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November 11th 2011 8:22 pm

If you could only use one lens with your DSLR, what would it be?

People have very different opinions on what the best all around lens is for a DSLR. What do you think? What lens would you choose if you could only have one?

For myself, I'd go with a 50mm prime (80mm prime when converted to full frame), or Canon's 24-105mm L lens that I wish I owned (­/canon­/ef­/24­-105mm­/f4l­-is­-usm/). I like using fixed focal lengths because it takes more thought and effort to compose a shot. Obviously using a zoom gives you a lot of added flexibility but I get most everything I need out of an old Canon 50mm f/2.5 (­/canon­/ef­/50mm­/f25­-macro/) that I have.
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brett's pick

I have the Canon 24 - 105, and it is a great general purpose lens. However, it is not a great indoor lens - even if you are handy at using a single handheld flash and shooting the camera one-handed. The 24mm - 70mm f/2.8L is probably the better choice for most of us (or the EF-S 17-55mm if you are shooting with an APS-C sensor).

A fast 50mm is on my short list of lenses, but I learned some lessons when I was shooting landscapes with a 20mm prime that may or may not be useful:
  1. While it is true that a prime will force you into more purposeful shots, it is also true that there are going to be times where you just can't get to where the ideal shot should be taken from with a prime. A zoom gives you more locations from which you can take that shot.
  2. Serendipity strikes suddenly. You have a better chance of capturing a unique moment if you don't have to navigate a crowd or the terrain to get into the right position. You may not have the time! Again, a zoom increases the odds that you are in a "good enough" position to capture the moment.
  3. At least in Canon's lens lineup, you are generally not sacrificing image quality versus a prime lens by going with an L-series zoom lens. In the case of the wide angle primes (24mm and down) and in my opinion, you are actually sacrificing image quality if you are not using the 17-40mm f/4L or the even better 16-35mm f/2.8L. Obviously, the same can not be said regarding the 50mm primes and the general purpose zooms; and, in most instances, you are giving up low light performance; but maybe not as much as one might imagine if vignetting is a concern
For shooting indoor events involving friends and family, I can see the value of an f/1.2 or f/1.4 50mm. However, if I wanted to branch out to sporting events or wildlife photography, that 50mm lens might take a backseat to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS USM.
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brett's pick

That's a tough question.

My two favorite lenses are my 10-22mm and my 50mm f/1.8.

Right now I am leaning towards the 10-22mm. While the extreme wideness can cause distortion, when zoomed in that pretty much disappears. The reason I'm leaning towards this one is that the glass quality is far superior to the 50mm that I have so the colors and sharpness are noticeably better. It would also give me more freedom in a variety of situations.

Now... if I had the 50mm f/1.4... my answer *might* be different.
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community pick

Depends on sensor size, but assuming full-frame, no doubt it'd be 50mm f/1.4 (or faster) prime. Always such good shots.
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I have the 24-105 as well and pretty much agree with MtnSloth's excellent post. I think I'll keep it, but will be buying a shorter zoom as well in the vein of the 16-35 - but if I had to have one lens on either full or APS-C sensor I'd probably stick with a shorter zoom in the 16-24mm to 80mm max effective range with a "wide enough" aperture (i.e. sub-F3).

I don't have to throw everything out of focus so I don't feel the need to go for the absolute fastest lens with the loss of versatility involved.

I also got the other end of the spectrum recently, a Tamron 18-270 and as expected, it's probably a compromise too far. In theory it's a great all-in-one zoom lens, and I got it to see how it - plugged into a 60D - squared off against compact-sensor superzooms. Physically it's relatively easy to handle, but the optical performance is even with relatively little use so far mediocre at both ends in comparison to other lenses you could buy and it's functional performance is also equally mediocre. Not sure if something like the Canon 18-200 would fare any better but I think the overall behaviour would present issues if you were trying to use this as a true do-it-all.

So if I had to have one lens on a DSLR, I'd have a short, bright zoom with respected image quality. Then I'd cheat and get a superzoom to cover the rest of the focal range and a compact APS-C on which I can do my background throwings-out to my heart's content.

In fact, the Leica X1 for example positively *insists* on throwing the background out of focus in full auto even if I don't want it to. You'd love it, ryan ;) :p
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In terms of my current owned lenses, my everyday lens is a 35mm f/1.4; i don't really take many zoomed in shots. It's mostly for carrying around when I'm out and about with friends and family. It's slightly wider than a 50mm, so for my use I find it more useful since I can get more in the shot. I think it's often easier to simply walk forward than to walk back (think narrow streets and busy environments). I considered this and the 24mm, but as I already own a 14-24mm zoom, I felt that getting the 35mm for carrying around is a smart choice. The low light performance is of course excellent, with good DoP. It's my favorite lens at the moment.

So my pick—Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G
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I think I'd also go with my 35mm on the Nikon. I have the f/1.8 however which I guess has the advantage of being smaller and cheaper. As a normal on the APS-C size it is my most used lens. It takes me back to having a AE-1 with a 50mm. If I went full frame I'd want the 50mm f/1.4.
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It really depends on what you shoot. Indoor basketball games benefit from a fast prime lens: 50mm f/1.4 is a great lens. If you can afford a 50mm f/1.2, it will provide more opportunities for great shots. If you're shooting outdoor landscape shots at dusk, you may want a lens that provides the zoom factor you often use. I don't shoot outdoor landscape shots at dusk, so I don't have the experience to recommend any particular lens. Ask individuals who have similar photographic passions.
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