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Go-to camera lenses
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I get at least one email a day asking about lenses. What lens should I buy? What if I want to capture _______? We wrote an extensive series on camera lenses to try and help answer those questions. I know deciding what lens to buy can seem like a daunting task because there are so many options out there. One of my best pieces of advice is to narrow it down to one or two lenses you are interested in and rent those lenses before investing in them.

We decided to let you guys in on a secret…our go-to lenses. This is not to say this lens will be your go-to lens because as you can see they are all different, however, it gives you an idea of what we use the lenses for and if that is the look and style you are going for than maybe that is a lens you want to look into.

85mm 1.8D {Nikon} – Laurie Flickinger
The 85mm f/1.8D is my go-to lens for outdoors. I would use it indoors if I had the space. Hands down, this is my favorite lens.

1. I love the focal length for outdoors. The 85mm allows me to take a step back a bit, and still get a close shot. Or I can step back even further and take in the scene. It is the perfect focal length for me outdoors and is versatile for my needs, which tend to be candid outdoor images of my kids.

2. I LOVE the bokeh that this lens produces. The focal length combined with the a wide aperture lets me get dreamy backgrounds, even from a distance, which is a bit harder with shorter lenses. I typically shoot around 2.0 with this lens and love the effect that I get with it.

3. This lens is super sharp. I’m quite the stickler for tack sharp focus. When his lens is on, its ON! It is pretty fast to focus (something that I’ve noticed with the D series lenses over the G series) and the focus is amazing.
Go-to camera lenses - 85mm 1.8D
Go-to camera lenses - 85mm 1.8D

70-200mm 2.8 {Nikon} – Kelly Garvey
The 70-200mm 2.8 lens does an amazing job separating the subject from it’s background to help it stand out even more. I like to use it when it’s zoomed in as close to 200mm as possible to maximize the compression of the background. I bought it to use for weddings but it does so much more. It’s great for sports as well. Even though it’s heavy and bulky it is really fast and easy to hand hold but obviously works well with a tripod too. It doesn’t have to be limited to sports or weddings etc, I have used it on family sessions many times. It is especially helpful when a child is camera shy and doesn’t want me right in their face. It allows me to stand far away to give them their space and the results are beautiful!
Go-to camera lenses -70-200mm 2.8
Go-to camera lenses -70-200mm 2.8

35mm 1.4 {Sigma} – Melissa Noste
The Sigma 35mm 1.4 is my absolute favorite lens and it basically never comes off my camera. As I transitioned from having a business to now mainly taking lifestyle photos of my family I realized that the wider the lens, the more I liked it. In winter months most of my photos were taken indoors. We don’t have a lot room in our house and getting everything in the frame was made easier with this lens. Also having the wide aperture of 1.4 helps with the low light we experience in the winter months. Lastly the price was right. I couldn’t afford the Nikon version and with a lot of research I realized that the Sigma would suit my needs and still obtain beautiful photos.
Go-to lenses - Sigma 35mm 1.4

50mm 1.8 {Nikon} – Brennan Lanter
I turn to my 50mm 1.8 when:

1. I am shooting indoors. I LOVE shooting indoors. My 50mm is the perfect focal length for me to shoot successfully in my home-which is where I take 95% of my images. It is fast and sharp in low light.

2. When I want to include a lot of negative space in my images. I love including a lot environment when I my images, so once again, this is my go-to focal length for achieving that.

3. I have lens envy. The list of the lenses I’d love to have is long. But I’m cheap. When I start to covet one of the $1,000+ lenses, I put on my 50 (ok, I never really take it off!) and use it with my macro filters—which instantly allows me to push the boundaries of what this thrify-fifty can do!
Go-to lenses - 50mm 1.8

100mm 2.8L {Canon} – Allison Jacobs
Out of my line up of lenses the Canon 100 mm 2.8L is one of the most versatile. I love the focal length for portraits and the beautiful depth of focus I can get with it along with being able to get close up for those detail shots. One of my favorite things to shoot with the 100L is food. It is the perfect lens for food because I can take a few steps back to get the whole scene then step right up close for a macro shot of the food without having to change lenses. It can be slow to focus on fast moving kids but for portraits of people who are willing to stand a little more still, it is a wonderfully sharp lens. I have even used it for some landscape and environmental shots to compliment the portraits in an effort to help tell the story. This is a lens that will capture those small details like eyelashes or lines in a flower which greatly enhance the images. I love so many things about the Canon 100L and I can’t imagine not having it to use for food photography & portraits.
Go-to lenses - 100mm 2.8
Go-to lenses - 100mm 2.8

