Prime, Kit, Telephoto: Here are the different kind of lenses you should invest in

By Abhilash Pavuluri


So you’ve finally picked up your new DSLR along with a few accessories, have gained some experience and are now thinking that it’s time to take it to the next step. Assuming that you’ve picked up nothing but a DSLR kit and the accessories, what’s the next most important component? A good lens. In fact, depending on the situation, some people give more priority to the lenses over the camera body.

Sony Camera lenses showcased at a technology fair. Reuters

Sony Camera lenses showcased at a technology fair. Reuters

So, what kind of lenses do you get in the market and how do you choose? While there are varieties indeed, what to pick mostly depends on the kind of photography you want to get into. It also depends on your budget.

With that said, here are a few categories of camera lenses:

The Kit Lens

The kit lens is usually the default lens most manufacturers ship with your DSLR camera. In almost every case, this lens is an 18-55 mm f/3.5-f/5.6 lens, with or without Image Stabilisation or Vibration Reduction. This lens is the perfect entry-level lens, because it has a use case for most things you’d expect a beginner to photograph, like portraits, landscape, macro (to an extent) and more.

Nikon 18-55 mm kit lens. Nikon

Nikon 18-55 mm kit lens. Nikon

The 18-55 lens usually bundled with the camera, however, can only do so much, and you’ll soon feel limited with the shortcomings of the lens. It’s also not the best lens in terms of build quality and materials, and even moderate use will bring out signs of wear and tear soon.

That being said, kit lenses are some of the cheapest lenses in the second-hand market, so if you ever need a basic all-rounder lens for casual shooting, you can’t go wrong with the 18-55 lens.

Prime Lenses

Prime lenses have a fixed focal length: That means they can’t zoom in or out. While you may think that that’s a huge disadvantage, prime lenses are usually solidly built, have a wide aperture, and offer an interesting perspective when shooting.

The Canon nifty fifty. Canon

The Canon nifty fifty. Canon

Perhaps the most famous prime lens of all time is the 50 mm f/1.8 lens, also known as the “nifty-fifty”. The 50 mm is usually the very first extra lens most photographers get after their kit lens because it’s such a versatile lens for portraits and some level of macro. It’s also one of the most affordable lenses in any brand as well.

Other popular prime lenses are 35 mm lenses, 85 mm lenses and 105 mm lenses (more popular on film cameras than digital ones). Prime lenses can get expensive, however, as the focal length, aperture and build quality go up. Canon’s L lens lineup for example, can cost anywhere from Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000 for a prime lens.

Telephoto Lens

Tele lenses — or zoom lenses — are what most people look at for their next lens purchase. The most popular lenses in this segment are the smaller, narrow aperture lenses that have varying focal lengths depending on the manufacturer. Canon makes both a 75-300 mm lens, while Nikon makes a 55-300 and a 55-200 mm lens.

Canon L-series zoom lens. Canon

Canon L-series zoom lens. Canon

These are great for basic wildlife and sports, provided you know their shortcomings: The focal length isn’t that much (equivalent to about 4x or 5x zoom), they’re awfully slow to focus and shoot, especially in low light, their build quality isn’t the best and some of them can be heavy (this is more of a general caveat than a disadvantage).

The real game starts when you get into proper telephoto lens territory. For Canon, that range is in the L lens lineup, for example. A 70-200 mm L lens can cost anywhere from Rs 60,000 to Rs 75,000, and that’s among the cheaper lenses. True telephoto lenses like the ones used by wildlife photographers are anywhere from Rs 1,50,000 to Rs 2,00,000, like the Canon 100-400 mm IS lens that retails for about Rs 1,45,000. On the Nikon side, the AF-S NIKKOR 200-500 mm f/5.6 lens costs Rs 94,500.

Fish-eye lenses

If you want to shoot extreme wide-angle shots and are fine with a little bit of distortion of the image around the edges, then you should think of investing in a fish-eye lens. This lens is characterised by its bulging glass element on the outside. It lets you make wide-angle photographs from very short distances. These lenses let you get very close to your subject. It is effective when shooting under-water, extreme sports, crowded places, interior architecture or even landscapes.

Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 lens. Tokina

Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 lens. Tokina

You have to take into consideration that distortion will be an ever-present element when shooting with fish eye lenses. Depending on the aperture, the prices of these lenses can vary. For instance, a Canon EF-S 10-18 mm f/4.5 to f/5.6 IS lens costs Rs 19,550 but the Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 lens will set you back by Rs 42,500.

Things to consider when buying a lens:

Use Case
Like we mentioned in the beginning, figuring out if there’s a niche you’d like to capture, like wildlife or fashion, can help in your buying decision. If you’re unsure, there are a variety of “all-in-one” lenses (usually 18-200 mm or 18-270 mm lenses) manufactured just for this kind of situation. However, do be aware that these are also usually not that great in quality and you’d be better off doing a little research first.

While this is a topic most people would gloss over, figure out what brand you will stick to when buying your first DLSR so that the lens selection process becomes easy later. All DSLR brands have a compelling selection of lenses to go with their cameras, all at varying budgets. So make this decision before you even buy the camera.

New or Used
Used lenses are a great alternative to new ones if bought at the right price. While used cameras are a sketchy affair, lenses have a longer shelf life, can be sold again for a decent price and (depending on the age and value of the lens), if you come across some vintage lenses, can make for photos with interesting artifacts like vignetting or aberration, to give it that old school vibe. However, some lenses will also have fungus, dust, etc., both outside and inside the lens so inspect carefully and in person before buying anywhere.

Happy shooting!

Updated Date: Aug 13, 2017 10:25 AM