How to Choose A Camera Lens

Beyond Kit Lenses. What Next?

What lens should I buy beyond kit lenses?


Most entry-level cameras come as part of a bundle with a kit lens. A kit lens is an all-around lens. The quality of kit lenses is usually not too high. Technically, a great photographer can use a kit lens and get great shots, but the reality is, no serious photographer uses their kit lens for long.

The most common kit lens has a focal length of 18 – 55mm. This means it can shoot from fairly wide angle (at 18mm) to reasonably zoomed in (at 55mm) and everything in between. A kit lens is great while you are getting to know your camera. However, once you start to learn how to take control of your camera you will most likely start to think about what lens to buy next so you can move beyond kit lenses.

Kit lenses have limitations, most noticeably the maximum aperture available. The maximum available aperture will likely vary depending on what focal length you are working at. This may, however, be as high as f6.3. This means that you may find it difficult to take images where there isn’t a lot of available light. This is a common scenario if you are wanting to take photos of your children inside your house. 


There are thousands of different lens available, so how do you know which is the best one for you? It all comes down what you want to take photographs of and your style as a photographer. This can be hard to know. You may think you know who you are as a photographer and invest in a great lens or two. But you may change your style and interests. So it is good to understand that lens choices are always changing.

If you have discovered a love for architectural photography, then your choice of lens will be different than if you discover a love for photographing wildlife. Many people are looking for a lens that is good for taking photos of their family, both inside and outside. So here are what I think you should consider when trying to move beyond kit lenses.

What to think about when choosing a lens

1) Aperture
Aperture idetermines how much light enters your camera when you take a photo. When learning to use your camera to take photographs of your family, you will be most interested in the widest aperture (the lowest number) available with a lens. The wider the aperture, the more light can enter the camera. This means you can take photographs where ambient light is not bright.
A wider aperture is also helpful when taking images where the background is blurry, and your subject is in focus. With more expensive lens, the maximum aperture available will stay consistent no matter how zoomed in you are. As a general rule, the wider the maximum aperture of a lens the more expensive the lens is. It is worth spending some time thinking about what kind of aperture you will need. 

2) Focal length
Most kit lens are zoom lens. There is another type of lens, called a prime lens, which doesn’t have allow you to zoom with the lens at all. You can still zoom, you just have to use your feet do the zooming by walking backwards and forwards. Zoom lenses offer convenience, but the moving parts means this is often at the price of aperture and sharpness.
Prime lens allow you to buy a higher quality lens for a lower price than a zoom lens. By removing the zoom functionality, you can get a lens with a wider aperture. Prime lens develop your creativity as they force you to look for alternatives to using the zoom. 
As well as deciding whether you want to be able to zoom, you want to think about the focal length you want. For family photography, you may want to consider 35mm or 50mm prime lens, or a 24 – 105mm zoom lens. 

3) Other factors
Other things you might want to think about are whether you want image stabilisation (the answer is yes, it means you can take photos at slower shutter speeds without them being blurry due to camera shake). Consider weather sealing, how much you can spend on a lens, and whether or not you want to buy a new lens. There are several reputable sellers of second hand lens online, most of which include a warranty for the lens. Examples are Wex and MPB.

My Recommendation
Kit lenses are great for learning. You will start to notice they are not always the sharpest, and they may struggle to be effective when the light starts to fall. Which lens you buy next very much depends on what type of photography you want to do, and how much you want to spend.
For people who want to take photographs of their family, my number one recommendation is a 50mm f1.8 lens. I have one of these in my camera bag, and absolutely love it. It’s cheap (as far as lens go, roughly £75 second hand), is sharp and works brilliantly in low light situations. It’s a small lens, so it isn’t too heavy to carry around. You need to make sure you get one that fits your camera (so if you have a canon camera, you want a canon fit lens). 
If you’re worried about whether it’s the right lens for you, it’s worth borrowing or renting one for a day or two, or even going into a camera shop for a play. The 50mm is a great lens, and will definitely help you take the next step on your photography journey. 


Lyndsey teaches is a family photographer in Berkhamsted, UK (https://lyndseyabercromby.co.uk).

She also teaches photography to parents who want to learn how to take better photos of their family (https://littleduckling.co.uk). 

UK Photography Lessons
Lyndsey Abercromby

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