenses that maintain a constant maximum aperture are much nicer than the variable kind.  Not to mention much faster.  Keep in mind, f2.8 is twice as fast as f5.6  In the real world, this makes twice the difference.  Imagine that.

That’s a wrap.  As always, ask questions…

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I just purchased a canon prime lens that is 1.8 before I read your blog. Would this lens be sufficient enough to give me professional pictures?

    1. Hey Taruna! This lens will give you so much for your money 🙂 Combine it with good light, and absolutely it will give you some stellar images!

      1. I also have the canon 1.8, but I find in order to have sufficient focus or depth of field I can never use the 1.8 f stop. How far from my subject do I have to be to use it and do you have any lessons on this? Thanks!

        1. Hi Farah,
          At f1.8, your depth of field is tiny – you’d have to be pretty far from your subject to have much of your image in focus. In addition, most lenses are sharpest a stop or two above their minimum. I would suggest trying f2.8 or f3.2 for a single subject – you’ll still have plenty of bokeh (background blur) but a little bit more room with your depth of field.

      2. This is the very first lens, besides the kit lens I purchased about 3 years ago and I love it!
        Kyle, I was wondering … what do you think of the Canon L series USM IS 24-105mm f/4? I just purchased this as a Christmas present for myself. Haven’t tried it yet and to tell you the truth, my main issue is Bokeh and I’m afraid it won’t happen with this one.

        1. The 24-105 is optimized for a full frame camera, so that’s the first thing I’d say you need to get the most out of this lens. If you have a crop sensor camera, it will be lackluster. Beyond this, the Sigma 24-105 ART is actually the sharpest of the entire bunch in this focal length. To get the most background blur AND sharpenss out of this lens, put it on a full frame body and shoot at f4 at 105mm. As a bonus, the closer you get to your subject, the more background blur you’ll have!

      3. Hey Kyle,
        I am so blessed to learn all you have to teach! I am just starting out with my family portrait photography business, and I too just purchased the 50mm 1.8 and the 85mm 1.8 for my Canon 70D. Should I be returning the 1.8 for the 1.4? What are your thoughts?

  2. Hi Kyle…I just went through Day 2 and I have to say I want another lense :0( ! I received the Nikon D3200 for Christmas, so the thought of purchasing anything else is a far one at best lol! I am wondering if there is a place to go for folks like me that are beginners to shop maybe from folks like you that have upgraded, etc? Does that make sense? I am not opposed to ‘used’ items, but want to be sure they are quality. Thanks – sure enjoying your classes. You make things very understandable and your kids are ‘to die for cute!’
    Melissa Moeller

    1. Hey Melissa! This is a great question. Besides the usual eBay and whatnot, sometimes stores like Adorama and BH Photo Video have used sections. I’d also suggest for trying before buying. You of course end up paying to try, but at the end of the day it might be worth it.

    2. Just FYI: Amazon had several used options when I just looked at the Nikon 50mm 1.4, prime lense that was recommended. There’s a section under “Buy Now” and “Add to cart” that says “New and Used”. If you click on a price it showed pictures of the used lenses and explained conditions and such.

  3. Hi there. I am currently taking your class and I just read your lens recommendations. I love your class so far and your style of teaching. I look forward to finishing and seeing how far I’ve grown. I was looking at the af-s 50mm f/1.8g for my Nikon D40. I am liking the price vs. the f/1.4 lens. Half the cost! Would you recommend this lens? I do take a lot of photos inside. I’m trying to justify the cost with the hubby. I don’t want to get the f/1.8 and then end up wishing I would of spent the extra on the f/1.4. Also, I am hoping to buy a better camera later this year or the next. I appreciate any thoughts or ideas you may have on this.
    Thank you for everything! 🙂

    1. First thing is first, there’s a few levels of 50mm primes. The 1.8 is often called the nifty fifty and can be had for $100. It’s a great place to start. You can get your feet wet for a great price.
      The 1.4 will be a better build quality and a better overall IQ (image quality) straight out of camera. It’ll have a better construction and focus a tiny bit faster. But that said, you probably will rarely shoot at 1.4 as it’s such a shallow DOF. Even 1.8 is extremely shallow. So I wouldn’t necessarily get it only for the 1.4…. 1.4 is part of it, but not the only reason to consider it, because you might often shoot at 2.0 or even 2.8 with it.
      The third level is the 1.2 / 1.4 pro series. They have the top lens construction, fancy coatings to minimize unwanted haze, weather sealing, and they’re fast to boot. Sigma makes this one which is making quite a splash.
      Also, have you considered getting a longer reach? IF it’s bokeh you’re primarily after, you need to think about more reach. Perhaps an 85mm prime. You’d also get more background compression and a more flattering face shape from the 85.
      It can be a bit of a chore to figure out which lens will be your next one…primarily because folks tend to want 1 lens that will “do it all.” But….such a lens just doesn’t exist 🙂 I suppose if Canon or Nikon developed such a lens, then they’d never sell any of their other hundred lenses. hahaha.

