best prime lens for photojournalism

Found scurrying around in the dead of night, and seen in the harshest of conditions during the day, documentarians and photojournalists are a unique breed of photographer.

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The lenses photojournalists use need to be adept to ever changing conditions, and be able to withstand the hardest of jolts, and the hottest, coldest, and rainiest of days. To be successful in this field, a wide range of focal lengths needs to be covered. The challenge comes in finding lenses that are up to the task of being used and abused over and over again without the photographer having to ever worry about their glass. Here is a list of the five lenses every documentary photographer should have in their bag.

Tokina 24-70 f2.8

The Tokina 24-70 f2.8 covers a great focal range, it’s built like a tank, and will help you get the shot in the toughest lighting conditions. It’s the perfect lens for documentary photographers.

If someone ever approached me and said, “You only get to use one lens for the rest of your life, what will you choose?” the 24-70 f2.8 is the lens I would choose every day of the week; more specifically the Tokina 24-70; it’ s just that good.

In our review we said

“The Tokina 24-70mm f2.8 is a really fantastic lens if you’re a professional who doesn’t need weather sealing or even if you’re a high end hobbyist/semi-pro. There is lots of love about it. The image quality it can deliver is something other manufacturers should be looking at closely.”

Yes you could quite easily go and buy the Canon, Nikon, or Sony version of this lens, but the Tokina has image quality that not only meets, and in some cases exceeds, the image quality from some of the first party offerings.

Buy Now $799-$899: Amazon

Pro Tip – To make sure your lenses are safe in the elements, grab some waterproof lens covers.


Sigma 35 f1.4 Art

The current line up of Sigma Art lenses is nothing short of spectacular. Sigma has upped their game so much in the last few years, and the Sigma 35mm 1.4 is no exception to this rule. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is a stunning lens certainly deserving of the Art name.

In our review we said

“I’ve found the lens to be more than sharp enough for my needs and loved almost every image it delivered from my 5D Mk II. For the money, this lens doesn’t seem like it can be beat. There are offerings from Zeiss, Rokinon, and Canon that are all really quite exceptional. However, most people want a lens that autofocuses and this lens gives the most bang for the buck.”

The 35mm focal range is great for use in tighter spaces, and is great for when you want to capture more of the scene and story you are trying to convey. The image quality will ensure that you capture all the detail you need, and with an aperture of 1.4 you’ll be able to see in the dark without having to eat a million carrots. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is available in Canon, Nikon, Sony E, Pentax, and Sigma mounts.

Buy Now $815: Amazon

Pro Tip – Protect your investment and that precious glass from scratches and dust with a high quality filter.


Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 G2

The Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 Di VC USD G2 is one of the best lenses in the fast telephoto class, especially when you factor in price.

The 70-200mm focal range allows you to capture decently wide images at 70mm, but also allows you to get nice and tight when you might not be able to get closer to your subject, while the constant aperture of f2.8 means that you can get the shot in low light.

 In our review we said


“The Tamron SP 70-200mm f2.8 Di VC USD G2 is honestly a fantastic option for many photographers out there. Portrait and landscape photographers will appreciate the great image quality and versatility it allows. Photojournalists and wedding photographers will seriously love the autofocus speed and accuracy it can deliver. And most of all, it’s really not badly priced for what it’s offering.”

The Tamron 70-200 G2 has optical stabilization (VC, vibration compensation in Tamron’s language), it’s weather sealed, and the zoom and manual focus rings are nicely dampened which makes this lens a joy to use. The Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 Di VC USD G2 is available in both Canon and Nikon mounts.

Buy Now $1,299: Amazon

Tip – Keep your glass squeaky clean with high quality lens cleaning solution.

Rokinon 14mm f2.4 SP

When it comes to ultra-wide lenses the choices photographers have are really limited in number. However, don’t fear because this is a segment the guys and girls over at Samyang/Rokinon have been working on for many years, and the latest version of their 14mm lens, the Rokinon 14mm f2.4 SP, has improved drastically in both build and optical quality fronts.

In our review we said

“I REALLY, REALLY like the Rokinon 14mm f2.4 SP. It outputs great images on Canon sensors and I can imagine how fantastic it would be on Sony sensors. Rokinon has stepped their game up a whole lot in regards to build quality.”

As a documentarian there will no doubt be times that you will find yourself in incredibly tight quarters where you will be wishing you had a fast ultra-wide. The Rokinon 14mm f2.4 SP is a killer lens that will get you out of a bind in a pinch and won’t leave you wanting for more when it comes to image quality.

