One lens can’t always do the trick, and sometimes three lenses is a bit too many to stuff in your bag. Luckily, if you plan well, a pair of quality lenses can often accomplish all you need, and then some. Here are some recommendations for lens pairings that may help you flesh out your lens collection, or decide what to bring on your next shoot. Obviously, you might find your own pairing works better. Read about professionals who have some unexpected favorites—these are definitely some worthwhile options with some examples to help guide you toward your next lens.
Let’s start with a general purpose kit: something nice and simple that can do a lot. First, a mid-range zoom, such as a 24-105mm or the like will cover a majority of your shooting needs. Combine this with a fast normal (or close to normal) lens and you now have a lens for almost everything, and then another lens that can help you in dark locations or on more creative shoots. Even a kit zoom and a prime can be a great combination, especially for photographers who are just starting out. If you are looking for your first lens after a kit zoom, one tip is to go through all your old photos, particularly the ones you like, and seeing what focal length you use most often, then you pick up a prime around that length.
Don’t get stressed out when you’re choosing lenses for travel! My recommendation: a lightweight all-in-one zoom, perhaps collapsible if you can find it, and a pancake lens. This does two things—gives you everything you might possibly need on days when you are going out to shoot, and a super lightweight and compact option if you just want to throw your camera over your shoulder for a day of walking. Now, if you are a landscape shooter, or have other specific shots in mind, this isn’t quite what you would want, but for getting some snapshots during a family vacation, this could be perfect.
Food and Product Pairings
With food and product photography becoming increasingly popular, if you really want to do it right, you will probably want a couple of solid lenses to help you out. The easiest recommendation is a normal-to-telephoto tilt-shift and a telephoto prime. And depending on your space or shooting style, you can switch up the telephoto prime with a macro lens to get nice and close to your subject. The tilt-shift can be a surprising choice if you are a beginner, but it will ensure that you are getting straight lines, everything you need in focus, and greater depth of field. Choosing a telephoto prime is useful, as well, since it will help make sure food and products look great, thanks to the compression effect.
While this can easily just be boiled down to one lens, such as the Canon 85mm f/1.2, Nikon 105mm f/1.4, or Sony 135mm f/1.8, having another option can enable you to capture an image that you might otherwise not have gotten. A simple choice would be to pick up a wide prime for getting more of the environment in your shot. But, if you want something a bit more unique, you should pick up a specialty lens, such as the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6, which offers a glowing effect when shot wide open, or a super-fast f/0.85 or f/0.95 lens that creates a distinct look with super-shallow depth of field. And if you still need to find a lens, check out the swirly bokeh of the Lomography Petzval series, available as an 85mm or 58mm.
As much as photographers in this field will tailor their kits for the specific job, there are a couple of extremely practical staples that find their way to most shoots. This would be the 16-35/24-70mm combined with a 70-200mm—and if you can, get the constant f/2.8 models. The first zoom depends highly on preference; if you like getting close and wide, the 16-35mm is the obvious choice, if you prefer extra versatility or a bit more reach, the 24-70mm would be best. When paired with the 70-200mm, you have an extremely versatile kit, and if you get the f/2.8 versions, then you will be prepared for almost anything. Depending on the job and style, however, you may want to choose something else. A fast, wide prime, combined with a mid-range or telephoto zoom, would be a nice complementary pairing, for example, and there are a ton of other combos available here in such a varied field.
Architecture and Landscape Pairings
This can go a variety of ways, though one of the most useful lenses for architecture is going to be a wide tilt-shift that will let you straighten out the vertical lines of buildings in your image. Along with this, a solid telephoto or telephoto macro can help you grab detail shots, or even just get a different perspective when shooting from a distance. An alternative to this is a wide-angle prime, something like the legendary Zeiss Distagon 15mm, and a wide-angle zoom along the lines of a 16-35mm, 14-24mmm, or even 11-24mm. This setup gives shooters a high-quality prime to rely on, and then some added versatility for the moments that demand it, and make a good fit for landscape photographers. Many landscape photographers might want to pair a wide-angle lens with a telephoto option of some sort to give them some added reach while out and about, as well as providing a new perspective of a scene.
Street photography is known to have many shooters who rely on just one lens, usually a 28/35/50mm prime, that gives them their signature style. But, if you are looking to mix things up, a short telephoto prime can help balance your bag. The choice of lens is up to you, but we would recommend an 85/100/135mm lens. My personal favorite combination would be a 35mm and an 85mm, but nearly anything could work. The longer lens will help you capture subjects that may be a bit out of reach, or switch things up for street portraits.
Sports and Wildlife Pairings
Sports and wildlife seem very straightforward—just pick up a telephoto lens, but this will depend a great deal on the sport you are shooting. Football and soccer? You will probably want a dedicated telephoto prime: think 400mm or 600mm, and perhaps a shorter telephoto zoom for when the action gets a little closer. For skateboarding and other action sports, a wide-angle zoom and a fisheye will often give you that dynamic look you want. Other sports may require a wide-angle lens for a remote camera or for capturing some pre- or post-game shots and then, perhaps, a standard or telephoto zoom for the majority of the game. Hopefully, one of these combos will help you out.
What’s your favorite lens pairing? Tell us about it, below, in the Comments section.