  4. I have a mirror less camera, the Samsung NX2000. Does your recommendation stay the same for that? I’ve had the camera for about 6 months and just have the kit lens. I’ve been trying to learn more about cameras and picture taking and feel like I’m to the point that I want a new lens. I just haven’t been able to decide between 50mm and some type of zoom lens.

    1. Yep, I’d still suggest something similar…basically a prime with a large max aperture

    1. Not as familiar with the Olympus system…I’d look for a prime, and then the fastest one they have!

  5. Hello there! I’ve got a Canon 70D and aside from the kit lenses, I bought a 40 mm 2.8. I’ve had the 50 mm 1.4 in my Amazon cart for years, (way back when I first purchased a Rebel in 2009). Is the jump from 2.8 to 1.4 still worth me keeping the 50 in my cart? Also, I’ve been really enjoying the free tips. I was so scared to go full on manual but you made it super easy to take that leap. Thanks so much!

    1. Hey Damaris! Well, of course “is it worth it” is always gonna be highly subjective 😉 Here’s what I can tell ya: The jump from 2.8 to 1.4 is actually 2 full stops of light. So 1.4 will gather up 4x more light. Basically, 2.8 to 2.0 is one stop (or twice as much light) and then 2.0 to 1.4 is another stop (twice as much again). So from a light gathering perspective, that’s the objective math I can give ya. From a depth of field perspective, you’ll definitely get way less at 1.4. But be forewarned that few people shoot consistently well at 1.4. The depth of field is simply so shallow that you have to become very proficient to nail it more times than not. So, many will still tend to use a 1.4 lens at 1.8 or 2.0…even 2.8. Lastly, lenses aren’t all specs. When comparing an 85mm 1.8 to an 85mm 1.2, it’s not just the max aperture that’s different. The build quality of a lens can give more or less contrast, color, sharpness, etc. In this example, some will actually prefer the cheaper 1.8. Many others the 1.2. And with that said, remember that I started this reply off with something about your decision being subjective 😉

  6. I went to a photo seminar yesterday and was stunned to realize that I was getting 2.8 and 3.5 as my aperture when using my 1.4 50mm lens! I didn’t think that was possible. Do you have any idea why in the world that happened (and how to prevent it)?

    1. Hey Amy,
      A 50mm 1.4 lens simply means that 1.4 is the maximum aperture. It can still shoot at 2.8, 3.5, and any of the other apertures. 😉

  7. Hi, I have so enjoyed your mini sessions and posts! I have a sony a57. I was wondering if you could give some ideas for what lense you might recommend. Is the kit lense the same as what your are recommending?

    1. I’d def move up from the kit lens. I’d try to find a prime lens to give you a bigger aperture, which will help with low light and that ever sought after bokeh!

  8. Hi,
    First, let me say that I very much enjoy your mini-courses. I came across you on facebook not quite 2 weeks ago and I love the information you are passing on.
    The lesson on lenses I received today was very appropriate as I was trying to take a pic or my son outside last night with my kit lens and was very disappointed with the results. Reading this information, it seems I might be better suited using a 50 mm f/1.4 for the shots I was trying to take.
    I have Pentax K-30. What lens would you recommend?
    Thank you.

    1. I’d recommend the same idea: a prime lens with a max aperture of at least 2.0!

  9. I have a Nikon D5200 and the 18-200mm VR f/3.5-5.6G that I use on a regular basis. I find it works well in most of the area’s I shoot in, but it does get very annoying in low light situations. I’m going to keep my eye out for the Nikon 50mm f1.4 since the reviews are very good and the pics I’ve seen taken with similar lenses have been very pleasing to the eye.

  10. Hi!
    I love this site, your teaching style is wonderful and makes way more sense than the “class” I took a few months ago!
    I was going to buy an external flash to be able to take better photos of my kids when indoors but after reading this article I’m wondering if I should get the faster lens first or stick with the flash first and get the lens later? Not sure I can justify getting both to my husband!!
    Thanks so much!

