Photography / Buying Guide

Perfect Lens Pairings

37Share

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.

All-Around Pairings

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.

Travel Pairings

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.

Portrait Pairings

While this can easily just be boiled down to one lens, such as the Canon 85mm f/1.2Nikon 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.

Photojournalism Pairings

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 16-35mm14-24mmm, 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 Pairings

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.

Items discussed in article

Discussion 37

Add new comment

Add comment Cancel

Added Note: Try to use Prime Lenses for Night Sky photography.  Zoom lenses have mirrors, which can scatter light, and also, many zooms don't open to wider apertures (like f/2.8).

Something like, the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, is a great lens for both landscape and night sky photography.  Generally speaking, I use primes, but when I'm shooting video (and not stills) I do often use zoom lenses.  Thanks! Check out my work at Star Mountain Media (dot) com 

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for the contribution, I completely agree about using primes in low-light situations such as this. They can always be found in options faster than zooms. However, I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say zoom lenses have mirrors as a general statement. Reflex or mirror lenses do obviously, but your regular 24-70mm f/2.8 doesn't use mirrors, just optical glass. I think you may be referring to the fact that zooms with their more complex optical constructions have a greater tendency to introduce flaring or softness, but newer coatings and designs make modern zooms exceptionally capable. So if you prefer zooms and don't need the speed, a modern zoom is a perfectly acceptable alternative to a prime lens.

The This really is for Shawn but anyone is welcome to comment as I am looking for some advice and suggestions.  I have a Canon 5D Mk III with the following lens.Canon 24-105 1:4 L, Canon EF 28-135 (bought sometime ago), Canon 50mm EF 1:1.4, Canon EF 100mm 1:2.8L, Tamron Di SP 24-70 F2.8 and Tamron Di SP 70-200 F2.8. A bit of a mixture which I have bought over the years whenever money has become available.  I am very much an amateur becuase I simply don't have the time during the year to go out and take photographs othere than during the long school holidays in January/February and July and August.  Lugging heavy equipment around is not not particularly feasible as I travel on public transport or my bike.  I have no car in China so I am wondering from the plethora of individuals who contribute to this column, what would be the best two lens that I could take with me when I go out to take photos of people - street photography - and of not too distant landscapes.  Would very much appreciate some help please. 

Hi Henry,

Working with the lenses you have already, I would say the best choices would be the 50mm f/1.4 for street and portraits and then choose one of your zooms based on distances you need, which I would guess would mean either the 24-105mm or 70-200mm. The 100mm is also a great choice for portraits alone and a little distance if you really wanted to pare down to the essentials. I actually did an article on the 50mm and 100mm being a great pairing which you can read here, but its obviously not as versatile as a zoom. Hope this helps.

The clear amswer here is to use a Panasonic 12-35mm 2.8 lens and an Olympus 40-150mm 2.8 You can get a pnasonic or Olympus micro four thirds camera to use them on and dump the other gear. If you find yourself using a simmilar focal lenth very frequently then get a prime of that focal length.as well. You will have a very competant system and be able to carry the lot on public transport or a bike with no problems with weight wise.

I shoot primarily wildlife and birds in flight.  My primary lens is a Canon 400mm f/5.6L super telephoto.  I also cary a Canon super wide angle 10-18mm for sunsets.  I am adding the  Sigma 150-600MM Sport lens - but not for everyday use (too heavy).  In the car I also carry a Canon 18-55 macro and a Canon 55-200mm telephoto zoom.  It all depends on what I am going to shoot that day.  Sometimes that means letting a shot go because I chose the wrong lens.

The 24-70 and 70-200 is unquestionably a great pair.  Unmentioned in the article though is the effect of crop sensors.  When weight or space are a major concern, I take a 17-24 lens (which is essentially a 24-70 mm on a crop sensor camera) and the 70-200mm.  By changing lens/body combinations, I can have 17mm to 320mm focal lengths.

I've found the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 to be extraordinarily versatile. The second lens depends on what I'm shooting. My new favorite for long focal lengths is the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6. For low light and close focusing I like the tiny Nikon 50mm f/1.4. For extreme wide angle the new rectilinear jewel by Laowa: the Venus 12mm f/2.8.  Of course if weight isn't an issue it is hard to beat the Nikon f/2.8 Holy Trinity: 14-24, 24-70 and 70-200mm. 

I shoot both professionally, and for my own personal enjoyment.  On the road, I make up a bag of my 16-35 f2.8L, Tamron f2.8 24-70mm, and 70-200mm f4L IS USM.  As for shooting animals and birds, I pack my bag with my Canon 300mm f4L IS USM, and the Tamron SP 150-600mm VC, and a good tripod.  On the street, the 24-70mm is all I need.  So, it depends on what your main subject matter is for a particular outting.

