Best starter lens for Canon 60D?
November 29, 2013 3:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm buying my first DSLR, a Canon 60D. My original intention had been to purchase a body and (18-55mm) lens kit and spend some time learning with that before purchasing any other lenses. However, I have found an excellent deal on a 60D body only and am contemplating purchasing that and putting the savings (and maybe a little top-up from the slush-fund) to purchasing a separate lens. (Especially as i understand that kit lenses tend not to be great quality). What would be your recommendation for a good, versatile lens for a DSLR beginner?
posted by jcm to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
For learning, the 50mm 1.8 is cheap (~$120) and great. It will teach you a lot about aperture and depth of field, and is useful in low light.

For an inexpensive all around lens, i would look at the Tamron 17-50mm 2.8. It's around $500 or less used, and much, much better than the 18 - 55 kit lens.
posted by Sleddog_Afterburn at 3:34 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Normally I'd recommend the so-called nifty fifty... 50mm is pretty close to a normal human field of view and the lens is dirt cheap (losses mainly in the build quality... be gentle with it!) but very sharp for the price and opens up to f/1.8 (allowing for good low-light shots and a very shallow depth of field). However, on a cropped sensor camera like the 60D it's equivalent to 80mm... which is a little long for general use!

So maybe the $300 35mm or... heck, how much money are you saving? You can just buy the kit lens separately for $200. It's nowhere near as sharp or fast as a prime lens, but if you're just getting started a zoom lens may be indispensable, and if you're not looking at printing your photos then the slight loss of quality may not actually matter!
posted by rhooke at 3:35 PM on November 29, 2013

I went through the same decision making process a couple of weeks ago and asked/looked around.

The general consensus was that the 18-55mm lens was good enough for a beginner starting out and working out what they want to use the camera for. It's not that expensive either.

Plus kit lenses aren't as bad as people make them out to be.
posted by mr_silver at 3:41 PM on November 29, 2013

Depends on what you would like to shoot I guess. I do wildlife and concerts sometimes, I like my 70-300mm.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:20 PM on November 29, 2013

I think a kit lens will be more than good enough while you're still learning, and 18-55 is pretty versatile. You don't have any telephoto though (well actually you have a little, since your sensor isn't full frame, but still not much) so it won't be much good for photographing things at a distance. How much that matters to you depends on the kind of photos you intend to take, but for maximum flexibility you'd want a telephoto or zoom lens that goes out to at least around the 200mm range in full-frame terms.

You can actually find zooms that go from around 25mm to 200mm fairly easily. That won't give you much of a wide angle on your smaller sensor, but it is still an extremely versatile lens option. There will be a penalty in terms of size, weight, cost, aperture, and image quality but it's still a viable option if you want a lens that you can pretty much just stick on the camera and walk out the door with without any plan of where you're going or what kind of photos you're going to take, and still count on it pretty much doing whatever you need it to do.

18-55mm isn't a bad option at all though, for a first lens. There's a reason they're such a popular kit lens on entry- and mid-level DSLRs. They're versatile, not too big, not too expensive, and have reasonably good image quality. On a smaller sensor they'll give you some wide angle, a little telephoto, and that nice 50mm-equivalent that is the "default" for many types of photography. Not a bad choice at all.

The logical complement to such a lens, for most people, would be a moderate (fixed) telephoto of around 200mm. If I were you I would get the 18-55mm as your first lens (upgrade to a better line than the kit if you can afford it) and then a 200mm telephoto as your second lens, either right away or a little later on when you can save up the money. There are many other valid ways to go, but that's what I'd do.
posted by Scientist at 4:31 PM on November 29, 2013

I agree with the rec for the Tamron 17-50mm f2.8. The constant aperture and 2.8 are going to be a lot more useful for you. I have this lens on my t2i (similar camera to the 60D) and it's great.

You can also rent Canon L lenses in most cities for $25-$35 per day if you want to experiment with some high end glass.
posted by hamsterdam at 4:39 PM on November 29, 2013

A 50mm lens is long on a cropped sensor body, but it's cheap, it's flexible, and if it's anything like every other 50, it's small. I'd say either pair a 50/1.8 with a used kit lens, or get a nicer constant aperture zoom like the Tamron. Kit lenses aren't terrible, especially for the price, but the smaller maximum aperture felt limiting to me.
posted by wotsac at 4:59 PM on November 29, 2013

Another vote for 50mm f/1.8. It's cheap and very sharp, and makes a wonderful portrait lens on a digital body. Every Canon owner should have one. Buy it used on Ebay and it's even cheaper.

You'll be amazed at the kinds of effects you get with the aperture set to 1.8 or 2.0 on this lens.
posted by schrodycat at 5:07 PM on November 29, 2013

Don't start with a prime as your only lens; zooms are popular for a reason and that reason is versatility.

Honestly, people love to pay out the kit lenses, and they were certainly pretty rubbish back in the day, but kit lenses now are perfectly fine and suitable for about 70%-80% of photos. Assuming same arperture etc, the vast majority of people would no way be able to tell the difference between a kit and a much more expensive kit.

Look on ebay, you can pick up brand new kits grey market resellers have decouple from bodies for very, very cheap.

If you don't get a kit, think about one of the tamron 2.8 zooms (either 17-50 or 28-75). They are both terrific lenses and very competitively priced. The older versions are also great.

Honestly, a single fixed lens will be way, way too limiting.
posted by smoke at 5:36 PM on November 29, 2013

When I got my Canon DSLR, there was a much worse lens in the kit. I got the body-only package and added on that very 18-55.

Later I got the 35mm f/2 (the 50 is very long for indoor "party" shots on a crop sensor). I used that almost exclusively until I got an external flash, when I went back to the 18-55. I like the shots I get from that lens + flash more than my 35 and no flash.