Lensbaby Composer Pro – Jen Bacher
When I want to create a dramatic image I reach for my Lensbaby Composer Pro lens. It gives a somewhat dreamy effect. It’s a creative lens that blurs the edges of your image in camera and leaves a small selected area (depending on which f-stop you choose) in focus. Sometimes the blurred areas of the image have a streaked looked to them as well, which gives the image a unique feeling of movement. The Lensbaby only operates with manual focus, which causes you to compose carefully and decide what you want to be the focal point. I like to use it when I see strong leading lines because the added blur/feeling of movement draws your eye even more to the focal point. I also reach for it when I have dramatic light to work with or a busy background that I want blurred.
Go-to lenses - Lensbaby composer pro
Go-to lenses - Lensbaby composer pro

50mm 1.4 {Nikon} – Liz Behm
Reasons I choose my 50 1.4:
1) I especially adore it on my FF Mark 3, the view of a 50mm on a full frame sensor camera, is equal to what our eyes see, so it’s a great way to document my life “as I see it”. (chicken feet picture)
2) Yummy bokeh! The bokeh on the 1.4 is well worth the extra price over the 1.8. And mine is nice and sharp wide open too! (baby caterpillar)
3) While it’s particular to your individual lens, I get the best lens flare with my 50 1.4. I’m a huge sucker for lens flare, so when I know that I’m going to be shooting near golden hour, I grab this lens and almost always come away with dreamy lens flare!
Go-to lenses - 50 1.4mm
Go-to lenses - 50 1.4mm

24-70mm 2.8 {Tamron} – Courtney Slazinik
I know some people are hesitant to buy third party lenses but when it comes to Tamron don’t be. The 24-70mm 2.8 is tack sharp. I don’t know how it compares to the Nikon version because I don’t have it but honestly, I don’t have a desire to compare the two because the Tamron version is fantastic and does exactly what I need it to do.

1. I’m a prime girl but this lens has worked it’s way into my heart. If I’m heading out for the day and can only take one lens, this is normally the one I put on my camera. I love the versatility of being able to shot wider shots at 24mm and zoom in for a more intimate feel at 70mm.

2. Great for lifestyle photography. I love to capture my children being children. I can easily do this with this lens because I don’t have to get right on top of them to capture the moment without intruding on the moment.

3. It’s great indoors or outside. I love shooting indoors and am most comfortable there but this lens works great in both. You can capture your little one playing baseball or sleeping. Since it has a fixed aperture of f/2.8 it works well in low lighting situations as well.
Go-to lenses - Tamron 24-70mm 2.8
Go-to lenses - Tamron 24-70mm 2.8-2

Now, it’s your turn.

Leave a comment below and tell us what is your go-to lens. Is is one of the ones we mentioned or do you have a different one?

78 Comments
  • April 4, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    I am so glad that tamron 24-70 2.8 made this list!! I just recently took the plunge and purchased one (Canon) and cannot wait to use it :)

  • April 4, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    i love this post but i have to ask; how DO you keep your white chairs clean with the littles around, courtney?

  • April 4, 2014 at 3:16 PM

    I love this post. I am always – ALWAYS – thinking about which lens to buy next and it’s so nice to have this all in one place with examples.

  • April 4, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    Courtney have you tried other brands of 3rd party lenses? Looking at a Tokina.

    • April 7, 2014 at 10:47 AM

      I haven’t tried any others than Tamron. I’ve heard good things about Sigma but I’m not familiar with Tokina. Let me know if you end up trying it out.

  • Kristy
    April 4, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    I bought the 50mm 1.8 Cannon lens and I have learned a lot with this lens and love my images…. For the price you can’t get any better!

  • Letecia
    April 4, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    I rented a 50mm 1.8 to use with my 8 mo old niece. I guess it was me but wasn’t totally sold. I read and researched all about shooting in manual and shutter speed and f stops so I’d be ready, but still got lots of blurry shots. I have a Canon t2i. My focal point had to literally be her nose for it to be really sharp. Suggestions?

  • Penny
    April 4, 2014 at 8:54 PM

    I have just rented the Tamron 18-270 which I am loving, but finding low light conditions to be less than favourable – very noisy as ISO is right up. I mostly shoot in natural light and don’t have a problem when there is good light – nice and sharp. I also love the range of wide angle and close up zoom. I did a kids birthday party a few weeks ago and it was so good to not have to change lenses and miss those little moments.