B

I've never understood why people carry 3 zooms to cover every mm between 16 and 300. I personally think it's overkill. Carry 2 lenses if you've got zooms (1 wide & 1 tele, or 1 zoom/1 prime) or 3 if you're going with 1 zoom & 2 primes. Pick your zoom in the focal range you use the most. If you tend to shoot wide, go with a 14-24 or 16-35 then have a 50mm and/or 85mm to go along with it. If you tend to shoot telephoto, go with a 70-200 and pack a 28mm or 35mm prime, and maybe a 50mm if you've got the space. If you've got a good 24-70, just take that and maybe a 14mm (if you need wide) or a 100mm/135mm etc (if you need tele). 

Sure, there are exceptions at the professional/specialty level, but I think this is good advice for 90% of people. Avoid GAS, people.

I shoot with a pair of Nikon D300 cameras, and all Nikon glass. Shooting waterfowl hunting, 10-24 on a tripod with remote release and 70-300. For shooting architectural and construction projects 16-85 and the 70-300. For portraits 50 mm 1.4, and for walk around easy to travel with 35 mm 1.8. For sports, the 70-300 for outdoor sports, and one of the fast primes 35 1.8 or 50 1.4.  All around general purpose, the 16-85 and 70-300. And one lens that is expensive but super sharp, 200 mm Micro f4, used for macro, and for indoor sports is just terrific, and outdoors for birding. All lenses 1.5 focal length due to DX D300.  Shooting with Auto ISO setting and either S or A priority. Next step up is a D500, for higher ISO settings which allow use of the less expensive lenses I own at lower light and less noise.

My everyday, walking-around kit is a Canon 7D with Canon's superb 17-55 f/2.8 and 70-200 f/4 zooms, Meanwhile back in the truck, which is never far away, are a 11-20mm Tokina, Canon 100mm macro, Canon 300 and (soon) Sigma 150-600. 

My #1 lens is the Canon 100-400mm for my 7D. The quality and reach are great and it gives me a lot of exercise due to its size and weight. {Great conversations though, like walking a special dog.}  I have to take a lot of pictures due to hand-lens movement at more extreme telephoto, especially with HDR.  

#2 18-135 STM. Great overall lens.

#3 10-22 s.  For those really special landscapes, rooms full of people, closeups, special effects, etc.  

If I'll be in a wide variety of situations then I'll bring 2 cameras, having one in the bag.

The section on "sports and wildlife" only really discussed sports. What are the recommendations specific to wildlife photography?

Naturally I can't speak for the author but, for me, a prime at whatever focal lengh is appropriate for the subjects/circumstances you shoot most often and a long zoom for everything else. The specifics depend on your budget and system.

I shoot both sports and wildlife.  Mostly I use the same lenses for both.  24-70 for wide stuff and creating panoramas from multiple images.  70-200 for close up, (lions walking close to vehicles, players close to a sideline in sports, etc.),  and then a long lens (the one I would use the most) depends on the situation.  Shooting wildlife in good light, and sports like surfing and surf lifesaving where I need distance then I mostly use a 600mm F4.  If its wildlife in low light or reasonable close sports from the sidelines like football, soccer, rugby, athletics, etc, then its the 400mm 2.8.  I have a LOT of lenses (everything from fisheye to 600mm both zoom and prime) and I generally find for both sports and wildlife if I have a 24-70, 70-200 and either the 400 or 600, then I have pretty much everything covered.  Yes I use a speciality lens (fisheye, 14-24, 85 F1.8 etc.) for specific shots, but gone are the days when I would take 10 or 12 lenses and 2 teleconverters on wildlife trips to Africa and only use 3 or 4 lenses.  Now I know to only take 4 lens even if travelling for a month. With the right lenses, they work fine for me for wildlife or sports.

Hi Sandy,

Sports and wildlife are very similar. But I have to agree with Pat, a nice long prime that is best suited to your subject matter and a zoom for added versatility.

I shoot Formula1 and the following combination has never let me down - Prime Lens Canon 200 F2.8 L series, 1.4x and 2.0x Extenders (with my Canon D7 mk 2  gives me 320mm @ F2.8, 450mm @ F4.0 and 650mm @ F5.6 all with Auto focus) For Pit lane and general  shots I use my 28-135 Canon Zoom. Given the light weight compaired to the large Primes it is a "No Brainer" See "formula1.bz" for results.

I have to say, I picked up the Sigma 18-35 mm f1.8 and the Nikon 50 mm f1.8 prime and found this a great combo for day to day and portraits and family shots respectively. I don't do much telephoto, but keep my 55-200 mm kit lens for such occasion. 

