Your Second Lens

How to Choose Your Second Lens!

What's the next lens you should get for your digital SLR?

(It depends on which one you start with - and your picture-taking priorities)

By Jason Schneider and Dave Etchells
Date Posted: 8/6/07
Updated: 8/8/07

Without question, the crowning glory of the digital SLR (DSLR) is the ability to change lenses instantly. This signature feature provides unparalleled optical flexibility, allowing you to pick the precise type of lens that best suits your subject and shooting style - from ultra-wide angle to super-telephoto and everything in between. Indeed, lens interchangeability, along with instant responsiveness and "what you see is what you get" through-the-lens viewing are the key features that have made the DSLR the hot ticket for everyone from serious photographers and pros to sophisticated snapshooters seeking better picture quality. However, getting the most out of your DSLR means choosing the right lenses; and picking your second lens is perhaps the most crucial decision of all. The aim of this article is to help you make that decision wisely and well.

Tech Note: What's an Image Circle?

We've tried to keep the jargon to a minimum, but if you plan to step up to a full-frame DSLR (one with an image sensor the same size as a 35mm film frame), you should be aware of the concept of "image circle." This refers to the sensor or film size that a given lens can cover. Many lenses are now being made to take advantage of the smaller sensors in digital SLRs. The advantage is reduced weight, cost, and bulk. If you tried to use one of these lenses on a film-based SLR or a digital one with a full-frame sensor, you'd find a usable image only in the middle of the picture area. For 90+% of the readers of this page, this isn't likely to be an issue, as the cost and size benefits of smaller sensors make it unlikely that the bulk of pure "consumer" DSLRs will ever become dominated by models with full-frame sensors. On the other hand, if you think it likely that you'll someday step up to the lofty realm of full-frame cameras, you should focus on lenses listed as having 35mm image circles.

Most digital SLRs on the market today have "APS-C" size sensors, which means that they have sensors between 1.5x and 1.6x smaller than 35mm film frames. A few models (currently offered only by Olympus and Panasonic) use a different system, called "Four Thirds," which uses sensors half the size of a 35mm frame.

Tech Note: What are IS and VR?

These are two major commercial abbreviations for what amount to the same thing, namely Optical Image Stabilization. Canon apparently copyrighted the term "Image Stabilization" early on, so you'll see their lenses of this type referred to with an "IS" in the model number. Nikon calls their version of this technology "Vibration Reduction," or VR for short. Regardless what you call the technology, IS lenses contain active elements that actually compensate for camera shake on long exposures. The amount of improvement varies depending somewhat on the vintage of the lens, but even the oldest image-stabilized lenses will let you capture sharp photos two f-stops slower (that is, at 1/4 the shutter speed) than you'd be able to hand-hold otherwise. Image Stabilization is an incredible technology, one that pays real dividends in sharp photos that would otherwise have been blurred messes. It's not cheap though: Whether you call it IS or VR, it typically adds several hundred dollars onto a lens' price when compared with a non-IS model.

Remember us when it's time to buy!

Once you settle on a lens you'd like to purchase, we'd greatly appreciate it if you'd use our comparison-shopping links or one of our affiliate links to B&H Photo to make your purchases. Every time you click on a vendor link in one of the comparison-shopping lists, SLRgear gets a few cents. It's not a lot each time, but even a modest percentage of our readers regularly using these links would be a big help in paying for the lens testing and running of this site.

The direct links to B&H are an even bigger help, because B&H actually pays a commission of a couple of percent on orders placed by our readers, using those links. We've been B&H customers for years now, even before we had our current relationship, so we're particularly happy to have them as an affiliate. They have fair prices, superb customer service, and never an up-sell hassle; they're the true class act of the mail-order photo world.

A few notes before we begin

In the following, we'll try to stay as generic as possible, so lens focal lengths and apertures mentioned in our discussion of various categories may not refer to specific models by any given manufacturer. Or rather, they may happen to match a specific maker's lens, but our use of the specifics isn't meant as an endorsement of a particular optic. Instead, we're trying to represent the typical characteristics of a type of lens.

Where we do get specific is in the tables showing lenses by various manufacturers that fall under each category. Here, we've restricted our examples to those which we've either tested ourselves, or which have well-established reputations among our readers. For this reason, we have lots of examples of lenses from the major players of Canon, Nikon, Sigma, and Tamron. This doesn't mean that Pentax, Sony, Tokina, or Olympus don't make good lenses, just that we haven't had the direct experience or sufficient feedback from our readers to provide useful guidance in making your purchase decisions.

