This story originally published on Popular Photography.
The standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens can only take you so far. Sooner or later, you’ll need to buy your first proper lens. That’s why we’ve put together this roundup of the five lenses you should consider when it’s time to step up your game. From the traditional “nifty fifty” to more eclectic picks like an entry-level macro lens, there’s a great option for every photography enthusiast.
The nifty fifty
The 50mm f/1.8 lens—also known as the “nifty fifty”—is the traditional first upgrade for beginners. Canon and Nikon shooters will have no problem finding an affordable 50mm f/1.8 lens for their system either. Once you do, and you discover the shallow depth of field and low-light capabilities of an f/1.8 aperture, you’ll be happy you left your kit lens behind.
The fast aperture zoom
An affordable fast-aperture zoom is the perfect compliment, or total replacement, for your kit lens. This is a broad category, but any zoom lens with a constant f/4 aperture or faster qualifies. Some versatile options include the (APS-C only) Sony E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS or Sigma’s 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art. If you’re willing to spend a bit more on first-party lenses, the Canon 24-105mm f/4L or Nikon’s 24-120mm f/4G are also great options.
The ultra wide-angle
The standard kit lens already starts at 18mm, but you’ll be amazed at the difference a few extra millimeters can make. Whether you choose a prime lens like the popular Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 or a zoom like Nikon’s (DX only) AF-P 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, an ultra wide-angle will let you capture more expansive landscapes or try your hand at astrophotography. Sony users don’t have quite as many choices, but the new Rokinon AF 14mm f/2.8 FE is a great option.
Even affordable macro lenses like Nikon’s 60mm f/2.8G, Sigma’s 105mm f/2.8, or Sony’s FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro will open up a whole new world of potential subjects. Best of all, most macro lenses make great portrait lenses too, so you don’t have to limit yourself to capturing close-ups.
The telephoto zoom
A good telephoto zoom for sports or wildlife photography is an investment. Brand-name lenses like Canon’s 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L or Nikon’s 200-500mm f/5.6 are going to cost a pretty penny, but you can save by going third-party. The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM or Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 are solid options, or you can pick up either brand’s 100-400mm lens to save even more money and weight.
No matter which of these lenses you choose, they all make a fantastic upgrade for the aspiring wildlife photographer.