Which Camera Lens? A Breakdown of the Best Lenses for Your Needs & a Lens Giveaway

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It’s my mission this year to help you become a better photographer for your family. You deserve to have great photos to look back on and cherish as your family grows up. I’m teaming up with Canon again to teach you everything I know–Or close to it. So if there’s something you have a question about ask and I’ll be sure to address it in an upcoming post!

So you’ve upgraded to a DSLR, you have been shooting with the kit lens that came with your camera for a while and you’re feeling ready for an upgrade but you aren’t sure which lens to get next or how to decide where to start.

How to choose your next camera lens. Camera lenses explained.

A simple search for “best camera lens” can bring back tons of results and a slew of opinions. The truth is the best lens for one person may not be the best for you, or what you’re looking to do.

From one lens fanatic to another, I’m going to break down different types of lenses and give you great options for each to help you choose which one may be the next one to add to your repertoire.


If you’re a parent and/or new photographer looking for one lens to upgrade right out the gate, the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is the one I’ll immediately ask if you have. It’s small, lightweight, and you can really play around with the aperture and depth of field (remember we talked about that in this post).

Why I love it: With the ability to change the f-stop to as low as 1.8 (or 1.4 on the EF f/1.4 USM version) you can get some great portrait pictures of your kids, blurring out the background, and play around with low-light photography indoors.

The EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is also extremely affordable. With a price tag of around just $100, many find they get the most bang for their buck with this lens. It also now has STM which stands for Stepping Motion Technology. So it allows for really quiet focusing when you’re shooting video.

Important to note: On a crop sensor camera you may find yourself tight on space with your indoor photos. If your rooms are smaller or you don’t have a lot of space you may want to consider a wider lens or even a zoom lens.

Mid-range Zoom Lens

If you’re looking for a step up from your kit zoom lens, and you like the ability to stand in one spot and take several photos from different focal lengths, this is the way to go. The EF-S 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 IS USM has a more board zoom range than your kit lens, and image stabilization so if you are trying to take pictures at a slower shutter speed you’ll be ok.

Zoomed all the way in you’ll be able to capture your kids further away, or more of those detail shots. In the photos below I used this lens at the beach. I didn’t want to risk getting my camera wet but I was able to zoom into 135mm and get pictures of my family playing in the water.

Then in this second photo, zoomed all the way out you’ll see more of the big picture, or in the case of the photo above, I can capture my son clinging to me while standing right above him.

One thing to note with this lens is it will work great on your EOS Rebel DSLR, EOS 80D or other crop-sensor cameras. But if you eventually upgrade to a full-frame camera then you’ll need an adapter for it to work.

The EF 24-70mm F/4L IS lens another great zoom lens, it also has image stabilization, which makes it a great lens for indoor or low-light photos, as well as outdoor pictures of your kids playing. Zoomed all the way it in works wonderful as a portrait lens, and pulled all the way out at the 24mm focal length it is great for capturing more lifestyle images and candids of children.

The constant f/4 maximum aperture means no matter where your focal length, you can keep your f-stop locked just where you want it (which isn’t the case with your EF-S 18-55mm kit lens or the EF-S 18-135mm). But it is more expensive.

With either lens, you can zoom in and out standing in one position and get a variety of shots without moving (which I love, because I can be lazy).

Prime Portrait Lens

While I personally am a big fan of zoom lenses, a lot of people love their prime lenses and many are great for taking portraits. The EF 50mm f/1.8 STM I mentioned earlier is a great option for portraits.

Many others love the 85mm prime lens. I think I’m a minority here when I rave about my go-to lens for this. I have the EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro lens and I love it for portraits. You can get the gorgeous crisp images with the beautiful bokeh in the background and it’s versatile. If you’re wanting to focus on getting great portrait shots of your kids, or your family, one of these lenses will be a great option.

Why I love it: Every time I use it I re-fall in love with it and call it my favorite lens. It’s bigger than many of my other lenses but many of my favorite photos I took with this lens. It’s usually my go to for my “photo shoots” versus just my casual everyday candid photos of my kids.

Important to note: Just remember that these are prime lenses, which means you aren’t going to be doing any zooming in and out with anything other than your feet. Also this lens is much longer than the 50mm lens. You can get a nice shallow depth of field with the 50mm lens I mentioned earlier for a fraction of the cost, and even take portraits shots in your home (I don’t have enough room to do this with my 100mm lens). I like using this one when my kids are playing much further away from me.

Macro Lens

A macro lens allows you to get within inches of your subject and snap a very close and detailed image. These are great for people who want to capture those tiny details such as a newborn’s toes, or your child’s eyelashes or other little details that could often go overlooked.

The EF 100mm F/2.8 Macro lens I mentioned earlier is actually a macro lens but I use it for portraits too. The EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens will also get you that nice shallow depth of field for portraits, or a beautiful macro shot when you get up close to focus on the details.

Important to note: When you’re shooting in macro mode you’re going to want to raise your f-stop so that you can capture more of the details. This means you’ll want to make sure you have lots of available light or raise your ISO to compensate for a higher f-stop.

Wide angle zoom lens

If you’re constantly traveling or on the go, or like to capture less portraits and more of the scene beyond your children you’re probably going to want to consider a wide angle lens. Again, another perk with the zoom lens is the ability to take a variety of shots standing in the same spot.

