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What to Look For in a DSLR Lens in 2022

Mirrorless cameras may be all the rage, but DSLRs still hold their own on the photography front. If you’re not ready to switch to mirrorless, don’t want to, or it’s just too expensive right now, the DSLR’s long history means there’s a robust market for quality glass. So how do you choose the best DLSR lens for you?

Two important factors to start with when choosing a lens are what you shoot and what your budget is. If your budget isn’t very high, you can still invest in a quality multipurpose lens that can cover different areas. A good 50mm lens, for example, can shoot portraits, street photography, and be used at events.

From there, think about what conditions you shoot in. People who shoot indoors where there isn’t much ambient light, or portrait photographers looking for a nice blurry background, will want to invest in lenses with a wider maximum aperture like 1.8, 1.4, or even 1.2.

This allows more light into the lens, which saves you from cranking your ISO up too high. For that same reason, you can shoot at higher shutter speeds in low-light conditions with a wide aperture lens.

Don’t neglect build quality, either. Look for lenses that are sturdily built and, if possible, weather sealed. Wildlife and outdoor photographers especially will want glass that can stand up to dirt and moisture without needing expensive repairs. Ultra-cheap lenses may seem like a good deal on the surface but are usually inexpensive because it’s made of plastic and will easily break.

That’s not to say that cheap lenses are bad. Used and refurbished lenses, or lenses that don’t have quite as wide an aperture, can be a good deal and still work remarkably well. A lens with a max aperture of f/1.8, for example, is almost always cheaper than one with a max aperture of f/1.4 but will still provide a wonderful background blur.

Any experienced photographer will tell you that the part of your kit worth investing in is your lenses. Camera bodies get upgraded fairly often, but a good lens properly maintained can last you a decade.

Given their importance and lifespan, most of the lenses on this list are on the pricier side, but they’re among the best available—some haven’t needed a design update since 2010. That said, we know they won’t be within everyone’s budget. We’ll provide less expensive alternatives to some of the options below that work almost as well. We recommend buying the best you can afford at the moment.

Best DSLR Wide-Angle Lens: Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR on green and blue background
Nikon

Pros

  • Wide angle captures cityscapes, interiors, or wide environmental portraits
  • Very sharp images
  • Compatible with full-frame and crop sensor camera bodies
  • Fast max aperture of f/1.4

Cons

  • Still pretty expensive if you buy new
  • Not as much of a multipurpose lens as a 35mm or 50mm

Touted as “the best wide angle lens in the world” for a reason, Nikon’s NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4 lens creates a sharp image to the corners, even wide open at f/1.4. Low barrel distortion also means less correction time in post.

While designed for Nikon’s full-frame FX mount, this lens also works with crop-sensor Nikon cameras to provide a roughly 35mm focal length equivalent. If you’re currently shooting a crop sensor Nikon and plan to upgrade to a full-frame DSLR, this will be a smart investment.

This lens is great for real estate and architectural photographers who typically need a wide angle of view. But wedding and portrait photographers looking for more creative angles or to get more of the scene will find a lot to love here, too.

The NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4 is big and has a hefty price tag, but the image quality is worth it—and this lens has been around long enough that you can probably find a sweet deal on a used copy in good shape.

Best DSLR Wide Angle Lens

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED

A high-end wide angle prime from Nikon that's perfect for architectural shots and environmental portraits.

Best DSLR Ultra-Wide Angle Lens: Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM

Sigma 14-24mm F28 DG HSM on purple background
Sigma

Pros

  • Max aperture of f/2.8
  • Variable wide angles of view
  • Solidly built and weather sealed

Cons

  • Bigger and heavier than some brand name lenses

Regardless of what brand you shoot, the Sigma Art series is a solid choice for anyone looking for high-quality glass when that brand’s lenses are our of reach. The company’s 14-24mm F2.8 lens has a fairly wide max aperture, and the zoom range makes this a good lens for real estate and architectural photographers who need to get an entire room or building into the shot.

While some third-party lenses have a bad rap for looking or feeling cheap, the Sigma Art series isn’t one of them. This lens is built strong, weather-sealed, and the glass elements have a high-end fluorite coating to help protect them and prevent ghosting or flaring.

Despite the wide max angle, there’s almost no distortion, and the images are high-quality and sharp. And at f/2.8, it’s got a wider max aperture than Canon’s equivalent, which only goes to f/4.

Just make sure you have room in your camera bag for this lens, as the 14-24mm F2.8 is both bigger and heavier than its equivalent from other brands.

Best DSLR Ultra Wide Angle Lens

Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM

This ultra wide angle Sigma Art lens feels solid and produces great images on par with brand name offerings.