  11. I still don’t understand all the camera talk, but am sure I will get it in a few more days (camera talk lesson). That being said, I am looking at lenses. If I understand correctly, you say to get the 50mm 1.4, but in your videos you always seem to be shooting with a bigger lens. Can you get crystal clear shots with the 50mm or will it always be “dreamy” on the outer edges. My Nikon D70 has a standard 18-70mm lens – so I never get any background compression. Thoughts?

    1. Hey Sara,
      Great questions! I partly recommend the 50 1.4 because of it’s overall value. It’s one of the first lenses I personally bought that gave me that extra quality I was looking for. Yes, I often shoot with a 70-200 or a 135 prime, but keep two things in mind: (1) I shoot on a full frame camera and (2) the 70-200 I shoot with is $2500. The 50mm 1.4 is around $400, let’s in a huge amount of light for your everyday indoor shots, will give you beautiful background blur, and is going to be the effective focal length of 80mm for about 99% of the SPS audience as most are using APS-C sized sensors (not full frame sensors). For all those reasons combined, the 50 is a good choice. Now that said, I LOVE your point about background compression!! If BG compression is what you’re after, then yes, I’d suggest getting a longer lens. The 135mm prime would be a superb choice for the money. The 70-200 give some versatility and is also a phenom choice! Thanks so much Sara!

  12. You mentioned an image stabilization lens above. What is that?

  13. Do you have a lense recommendation for the sony a5000 for portraits of toddlers?

  14. I was secretly quite pleased to see your top lens choice… This was the first lens I bought for my Canon Rebel, and I get complimented on the photos I take with it all the time. They are crisp and the bokeh is amazing. It is my absolute favourite lens and the speed on it is an absolute requirement to shoot flash free in our low light house. I love this lens!

  15. Hi, I was wondering if you could tell me if there are any major differences between the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G lens vrs the f/1.4 D lens. Also I was curious what your thoughts were on the 50mm 1.8 G or D (depending the difference) lens. I noticed there is a couple hundred dollars price difference and I had been told that using the 1.4 f lens it is more challenging to use and take photos of moving kids and mult people in an image. This person uses the 1.8f 50 mm lens and says she loves that range and never goes higher than 2.8 f (usually sticks around 3f). Aldo curious if the lenses will all transfer to newer camera models. I currently have a nikon d80 but would like to upgrade at some point and would want the lens to be usable on the new camera.

  16. When I bought my Nikon D3200, I also bought an extra lens, because it was suggested by the salesperson. The one I have is the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8 G. My question to you, is this similar to the lens you are suggesting? Better or worse?

    1. It’s similar Debbie, but the 1.4 will have a smoother bokeh and better build quality.

  17. I’m looking to start a small photography business in the near future and was wondering if you could suggest a good piece of glass to start with. I won’t be shooting in a studio. Instead will be outdoors, in homes or venues. Primarily photographing families, children/babies, engagements, etc. I’m going toi be purchasing the Nikon D 3300. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! I’m wanting to start my business in the right direction and feel that I need the right lens. Thanks in advance!

  18. Has Shutterfly changed the setup for This Life that you recommended for storing photos online? The links seem to be missing as if they have discontinued that service and moved it all over to Shutterfly directly… Any insight?

      1. ThisLife is discontinued for new sign-ups. At some point, Shutterfly is going to transition its site to have all the features that the ThisLife site had. People who already had a ThisLife account will keep all the nifty features. Everyone else will have to wait a while.

  19. The Sigma prime lens for a Canon that you mentioned says that it is discontinued when I click the link. Do you happen to know if they have a newer model, or would I need to get the one that is made by Canon instead?

  20. I shoot with a Canon Rebel 4 and I mostly use my camera to take pics of my daughters who cheer competively which means we are in partly to fully lit gymnasiums OR completed dark convention centers/arenas.
    Lens recommendation?
    Also, the lens you have suggested to us is discontinued. Is there a comparable one?

  21. I own a Nikon D750
    I own 3 lens
    AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm 1:2.8
    AF-S Micro Nikkor 105mm 1:2.8
    Sigma 70-200mm 1:2.8 APO
    I can get so confused at which lens to use, changing settings from indoors to outdoors. I only photograph my grandchildren and family. I have produced some lovely pictures, but I am not consistent. My grandchildren are from 6 months to 16 years, so some may move more than others, than I have blurry pics. Some times not all the eyes are in focus. Any tips or suggestions for me, confused in Texas….thanks so much!

