Choosing a First Lens

Not a gear review – This post is about making decisions.

I was asked today, by a beginning photographer, what do I buy when choosing a first lens? The student in question has been talking with other people and getting their ideas on what he should buy. Bear in mind, this fella has bought his first DSLR two weeks ago and with a kit lens 17-55mm.

People were saying, buy a prime lens, buy this zoom, buy that… confusing the matter greatly. He didn’t know what to do, and if he listened to everybody, he’d be a few grand short, a very heavy camera bag and none the wiser.

I had to butt in…

I asked him what he liked shooting? Landscapes? Portraits? Sport? He didn’t know.

I said buy an 18-200mm, sell your 17-55mm to help pay for it, and be done.

This, as a beginning photographer, is all you need to do when choosing a first lens.

The 18-200mm, or a 28-300mm or whatever is all you need at this level. Learn that lens, learn the camera you have, learn some technique. Only, and ONLY, when you have mastered the technical skills and your equipment, then start thinking about upgrading equipment. You will then know what you are looking for and be able to make a sound choice.


In this blog I am comparing the Sigma and Nikon offers. The two lenses are similar. I won’t get into an argument about image quality etc, you just need to think about what you want.

Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5 – 6.3 all rounder lens

Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5 – 6.3 all rounder lens

SIGMA 18-250MM F/3.5 – 6.3 OR NIKON 18-200MM F/3.5 – 5.6

The Sigma is longer, so you can zoom out to 250mm, and the Nikon can only zoom out to 200mm.

At the long (250mm) end, the Sigma is a half stop slower (f/6.3) than the Nikon is at full zoom (f/5.6). You could say that at 200mm, the Sigma is probably at f/5.6 as well, meaning from 18-200mm both lens are the same, but you get an extra 50mm on the Sigma.

The Sigma is heavier than the Nikon.
The Sigma is cheaper than the Nikon.
Image quality is the same for both, roughly.

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5 – 5.6 all rounder lens

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5 – 5.6 all rounder lens

This isn’t a gear review, did I say that earlier? Nor am I wanting to get into a discussion about other options like the Tamron offers, or the Nikon 18-300mm. My point is, when you are starting out, go for a general, all-rounder lens.

Do your research on the internet, but find out about weight, are you willing to carry it? (If you think 90gm isn’t much, it all adds up). Do you really need a long, long zoom. Remember the image quality will drop on these lenses the more focal range they have. The shorter the total focal range, the better the quality generally. At the long end of these super zooms, the aperture can get quite small, meaning you may not get to shoot very often at full zoom unless the light is bright enough.

But don’t be overwhelmed by the choice out there when choosing a first lens.

Make your decision and go for it!

More soon … /JF