Time to Replace Your Kit Lens? What DSLR Lens Should You Buy?

Buying a new camera lens can be just as challenging as picking the camera itself. Just as with cameras, lenses offer many different features and technologies to research and get familiar with before making your purchase. Today we’d like to discuss some options for the beginner that has purchased their first camera with a kit lens and is looking for something with a little better quality and not break the bank in the process. We’ll cover some basics and try to help make your decision easier to make.

So you’ve owned your DSLR for a while and taken some awesome pictures that your friends and family have given you positive feedback on, but you feel it’s time to get a better lens. Maybe you already know a little of what you’re looking for. You know you need a sharper lens, one that can help capture the moment more precisely, one that is easier to work with and has better quality glass. All of these are important factors to consider when looking for a new lens. To keep things simple, we’ll focus on medium zoom lenses in the sub $1,200.00 price range. This is also a good price range for someone looking to buy a better-than-kit lens but not spend thousands.

Kit lenses usually come in the medium zoom variety as this range is generally the most versatile regardless of the type of images you enjoy taking. If you’re looking to take images from very far away, you’re looking for a telephoto or super telephoto lens and that is not what we’ll be covering here in this blog. Since we are Canon fans we’ll look at one of their current camera body and lens combos and some of the lens offerings available on the market.

One of the current cameras offered by Canon today is the EOS Rebel T6s and comes with an optional EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens. If all this tech talk this is French to you, and you don’t speak French, that’s okay, lets break down what a lens name and description means.

In the Canon world the first part of the name indicates the type of mount the lens is compatible with. EF-S indicates the lens is compatible with crop format or APS-C sized sensor cameras like the T6s. The other Canon option here would be the EF format which is compatible with both full-frame and crop sensor formatted cameras. An important note here is if you plan on buying a full-frame sensor camera body in the future you might want to look at buying an EF lens as it will be compatible with a new camera body purchase down the road. If you already own a full-frame camera, then buying an EF-S lens is not an option as they’re not compatible. The next part of the description is the focal length, which is the amount of zoom the lens is capable of. In this case 18-135mm. If a lens description only indicates one number such as 50mm, then that is a fixed non-zoom lens, also called a prime lens. The next part is the aperture, f/3.5-5.6. Some lenses have a range of aperture which changes depending on how zoomed in or out you are. Other lenses have a fixed aperture such as f/2.8. Aperture is an important factor as it has to do with the depth of field (blurred part of your images vs. sharp), and amount of light the camera sensor can receive per shot. The parts after the aperture are usually “extras” or additional features the lens has to offer. For this example lens, we have IS and STM. IS indicates the lens has built in image stabilization which can help when taking longer exposure images with a shaky hand. STM indicates the type of auto-focus motor the lens has, which stands for Stepping Motor Lens.

Here is a list of possible Canon lenses that fit into our $1,200.00 budget and provide medium zoom capabilities. All prices are MSRP.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM - $599.99

Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM - $879.99

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM - $999.99

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM - $1099.00

Remember we’re talking about upgrading your kit lens to a similar but better quality lens. There are some other options available we will cover later in this blog. The first lens on our list is the Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM. This is a great lens. It’s EF compatible so you can use it on all Canon camera bodies and has image stabilization and the newer STM type motor. While this lens is better than the kit lens I wouldn’t consider it upgrade worthy as the specs are quite close to the kit lens. This is, however, a great lens if you are buying your first camera and want to skip buying the kit lens and go straight for a higher quality lens. The next lens is an EF-S 17-55 lens that’s capable of an aperture of f/2.8, significantly better than the variable aperture on the kit lens or the previous EF 24-105 lens. This is the sharpest of the lenses on our list and while it doesn’t provide as much zoom as the others on the list, it’s a great all around lens priced just right. If you’re willing to sacrifice some zoom for sharper images, this lens may be for you. Third on our list is the EF 24-70 f/4L, what I would consider to be the “little brother” of one of my favorite lenses, the 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II. The EF 24-70 f/4L is a wonderful lens. While not as sharp as the second lens in our lineup, the quality of glass is better providing a better overall image. Out of the four choices on our list I would personally pick this one. The 24-70mm zoom has proven to be the most versatile of the lenses I’ve used over the years and the L-series lenses have a build quality far better than their non--L-series counterparts. The last lens is the EF 24-105. This lens is very similar to the 24-70 in both specs and quality. If you’re looking for a little extra zoom the extra price is worth it.

Now we have discussed zoom lenses but it’s important we talk about some other options. The other type of lens is a prime lens, or fixed lens with no zoom. These types of lenses typically provide a sharper image and have better aperture options available at better price points. If you already have a kit lens with zoom capability and don’t mind having multiple lenses I would recommend looking into some of the cheaper prime lenses. Two lenses come to mind are the EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM and the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM. The EF-S 24mm is one of the cheapest lenses on the market and I recommend it to anyone with a crop-sensor body camera. At only $149.99 retail it can’t be beat. It’s compact, light, and has a f/2.8 aperture. The second lens, the 50mm has a larger f/1.8 aperture and can be found for around $125. While this is another cheap lens it has helped me take some of my favorite shots over the years. This is a perfect lens if you’re looking to take headshots or sharp pictures with a shallow depth-of-field.

To recap, you have some good options available when looking for a new lens. You can stick with a single more expensive zoom lens, or go with multiple prime lenses for the same price or cheaper. If you don’t want to fuss with a bag full of gear and want to have a single lens I would recommend the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM as a great all around zoom lens. If you are looking for more versatility and don’t mind carrying around a bag full of gear, I would pick up a few of the cheaper prime lenses available. My choice would be one wider lens, say the EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM and one narrower lens such as the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM or EF 85mm f/1.8 USM.