    1. Hey Joanna! There’s a handful of questions here, and ultimately you’re a perfect fit for our main program, the Photo Fix, because you’ll be FAR better offer having a good foundation of fundamental knowledge than just an easy button answer. Because honestly, in choosing which lens is best for what, “it all depends” is in fact the correct answer. So there’s too much to go into for this particular space. The blurry pic issue is actually not a lens issue, but a shutter speed issue. Short answer there is to make sure you keep your shutter speed at least up to the 1/focal length rule. Depending on what mode you’re shooting in, a quick fix approach would be to raise your ISO. ALL to say, even if those answers seem like Greek, do not fear. It’s all pretty simple, but it simply needs to be layed out step-by-step. Which, yes, is what we’ve done in the Photo Fix 🙂

  22. I have the 50 1.8. I was wanting to upgrade to the 50 1.4 or an 85mm.
    I do senior portraits for friends but also family pictures. I have trouble keeping every person in focus in group shots. Maybe I need a different lens all together
    Thank you

    1. If you’re having trouble getting everyone in focus in group shots, that’s an aperture problem. Try a smaller aperture (bigger f number) to get a great depth of field.
      Hope that helps!

  23. I have a Canon 5D so a full frame camera so the 85mm would be best for me for those awesome portrait shots, yes? I’ve looked at the Canon 85mm f/1.8 – is this an OK way to start off? Jumping up to the f/1.4 is a big price difference that I’m not sure I can afford for quite sometime. Would it be better to wait and buy the more expensive one? Or purchase the f/1.8 and down the road resell it to then upgrade? Are used lenses resell-able meaning do they hold their value pretty well? Thanks!

    1. I have the 6D which is also a full frame. I use my 85mm f1.8 a ton for portrait work! Great bokeh and pretty sharp – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. Lenses do retain quite a bit of their value, so if you ever decide to upgrade you should be able to get a decent amount of your investment back.

  24. Hey Kyle! I’m looking to get a better sense but one that will take good picture of my kids while playing sports. Will the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens work ok for that? I’m just concerned it may not because I will be unable to zoom. And maybe I’m asking this question prematurely as I’m just about to start module 4.

    1. Hi Barb,
      I’m hoping you got my email response, but just in case anyone else is wondering about this, I wouldn’t say that the 50mm f1.4 is a sports lens. I think in most situations it won’t get you as close as you’d like to be. With that said, if your budget is around $350, there also aren’t any really good quality zoom lenses at that price point. I’d rather that you get the 50mm f1.4 which will be really versatile for everyday use and then save for a quality zoom lens than have you get a poor quality zoom lens now and be challenged for light and sharpness constantly. Hope that helps!

  25. I have a canon Rebel T3i and the lens that is on it is EFS 18-55mm image stabilizer macro 0.25m/0.8ft. Whats the difference in the lens that you are suggesting and the one that I have?

    1. The main differences between your lens and the one Kyle is suggesting are that yours is a small zoom lens whereas the 50mm f1.4 is a fixed lens – you’d need to ‘zoom’ by moving closer to or further from your subject. The optic quality on the 50mm f1.4 lens is also better, meaning that your pictures would likely be much more crisp. Lastly, the aperture range is better on the 50mm f1.4 which will allow you to have more background blur if you want it. Hope that helps!

  26. I recently got a Nikon D3200 it came with a lens that is
    (18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 ) it also has a 2.2x high def. AF telephoto lens 52mm
    and a macro 0.43x wide angle lens 52mm. I for the life of me can’t get the blurred background photos with my son. I got the camera so I can take professional quality pictures of my son and I can’t seem to get it. Is it the lens? What lens should I get? For cheap?

    1. Hi Karlie,
      Try this post for some tips on getting background blur with your kit lens. Otherwise, a 50mm f1.8 will get you some nice background blur as well. Those run around $150 for Nikon. Hope that helps!

  27. Thanks so much for the information. My husband wants a wide angle lens for his Canon. He has the kit 18-55mm and a zoom 50-250mm? I believe. He wants to shoot more landscape scenes with the wide angle. Any recommendations on lens for this? Also, even though the kit has 50mm included, you still recommend the 50mm one as above for just portrait type pictures is what I am understanding?
    Thanks again!

    1. Hey Daniella,
      I would suggest the Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 for wide angle work. We do still recommend the 50mm f1.4 or f1.8 for portraits because the optics are much better quality than the kit lenses and the aperture range is nicer for portrait work and ‘blurring the background’ (bokeh). Hope that helps!

