Featured Photo: Daniel Dionne via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
While it is easy to covet the latest cameras, a new lens is the single biggest upgrade your photography can receive to jump-start this year. High-quality glass can provide a sharper image, a different perspective, and the ability to shoot in more challenging conditions — but not all lenses are made equal. To help you navigate the huge choice on offer, here is Pixsy’s pick of the best DSLR lenses in 2016 for moving on from your kit lens.
Best DSLR lenses for…general purpose photographer
The joy of photography is in capturing what interests you. For some people, that means a fairly narrow range of subjects; but most photographers are generalists, who are happy to take a shot of whatever catches the eye. For this purpose, a versatile lens is needed.
There are innumerable zooms on the market that fit this remit on paper but perform poorly in practice. The Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM (approx. $400) bucks this trend, offering sharp images with a fairly large aperture at the short end of the focal range. It does suffer from a small amount of chromatic aberration at times, but this can easily be corrected in Lightroom or Photoshop. With optical stabilization to smooth out the wobble of handholding, and a short focusing distance that allows for good close-up shots, this really is a true all-rounder.
For capturing your holiday destination, or simply recording the beauty of your own backyard, the best DSLR lens is a wide-angle lens. The Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16mm f/2.8 is wider than most, and it offers outstanding image quality.
Available in Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony A mounts, this DSLR lens lets you get closer to foreground subjects while not cropping the overall composition. At a retail price of around $450, it is also very affordable.
The great thing about macro photography is that you can produce a captivating image in the most mundane of environments — a detail on a flower in a windowsill vase, for instance. To do so, however, you need a lens that can get in close. Sigma makes a good range of macro lenses, but if you are going to purchase only one, go for the 105mm f/2.8 OS HSM (Canon AF/Nikon F) for around $770.
The slightly longer focal range means you can withdraw from your subject slightly, allowing more natural light to illuminate your composition. While it is generally advisable to use a tripod for macro shots, this DSLR lens has optical stabilization for handholding, and the inaudible hyper-sonic autofocus comes as a bonus if you are attempting to photograph tiny wildlife.
You can take a portrait with any old lens, but a truly captivating study of a person is about absolute clarity. With this in mind, you need not look any further than the Canon 50mm f/1.8 or Nikon 50mm f/1.8 — these are the best DSLR lenses for portraits. They are both pin sharp, and they retail for just over $100. This focal length approximately mirrors the view of the human eye, and the wide aperture allows for narrow focus, throwing the background into beautiful blur and bokeh. Even if you don’t take portraits with any regularity, these are really good general purpose DSLR lenses to have in your bag, and they are so cheap.
Head-and-shoulders shots might be better suited to a tighter crop, and for this, both Canon and Nikon produce equally impressive 85mm f/1.8 lenses. The longer focal length increases the background softness and can be more flattering for your subjects. The Canon is very reasonably priced at $350, and the Nikon is only $125 more.
While the brute force of the football field is quite unlike the tranquility of a nature reserve, both locations require similar photographic equipment. Sports and nature photographers need long lenses that let in as much light as possible, allowing for the high shutter speeds that freeze the action. The price tag on this combination can be eye-watering, though, so you have to consider your options carefully.
Usually, a fast aperture must be the area for compromise. With this in mind, the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD (Canon EF/Nikon F) is a good starting point for the budget-conscious. At over $1050, it isn’t exactly cheap, but you get the focal length needed to frame a distant bird with pretty good image quality. It can’t compete with the fast professional telephoto lenses produced by Canon and Nikon, but it does offer vibration reduction.
For some sports, however, a focal length of around 300mm might be sufficient. In this case, it is better to invest in a larger aperture. Canon and Nikon both produce prime 300mm f/4 lenses that take very sharp images, priced at around $1300 and $950 respectively. The fixed focal length means that they won’t suit everyone, but the wide aperture makes them the best DSLR lenses for shooting fast-paced action, particularly under floodlights.
Invest Wisely in DSLR lenses
These are far from the only DSLR lenses that could improve your photography in 2016. But when you are looking to upgrade, make sure to read online reviews, and invest in the best glass you can afford — not just the lens with the biggest zoom!
Post by Mark Myerson, a freelance writer with a love for photography, technology, and the environment.