In the tables of lenses under each category, the links will take you to the pages on SLRgear.com for each lens depicted. As an aid to comparing different lenses to each other, we've made all the links open in separate windows. Prices shown are meant to give some idea of typical online selling prices, but there'll obviously be a range of variation between merchants. We've used the "~" symbol to indicate that the prices are approximate. A double symbol ("~~") means there's a wide range of pricing, so the listed value is only very approximate.

OK, with all the preliminaries out of the way, let's talk about your next lens...

Your first lens sets the stage

By far the most popular first lens bought with a DSLR is a short zoom lens (sometimes called a "standard" zoom) such as the roughly 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lenses offered by Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and others as standard with their DSLR starter outfits and kits. The 18-55mm, which is equivalent to a 28-85mm lens on a film camera, provides decent wide-angle to medium telephoto coverage and a 3:1 tele-to-wide zoom ratio. Compact, lightweight, and inexpensive, the 18-55mm is a great starter lens for general photography that lets you enter the wonderful world of DSLR photography without breaking the bank. However, you can increase your telephoto reach for relatively little additional cost by opting for an 18-70mm lens (equivalent to a 28-105mm) lens as your first lens instead. Some manufacturers (notably Nikon) offer such lenses as an alternative "kit" lens upgrade, other brands may require you to go the third-party route to get the longer focal length and broader zoom range.

Alternative "first lens" choices

Long-ratio "Super Zooms"
Other intriguing "first lens"possibilities include selecting a long-range "universal zoom" such as an 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 (28-300mm equivalent) in lieu of the usual short zoom that comes with the kit. No, an 11:1 zoom can't do absolutely everything (you generally give up a good measure of sharpness and must accept a smaller maximum aperture to get such a long zoom range), but it's a fantastic choice for hiking a nature trail or walking around the zoo where you want a compact one-lens outfit to cover as many picture-taking possibilities as you're likely to encounter. And an 18-200mm is also a great choice for folks who want to get all the other advantages of using a DSLR without having to change lenses! It's a great way to reduce the likelihood of getting dust on the sensor.

Long-Ratio Zoom Lenses
Lens/Comments Image
Circle
Approx.
Price
Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX VR (Tested)
Somewhat better image quality than third-party competitors, plus image stabilization (VR="Vibration Reduction"). Considerably higher price than third-party models though.
APS-C ~$950
Olympus 18-180mm f/3.5-6.3 Zuiko Digital
Not tested, but good reader reviews, and moderately priced. (Only for Olympus and Panasonic "Four-Thirds" format cameras.)
Four
Thirds
~$450
Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC (Tested) Good quality for a third-party ultra-zoom, images improve a fair bit when stopped down, attractively priced APS-C ~~$350
Sigma 18-125mm f/3.5-5.6 DC (Tested) (Digital SLRs only. Shorter zoom range gives better optical quality and a lower price point. APS-C ~~$250
Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di II LD Aspherical IF AF (Tested) This was Tamron's first digital-specific super-zoom. It's not bad as super-zooms go, but does show the limitations of trying to make one lens cover all the bases. We mention it because it's a popular lens our readers will likely hear of, but we feel the 18-250mm below is a better choice. APS-C

~~$370

Tamron 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II LD Aspherical IF Macro AF (Tested) Announced in early Fall, 2006, finally shipping in early 2007. Tamron's engineers really made strides with this lens. It still suffers the unavoidable compromises inherent in a super-zoom design, but does surprisingly well. Based on our testing, it looks like a leader in the super-zoom category. APS-C ~~$460


Great for the Great Indoors (or any available-light shooting): Short/Fast Zooms
Another fascinating first lens for photographers who want to shoot natural looking non-flash pictures in low light is a fast, short zoom like a 17-50mm f/2.8. This type of lens, roughly equal to a 27-80mm on a film SLR, offers the superior light-gathering ability of a wide f/2.8 aperture at all focal lengths—great for street photography and indoor "available light"shooting. This is the ideal lens, if you've been frustrated with too-slow shutter speeds when trying to take photos indoors. It's also great for indoor photography, where you need a wide angle to take in the entire room.

