My Recommended Starting Lenses For your Canon (APS-C)

In last week’s blog post “There Is No Magic Lens” I said I would post a list of lenses that you can get without braking your bank account (well…without breaking it too much… let’s face it photography is expensive even for the cheaper stuff!).

I am a canon user. Therefore this post talks about Canon lenses. If you use a different camera system this post may still be helpful for the size of lenses but you will have to do a bit of research on what actual lens you can buy to match what I discuss below. 

If you go and Google/Bing for information on what lenses to buy first with your new Canon camera you will find lots of answers and advice out there for you to follow. All of it pretty good too. I know I especially followed this post over on the Wire Cutter Blog. I agree with most everything the author Tim Barribeau said in the article and this post is almost the same advice as what he listed but I do have some minor tweaks that I would like to give in my list.

First, I am assuming you have one of Canon’s Crop Sensor (APS-C) cameras such as T3i (600D), T4i (650D), 60D, or 7D.

Second I am also assuming you are like me and are not going to move to a full framed camera anytime soon unless you win the lottery or your professional photography careers takes off so well your pictures pay for the upgrade. With this in mind though you should know the difference between EF and EF-S lenses.

Here is a quick review if you do not know the difference (Google/Bing the difference for more in depth reading on the subject):

EF-S lenses can only be used on crop sensor cameras. You can not use them on full framed camera ever and you can do a lot of harm to the full framed camera sensor if you try.
EF lens can fit on both types of cameras. This means that any EF lens you buy can be used on a full framed camera you buy later.

Lastly before I start I want to point out that I have listed different lenses for each category. I wanted to list different price options to give you choices to think about. Note Prices are rounded to the nearest dollar and come from what is listed at at the time I originally wrote this post**.

So with that out of the way here is my list of lenses in order I think is you should pick them up in to get the most use out of them.

The first lens you pick up is actually determined on whether you purchased your camera with a kit lens or not. If you do have a kit lens (either the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II or EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS) then you can skip the Standar Zoom lens section (unless you are looking to upgrade yours) I list and go right to the Prime lenses I list.

Standard Zooms

If you were like me and bought only the body of your camera so you could spend money on a better starting lens then my first recommendation is to get a standard zoom lens over anything else. The reason I say this is because I am assuming you want to start using your camera without much hassle*. I strongly feel that this type of lens will work for most any situation you come across. It will also make it easier to learn and get use to your camera. Honestly while learning photography you do not need more than either one of the kit lenses listed above or one of these I will list below.

Since we are skipping the purchase of a kit lens here are two standard zooms I think work great as a first lens**:

First off we have the EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM at $649 it is not cheap but it is highly versatile for a lens. This was my first lens and I got a lot of use out of it when walking around outside. It has good range and with the wide end at 15mm it makes a great landscape lens with the longer end of 85mm being OK for portraits as well. It is a very versatile lens even though it is not a fast lens. You will definitely need a flash with it indoors for some shots where the available light is not the best. When I owned this lens I really liked it when I did photo walks in Milwaukee on my lunch breaks downtown. I only got rid of it to pay for my 70-200mm lens I talk about later on.

For a more expensive option (if you have the money to spare) there is the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM at $1039. I currently own this lens and it is my everyday lens. I use it everywhere and even shot a wedding with it. This lens is remarkably sharp and is the best lens you can buy that is specifically for Canon’s APS-C sensor. The glass inside is very close to L quality. Hence almost twice the price of the EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. If you have the money I would suggest getting this lens. Even if you upgrade to a full framed camera this lens on a crop body will give you the same stunning results as the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM on a 5D Mark III or 1Dx camera. So you can still get use out of this lens when using your older crop camera as a second body.


Prime lenses are also great for learning photography. Especially for learning to compose and frame your shots. This is because prime lenses have a fix focal length and force you to move to either get closer or farther away. I love my 50mm prime and it is often the first prime others will tell you to buy. People suggest this as a first purchase because you can get them super cheap and still get great images out of it. However depending on what type of pictures you take more of, I would suggest possibly getting a 35mm prime first instead.

I say this because I’ve found that the 50mm on a crop sensor is sometimes has a too long focal length and you can’t always back up enough to frame the shot especially when indoors in small spaces.  This is a frustration I have run into enough times (especially in winter when stuck indoors) so I am looking at later this year of getting a 35mm myself. Outdoors though the 50mm has been great to use when walking around.

Keep in mind too that on a crop sensor cameras that a 50mm lens has essentially the same focal length view as a 85mm lens on a full framed sensor. With this in mind the 50mm is still a great buy if you do portraits as it will give you great results for the “pennies” (comparability to the cost of other lenses) you spend on  it. Note though on a crop sensor if you really love the look that a 50mm lens gives in photos from a full framed camera then you need to go for the 35mm prime. In the end though you really can’t go wrong with either lens. It’s all a matter of taste and what you want to or will do with them that should be your deciding factor on which to buy.

If you decided to go with a 50mm lens you have two options. First there is the EF 50mm f/1.8 II at about $110 (see I told you it is cheap!). I own this lens and can say do not let its price fool you. It can still produce stunning shots. If you have a little more money to use then I would suggest you grab the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM at $339. Both are great but the f/1.4 is a little bit better.

If you decided to get the 35mm lens you are a bit stuck on options. There is only the EF 35mm f/2 at $289. The next step up in a 35mm lens is the EF 35mm f/1.4L USM at $1329! It is a great lens but this list is to keep each option more affordable while first getting into photography.

