This is a question I am often asked by clients and even more often by my husband (usually when I am pining over purchasing another camera lens). The truth is, there is no “right” answer. Some photographers use only one lens and others use many more than I do. I am certainly not a lens expert but want to share my process and why I might reach for one Canon Lens over another in each situation.
As I said above, I am by no means a lens expert. However, much to my husband’s dismay, I have bought and sold quite a few over the last four years. I have used and can speak to the following Canon lenses: 24 1.4, 24-70 2.8, 35 1.4, 50 1.2, 70-200 2.8, 85 1.4, 100 2.8 macro, and 135mm 2.0.
After lots of experience with each of these focal lengths, my current arsenal (no promises how long this will stay current– ha!) is: Canon 24mm 1.4L | Canon 35mm 1.4L | Canon 50mm 1.2L | Canon 85mm 1.4L. If you are a beginning hobbyist or not a photographer at all, it may seem overwhelming to have four different options to choose from, but they all have very important roles in my job. I convinced (read: bribed) my older boys to sit in the same spot while I took a photo with each of these lenses to demonstrate the perspective each lens provides. I’ll also provide an “on the job” image taken with each!
The widest angle of my lenses, this is my go-to lens for smaller spaces, city streets, and environmental focused portraits. The 24mm focal length lets a lot of everything going on around your subject in the frame. It doesn’t have the compression to isolate your subject so using framing is essential for an eye-catching photo. This is not the lens you want to choose if you’re trying to minimize a cluttered backdrop or achieve that creamy bokeh-licious look.
This is also my lens of choice indoors in tight spaces. I could not do Fresh48 sessions or newborn lifestyle sessions without having this option. At one time I did have the 24-70 zoom lens instead of the 24mm prime lens. While I liked the flexibility to be able to zoom, I found myself using it solely at 24mm for the focal length because I preferred my other prime lenses at the longer focal lengths. My happy place for aperture is between f1.8-2.2 so prime lenses are the right choice for me.
My 35mm lens is my most versatile, most-used lens in my bag. It’s wide-angle *enough* that you can incorporate environmental elements when needed. Because it’s not as wide as the 24mm option, it gives you some nice bokeh if you get close to your subjects without too much distortion. Because of its versatility and its snappy focus, it is my go-to lens for family sessions with young children. If I am traveling and only have the ability to take one lens with me, this is my choice.
The 50mm focal length is an extremely versatile and popular portrait lens. So popular that many photographers use only this length for both indoor and outdoor sessions. Here in Massachusetts, I find this length too long for indoors as we have a lot of antique colonial homes with smaller rooms that are just not realistic for this length. I like to use this lens for a few things. The first is to achieve beautiful creamy bokeh in an outdoor session with young kids who cannot handle the focal distance of the 85mm. The second is to take detail shots for weddings. The third is for indoor head shots.
The newest member of my camera lens family is Canon’s new 85mm 1.4L. It’s razor sharp, quick autofocus and its dreamy bokeh makes it a fast favorite. I use this lens when my goal is to isolate the subject in the frame and I don’t care as much about incorporating the environment. The downside of a longer portrait lens is that it can sometimes be tough to get the attention of young children from the distance it requires. This is one of the reasons I use more than one camera body at all of my shoots. Having a shorter length on one side and the 85 on the other ensures that I can deliver a wide variety of images.
Do you have any questions about the best camera lens or focal length? I am happy to share any knowledge I have!
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I loved this post! It’s so true that each lens serves a different purpose! My 50mm was my go-to for outdoor and my 24mm was my go-to for indoor, but I recently got a 35 1.4 and that’s my main one! I also have a 90 2.8 that is super sharp! So maybe I’ll just have to bring 3-4 for my next shoot haha!
The 35 is so versatile– love it! I love bringing a variety to every shoot, you never know what you might need!
Very helpful explanations of the different focal lengths
Thank you Deborah!
which is the best lens for 2 very busy boys who never sit still (canon)
I have three of those boys! I would recommend a wide angle lens….a 35mm or a 24mm are great for getting them all in the frame!
Great summary! I’d love to know why you gave up on the 100 2.8 macro and 135mm 2.0.