I love using my EF 17-40mm f/4L lens when we’re traveling to take in not only my children but the structures or landscapes behind them. It’s also nice when we’re in close quarters and I can’t back up but I want to see more of what’s going on. I used this lens almost exclusively when we go on our Disney vacations so I can photograph my child’s delicate size compared to the huge cruise ship, or castle. It’s also fun to play with on playgrounds when I want different types of shots.

Another great wide angle zoom lens option at a lower price point is the EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM. With image stabilization and STM it’s great to use for not just picture but vacation videos as well.

Important to note: Wide angle lenses are not ideal for portraits. Even zoomed all the way in and stopped all the way down, you won’t get much bokeh in the background. Zoomed all the way out you may get a little disproportionate distortion depending how close you are to your subject.–Which is great for tall buildings, but not idea for someone’s head. That said, sometimes it’s a fun and creative look to add a little variety to my photos of my kids.

Wide angle prime lens

If you like to photograph standing closer to your subjects a moderate wide-angle lens may be your preferred choice. The EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM lens is a great option and around $150.

It has a fixed focal length and is really compact. And with an f/2.8 aperture it’s great in low-light situations you may find in your home. The EF 35mm f/2 IS USM is another option a lot of people with full-frame sensor DSLRs go for.

I don’t have either of these lens because I use my EF 17-40mm lens for my wide-angle needs, and with my quick kids I’d prefer to zoom with my lens than my feet. But I know this is a favorite for many people who want to keep one all-around prime lens on their camera.

Pancake Lens

I’ve been going on and on about my love of zoom lenses, but if there’s one kind of prime lens I love it’s a pancake lens.

I have the EF 40mm f/2.8 STM. Some may be wondering “why do you have that same focal length covered three times?”. It’s not necessarily the focal length I love as much as the size and convenience of the lens. It stops down to a f/2.8 which is great for blurry depth of field. But my favorite part about this lens is how small it is, hence the nickname “pancake” lens.

There is also the EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM lens which is also at a price point of under $150, and great on a crop-sensor camera.

Why I love it: It’s affordable and adorable. Very light and portable I love to keep it on my camera when I’m going out but not sure if/what I’ll be photographing. It keeps my purse lighter but I know I’m not going to miss a Canon moment.

How to choose your next camera lens

So what kind of photos do you find yourself taking most often? Do you find yourself wishing you could back up more? Or trying to shoot closer to your subjects? Do you enjoy moving around and zooming with your feet or do you want to quickly be able to change focal lengths from one position? When you take all of these things into consideration you should land on the perfect next lens for you.

Or, maybe you’ll be more like me and keep adding to your collection because you just can’t decide on a favorite. For more of my photography tips from gear to shooting rambunctious kids to backing up and printing check out my course Child’s Play: Simple Tips for Photographing Children. It’s currently on sale for $25.99!

What’s your favorite lens? Which one do you think you’ll get next?

I’m going to give one of you a head start on growing your lens collection. I rarely ever do giveaways but this just seemed like the perfect opportunity! I upgraded one of my lenses almost immediately and I have an extra to give away.  I’m giving away a brand new Canon EF 24-70mm F/4L lens. Use the widget below to enter!

Canon ES 24-70mm f/4L Giveaway

From birthdays to family vacations, to holidays and more, I’ve teamed up with Canon again this year to share how we capture the moments we cherish most. I’m also dishing out tips to help you better photograph your special moments with your family. Shout out to my favorite camera brand for sponsoring this series.

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  1. This is perfect! My husband has recently discovered a very high interest in photography but we don’t yet have a very good camera and have been researching recently on what the best cameras and lenses would be.

  2. I really need to invest in a good camera. The thought of different lenses had sort of been intimidating to me but reading your post on how to choose has put me at ease. Thank you for your explanations!

  3. Oh wow I had no idea there were so many different lenses to choose from! They all take amazing shots with great quality. Thank you for explaining each one. Very helpful!

  4. I take pictures of a little bit of everything. Love my 50mm 1.8 and my 17-85mm IS USM lens. But that EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens would be so great to win! Canon L lenses are just a tad too rich for me at the moment. Thank you for doing this giveaway and best luck to the others who have entered.

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  6. Great post, Jennifer! Not only do I like your suggestions, but I can’t help but adore the Beautiful photos of your family you have put here. They definitely brought a smile to my face.

    I run a site for vloggers to learn about new stuff, but still haven’t quite gotten around to recommend them lenses to buy. Hey, maybe I’ll take some inspiration from this post and put one up myself. What do you think?

    Cheers! and take care 😀

  7. Great tips! Your lenses obviously capture some stunning images of your family – I think the “pancake” lens would be great since it’s so easy to carry around with you and switch out. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Thanks for your awesome post!! I Reading and learn a lot from your article! I just wanted to ask about the 24-70mm l series lens because it seems amazing other than the fact there’s no built-in image stabilization.

  9. Thank you! Love this article! I am new to blogging and photography and this is great! I purchased a Canon EOS 77D but wondering if I should have gone full frame over crop. What is your thought? Also, what is the best lens for wildlife photography? From a far distance. Thanks again for your insight!

    1. So glad you found this helpful! I think a crop sensor can work great for what you’re doing with wildlife photography. You are usually shooting far away right? I’d look for a long zoom lens. I don’t do much of that but my sister in law does, I’ll ask her!

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