Short/Fast Zoom Lenses
Lens/Comments Image
Circle
Approx.
Price
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM (Tested)
Exceptional image quality, but not a cheap lens. Sub-frame image circle, so use only with digital models, not film-based SLRs. Pricey.
APS-C ~$950
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM (Tested)
Excellent image quality, slightly less expensive, works on film-based cameras as well as digital. Not as "fast" (smaller max aperture) than the 17-55mm f/2.8 above. Pricey, but less so than the 17-55mm.
35 mm ~$450
Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S DX Nikkor (Tested)
Another "really excellent, but at a price" lens. Excellent sharpness, fast f/2.8 aperture. Digital SLRs only. Distortion and chromatic aberration a tad high at the very edges, but most of the frame is quite good. Pricey, but worth it if you need a well-built, fast zoom.
APS-C ~$1,200
Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko Digital
Not tested, but good reader reviews. Not quite as fast as others in this list, as max aperture drops to f/3.5 at 54mm, but reasonably priced.
Four
Thirds
~$450
Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC
Digital SLRs only. Not tested, but good to excellent reader ratings, and quite attractively priced.
APS-C ~~$400
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II LD Aspherical IF SP AF (Tested)
Really excellent optically, one of the better bargains on the market in its focal length range.
APS-C ~$450

Neither of these two alternative first lenses is as inexpensive as a normal "kit" zoom, but in the long run either one may help you build an efficient DSLR lens arsenal at the lowest possible cost.

The wide, wide zoom: Great for small spaces and wide vistas

Do you take lots of pictures indoors—interior views, kids having fun in the family room, and groups of friends and relatives gathered around the holiday table? If so, an ultra-wide-to-wide-angle zoom like an 11-18mm, 12-34mm or 10-20mm is the perfect second lens for you. It makes it easy to get everyone in your extended family into the picture, shoot in tight spaces, and capture all the action from an intimate perspective. The equivalent of a 17-35mm optic on a film SLR, the 11-18mm is also a superb choice for shooting expansive landscape pictures and scenic vistas, and for giving a more spacious look for everything from car interiors to small rooms. That's why ultra-wide-to-wide zooms are the essential lenses for taking real estate pictures of your house for posting on the Internet, and a great choice for travelers who want to bring back memorable photos of historical landmarks.

Ultra-Wide Angle Zoom Lenses
Lens/Comments Image
Circle
Approx.
Price
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM (Tested)
Arguably the best image quality in this focal length range. Mid-priced at ~$700. If you can afford it, the best bet for ultrawide photography on the Canon platform.
APS-C ~$700
Nikon 12-24mm f/4G ED-IF AF-S DX Nikkor (Tested)
Excellent build quality, good imaging performance. Use with digital SLRs only. A little expensive at ~$900, but Nikon build quality.
APS-C ~$900
Olympus 7-14mm f/4 Zuiko Digital
Not tested, but excellent reader reviews. Sharp with extraordinarily low distortion. Pricey at $1,500, but literally nobody makes anything like it, giving a 14mm equivalent focal length on a Four-Thirds format DSLR.
Four
Thirds
~$1,500
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM (Tested)
Digital SLRs only, very small and lightweight. A good bargain in an ultrawide, with better than expected optical quality for its price of ~~$500. Really the winning bargain in the focal length range, although chromatic aberration is high at the very edges of the frame at maximum wide angle.
APS-C ~$500
Tamron 11-18mm f/4.5-5.6 Di II LD Aspherical IF SP AF (Tested)
Small & lightweight, attractively priced.
APS-C ~~$540


The super telephoto: It's for the birds…and wildlife and sports

If you like to take pictures of birds and other small, skittish woodland critters, or you're into shooting big league baseball from the bleachers or NFL or college football from the 50-yard line (or even the local grade-school soccer action from the other end of the field), there's nothing quite like a really long telephoto zoom lens such as a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 or a 200-500mm f/5-6.3. On a consumer DSLR, a 200-500mm is the equivalent of a whopping 310-775mm lens, a range that'll let you capture intimate shots of birds in a nest or close-ups of that great catch in the outfield, and that's why it makes a great second lens for these applications. This big gun is most effective on a tripod or monopod, but it's also easy to handhold, and its aperture is fast enough to let you shoot at high shutter speeds to stop action and minimize the effects of camera shake. If your DSLR has a built-in anti-shake system, your handheld shooting range with the 200-500mm is even greater.

