I decided that it might be beneficial to all of you photographers out there, for me to write an article about what I would do as a professional photographer if I had certain budgets to spend on lenses. I want to give the very best recommendation for lenses at each price level, to enable you photographers out there to hopefully get the very best lenses for the money that you have.
If I have $100 I would buy:
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens
The reason I would choose this lens... We'll first of all, it costs less than $100 and second of all it is absolutely tack sharp. In fact, to this day I still have my 50mm f1.8 and I can't say that about all my lenses. I do have a suggestion though, when I went to purchase my 50mm F/1.8, I went to the biggest photography store in my town and I looked through the entire inventory of the Canon 50 mm 1.8 lenses. Now, there is a reason why I did this. Although, this lens truly is tack sharp, it also has some of the poorest build quality of any lens Canon offers. So, unfortunately sometimes there are little specks plastic that will find themselves in the middle of the lens elements, but if the photography store is kind enough, they will let you hold each individual lens up to the light so that you can choose the best one. This my friends, is the very same process that I went through early on.
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 USM lens
Why, you ask? Well, there are not a whole lot of lenses available at that price point, and although the 18-55 mm lens is really not all that impressive, it sure nice to have in tight spots especially when most Canon bodies in the lesser price range have a 1.6 crop factor, which requires you to have a super wide-angle like 18mm in tight spots. You see, 18mm with a 1.6 crop factor is really 28.8mm which is just enough for those tight spots. I still believe that if you are jumping from a point and shoot to an SLR, you will be extremely impressed with the performance of this lens over your previous camera.
If I had $300 I would buy:
Canon 50mm F/1.4 USM lens
Why you ask? Well, it just barely falls under that $300 mark, and if I'm shooting portraits, or I'm shooting outside it is extremely fast and extremely normal, and I know that it will perform extremely well for the price. Now, there are many of you that may prefer a decent zoom lens or for you documentary photographers or landscape photographers you might prefer a nice wide-angle prime.
Canon 28mm f/2.8 USM lens
This, my friends is the wide-angle lens to buy for under $300. I have seen this lens retail for as low as $160, which is quite the bargain. This is a perfect lens for you landscapers and those of you that like to shoot the crowds (with a camera that is).
Canon EF 28-105mm F3.5-4.5 USM lens
I believe this lens to probably be a good start as an introductory lens. This lens covers quite a range of different focal lengths. At 28mm you have a fairly wide-angle lens and at 105mm you have a decent telephoto lens. The wide-open aperture range on this lens is fairly good considering the cost and considering the focal lengths. I think this would be a good choice as an all-around beginner lens, where you don't quite know what type of photographer you're going to be.
If I had $500 I would buy:
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens
This is yet another lens that still remains in my armada and is used with my non-full frame backup camera. This is, in my opinion one of the sharpest lenses that Canon produces. In fact, it is still one of the sharpest lenses I own. The drawback to this lens is that it is an EF-S lens, which means that it can only be used on a digital SLR with a crop factor. The current digital cameras that Canon produces that are compatible with this lens are the Digital rebel XT, the Digital rebel XTI, the EOS 30D and the new EOS 40D Digital SLR. This is a phenomenal lens that is well worth every penny and it is a macro lens, which allows you to get within an inch of your subject.
Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM lens
There are actually quite a few choices once you get up to this price point, but it is my belief that unless you're buying L-series lenses you will be much happier with prime lenses, than you will be with zoom lenses. I believe Canon makes the most top-quality product out there, but I think their midrange priced zoom-lenses don't satisfy. I believe you will be much more satisfied with one prime over three zoom lenses. Anyway, this is a phenomenal wide-angle prime lens, which is extremely fast and great for almost any situation with the crop factor.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens
I chose this lens above many others for a particular reason. The 100mm f/2.8 macro lens is almost the same lens as the 16mm macro. There is something to be said about macros and sharpness. Macros are typically much sharper than other lenses and I don't know the science behind this, but I know that what this holds true. I know that in some cases the MTF charts for macro lenses can only be compared to high-end super telephoto lenses. You see, MTF charts measure a lens' sharpness at different f-stops and different distances. If you can find the lens that is above an eight or a nine you have one of the sharpest lenses made, and if you can find a lens that is consistently above nine, you are holding perfection.
If I had $2000 I would buy:
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens
I am going to start with the wide-angle lenses as recommendations, only because I shoot with wide-angle lenses quite frequently. I have owned many of the wide angle lenses and super wide-angle lenses in both the prime and zoom series, but the best lens for the price is hands down the 17-40mm F4L lens. In my opinion this is one of the best pieces of glass for the money that you can purchase, and you will find that many of the Canon representatives will tell you the exact same thing. I believe this lens is sharper than the 16-35 F/2.8. I guarantee you that you would be more than happy with this purchase as I have been happy with it for years.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens
Over the course of the last year or two Canon released the 24-105mm f/4 IS USM lens, which some said was the replacement for the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, but I beg to differ. I believe both lenses are great lenses and they are both worth the money, but I believe the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 to be the sharper lens of the two. The 24-70mm lens is an oldie but a goodie, and well worth every penny.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens
This is still one of my favorite lenses, and I can always trust my images to be sharp when shooting with it. In my opinion, this is one of the finest lenses Canon manufactures. This lens has a wonderful telephoto range, and it is consistently f/2.8 all the way through, which makes life beautiful as a photographer. The bokeh on this lens is unbeatable. There is really only one downside to this lens, and that is the weight of the lens can be overwhelming if you are shooting for long periods of time. Please trust me when I say that this is the only drawback to this lens.
I hope that you find some of the content in this article helpful. My goal as a photographer and educator is to provide those nonprofessionals out there with the know-how to make their purchases and make better photographs with those purchases. I will continue to provide such articles at my expense of time, because I truly believe I would be doing myself a disservice by not passing on the knowledge I have gained throughout my years of shooting. I wish you all the best with your endeavors, and I invite you to return for more tips and tricks to hopefully improve the beauty of your photography. In the meantime, happy shooting and good luck in your purchasing.