By Dimitrios Zavos
I remember a few years ago, when I was buying my first DSLR camera, how confused I had become by the vast number of lens options available on the market. Which one should I choose? Which one offered the best price to usefulness ratio for my budget? How do I know what type of photography I will be enjoying most in the years to come in order to choose accordingly? I bet I'm not the only one who's been puzzled by similar questions and this is probably why you are reading this article in the first place.
First things first, let's start with a few logical assumptions:
This is your first DSLR so 99.5% it is a medium format (crop frame) camera and not a full frame one (if for some reason you have bought a full frame camera then this article is not for you).
You are looking for a decent general purpose lens and not one with a specific use in mind (portraiture only, landscapes only etc).
You do not have an unlimited budget.
Typical Kit Lens Most entry-level to mid-range DSLR cameras give you the option to purchase them as "Body Only" (camera body without a lens) or as a "Kit" (camera body paired with a lens). The "Kit" option normally comes with an 18-55mm lens included and will set you back by anything between $70 - $100 (£50-£70 in the UK). While a kit lens for a DSLR is still an upgrade from a point and shoot camera's lens it is not ideal because of the following reasons:
Flimsy build quality (it's a cheap lens and it shows it).
Limited focal range (limited flexibility, you will definitely need to purchase a "longer" lens to increase your reach).
Very average optics.
So do yourself a favor and purchase your DSLR as a "Body Only" option and then select a decent piece of glass to combine it with. Remember that your camera's performance is only as good as the lens you have attached to it!
But now it's about time we get to the essence of this article and examine my proposal for an ideal first lens:
Canon 18-200 mm EFS Lens Both major manufacturers (Canon and Nikon), as well as smaller outfits (such as Tamron and Sigma), have 18-200mm lenses for medium format cameras in their arsenal. On a crop-frame sensor the nominal focal lengths of these lenses will be multiplied by a factor of x1.6 for Canon and x1.5 for Nikon, effectively making them equivalent to 29-320mm and 27-300mm respectively.
Of course, such a huge focal range does not come without some optical compromises, but in my opinion, for a starter in DSLR photography, the pros far outweigh the cons. Moreover, the majority of optical imperfections can be easily corrected in post-production. But let's examine the pros and cons separately:
Huge 11x focal range makes it an ideal general purpose and travel lens.
Good wide angle capabilities for shooting landscapes as well as super-zoom capabilities for getting really close to your subject while maintaining physical distance.
Eliminates the need to carry around more than one lenses and having to change them ever so often.
Lightweight enough to be carried all day without causing discomfort.
Superior build quality than any kit lenses.
Image Stabilization (or Vibration Reduction) is excellent on most 18-200 lenses delivering 3-4 stops benefit.
Reasonable price, within most people's budget.
Retains resale value rather well.
Reduced sharpness at the wider and longer ends of the focal range.
Optical barrel and pincushion distortion (can be easily corrected in post-production).
Chromatic aberration at both ends of the zoom range (can also be reduced in post production).
These lenses are built to match only medium format sensors and cannot be used with full frame cameras. This is a non-issue though, as I don't know anyone who would invest in a full-frame professional camera body to use it with anything other than top of the range optical elements.
I have used the Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens extensively over a number of years and I can testify that it has always been a very versatile, trusted walkaround lens that more than qualifies as an ideal candidate for being the first lens for your DSLR. It will certainly allow you to explore various photographic styles in the process of discovering your individual preferences.
I hope you found this article helpful and please feel free to post any comments or questions in the "Comments" section below.