I'm happy with my setup; I'd get the 18-55 and add on the 35 later, or vice versa. I'd also recommend an external flash.
posted by supercres at 5:37 PM on November 29, 2013

The biggest drawbacks with the kit lens is the physical size and that you need a lot of light. I skipped the kit lens and went with 28mm f2.8 lens with my Canon DSLR. It's about as wide as the human field of vision, so I find it's awesome for documenting life. And if you open it up, you get wonderful depth of field effects.
posted by kamelhoecker at 5:38 PM on November 29, 2013

I worked with a DP recently who convinced me that the single best prime lens to have is a 35mm on 35mm, so what's that... like a 21mm on the 60D?

When he had to cover scenes with a single prime that's what he went with and he was really able to do pretty much whatever we needed. That length is wide enough to get a wide shot but is also long enough to do portrait work.

So you might want to look for something in the neighborhood of 20-24mm.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:22 PM on November 29, 2013

If that's a crop sensor camera, don't get a 50mm. It will probably be too long. (Narrow field of view.) I bought a 35mm 1.8 lens for my Nikon, and it is an awfully versatile lens. There are almost zero shots that I can't get with it that I would have been able to get with the kit 18-55. I bought it because I went on a trip to the zoo with my kit lens and found it unsatisfying. Not enough aperture for nice indoor shots, and not zoomy enough for outdoor shots. The kit 18-55 (and Nikon and Canon are practically identical for this) is a fine lens that does a lot of things good enough, but if you are already thinking about buying multiple lenses, you might as well save the $199 and just start buying the good ones from the beginning.

The other thing is that lenses hold their value pretty well, so you can sell what you don't like and not lose TOO much money.

Forgot to add: I shoot almost completely without flash. The flash only really helps in a few situations, and my feeling is that having a "brighter" lens helps all situations.
posted by gjc at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2013

Depends on what you want to use it for. The 18-55mm is pretty standard and you'll want to use that indoors and for the same sorts of stuff you use point-and-shoot cameras for. But if you want to do outdoor shooting or sports or something where you need to zoom in because you'll need to be away from your subjects, you can get a starter zoom lens like the EFS 55-250mm IS II, which is pretty decent. It's hard to use that lens in situations where you are close to your subjects, i.e. shooting people indoors. I've used it for shooting soccer from the endlines and with practice, now I can get some nice shots. (I have a Canon Rebel T3, not a 60D.)
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:10 PM on November 29, 2013

After much research, the first lens I wound up buying when I was in your position was the 35mm f/2 (for a crop sensor Canon). No regrets, it was a great choice, it was the only lens I used for my first year of learning. The 50mm f/1.8 is cool, but too tight for everyday shooting, IMO.
posted by abecedarium radiolarium at 11:02 AM on November 30, 2013

The 18-55mm will cover the basics. You've never owned a DSLR, so get the kit lens and spend some quality time learning the camera and the lens. Don't worry about getting any other lenses until you're comfortable with the camera and the kit lens.
posted by cropshy at 12:16 PM on November 30, 2013

It's hard to choose one lens that will be good for all situations and also allow you to grow. When I bought my first DSLR a couple of years ago, I was perhaps too influenced by the kit lens haters, so I bought the Canon 17-85mm f/4-5.6. It's a great lens, although a bit big and heavy. I also bought the "nifty fifty" mentioned above. These days, I would be tempted to switch it for the Canon 40mm f/2.8 "pancake" lens - not much dearer, slightly wider angle, and very small and light. You will come to appreciate small and light if you use the camera a lot!

Bottom line I would recommend a cheap zoom plus a cheap prime to get started. Sometimes you need the flexibility of a zoom, and other times the rigidity of the prime will help you see things in a new way.
posted by Cheese Monster at 1:34 PM on November 30, 2013

I think you'd do well at the start to get something like the 18-135mm IS STM if you can afford it. It's a fantastic walkabout lens and ranges between quite wide and very long for maximum learning opportunities. Yes, primes are super-sharp and fast and you should add them to your collection at some point but you will have far greater opportunity to experiment with a zoom. If money is tight, stick with the kit zoom which is not bad at all. You'll need to learn quite a lot before its flaws rather than your technique limit the quality of your photos.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 3:42 AM on December 1, 2013

I got a 1.4 50mm prime and it's actually not much use. I've taken some great portraits with it, but it's so long (80mm equivalent) that it's no fun to use for walking around photography. The lens I use most is a relatively cheap Canon 18-135mm. If you're a beginner that's what I'd go for.
posted by The Monkey at 3:08 PM on December 1, 2013

Response by poster: You all gave such excellent advice - thanks!

Based on a (possibly rather broad) interpretation of all your thoughts, I've bought the 60D body and a cheap Tamron 18-200mm. I'll be primarily be taking outdoors, daylight shots while travelling and hiking over Dec&Jan and not having to change lenses for wide angle or telephoto really resonated with me.

When I get back i have a friend who'll be willing to lend me her 'nifty fifty' and, if i ask nicely, maybe a macro. So i can do more planned, learning expeditions then and take my time over planning my next purchase.

(Of course, i'm now wallowing in a mixture of buyers remorse and internet deal envy but i'm pretty sure that i'll get over that as soon as the boxes arrive!)
posted by jcm at 2:50 AM on December 2, 2013

I'm glad this thread worked out for you. For when you decide to start thinking about that "next purchase," and also for anybody else who stumbles upon this thread, here's an article that may be useful: My 6 Favorite Inexpensive Canon Lenses.

Full disclosure, I haven't used any of those lenses. As a hobbyist I can afford to be very, very patient in acquiring glass. But if I were on a different budget and timetable, that's the list I'd shop from.
posted by cribcage at 7:40 AM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

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