    • April 7, 2014 at 10:50 AM

      Yes, I have that lens as well and it’s great for outdoors :)

  • Whitney
    April 4, 2014 at 9:26 PM

    Hi Latecia, I would suggest focusing on the eye that is closest to you. When shooting at a high appeture (1.8) your DOF is low so not a lot is going to be in focus. This is how you would get blurry backgrounds (bokeh). I would also suggest reading up on depth of field and practicing on focusing techniques it will really help you get those sharp images. Hope that helps a little

  • April 4, 2014 at 9:40 PM

    I’ve noticed that a 52mm lens is not a favorite of photographers.
    What is the downfall in them?

    • April 7, 2014 at 10:51 AM

      I don’t know that there is one, I’m not familiar with the 52mm.

  • Traci
    April 5, 2014 at 9:53 AM

    I am so grateful for all of this info, including the comments. It is helpful to know which lenses y’all use for which circumstances. I am just starting out and keep hearing “this lens is my fav” or “that lens is the best” or “Nikon is the best, you’ll never get the same from a non-Nikon”. I now have five lenses and can’t remember which one I should use for what. I making me an index card with these tips to leave in my bag. Thanks y’all. Oh and Courtney, I LOVE your site/blog/posts and that you feature other photogs’ articles/blogs. I am learning so much!

  • Victoria
    April 5, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    This is good info!!! What I would like to see is this same question applied using only crop camera’s! ( cuz that’s what I have)
    ;)

    • April 7, 2014 at 10:53 AM

      That is a great question. I know that the first year and a half of photos on Click it Up a Notch were all taken on a crop sensor. Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t have crop sensors anymore to be able to share that but I will say I had the 50mm 1.8 on my crop sensor, Nikon D90, for a year and loved it.

  • colleen eddy
    April 7, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    Yay to the 35mm 1.8… haven’t used my fifty for three months. The 35 is so much nicer for indoor shoots. But it is very important to remember that 1.8 and lots of bokken is not always the best deal… Some shots are soft it takes away from the subject. I seem to like shooting 2.2 for 3/4 portrait poses..it keeps both eyes and ears in focus.

    • April 9, 2014 at 10:30 AM

      Hey Colleen,

      I’m like you. I rarely shoot wide open. I like f/2.2 as well :)

      • cilleen
        April 9, 2014 at 3:52 PM

        These soft photos trending right now are much too soft as far as i am concerned… in my opinion in the future, people will regret not have more detail but in the meantime the camera company’s are making a killin off it

      • Vanezza Bazzini
        September 10, 2015 at 12:03 AM

        Hi Courtney! so im thinking of upgrading from the 50mm 1.8 to the 1.4 for my canon is it even worth it if i usually stick closer to the 2.2 aperature with most of my shots?

        • Robin
          December 9, 2016 at 10:57 AM

          I use a 50 1.4 on a crop sensor (Canon 70D) and get much sharper photos. The only downside to me is that I don’t get as much flare (which I love!) as I did with the 1.8. Good luck. Robin

  • April 8, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    Ok, so i am getting ready to shoot my first wedding and not sure about good lens choice. I have a panasonic Lumix camera with panasonic 45-200, 100-300, and Olympus 40-150mm lenses. Typically I shoot pets, landscapes and sports so this is very different for me. Was thinking about renting a 12-35mm and or a prime 25mm to cover a variety of shots. Any questions for a successful shoot?

  • Kimi Mills
    April 8, 2014 at 10:49 AM

    Thank you so much for putting together this article on lenses. I have been going back and forth for months trying to decide what will be my next lens purchase (I currently only own the 50mm 1.8). I really like this lens a lot it but have been longing to try another. This article is extremely helpful in narrowing down a choice for me.

  • Loni
    April 8, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    What lens is your preferrance to shooting sports?

    • April 9, 2014 at 10:31 AM

      I don’t shoot a lot of sports but I have used my 24-70mm and I know a lot of people love the 70-200mm :)

  • April 8, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    I really enjoyed this blog! I shoot with the Olympus OM-D-EM1 and my go to lens is my 45mm – I absolutely love it. I am going to try the 75mm after reading this article and I cannot wait until they launch the 75-200mm f2.8 lens. I will definitely scoop that one up too. My next lens is the 12-40mm f2.8 – which is great too. I have a 60mm macro – so that would be my 3rd choice.

