The best lens for every type of photography

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There’s an almost endless list of camera lenses to choose from when it comes to DSLR and mirrorless cameras, so trying to determine what lens is the best for your photography can get a little overwhelming.

The good news is that it’s pretty straightforward; it all comes down to what you’re shooting and what you need. While there are preferred lenses for different types of photography, there’s no wrong lens.

To help you make an informed decision, I’ve put together a list of recommended lenses* for different types of photography to help you decide what’s best for you.

Choosing the best lens

When it comes to photography, choosing the right lens can make all the difference. You don’t want to be stuck with a 50mm prime lens for sports photography, the same way you don’t want to be stuck shooting food with a lens that has a maximum aperture of f5.6.

To make the best decision for your photography, it’s important to consider what you’ll be shooting and what exactly you’ll be using the lens for. This will help you determine what type of lens you need, whether you need a prime lens or zoom lens, what focal lengths will be most useful, and what aperture you require.

If you’re not familiar with these concepts, I cover all of this in much more detail in my camera lens buying guide.

What is the best lens for portraits

Lens choice can make a big difference when photographing people.

Generally speaking, anything from 24mm to 200mm can be used for photographing portraits, but I most commonly use my Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 and Hasselblad 100mm f2.2 lenses (this is equivalent to about 60mm and 73mm in 35mm format).

Popular prime lenses for portrait photography include 50mm and 85mm when shooting close-ups, or 24mm and 35mm when shooting full length. One of the most common zoom lenses for portraiture is the 70-200mm.

When considering what lens to use for portraits, remember that wide-angle lenses can cause distortion and almost caricature-like results, while longer focal lengths can make the subject appear wider and more chunky. You can see a comparison of lens results for portraiture in my ’Lens choices for studio work’ class.

Studio portrait using umbrellas

Lens choices for studio work

How lens choice affects the results for beauty & portraiture

Karl demonstrates a variety of lenses, from 16mm to 400mm, showing the results of each and explaining which is best for portrait or beauty photography.
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What is the best lens for product photography

One of the aims of product photography is to create an accurate portrayal of the subject so that the viewer can get a true sense of the product.

Macro lenses can be a good option for photographing products, but I usually use my Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 or Hasselblad 100mm f2.2 lenses, neither of which are dedicated macro lenses.

While macro lenses can be a good option, especially when photographing small products, they do come with a much higher price tag. If you have the budget for a dedicated macro lens, 100mm would be a good option for most types of product photography.

Alternatively, extension tubes provide a great, more affordable solution to macro lenses while still giving high-quality results.

What is the best lens for food photography

As part of our live talk show with food photographer and stylist Anna Pustynnikova, I asked her what her go-to lens for food photography was. Her answer was instant — a 100mm macro lens.

Throughout all of our food photography classes, you’ll see us using only three lenses: the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, the Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 (equivalent to 55mm in 35mm format), and the Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2 (equivalent to 67mm in 35mm format).

Other options you could consider include popular zoom lenses such as the 24-70mm or 24-105mm. If you happen to have a 70-200mm, that could also work but you might find yourself needing more space to accommodate the focusing distance.

An important feature of all these lenses is the large aperture they offer. These allow for a very shallow depth of field and maximum light-capturing capabilities, both of which are very useful for food photography, particularly if you work with natural light.

As with product photography, macro capability can be useful, but it isn’t essential, particularly if you have extension tubes.

What is the best lens for landscape photography

Wide-angle zoom lenses are the most common choices for many landscape photographers due to the flexibility they offer. Popular focal lengths include 10-24mm, 16-35mm or 24-70mm,

However, prime lenses also make great lenses for landscapes. Some common focal lengths include 14mm, 24mm and 35mm. I’ve even used a standard 50mm lens for landscape photography before!

This is just a handful of the lenses that come to mind for landscape photography but the reality is that you can get away with using almost any lens for photographing landscapes.

Lenses with focal lengths longer than 50mm can also work for landscape photography. Lenses such as the 70-200mm can be great for photographing wider landscapes, while the 100-400mm is ideal for photographing the moon.

Whatever lens you already have, chances are you can make it work — even the 18-55mm standard kit lens can produce some great results!

What is the best lens for wedding photography

Wedding photography can be a particularly challenging genre of photography and there’s a lot riding on capturing the perfect moment, which is why it’s essential you have the right lens at the right time.

Award-winning wedding photographer David Stanbury (who works with his wife Jane), shared his list of go-to lenses when he joined us for a live talk show. As he shoots with both medium format and full-frame cameras, David’s lenses include the Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 (equivalent to 55mm in 35mm format), Hasselblad 28mm f/4 (equivalent to 20mm in 35mm format), Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8.

Other common wedding photography lenses include prime lenses such as the 50mm, 85mm, or slightly wider 35mm. Macro lenses such as the 100mm can also be handy for shooting close up details.

What is the best lens for sports photography

When it comes to choosing a lens for sports photography, the first thing you need to consider is what sport you’re photographing. Cricket, for example, will require a much longer focal length compared to sports such as netball or water polo.

Another important consideration is the aperture of the lens. Larger apertures allow for more light to be captured, therefore allowing for faster shutter speeds.

If you’re looking for an overall, general-purpose lens for sports or action photography, popular lens choices include the 70-200mm f/2.8, 80-200mm f/2.8 or 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6.

To keep up with the action, zoom lenses are a better option compared to prime lenses, but prime lenses with longer focal lengths such as 300mm or 400mm can also work if you don’t need zoom capabilities.

What is the best lens for wildlife photography

When photographing wildlife it’s not always possible to get up close to your subjects, which is why focal length is perhaps the single most important consideration when it comes to choosing the best lens.

Telephoto lenses such as the 70-200mm can be a good option for those just starting out, but if you’re looking for something a bit more serious, lenses such as the 100-400mm, 200-500mm or 150-600mm are among the best options.

This type of equipment doesn’t come cheap though, so nature photographer Chris Bale, who uses the 500mm f/4 and 800m f/5.6 for his work, much of which is bird photography, suggests upgrading your knowledge before upgrading your kit.

What is the best lens for street photography

Kit that is small and lightweight is often the first choice for street photographers, which is why many prefer to use lenses such as 35mm or 50mm prime lenses. But these aren’t the only options.

Prime lenses can be a great way to encourage you to move and explore different perspectives, but they don’t offer the flexibility that zoom lenses do. If you’re looking for a bit more freedom, lenses such as the 24-70mm or 24-105mm are popular choices.

The 70-200mm is another lens you may want to consider, but it is slightly bulkier than the others and doesn’t have the wide-angle capabilities that can be so useful for street photography.

All of these lenses feature large apertures, which makes them great for working in low light conditions too.

What is the best lens for fashion photography

As with portrait photography, lens choice has a big impact when photographing fashion. There are strong arguments for both prime and zoom lenses, with some of the most popular of each including the 50mm and 85mm fixed lenses, or 24-70mm, 24-105mm and 70-200mm zoom lenses.

I commonly use the Hasselblad 35mm f/3.5 (equivalent to 26mm in 35mm format), Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 (equivalent to 60mm in 35mm format) and Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2 (equivalent to 73mm in 35mm format) for fashion shoots.

You don’t need a huge selection of lenses for fashion work — fashion photographer Daria Belikova spent years shooting with just the Hasselblad 50mm f/3.5 (equivalent to 35mm in 35mm format).

*Lenses listed are best suited for full-frame 35mm format (unless otherwise stated).

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Lenses play an important part in crafting your images, which is why it's important to understand the different types of lenses and their effects. To learn more about lenses and camera optics, take a look at some of our other classes and articles.

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