Long Telephoto Zoom Lenses
Lens/Comments Image
Circle
Approx.
Price
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
A beast of a lens, usable on both film and digital SLRs. Not tested yet, but widely praised by our readers as sharp and fast-focusing, with users particularly commenting on its sharpness at the 400mm maximum focal length. Big and heavy, and using Canon's older ~2-stop Image Stabilization, but a fantastic optic. Excellent for sports and wildlife shooting.
35 mm ~$1,400
Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED AF VR Nikkor (Tested)
Massive lens with VR and huge 400mm maximum tele setting, although a little soft at maximum tele. Use with film and digital both. Pricey, but a great choice if you need a really long tele zoom for the Nikon platform.
35 mm ~$1,400
Tamron 200-500mm f/5-6.3 Di LD IF SP AF
Usable with both film and digital SLRs. Not tested yet, but highly prized by users for its sharpness and surprisingly light weight ("only" 1.2 kilograms, it's nonetheless a lot lighter than the Sigma 50-500mm, often called the "Bigma" for its bulk, which weighs in at an arm-bending 1.8 kg) Selling for ~$850, it's also attractively priced for a lens of its size and reach.
35 mm ~$850


The People's Choice: The short side of long

With less reach than the spectacular super telephotos, medium telephoto zooms cover a very useful range of focal lengths, in smaller, more compact packages. Medium-length telephoto zooms are far and away the most popular second lenses for new SLR owners, as they let you get close to distant subjects, often at an affordable price. The utility and huge popularity of lenses in this focal length range has led manufacturers to develop a huge range of models, at a wide range of price points. In the recommendations below, we'll try to help make some sense of the offerings by categorizing them according to their selling prices.

Mid-range tele zooms have historically had focal lengths in the 80-200 to 70-300mm range. On digital SLRs with APS-C size sensors, the latter is the 35mm equivalent of a 108-465mm lens, representing a magnification ratio relative to the 50mm "normal" focal length ranging from 2x to 9x. The far end of this range is a pretty hefty telephoto, one that you'll generally need to use on a tripod, unless the lens also incorporates image stabilization. (And even there, you'll still need fairly good lighting to avoid blurring from camera shake.) Taking into account the "crop factor" of most digital SLRs, whose smaller sensors multiply the effective focal length of any given lens, some newer mid-range zooms cover a 50-200mm range, roughly equating to the classic 70-300mm on a 35mm film camera.

Some of these lenses also focus down close enough to give a 1:2 (half life-size) macro mode, letting you get dramatic close-ups of everything from nature subjects like insects to small, detailed collectibles. The 70-300mm also provides enough reach for sports and wildlife, and its relatively light weight makes it popular with soccer moms and dads. The 70-300mm's ability to shoot close-ups from a greater distance (that is, its greater working distance) is also a real plus in all kinds of macro photography, including nature shooting.

So let's take a look at some of the offerings out there. We'll start with bargain-basement models, and then look at a few of the higher-end lenses in this focal length range.

Mid-Range Telephoto Zoom Lenses:
"Economy" models
Lens/Comments Image
Circle
Approx.
Price
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM (Tested)
Only modest image quality, but very inexpensive, and image quality improves when stopped down. A good choice for a second lens, but note that it is somewhat soft at 200mm, even when stopped down a fair bit. (This lens works on both film and digital SLRS, but was one of the first Canon models we tested, so we don't have test data on a full-frame body.)
35mm

~~$220

Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED AF-S DX Nikkor (Tested)
An inexpensive lens with a lightly-built body but good optical performance, given its price point. This makes a good second lens, in conjunction with the 18-55mm Nikkor that ships in kits with many Nikon DSLRs.
APS-C

~~$170

Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED AF-S DX VR Nikkor (Tested)
This lens is very similar to the one above, but adds Nikon's Vibration Reduction to the mix, amazing to find in a lens selling for ~$250. While it uses an older generation of Nikon's VR, it's still quite good, certainly a vast improvement over hand-holding 200mm tele shots with no VR at all.
APS-C ~$229
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro APO
We haven't tested this lens yet, but readers rate it as good at shorter focal lengths, and decent at maximum telephoto when stopped down to f/8. Priced aggressively, it could be a good choice for a budget telephoto zoom, if you can handle stopping it down when shooting at the longest focal lengths. It can also close-focus somewhat for macro shots.
35 mm ~$195
Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 AF (Tested)
Very inexpensive, selling for only ~~$180. Within its price bracket, this Tamron competes quite strongly against competing models, delivering as good or better image quality, decent build quality, all at an exceptional price.
35 mm ~~$180
Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 LD Macro 1:2 AF
This is the slightly older version of the lens above. Very inexpensive, selling for only ~~$160, but hard to find now that it's been supplanted by the newer Di version. Not tested, but readers like its low cost and light weight,but it's not as sharp as more expensive lenses in this focal length range.
35 mm ~~$160