For the next lenses there really is no order for what one to get next. It starts to fall into more or less what you need to go along with what you typically are shooting the most. If you do a lot of inside still life and like to shoot close ups of flowers, plants, bugs or products, items, food you may want to get a Macro lens next. If you are trying to get better shots at sporting events of your kids or like to shoot animals at the zoo the telephoto should be your next purchase. If you take a lot of landscapes then a wide angle lens maybe the next one to get. It really comes down to which one will you use the most right away in the end.

Personally for me it was the telephoto zoom and wide angle lenses as next purchases. I’m putting off getting a macro lens until later this year as I have not done that kind of photography yet.

Also have just purchased my first telephoto zoom lens and wide angle lens. I have not had a chance to use it at the time of this writing***.

With this in mind the next parts will be briefer and mainly give you options on what you can purchase without  much of my opinion.

Telephoto Zooms

Telephoto zooms allow you to get closer to your subject with out physically moving closer. Unfortunately these lenses are always expensive even for a “low cost” one.

There is one really cheap zoom that if you need something right now and do not care about image quality you can pick up the EF-S 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS II for $209. I warn you though if you are serious about using a zoom for anything other than still shots you may end up feeling you wasted your money on this lens.

Also another thing to consider when you are looking at telephoto zooms is how much they weigh. These can weigh from 1.5 to over two pounds! If you plan on carrying one of these around as you walk your arm or shoulder/back (depending on camera bag) will get tired fast with one of the heavier lenses.

Additionally these lenses will usually be the first L lens you will buy. Unless you buy the above listed EF-S lens or an off-brand I do not list.

Personally I went with the EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM. It cost $1199 but that was because I wanted the IS for when I walk around with it when doing hand held portraits without a tripod. There is a cheaper version with out the IS is $678. It is the EF 70-200mm f/4 L. I’ve heard great things about these lenses.

You will notice these are slower lenses at f/4 so they are not the greatest for low light or indoors. For me this does not matter though as usually I can use flash to off set the f/4 aperture. If flash is not allowed then I will just use my EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM and get closer if possible.

Another reason I went with the f/4 IS is due to the weight. It is roughly the same weight as the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM at about 1.5 pounds so I am use to carrying it around already.

An alternative if you must have a f/2.8 aperture is the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM for $13249. Note those there is not IS on this version.

If you need f/2.8 and IS then take out a loan as the price jumps to $2199 for that version! Keep in mind both the f/2.8 zoom lenses are over two pounds in weight as well. Have fun carrying that around with the rest of your gear!

My advice though is to get either of the f/4 lenses and get use to how you will use them. If you need to upgrade to the f/2.8 later on, both the f/4 lenses can be resold for up to 95% of the price you bought them for. The last thing you need to do is buy a $2000+ lens and never use it because you leave it at home due to it feeling like you have a boat anchor in your bag.

Wide Angle

Wide angle lenses are great for landscape photography to get those awesome wide vista shots. If you like to take landscapes I would suggest you get one of these two lenses below. You probably noticed that up to this point that I stuck with all Canon made lenses. This is more personal choice for me. However there are other brands such as Sigma and Tamron that make lenses to fit Canon bodies. Here is the only off brand lens I will recommend.

It is the Tamron AF 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 SP Di II LD. It goes for about $499.00 and has gotten many good reviews. The reason I recommend this lens is that the Canon version EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM is about $200 more at $679.00. Optically the Canon is a little better but when it came to this purchase I wanted to save a little money for something else instead.

If you shoot a lot of landscapes now and have the money go for the Canon. If you are just wanting to try the waters of using a wide angle grab the Tamron and if you do not like it then return it to Amazon before the 30 day window closes or sell it on eBay.


If you like to shoot close ups with fine detail and lots of Bokeh in the background then macro lenses will deliver the results for you.

I have never used a macro and do not own one currently. However I didn’t want to leave them out of this list. For the budget conscious lens buyer there is only two options before you hit the L lens level.

First you have the EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM at $399 that will give you close to the equivalent focal length view of the the next lens on a full framed camera. On a crop sensor cameras this lens is known to deliver excellent macro images. I’ve seen some YouTube reviews that highly recommend this lens especially on a 60D or 7D camera.

The EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM costs more at $549 but it gives you two things to consider as an option you may want to purchase over the 60mm. First you can be farther away from your subject. This is especially nice when you are shooting insects. You have less changes of startling the little buggers. Second is that this lens is still usable if you upgrade to a full framed camera.

To end those are my recommendations on the lenses I feel you should look at purchasing for learning photography on a budget. I think having these gives you a nice rounded lens kit that allow you to take just about any type of shot you will want to take. Note though, there is no need to run out and buy all these lenses at one time. Take it slow and learn to shoot with what you have and make sure it really is the the equipment and not you that is preventing you from perfecting your shot. I can’t stress this enough when learning. Sometimes forcing yourself to work with what you have and not allow yourself to spend thousands of dollars on some “Uber” lens will teach you more than just letting the equipment do the work for you.

I hope this post helps you out in deciding what lenses you may want to buy first as you go on your path of learning photography. Feel free to leave comments on what lenses you bought and why in the comments section!

Thanks for Reading


*P.S. NOTE: Some argue buying a Prime as your first lens over a standard zoom is better because it makes you think about your composition more and forces you to move your body to get your framing instead of just zooming in and out with your lens as I noted above when talking about prime lenses. I do agree with this to a point but I think that as you learn to use your camera standard zooms allow you to get more keeper shots leading you to shoot more instead of getting frustrated with not getting as many keeper shots because you didn’t properly position yourself for the shot you wanted to get with using a prime. Sometimes primes can force you to over think or not let you get shots quick enough (especially around kids) when you have move to much to get the shot.

**P.P.S. NOTE: You can still purchase one if you are really strapped for cash. See links an kit lenses given.

***P.P.P.S. NOTE: I write these articles about one month ahead of time. I do not always update them once they are queued up to be published.

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