I am tempted by the Sigma 50-100 mm for APS-C cameras as I am on a Nikon D3300 but have heard such bad things about focus issues, including missing focus both back and front focus messing up entire shoots, it's caused me a lot of hesitation before buying...any thoughts?

Sigma has focus problems to sure. I returned 2 85 art lenses for this exact reason. Very bad quality control. Same issue with my 35, 50. 

My brand new sigma 150-600mm zoom lens (with my camera) had to be sent back to sigma in New York for calibration.  Apparently they do not calibrate these lenses in the factory.  However, now it is working great.

Hi Alan,

I actually reviewed the 50-100mm here if you would like to read that. One issue I have had with most Sigma lenses I have tried is with focus adjustment. All of them have required AF microadjustment in order to guarantee lock on, but optically the Art series has been very good.

Hello I am Looking for Cannon EOS Lens from 19-20mm to 200 mm? any Ideas which one and is there one on market? 

I found this one Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens (White Box) but will it fit and work with my Cannon D40 EOS? 

Hi Jeff,

The EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens will work great with your 40D.

Hi Jeff,

If you are looking for one range to cover that entire range there are only a few options. For full-frame cameras you can get the Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD or Canon's own EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM. For APS-C there is the Tamron 16-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO and the Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM Contemporary.

Personally, I would recommend two separate lenses to cover that range. Such as the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM and EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM.

Shawn thanks But my cannon 600 ex-rt flash only goes to 200mm ?

The 200mm max of your flash has to do with the coverage provided by the flash head. While the power will likely be a little diminished, a lens of greater than 200mm will work just fine with a flash that maxes out at 200mm. It is basically just zooming into the circle of light created by the flash unit.

The 18-135mm you mentioned is likely the best choice for you, but the other options are still open to you if you choose to go that route. Hope this helps!

I picked up one of the Tamron 16-300 for just this purpose. 

Originally I was very happy with the lens but I have just discovered a hair inside the first element

Unfortunately the 6 year warranty does not cover this and having used Canon lenses for over 10 years without this kind of thing happening so needless to say, I would not recommend the Tamron

Sorry to hear about the hair behind the front element.  Here are some suggestions.

1.  See if it is really a problem.  Shoot a photo of clear sky at the smallest aperture, and manual focus set several places and see if the hair is visible.  If not, just pretend the hair is not there.

2.  Try to get the hair out of the field of view.  You might try a makeshift centrifuge to see if you can coax the hair to the edge.    95 RPM with a 0.5 meter radius will inflict 5 G.  You will need reasonable mechanical skills to get the system blanced, make sure everyting is securely held in place, etc.  Try it on a potato before you try it on a real lens :-). 

3.  Read the Tamron warrany for yourself.  I did and the closest exemption I see is "normal wear and tear".  Contact Tamron and ask. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

You can't have everything, and lenses of this kind of focal length range will compromise on (at least) sharpness.  It might be sharp at one end, but mostly likely not the other.  There might be other problems as well.  Read lens reviews to find out.  You'd be much better served with 2 lenses: something like a 24-70 or -105 and a 70-200.  Yes, it'll be more expensive monetarily, but if you're serious about your images, having good glass is the only way to go. 

What about the cityscape photographer that's  like a mix between street and landscape. I was I have a 24L,35L 50L and 70-200 2.8 just don't know which to get the 16-35 or the 14mm. 

16-35mm is great! Although when I use mine and review my shots, they typically tend to be in the 16-20mm range...so the wide range! I would say if it's more cost effective, go for the 14mm and get good with a limited prime. Since you have 3 primes already it sounds like you'd be pretty crafty with the 14mm. Another note, you have a 24mm and a 35mm prime, a 16-35mm would be pointless in my opinion, unless you buy it for travelling convenience.

Hi Sean,

This is a good question. For day-to-day use I would likely say carrying the 16-35mm and the 50L would be the best bet. But the 14mm is better optically, so if you can stick with primes I would say  the 14mm is likely a better choice. The 16-35mm is a superb lens too, so I wouldn't pass it up if you want a versatile zoom. I would just pick based on what you prioritze, maximizing IQ or the convenience of the zoom.

How about a suggestion for pet photography? I'm thinking a 35mm for close up shots and perhaps 135mm prime or 70-200mm zoom for shooting from a distance. 

Hi Louis,

I would say that you could apply the portrait photography ideas to pet photography, since it is trying to accomplish the same general look. My personal go to is a 35mm and a 85-90ish (sometimes an 85mm f/1.4 other times a 90mm Macro). But if you want more versatility I would possibly lean towards a 70-200mm f/2.8, unless you dead set love the look of 135mm.

Close

Close

Close