  28. In the above article, Kyle suggests buying the ” Sigma 50mm f/1.4″ saying it is $450. I am not sure how old the article is but this is priced at $949 on and Amazon. Has the price gone up that much ever since he wrote this article or do I have the wrong one?
    The Canon on the other hand “Canon EF 50mm f/1.4USM lens” is $330.
    But Kyle does mention that the Canon one is not weather sealed and that the specs are not as good as the Sigma lens.
    Is there a different Canon lens which is as good as the Sigma lens around the $400 range?
    Thank you for all this information,

    1. Hey Shailu,
      Sigma discontinued their 50mm f1.4 lens when they brought out their Art series with the same focal length and aperture (that’s the one you’re seeing at $949). You could absolutely buy the older Sigma 50mm f1.4 used from a reputable seller for around what you’d pay for the Canon or you could grab the Canon. Another option would be to go with the 50mm f1.8 which is almost as good optically, but is a lower build quality(with a much lower price tag to match). If you’re not sure yet if 50mm is your focal length (some folks shooting on a crop sensor camera find 50mm to be a little tight indoors), the less expensive option may be the way to go for now.

  29. Hi, these recommendations are great but I was wondering if you could recommend lenses for Sony as well. Thanks!

    1. Absolutely Carolyn! I’m a big fan of Sony as of a couple months ago. Make sure and check out our gear guide from 2016 and you’ll see lots of Sony love there. 🙂

  30. Every single link I have pressed in this article just goes to “” but not to anything specific :/ Did the links just get changed or is it my computer that is messing it up?! Thanks for the help!

    1. Scratch that, finally got the links to work – UNFORTUNATELY, now that I got the link to work, the Sigma lens for $450 you are recommending is shown as “discontinued” and they recommend the “newer” one I guess that is $949 :/

      1. You can get either a Nikon or Canon branded 50mm f1.4 for around $400. I thought we had updated the links in this article, but will definitely look into it today – so sorry for the confusion and trouble! Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

  31. Hi Kyle,
    I am looking to purchase my first prime lens (!) for my Canon 7D ii. I have heard many great things about the 50mm 1.4 lens and am strongly considering it. I have also heard that the autofocus can be a bit tricky. This is really important to me as I’m mostly taking photos of children. What has been your experience with the autofocus on this lens? Do you find that you are able to get in-focus images at low f stops?

    1. Hi Samantha,
      The focus on the Canon f1.4 can be a little slower than some other lenses, but not so much so that I would rule it out. Getting in focus images at large apertures (small f numbers) is going to be tricky with any lens because your depth of field at wide apertures is very small. If you’re further from your subject(s) you have more wiggle room, but the closer you are, the narrower the depth of field is. I think the Canon f1.4 is plenty sharp as long as you allow yourself enough depth of field. Hope that helps!

  32. I notice that you seem to recommend only camera brand specific lenses. I there a reason not to consider other lenses such as the Sigma Art Series lenses?

    1. Great question! Kyle’s original recommendation on the 50mm f1.4 was actually the Sigma brand. They discontinued the lens he recommended when they released the Art version. We don’t list the Art here simply because most folks aren’t prepared to jump from a kit lens to an $800+ investment. The camera brand lenses come in at relatively half of that (or less). The Sigma Art series is absolutely worth considering if it’s in your budget. They are fanastic lenses – super sharp and highly rated and respected in the photography community.

  33. Hi Kyle and Sarah,
    I own a Canon T6i and my lens are a Canon 50mm f/1.8, a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 and the basic Canon zoom 17-250mm f/4-5.6. We are going to in two weeks and I only want to carry one glass. Which one would you choose?
    Also, I often find the 50mm difficult to use indoor because my house is tiny and I’m always backing up in a wall. Is there another prime lens I should consider that is moderately priced (400-800$ max) and great for portrait?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Isabelle,
      Can you tell us where you’re going in two weeks? That’ll help us help you choose your glass.
      You should be able to use your 17-50mm f2.8 for portraits indoors. I would try to stay at 35mm or greater for portraits, and don’t get super close to your subject if you can help it or you might see some facial distortion. Alternately, you could look into a 35mm prime, but I would spend some time shooting at 35mm on your 17-50 first to see if that focal length is something you love.