Mid-Range Telephoto Zoom Lenses:
The Higher-Priced Spread...
Lens/Comments Image
Circle
Approx.
Price
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM (Tested)
Good image quality, and image stabilization. More expensive than an equivalent non-IS lens, but good value for what you get, particularly the IS.
35 mm ~~$600
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM (Tested)
Superior image quality, works on both film and digital SLRs. Bulky, and mid-priced, but a genuine bargain, considering the quality level.
35 mm ~~$600
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L ISUSM (Tested)
This is a truly superlative lens in Canon's lineup, with absolutely stellar optical quality and Canon's latest IS technology for a 4-stop reduction in blur from camera shake. If you don't need the f/2.8 maximum aperture of its big brother, the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, this lens will get you to the same place in terms of anti-shake, as its newer-generation IS gives a full stop better performance than that on the f/2.8 model, along with the attendant reduction in bulk, mass and cost.
35mm ~~$1,100
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM
Not tested yet, but very high reader ratings. Quite bulky and expensive, but built like the proverbial tank, with excellent image quality, and a fast f/2.8 maximum aperture.
35 mm ~$1,100
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L ISUSM (Tested)
An excellent lens by any measure, with similar optical performance to the non-IS version. Large, heavy, and expensive, but the combo of f/2.8, IS, and L-glass quality is unbeatable if you need the speed and IS capability.
35mm ~$1,700
Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8D ED AF Nikkor (Tested)
A Nikon classic: Another lens that's built like a tank (with weight to match), usable with both film and digital SLRs. Sharper at the short end than the tele side, but a rugged workhorse of a tele zoom.
35 mm ~$900
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Nikkor (Tested)
A big bopper from Nikon: Massive, tack-sharp, fast tele zoom with Vibration Reduction built in. Expensive at ~$1,600, but worth every penny if you need large aperture, VR, and tack-sharp performance.
35 mm ~$1,600
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S VR Nikkor (Tested)
It's been said that you don't always get what you paid for, and that's true: Sometimes you get more! This lens is a case in point: We figured Nikon would have had to cut some corners to make a lens like this, selling at street prices around and even below $500. When we tested it though, we were just incredibly impressed by its optical quality: It's amazingly sharp from 70-200mm, softens just a bit as you go to its maximum tele setting. CA is a tad higher than we'd like, but we're flat-out amazed to find this lens' sharpness, low shading, low distortion, and built-in VR at a street price of under $500. This is just an exceptional bargain for Nikon shooters!
35 mm ~~$500
Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko Digital
Not tested, but good reader reviews. Fairly fast maximum apertures, high-midrange price. A great choice for users of Four Thirds-format cameras.
Four
Thirds
~~$850
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM APO (Tested)
Usable for both film and digital SLRs. A little soft wide open, but extremely sharp just one stop down. A newer version of this lens delivers impressive macro capability as well, but we haven't tested it as yet. (Early December, 2006) The non-macro version is fading from the market and is now almost impossible to find, selling for ~$890. The newer macro version also sells for about $890, and has been very highly rated by users.
35 mm ~~$890


Telephoto macros: Super for close-ups and portraits

If you enjoy either taking extreme close-ups or shooting portraits, you should seriously consider choosing a macro telephoto as your second lens. When it comes to taking pro quality close-ups of flowers, coins, or nature subjects, nothing beats a single-focal-length macro optic such as a medium-tele 90mm f/2.8 or 105mm f/2.8. ("Single focal-length" just means a non-zoom lens. You'll also see such lenses referred to as "primes" by some photographers.) All of these extraordinary lenses get down to 1:1 (a life-size image on the sensor) for extreme close-ups, and provide the superb imaging performance that only a lens specifically designed for macro photography can deliver. They also have wide maximum apertures that let you focus and view with greater precision, a significant plus when shooting extreme close-ups.