Photo without that light

Buy Now $799: Amazon

Tip – Keep all of your lenses dust free with a quality lens pen.

(Insert your camera brand here) 50mm f1.8

The amazing nifty fifty; it’s the lens that just loves to give, and quite honestly it’s the one lens every photographer should have in their trusty camera bag at all times.

Whether you shoot Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, or Fuji, the 50mm f1.8 is a must have, it’s as simple as that. The small footprint means this lens is super light, unlike a lot of the lenses listed above, and the 50mm focal length is as close as camera lenses can get when compared to what the human eyes see naturally.

All variations of this lens from Canon, Nikon, and Sony are fast when it comes to focusing, and images are nice and sharp, but the best part about this lens is the prices. These lenses are so cheap it should be considered a crime to not have one in your collection. The nifty fifty will never fail you, it’s your best friend, it will always be there for you, and it will always have your back.

So there you have it, from ultra-wide angle to telephoto, these five lenses will help you cover every single angle you could possibly need to document your story. What lenses do you think should be in a documentarian’s lens bag? Let us know in the comments below.

The best lens for every type of photography

Est. reading time: 6 minutes

There’s an almost endless list of camera lenses to choose from when it comes to DSLR and mirrorless cameras, so trying to determine what lens is the best for your photography can get a little overwhelming.

The good news is that it’s pretty straightforward; it all comes down to what you’re shooting and what you need. While there are preferred lenses for different types of photography, there’s no wrong lens.

To help you make an informed decision, I’ve put together a list of recommended lenses* for different types of photography to help you decide what’s best for you.

Included in this article:

Choosing the best lens | Portrait photography | Product photography | Food photography | Landscape photography | Wedding photography | Sports photography | Wildlife photography | Street photography | Fashion photography

Choosing the best lens

When it comes to photography, choosing the right lens can make all the difference. You don’t want to be stuck with a 50mm prime lens for sports photography, the same way you don’t want to be stuck shooting food with a lens that has a maximum aperture of f5.6.

To make the best decision for your photography, it’s important to consider what you’ll be shooting and what exactly you’ll be using the lens for. This will help you determine what type of lens you need, whether you need a prime lens or zoom lens, what focal lengths will be most useful, and what aperture you require.

If you’re not familiar with these concepts, I cover all of this in much more detail in my camera lens buying guide.

What is the best lens for portraits

Image from ‘Photographing portraits in the warm evening sun’ class.

Lens choice can make a big difference when photographing people.

Generally speaking, anything from 24mm to 200mm can be used for photographing portraits, but I most commonly use my Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 and Hasselblad 100mm f2.2 lenses (this is equivalent to about 60mm and 73mm in 35mm format).

Popular prime lenses for portrait photography include 50mm and 85mm when shooting close-ups, or 24mm and 35mm when shooting full length. One of the most common zoom lenses for portraiture is the 70-200mm.

When considering what lens to use for portraits, remember that wide-angle lenses can cause distortion and almost caricature-like results, while longer focal lengths can make the subject appear wider and more chunky. You can see a comparison of lens results for portraiture in my ’Lens choices for studio work’ class.


Lens choices for studio work

How lens choice affects the results for beauty & portraiture

Karl demonstrates a variety of lenses, from 16mm to 400mm, showing the results of each and explaining which is best for portrait or beauty photography.Watch ClassJoin Now

What is the best lens for product photography

Image from ‘Luxury watch product photography’ workshop.

One of the aims of product photography is to create an accurate portrayal of the subject so that the viewer can get a true sense of the product.

Macro lenses can be a good option for photographing products, but I usually use my Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 or Hasselblad 100mm f2.2 lenses, neither of which are dedicated macro lenses.

While macro lenses can be a good option, especially when photographing small products, they do come with a much higher price tag. If you have the budget for a dedicated macro lens, 100mm would be a good option for most types of product photography.

Alternatively, extension tubes provide a great, more affordable solution to macro lenses while still giving high-quality;

What is the best lens for food photography

Image from ‘Food photography with natural light’ class.

As part of our live talk show with food photographer and stylist Anna Pustynnikova, I asked her what her go-to lens for food photography was. Her answer was instant — a 100mm macro lens.

Throughout all of our food photography classes, you’ll see us using only three lenses: the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, the Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 (equivalent to 55mm in 35mm format), and the Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2 (equivalent to 67mm in 35mm format).

Other options you could consider include popular zoom lenses such as the 24-70mm or 24-105mm. If you happen to have a 70-200mm, that could also work but you might find yourself needing more space to accommodate the focusing distance.

