The lens market is a minefield, especially for those new to the game, and it can be pretty scary; however, it doesn’t have to be. So, calm down, breathe and follow this guide to see which way you should turn when buying your first prime lenses.
As a new photographer, you might wonder about the fuss surrounding prime lenses. On the face of things, primes might not seem as good as zoom lenses because they appear to lose out regarding versatility. Sure, zooms are great, and they can help make creating shots easier. However, prime lenses will challenge you and push you to become a better photographer quickly because they will make you move around and inspect a scene more than a zoom would.
There are many other benefits to prime lenses compared to zooms too. Because prime lenses are more straightforward in optical design, primes are often much sharper than zoom lenses. Prime lenses are also faster when acquiring focus because there’s not an obscene amount of glass for the focus motors to push and pull around. Primes often have much faster apertures than zooms, and for the most part, primes are just easier to manage due to their size and weight.
So, below, we’ll talk about affordable why should look into buying primes in the most popular focal lengths (24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm), and we’ll link to the lens options we highly recommend for most of the popular brands of mirrorless cameras.
24mm prime lenses — Great for wide scenes
If you like to use your kit lens (the lens that came with your camera) on the wide end, you’ll enjoy 24mm primes lenses. These prime lenses are small and lightweight. They also have incredibly sharp optics, which makes them great for genres like documentary photography, architecture, landscapes, cityscapes, environmental portraits and more. Thanks to the fast apertures of these lenses, you can even use them for astrophotography. They’re a handy lens to have on hand.
- Sony E mount — Tamron 24mm f/2.8 Di III OSD: Small, light, weather sealed and has excellent optics or under $200! Read our full review.
- M/43 — Olympus 12mm f/2 (24mm equivalent): Small (just 2.2 inches), all metal build, bitingly sharp and fast to focus. It’s perfect for Micro Four Thirds shooters.
- Nikon Z — VILTROX 24mm f/1.8 Z. Full autofocus compatibility, bright f/1.8 aperture, nicely constructed and under $450.
- L Mount — Sigma 24mm f/3.5 DG DN: All metal, an aperture dial, incredibly sharp optics, some weather sealing (available for E mount too). See our full review.
- Fujifilm X — Fujifilm 16mm f/2.8 R WR (24mm equivalent): Weather sealed, vintage styling with aperture dial, fast and quiet autofocus, under $400! It’s a steal!
35mm primes — Perfect for everyday photography
Do you want one lens that will let you do it all? Then a 35mm prime will be a good choice for you. 35mm prime lenses are incredibly versatile and can be used for landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, events, weddings, documentary photography and more.
They’re also the perfect lens to use for everyday photography. You can photograph virtually anything with a 35mm prime. These lenses are typically small and light and offer bright maximum apertures, which makes them ideal for low-light photography or for when you want to play with a thin depth of field. The options below are razor-sharp, well-made, and they focus fast.
- Sony E mount — Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD: It’s fully weather sealed, has excellent optics and is a fast focuser! Read our full review.
- M4/3 — Olympus 17mm f/1.8 (34mm equivalent): This lens is a beauty. It’s tiny, a fast focuser; it’s crazy sharp and can focus as close as 9.8 inches.
- Nikon Z — Nikon Z 35mm f/1.8 S: This lens is pricier, but hard to beat. It’s well made, it’s weather sealed and offers extreme sharpness. Read our full review.
- Canon RF — Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro: This lens is a gem. It’s sharp, has macro capabilities, fast/silent focusing, and is under $400! Read our review.
- L mount — Sigma 35mm f/2 DG DN: The 35mm f/2 DG DN offers some weather sealing, has brilliant optics and is fun to use. Read our full review.
- Fujifilm X — 23mm f/2 R WR (35mm equivalent): The lens is weather sealed, has the gorgeous Fujifilm retro style, has fast autofocus motors and creates nice bokeh.
50mm primes — A nice natural field of view
A good nifty fifty should be in every photographer’s arsenal because they offer a natural field of view. What we see with a 50mm prime is roughly what we see with our own eyes. So they’re great for street photography, portraits and beyond. Like the other primes listed, these lenses are extremely sharp, offer bright maximum apertures, and you can create some beautiful bokeh with them because of the extra compression. On top of this, 50mm primes are some of the most affordable lenses available.
- Sony E mount — Rokinon 50mm f/1.4: This lens is a stunner. It has fast autofocus motors and great optics. Colors and bokeh rendered with this $450 lens will amaze.
- M4/3 — Panasonic Lumix 25mm, f/1.7: Small (2 inches long), it’s light (0.31lbs), has a bright aperture and its lighting quick when focusing. It’s under $150!
- Nikon Z — Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S: I love this lens. It’s everything a nifty fifty should be and then some. Read all about it in our full review. Oh, it’s under $650!
- Canon RF — RF 50mm f/1.8 STM: This cracker of a lens is under $200. It’s one of my favorite mirrorless nifty fifties. So much fun! Read our full review.
- L mount — Panasonic 50mm f/1.8 S: This lens is sharp, light, fast, well made and affordable (under $450)! What more could you need? Read our review.
- Fujifilm X — XF35mm f/2 R WR (50mm equivalent): This lens looks stunning, creates gorgeous images and costs less than $400.
85mm prime lenses — Take portraits to the next level
Do you want to take your portrait photography to the next level? If so, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the 85mm prime lenses listed below. 85mm primes are perfect for portraits because they create just enough compression to give your subjects flattering facial features. You can easily create gorgeous head and shoulder headshots with tons of subject separation (bokeh).
- Sony E mount — Sony 85mm f/1.8: One of the best bang-for-your-buck portrait lenses on the market! You couldn’t ask for more at this price (under $600)
- M4/3 — Panasonic 42.5MM, f/1.7: This Panasonic lens is sharp, contrasty, creates gorgeous bokeh and costs under $400!
- Nikon Z — Nikon Z 85mm f/1.8 S: This 85mm prime is brilliant. It’s one of the best budget portrait lenses on any mirrorless platform. Read our full review.
- Canon RF — Canon RF 85mm f/2: This budget portrait option doubles as a macro lens, is sharp, contrasty, and crates nice bokeh.
- L mount — Panasonic Lumix 85mm f/1.8 S: This lens is tack sharp, renders gorgeous colors, is a fast autofocuser and costs under $600. Read our full review here.
- Fujifilm X — Viltrox 56mm F1.4 f XF (84mm equivalent): This lens has great autofocus performance, great optics, a bright f/1.4 aperture, and costs under $350!