Telephoto Macro Lenses
Lens/Comments Image
Circle
Approx.
Price
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM (Tested)
Large and heavy, but tack-sharp and distortion free. Priced in line with similar lenses from other manufacturers, at ~~$500.)
35 mm ~~$500
Nikon 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S VR Micro Nikkor (Tested)
Large & heavy, but sharp and distortion free. Not quite as sharp as the original (see below), but the VR (Vibration Reduction) more than makes up for this in any handheld application, and the ultrasonic motor of the AF-S series makes for much faster AF operation than the earlier model. The VR feature contributes to the somewhat high price.
35 mm ~~$850
Nikon 105mm f/2.8D AF Micro Nikkor (Tested)
This is the original version of this lens, minus the VR and ultrasonic motor of the more recent model. Tack sharp and reasonably priced at ~$660, but very hard to find as new product at retail, now that the AF-S/VR version mentioned above has supplanted it.
35 mm ~~$660
Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro (Tested)
This is a super-sharp lens, offering a little shorter working distance than the 100mm lenses. As such, it might also make a better portrait lens on a DSLR with a sub-frame sensor (see the following section Macros for Portraits)
35 mm ~~$400
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro (Tested)
Likewise tack-sharp, very good optical performance, but at a price that's $100 or more lower than competing lenses from the camera manufacturers. A great macro lens on a budget!
35 mm ~~$370
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 SP AF (Tested)
Excellent sharpness, very highly rated by readers and excellent in our own tests, also bargain-priced at ~~$460.
35 mm ~~$460


Macros for portraits? Yes, here's why!

Having a long-focal-length 90 - 105mm macro lens is really like having two lenses in one because these also make superb portrait lenses, and their wide maximum apertures allow you to use shallow depth of field (also called selective focus) to make your subjects "pop" off the background. This time-honored technique has been used by many of the great portrait photographers past and present. Employing it with a 90mm or 100mm lens is especially effective because it allows you to shoot portraits from a great enough distance to get a pleasing perspective that flatters your subjects and de-emphasizes defects such as prominent noses. Many photographers know that a 90mm f/2.8 Macro was always considered a "portrait tele" on 35mm film cameras because of its focal length, but a significant number of today's top portrait photographers are now using longer lenses like the 180 or 200mm Macros to achieve the even more dramatic portraits seen in leading magazines and portrait studios. So, if you'd like to shoot great-looking portraits, take a look at the macro lenses listed above.

One note for amateur portrait shooters though: A 100mm lens on a 1.6x crop factor camera is equivalent to a 160mm on a 35mm camera. That means shooting distances that could be hard to accommodate in a home studio. Take into consideration the space available in your studio or other shooting environments in making your portrait lens focal length decision. A 60 to 85mm lens may be preferable for shooters with typical-size home studios.


A happy medium: A fast semi-wide to moderate telephoto

Are you the type of photographer who shoots in the medium focal length range, and wants a great compact, lightweight general-purpose lens with a wide enough aperture for very bright viewing and low light shooting? A fast, semi-wide-to-moderate telephoto lens like a 28-75mm f/2.8 may be just the ticket as your second lens. Its coverage on a consumer DSLR is equal to a 44-116mm lens on a film SLR, a very useful range for reportage, street shooting, and general events coverage. That's why the 28-75mm is popular with "weekend warriors"who supplement their income shooting weddings and other events where the action is fast and the lighting isn't always predictable. This zoom ratio may not sound too impressive but the performance of the lenses listed below certainly is - which is why you'll find one of these "sleepers" in many pros' bags.

"Happy Medium" Lenses
Fast semi-wide to moderate telephotos
Lens/Comments Image
Circle
Approx.
Price
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM (Tested)
A heavy brute of a lens on a sub-frame DSLR, but arguably the best of its class by any maker. Tack sharp, low distortion, and fast AF performance make this lens a bargain, even at its ~$1,100 selling price.
35 mm ~$1,100
Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 ED-IF AF-S Nikkor
Not tested yet, but prized by owners for its tack-sharp imaging, speedy AF performance, and brick-solid build quality. (But be aware of its brick-like weight.) Pricey, but a slam-dunk if you need a fast and responsive lens for medium-wide to medium-tele work in low light.
35 mm ~$1,500
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro
Not tested yet, but well-liked by readers for its sharpness and pleasing bokeh (rendering of out of focus elements in the scene).
35 mm ~~$400
Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical IF SP AF (Tested)
A little soft wide open, but extremely sharp just one stop down. High ratings from readers, and priced to sell at ~~$370.
35 mm ~~$370


Conclusion

Obviously, there are a lot of subjective factors in choosing lenses for your DSLR, and there are really as many answers to the question "What second lens should I buy?" as there are photographic styles and working methods. The main thing to bear in mind when buying your second lens is to pick the one that works best with your first lens to extend your photographic range in a direction that includes the type of pictures you shoot most often. And remember - this is not a test, so there are no wrong answers. If you're like most photographers, there will come a time when even your first and second lens won't be able to do everything you want to achieve, and you'll think about acquiring a third and fourth lens. Hopefully we've provided enough solid info here to let you do that, too. Good shooting!