  34. Hello Kyle and Sarah
    I’m finding it difficult to get a hold of the knowledge I need to select lenses. I travel the world with a special interest in landscapes, flora and fauna. I have a Canon 50D (oh so heavy!) with a Tamron 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 and another Tamron (oh dear not another Tamron) DP 10-24mm 3.5-4.5.
    My future lens will be Canons based on what I have learnt from you!
    I think I need 3 more lenses. One a 400mm for African animals. This will also have to do for birds as I can’t afford the 600mm as well. Second, a macro lens for flora and thirdly, maybe a general lens as you suggested, a 50mm f1.4.
    So maybe you could advise me on specify lens that you think will suit my needs. I don’t take pictures of children. Many thanks Bridget

    1. I think one lens you should definitely consider is the 70-200 2.8 IS II. It’s a big les, but VERY versatile and would be found in the bag of any pro on a safari 🙂

  35. Hello Kyle and Sarah,
    After reading this article and wanting to take my photography to the next level, I really want to purchase a 50mm f1.4 prime lens. I have a canon rebel T3 with kit lenses only. The Sigma Art prime lens is out of my budget. I have found a couple places to buy a gently used Sigma 50mm f1.4 prime lens. In your opinion, would you recommend the sigma 50mm f1.4 lens (discontinued, not Art series) over the canon 50mm f1.4 prime lens ? Assuming it is in good shape.
    Thank you for your input!

    1. Hey Jen,
      That’s an easy one for me! The Sigma (discontinued) is the lens I want to replace my 50mm f1.8. It is superior to the Canon and it would be my choice hands down. Hope that helps!

  36. Hi Kyle and Sarah,
    I am using 50 mm prime lense on nikon d5100 (APS-C) and achieved wonderful results. However, as i learned here, that 50 mm is in fact a 75 mm lense on APS-C. Will I achieve the effective 50 mm focal length if I use a 0.43X add-on lense from amazon/vivitar?

    1. Hi Jay,
      Quite the opposite. You would have an even longer focal length using the 0.43x add on. You’d want to get a wider lens to achieve 50mm. Some use a 35mm lens to get close to a 50mm effective focal length.
      Hope that helps!

  37. Hi, we have a Fuji mirrorless (x-a2) with just the kit lens, which we don’t love. Considering that our son is a maniac who is always moving and not old enough to follow directions, would it actually make more sense to start with a better zoom (if so, thoughts on which) or to go for a 50mm prime lens (or 85mm) as you have been recommending previously? Thanks.

    1. That’s a great question! You’ll likely get a sharper image from a good prime than from a zoom and if your little maniac is moving quickly, you wouldn’t likely have a chance for the zoom to react before he’s gone again. With a crop sensor, I might actually suggest a 35mm focal length if you’re mostly indoors. Otherwise a 50mm would be the other one to choose. An 85mm on a crop sensor is going to be too tight for most indoor situations.
      Hope that helps!

  38. I have a Sony a6000 and looking to see if I have what it takes to start in photography as a part time career. I only have the kit lenses and was wondering what lenses you recommend to get, budget friendly for indoor and outdoor with a nice bokeh? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Melissa,
      Any lens with the ability for a large aperture (small f number) will give you some great bokeh. You do need to be somewhat careful with zoom lenses. Nicer ones (not so budget friendly) will have a fixed aperture meaning that you can use any aperture at any focal length. Many zooms will have a range listed like f3.5-f5.6. That range indicates that ‘zoomed out’ at your smallest focal length, your maximum aperture is f3.5, but ‘zoomed in’ at your largest focal length, you maximum aperture is only f5.6. That will greatly affect bokeh. Since the a6000 is a crop sensor camera, you may find that the 50mm lens recommended here is a bit tight indoors. I’d look to see if Sony has something with a large, fixed aperture, that is still versatile – maybe 17-50mm. It’s probably a similar focal length range to your kit lens, but a fixed aperture lens will give you nicer optics and better bokeh than a typical kit lens would. Hope that helps!

  39. I have a Canon 80D and am learning about taking sports shots. FB, VB, BB, BB. My only zoom in a 55-250 4-5.6 I think the Canon 50-200 2.8 IS is my best new lens but not sure if I could get by without the IS to save $ or just bite the bullet. I am retired and working with a photographer that takes the team sports at several of our small school. Not real sure how much $$ she would be willing to pay me (hired me for a biddy league FB and I did well) but see this as a hobby/additional salary.

    1. Hi Kay,
      If you’re going to get the 70-200, I would definitely spend the extra for the IS. It’s a heavy lens and camera shake can be amplified. Also, it’s handy for shooting low light (but not motion as you’d still need a fast shutter speed for that). I don’t know anyone with a 70-200 that wouldn’t say ‘go for the IS’. Hope that helps!