Best (cheap) DSLR lenses

What use do you have for the lens?

There are many lenses to choose from the DSLR family and it can be a bit daunting when you don’t know what you’re looking for. Beginner lenses should be cheap and effective - luckily, there are a few out there that fit such criteria.

To start out, you should assess why you need a lens – will you be shooting animals in nature, portraits, close-ups, or everyday use?

Also, what is your budget? Often, lenses will cost more than the camera body itself. I want to preface these suggestions by saying that I have owned, used and personally recommend each of the items below. I’m not a professional photographer, but I have done some paid gigs. While these lenses may not be the best glassware ever made, they do create high quality photographs at an affordable, hobbyist-level price range. Before picking the perfect one, you must first examine what you’ll be using the lens for. There are a few major categories when deciding what type of lends you’ll be needing:

Zoom lens – animal, sports, or similar photography

Macro lens – extreme close-up shots

Wide angle lens – realty videos and landscape photography

Prime lens – no zoom, more crisp focus and image quality

Let’s further examine each style. Each have their benefits for different types of photography. When you consider your use, also keep in mind the quality of glass. For example, I have a prime lens that only cost around $100 and a zoom that cost maybe two or three times that; the prime lens creates a much sharper image and has a lower f-number, allowing for more light and depth of field in the image. Now, to examine the lenses that I would consider the top qualifying for each category:

Zoom Lens – $145 55-250mm

Canon 55-250mm test shot

Quality zoom lenses are hard to find due to the amount of glass in them, and thus making them some of the most expensive lenses to choose from. My first zoom was the 55-250mm.

It has a closest focal distance of 3.6 feet or 1.1m with image stabilization and autofocus. If light isn’t an issue, this piece of glass can do a great job for its price. The Canon EF-S 55-250mm telephoto lens has an f-number of f/4.0-5.6, allowing an adequate amount of light into the sensor. There are some special offers offered from Amazon, such as a 1 year warranty.

Macro Lens – $15 Extension Tubes

50mm beginner lens example

This may have not been what you expected, but if you’re beginning into the hobby of photography or videography, I think it’s safe to assume you’re on a little bit of a budget.

These extension tubes do require having a lens to start with, so you can’t expect to only pay $15 to start taking extreme closeup shots that are super sharp. These extension tubes are relatively simple; they extend your lens from your camera and keep it still, creating a zoomed-in effect that you would only expect to see with a dedicated macro lens.

The great thing about these extension tubes is that it turns nearly any of your lenses into a macro lens. It is great with primes that let in a fair amount of light, such as the 50mm.

Some of the features won’t be accessible on your lens (if it’s digitally controlled, as many are) while using the extension tubes because the lens itself isn’t physically connected to the camera body. It still takes great photos for a $15 addon! If you are looking for a more professional piece of glassware that’s dedicated to macro photography, check out the 100mm f/2.8 lens.

Wide Angle Lens – $300-350 Sigma 10-20mm

Rectilinear lens (not distorted) example

Wide angle lenses can be a bit tricky when looking for the right one because many of them are super expensive and or have a weird effect known as a fish-eye. If you’re looking to make skateboarding videos, music videos, or other types of videos that a GoProesque effect would add to the overall production, you might be interested in something like the Rokinon 8mm F3.5 Fisheye. While you get a weird effect with the lens, it is much wider and has a lower f-number, meaning it will allow more light and create more depth of field. But if you’re looking to minimize distortion and keep a majority of the picture as undistorted as possible, I recommend the Sigma 10-20mm.

These lenses tend to have little or no barrel or pincushion distortion (they keep straight features straight instead of curving them). However, in these types of lenses, the rectilinear perspective creates things on the sides of the image to appear bigger than they are (almost stretching the outer edges a bit).

Curvilinear (fisheye effect) lens example

This type of lens creates a much more exaggerated wide-angle image that distorts straight lines along the edges into more curvy lines. Initially used to study clouds with their “whole-sky”” point of view, this hemispherical perspective lens adds a very distinct effect to your photographs or video. While not practical for every event, it certainly is worth considering.

Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens example

Prime lens (and overall favorite) – $100 50mm

The number one entry-level lens rated by millions of people, the “nifty fifty”” is a lens that can’t not be bought by anyone with a digital SLR camera. The reason it’s so desirable is because it’s dirt cheap, but has amazing quality. It doesn’t take much to make photographs look professional and high quality with the 50mm lens and some decent light (like the sun).

Another huge benefit to the 50mm is the low f-number of f/1.8, giving it a blurred background (bokeh). The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens allows in much more light, and a much more dramatic depth of field (so dramatic, the depth of field may be hard to control if recording video).