  • April 8, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    I love my Nikkor 85 1.4 – my favorite lens for outdoor/portrait photography.

    • April 9, 2014 at 10:32 AM

      I’ve heard great things about that and got to play with that lens once. It’s a great one!

  • Jennifer
    April 8, 2014 at 11:48 AM

    This is a new and exciting world for me ! I’ve always Loved taking pictures and do so often , sometimes hundreds a day!! LOL ….
    However, I have always used auto focus cameras, like the Cannon Power Shot . Just bought my first DSLR The Nikon D7100 It came with the 18-55mm and the information you have here is amazing! Thanks So Much..

  • Laura
    April 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    For those of you using the 70-200mm 2.8, does yours have VC? What are your thoughts on the necessity of VC on this lens? I am looking into purchasing this lens, but was unsure if I needed to make the extra investment into this option. I have other lenses with the option, but never find myself using it.

    • April 9, 2014 at 10:33 AM

      Great question. I don’t have the 70-200 so I can’t help but maybe someone will chime in.

  • Tanya
    April 8, 2014 at 12:51 PM

    Hi Courtney!

    I am EXACTLY as you are! Photography has changed immensely since I first began back in the early 90’s and I LOVE seeing what new lenses can bring to the field…..I can’t afford all of them, ha! So I look forward to learning about these options via other photographers. What I would think is a compliment to one’s work, was an insult to another. I had a photographer here in St Louis snub me and my reputation because I asked her what lens she prefers to use. She began to gossip that I was an amateur who didn’t know what I was doing because I couldn’t even find a lens to use with my D90. Totally untrue, as I own a great nifty fifty that I use as my everyday go to lens. Personally, I love the 85mm 1.4 Nikon lens for my sessions. BUT, I’m always keeping my shutter open to other options!…Take care and thanks a million for the fantastic post……;-)

    • April 9, 2014 at 10:35 AM

      I’m sorry to hear that. That is too bad b/c I’m always asking people what lenses they use. Glad we could help! And I bet the 85mm 1.4 is a favorite. I got to play with it for about an hour and I loved it!

  • Brandi
    April 8, 2014 at 6:16 PM

    My 2 go-to lenses are my 50mm 1.8 and my Tamron 24-70mm 2.8. The Tamron here lately has been more of my lens to reach for. I love the versatility as stated above. I have been able to capture some fabulous shots with this lens and the fact that I got it second hand for an extremely low price, makes it that much better!!

  • Sandy
    April 8, 2014 at 6:35 PM

    Great post and gets me excited about trying new lenses! I am with Victoria though and shoot d7100 crop sensor camera. I would love some opinions on fave lenses for us non-full frame users :). Anyone? Or how does say the 50mm compare when used on full frame vs crop? Still learning all this fabulous photography stuff ;)

  • Carolyn
    April 8, 2014 at 10:24 PM

    Hi Courtney,,

    Firstly,,I love you website and your updates on facebook… I am travelling to Europe and want to take one lens…what would you suggest.

    • April 9, 2014 at 10:38 AM

      Thank you! That is tough. It really depends on the look and style you want. I too am heading to Europe this summer and am planning on taking my 24-70mm if I decide to only bring one lens.

      • Carolyn Arnold
        April 10, 2014 at 5:26 AM

        Thanks Courtney….I was thinking of getting a 24-70mm after reading your articles….but now am pretty sure that’s the one to get…if I see anyone taking photos in Europe I will say hi, just in case its you…

      • Amanda
        January 15, 2018 at 1:06 PM

        Hello Courtney. I really appreciate all the information you pass on. I am also traveling this Summer. I have a crop frame Nikon. I am wondering if the Tamron 24-70 would work for me. What would you recommend?

  • April 9, 2014 at 7:15 AM

    I’m totally smitten with my Canon 35mm 1.4 and my Canon 85mm 1.8 at the moment. Bokehlicious.

  • Tammy
    April 9, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    What is a good portrait lens?

  • Sara
    April 16, 2014 at 7:58 PM

    I love my Canon 24-70 but I think that I need to switch between lens more, I have three different lens. The 24-70, 70-200, and 50mm so I am not sure what other lens needs to be added to my collection. Any thoughts?

    Thanks!

    • April 18, 2014 at 2:05 PM

      It sounds like you have the focal lengths covered :) Maybe see if there is a prime you like the look of.