An important feature of all these lenses is the large aperture they offer. These allow for a very shallow depth of field and maximum light-capturing capabilities, both of which are very useful for food photography, particularly if you work with natural light.

As with product photography, macro capability can be useful, but it isn’t essential, particularly if you have extension tubes.

What is the best lens for landscape photography

Image from ‘Coastal photography’ class.

Wide-angle zoom lenses are the most common choices for many landscape photographers due to the flexibility they offer. Popular focal lengths include 10-24mm, 16-35mm or 24-70mm,

However, prime lenses also make great lenses for landscapes. Some common focal lengths include 14mm, 24mm and 35mm. I’ve even used a standard 50mm lens for landscape photography before!

This is just a handful of the lenses that come to mind for landscape photography but the reality is that you can get away with using almost any lens for photographing landscapes.

Lenses with focal lengths longer than 50mm can also work for landscape photography. Lenses such as the 70-200mm can be great for photographing wider landscapes, while the 100-400mm is ideal for photographing the moon.

Whatever lens you already have, chances are you can make it work — even the 18-55mm standard kit lens can produce some great results!

What is the best lens for wedding photography

Wedding photography can be a particularly challenging genre of photography and there’s a lot riding on capturing the perfect moment, which is why it’s essential you have the right lens at the right time.

Award-winning wedding photographer David Stanbury (who works with his wife Jane), shared his list of go-to lenses when he joined us for a live talk show. As he shoots with both medium format and full-frame cameras, David’s lenses include the Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 (equivalent to 55mm in 35mm format), Hasselblad 28mm f/4 (equivalent to 20mm in 35mm format), Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8.

Other common wedding photography lenses include prime lenses such as the 50mm, 85mm, or slightly wider 35mm. Macro lenses such as the 100mm can also be handy for shooting close up details.

What is the best lens for sports photography

Image from ‘Photographing creative action shots’ class.

When it comes to choosing a lens for sports photography, the first thing you need to consider is what sport you’re photographing. Cricket, for example, will require a much longer focal length compared to sports such as netball or water polo.

Another important consideration is the aperture of the lens. Larger apertures allow for more light to be captured, therefore allowing for faster shutter speeds.

If you’re looking for an overall, general-purpose lens for sports or action photography, popular lens choices include the 70-200mm f/2.8, 80-200mm f/2.8 or 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6.

To keep up with the action, zoom lenses are a better option compared to prime lenses, but prime lenses with longer focal lengths such as 300mm or 400mm can also work if you don’t need zoom capabilities.

What is the best lens for wildlife photography

When photographing wildlife it’s not always possible to get up close to your subjects, which is why focal length is perhaps the single most important consideration when it comes to choosing the best lens.

Telephoto lenses such as the 70-200mm can be a good option for those just starting out, but if you’re looking for something a bit more serious, lenses such as the 100-400mm, 200-500mm or 150-600mm are among the best options.

This type of equipment doesn’t come cheap though, so nature photographer Chris Bale, who uses the 500mm f/4 and 800m f/5.6 for his work, much of which is bird photography, suggests upgrading your knowledge before upgrading your kit.

What is the best lens for street photography

Image from ‘Street photography’ class.

Kit that is small and lightweight is often the first choice for street photographers, which is why many prefer to use lenses such as 35mm or 50mm prime lenses. But these aren’t the only options.

Prime lenses can be a great way to encourage you to move and explore different perspectives, but they don’t offer the flexibility that zoom lenses do. If you’re looking for a bit more freedom, lenses such as the 24-70mm or 24-105mm are popular choices.

The 70-200mm is another lens you may want to consider, but it is slightly bulkier than the others and doesn’t have the wide-angle capabilities that can be so useful for street photography.

All of these lenses feature large apertures, which makes them great for working in low light conditions too.

What is the best lens for fashion photography

Image from ‘Theatrical light fashion shoot’ class.

As with portrait photography, lens choice has a big impact when photographing fashion. There are strong arguments for both prime and zoom lenses, with some of the most popular of each including the 50mm and 85mm fixed lenses, or 24-70mm, 24-105mm and 70-200mm zoom lenses.

I commonly use the Hasselblad 35mm f/3.5 (equivalent to 26mm in 35mm format), Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 (equivalent to 60mm in 35mm format) and Hasselblad 100mm f/2.2 (equivalent to 73mm in 35mm format) for fashion shoots.

You don’t need a huge selection of lenses for fashion work — fashion photographer Daria Belikova spent years shooting with just the Hasselblad 50mm f/3.5 (equivalent to 35mm in 35mm format).

*Lenses listed are best suited for full-frame 35mm format (unless otherwise stated).

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