Best DSLR Telephoto Lens: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM

Canon EF 70-300mm on pink and yellow background
Canon

Pros

  • Wide zoom range captures a variety of focal lengths
  • Comes with four-stop image stabilization
  • Decent aperture range for a standard telephoto
  • Super affordable

Cons

  • Large and heavy

Canon’s EF 70-300mm standard zoom lens is fairly priced for what you get. This telephoto lens has impressive image stabilization and provides sharp images across the zoom spectrum. Designed for crop sensors, this lens can be used as a budget full-frame zoom in a pinch and even includes an on-barrel screen to cycle through different modes.

The aperture range of f/4-5.6 is standard for this type of zoom, and while not as wide as an f/2.8 lens, you’re still getting a lot for your money. Autofocus is fast, and image stabilization claims to cover up to four stops.

While this Canon lens is not an ultra-professional high-end telephoto, it’s still a good budget option for wildlife and sports shooting.

Best DSLR Telephoto Lens

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM

Canon's 70-300 telephoto lens is a nice budget option for those looking to get closer to the action.

Best DSLR Lens for Street Photography: Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G

Nikon AF FX NIKKOR on blue background
Nikon

Pros

  • Relatively compact Large max aperture
  • Large max aperture
  • High-quality construction
  • Wider field of view without distortion

Cons

  • High price tag

35mm is largely agreed upon as one of the best focal lengths for street photographers, and Nikon’s 35mm f/1.4G is considered one of the best 35mm lenses out there. Fast autofocus on full-frame Nikon DSLR bodies, sharp images, and a wide max aperture make this DSLR lens a very versatile and relatively compact lens to take to the street.

The f/1.4 aperture allows for handheld shooting in dimmer light, which is particularly important for changing situations on the street. In addition, the 35mm field of view can capture more of the environment, resulting in some cinematic street scenes or portraits when used creatively.

While the Nikon lens is a bit older, it’s still on the expensive side. If you don’t have the cash for this particular 35mm, the Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4 is a great alternative at around half the price.

Best DSLR Lens for Street Photography

Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G

One of Nikon's best, this 35mm lens produces great images on the street or anywhere else.

Best DSLR Portrait Lens: Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Canon EF 85mm on orange background
Canon

Pros

  • Super high-quality glass
  • Wide max aperture
  • Image stabilization
  • Superior build quality

Cons

  • Very expensive

While portraits can be shot on a variety of focal lengths, the combination of compression and bokeh (blurred background) you get from a wide-aperture 85mm means a lot of portrait shooters prefer it. This lens isn’t the latest 85mm from Canon, but the 85mm f/1.4L has better build quality and sharper images at the max aperture of 1.4 than the newer 85mm f/1.2. Most notably, the f/1.4 is weather sealed while the f/1.2 is not.

Canon’s 85mm f/1.4 lens also has a shock-absorbing barrel and image stabilization, which make it among the best pieces of glass out there for handheld portrait shooting on a DSLR when combined with its f/1.4 aperture.

Buttery smooth bokeh and good ergonomics make it a prime lens any Canon photographer would be proud to add to their kit. Too pricey for your current budget? Sigma has an 85mm f/1.4 lens in its Art line that’s also very strong.

Best DSLR Portrait Lens

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Canon's 85mm f/1.4L lens provides just the right amount of compression and bokeh for beautiful, tack-sharp portraits.

Best DSLR Macro Lens: Irix 150mm f/2.8 Macro 1:1 Dragonfly

Irix 150mm on pink background
Iris

Pros

  • Great value for the price
  • Sharp images
  • Wide max aperture
  • Weather sealing
  • Compatible with major manufacturers

Cons

  • Manual focus only

The 150mm f/2.8 Macro is an affordable and quality macro lens from third-party manufacturer Irix. Compatible with multiple major camera manufacturers, it’s also weather sealed, which you don’t usually see with lenses in this price range. It also gets very sharp images and has a nice wide 2.8 aperture for blurring out the background.

The compression from such a long focal length can also separate your subject from the background, meaning the Dragonfly can be used as a portrait lens for close-up studio images.

While designed for Canon and Nikon DSLRs, the Dragonfly will also work on Canon’s mirrorless R system with an EF to RF adapter. All in all, the 150mm f/2.8 Macro is an excellent lens for photographers wanting to explore macro.

But there is one caveat—this lens is manual focus only. That doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate, but it will be slower to dial in the shot.

Best DSLR Macro Lens

Irix 150mm f/2.8 Macro 1:1 Dragonfly

Irix's Drangonfly lens offers rugged build quality and sharp closeups at an affordable price.

The Best DSLR Cameras of 2022

Best DSLR Camera Overall
Nikon D850
Best Budget DSLR Camera
Canon 6D MKII
Best DSLR Camera for Video
Nikon D780
Best DSLR Camera for Travel
Canon 6D MKII
Profile Photo for John BognaJohn Bogna
John is a freelance writer and photographer based in Houston, Texas. His ten-year background spans topics from tech to culture and includes work for the Seattle Times, the Houston Press, Medium's OneZero, WebMD, and MailChimp. Before moving to The Bayou City, John earned a B.A. in Journalism from CSU Long Beach.
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