  • Rosetta
    May 2, 2014 at 2:50 PM

    I have taken several photos with my 50mm 1.2l lens, but they don’t seem sharp. I use the meter in the camera it seems the white balance is ok…what is the aperture setting to use for most portraits? I usually stand about 5-6 ft away.I currently have a crop body, but am getting a full frame soon. I called Canon, the person said I was shooting too wide, even at 4.0, to go to 8 at minimum, so now I wonder why I even bought the 1.2.Confused about focal length. Thoughts?

    • May 5, 2014 at 9:32 AM

      I typically shoot around f/2.2 to f/3.2 when photographing one person. I will stop down (larger number) if photographing more than one person. Here is how I understand the aperture and why I love a lens like that. Just because your lens can go to f/1.2 doesn’t mean you should always shoot at it. However, your f/1.2 is a much higher quality lens than the 50mm f/1.8. Which means your f/3.2 is much sharper and looks way better than the f/3.2 on a 50mm 1.8. Maybe this post will help – http://clickitupanotch.com/2013/07/canon-lens-comparison/

  • Jodi
    August 17, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    I absolutely love my Nikkor 28-300 mm lens! It allows me to take portraits of my kids/animals and has some zoom for the wild creatures in our yard.

  • Lauri
    August 17, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    I am lusting over the Tamron 24-70mm 2.8 lens and am currently almost exclusively shooting with a 50mm 1.8 prime right now. Do you think I’ll ever go back to the 50mm once I start using this lens?

    • August 18, 2014 at 3:02 PM

      It all depends on you and your style. I still like to throw my 50mm or 35mm on :)

  • Suzanne Alexander
    August 18, 2014 at 6:36 PM

    I have found your website so helpful in trying to understand photography jargon. So since I am still learning, I am going to Disney World next year and I have always wanted to have really great pictures of night shows, fireworks and parade. What would be the best lens for that.

    • August 20, 2014 at 1:27 PM

      How fun! It really depends on your style and what you are looking to capture. I have done fireworks with a 50mm, 24-70mm and would like to do some with my 35mm. A good zoom may be your best bet if you are looking to take only one lens with you.

  • Rhonda Saunders
    January 21, 2015 at 9:20 PM

    I’ve recently fallen in love with the wide angle shots I get with my 24mm 1.4L. :)

  • Alison Abraham
    January 21, 2015 at 9:43 PM

    I love my Nikon 35mm 1.8 on my D7100, especially taking shots of my baby granddaughter.

  • Whitney Schloss
    January 21, 2015 at 10:10 PM

    I just purchased the 35 1.4 ART from Sigma – I had been renting it here and there since switching to 100% documentary sessions. I fell in love the very first time I used it! It is my ultimate GO TO lens! But I also have a love affair with the 14-24 2.8 [Nikon] for documentary in-door sessions. I LOVE the distortion for in-door session that it gives! :)

  • F Mount Lenses
    October 30, 2015 at 12:58 AM

    Thanks for sharing this nice article.and I wish to visit again on your blog. keep sharing with your work.

  • Sherri
    March 16, 2016 at 2:28 PM

    This is a tough question. I just purchased the 24-120 f4 I do love it when I am hanging out with my family and it is still new so I haven’t had a chance to use it on a session yet. I normally almost always have my 70-200 f2.8 on my camera. I absolutely love this lens and I don’t think I could live without it. It’s perfect for sports, family sessions, almost everything. And the bokeh is to die for. I do have lens envy and would love to own a lot of lenses, but when it comes down to it, you really can only use just one at a time and I don’t like to be changing lenses a lot and miss the perfect shot……

  • Sandy M
    June 24, 2016 at 6:18 AM

    I just picked up the Tamron 24-70 and I’m on my first vacation with it right now. I’m loving it. I also always carry my 50mm 1.8 so I have a backup for indoors. I have not had to pull it out. Thanks for great article.

  • Joanne
    January 15, 2018 at 1:03 PM

    I have a canon. What lens would be good for taking pictures at a wedding?

  • Jen
    January 15, 2018 at 9:11 PM

    My canon 70-200mm 2.8 is my go to lens. Would be lost without it.

  • fotograf Torun
    July 19, 2018 at 7:21 AM

    canon 85 1.8 and sigma 35 1.4 can make all wedding for me (some times 50 mm)
    here is example http://wojciechbalczewski.pl/viwaldi-baruchowo-wesele/

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