Episode 221: My Top 5 Favorite Lenses

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Greetings, you’re listening to the Liam Photography Podcast, I’m your host Liam Douglas and this is episode 221. In today’s episode I want to talk about my Top 5 Favorite lenses. Whether you are a professional photographer or just a student or hobbyist, it’s important to always have the right lens for the genre of photography you are shooting. Since I shoot Canon and Fujifilm, but have more Canon lenses, I will be talking about them, but all makers makes these focal lengths so no worries.

If you are out doing an on location shoot, we have a very limited amount of space in our camera bags and many of us have limited budgets as well. This means that we cannot have every lens out there, so we have to be selective on what lenses we choose to buy. The need to stretch our budget is even greater especially if you are not a working professional. In this episode I am going to share with you my top 5 favorite lenses and why.

50mm Prime Lens

You maybe be asking, “What is a prime lens?” Well a prime lens is a lens that is a fixed focal length, there is no zooming to get a closer shot, if you need to get closer to your subject, you will have to use your feet. The benefit of a prime lens are that they offer superb image quality and excellent bokeh. They also offer shallow depth of field and wider apertures than the zoom lenses do, so you can get really creative and make fantastic images. A shallow depth of field also helps draw the viewer’s eye to the focal point of the image and keep their eyes there. Primes can be a little more difficult to focus but the focus system is considerably faster than in zooms as well.

Now prime lenses come in a variety of focal lengths, but one of the most popular and one of my favorites is the 50mm. 50mm is a perfect lens for almost anything you want to shoot from portraits of individuals or couples to landscapes or even indoors. With a good 50mm lens you can capture 3/4 shots, face shots and to some extent, group shots as well. I prefer small groups with the 50mm but you could shoot larger groups as well, but you will have to stand back further to get everyone in the frame.

If you have an endless budget, such as a wealthy person or a working professional, then the Canon RF 50mm F/1.2 L is the lens to go for. I absolutely LOVE this lens, and I get AMAZING RESULTS with it. Now the more recently released RF 50mm F/1.8 USM is much, much less expensive and yet it doesn’t disappoint on image quality. Another benefit of the 1.8 model is it is considerably smaller and WAY lighter to carry around. If you are shooting with a Canon DSLR camera, than you will need to opt for the EF versions, but you are still covered either way.

I captured this shot at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, GA with my RF 50mm F/1.2 L USM

70-200mm F/2.8 L IS USM

If you need more versatility in a lens than you cannot go wrong with a good RF 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS USM. Again, if you are shooting with a Canon DSLR, the EF 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS USM III is the lens you want, but it is large and very heavy as well as expensive, so many people if they have it don’t use it very much due to these factors. With Canon full-frame mirrorless, the RF 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS USM is so much smaller, and lighter and has even more amazing image quality than it’s EF cousin so most photographers do not mind lugging it around all day by comparison. For those that are not Canon shooters, fear not Nikon and Sony make excellent 70-200mm F/2.8 lenses and so do Sigma and Tamron on the third party lens side. If you have a limited budget you’ll be happy to hear that the Sigma and Tamron models are also much less expensive as well!


My granddaughter Callie captured with my RF 70-200mm F/4 L IS USM at 70mm

135mm F/2

Moving back to prime lenses again another one of my all time favorites is the EF 135mm F/2 from my Canon DSLR days. I owned this lens for a very long time and captured a lot of great images with this prime telephoto. Canon does not currently make an RF version of this lens, but you can still use the EF version with any of the 3 Canon EF to RF adapters. The 135mm is another great portrait lens and I know many wedding photographers that use this lens heavily. It may sound a bit unorthodox, but I have also used this lens for capturing larger wildlife such as deer. It’s not as hard as you might think, just set out some feed or a salt lick and use a hunting blind to conceal your presence and you can get plenty close enough to make great images with the 135mm. One of the other nice things about this lens is the L model is only $1,000 so it won’t break the bank. Some photographers prefer the 200mm F/2 but it is considerably larger, heavier and much more expensive. A lot of people don’t talk about this focal length and that is sad as this lens is a true gem. If you are in the Nikon or Sony camp then you might opt for the 105mm instead. With the F/2 aperture you can shoot easily in low light situations. Like the trusty 50mm the 135mm allows you to get lots of compression, which brings the subjects in closer.


Photo shoot with Allie Summers in Atlanta with the EF 135mm F/2 L USM portrait lens.

RF 35mm F/1.8 Macro IS STM

The next fave in my camera bag is the RF 35mm F/1.8 Macro IS STM and I had the EF model as well back in my DLSR days. This lens is fantastic for shooting street photography, which is one of my all time favorite genres of photography. I would carry my EF 35mm on my Canon 5D Mark II to work every day when I lived and worked in the Atlanta and often spend my lunch hour out shooting around Atlanta with it. Today, I use my RF version in the way fashion even though I live in North Carolina now. The fact that the RF model is also a macro lens can come in handy if you love to do macro photography like flowers or other small items in your studio. Equipped with Image Stabilization, you can shoot this lens handheld without worrying about hand shake.

The 35mm focal length is also close to what the human eye sees, so you can take in more of a scene since it’s somewhat wide without worrying about distortion. If you are not aware of it, many of the super wide lenses will cause distortion, making subjects look swollen or disproportionate. Canon also makes an EF 35mm F/1.4 L lens, but it is very large, heavy and expensive so I stick with the smaller, lighter and inexpensive model which sells for only $500.


Setting up a tent at a family gathering. Shot with the RF 35mm F/2 IS STM

RF 85mm F/2

Rounding out this episode is the Canon RF 85mm F/2 USM. I can easily recommend this beauty for amateurs and hobbyists who want an affordable lens that makes amazing images. The 85mm is another great lens for portrait work, especially if you want to do corporate headshots for a living. Sure Canon makes a much more expensive and heavy 85mm F/1.2 L lens, but you don’t need to bankrupt yourself to get an 85mm. 

In the world of Canon DSLR, I would recommend the EF 85mm F/1.8 USM gold band lens as the EF 85mm F/1.2 first and second generation both had issues with AF performance and being soft at the edges and the gold band model sells for only $419 and has much faster and more accurate AF and didn’t suffer from the soft edge issues. The 85mm is super easy to shoot with and get great results and the Image Stabilization will make certain that even if you are photographing your kids running around outside you can keep up with the action.

I have a lot of friends that are professional wedding photographers and quite a few of them make their living using only three lenses and all of them are lenses I talked about in today’s episode, the 50mm, 85mm and the 135mm. 

Many more wedding photographers get by with only two lenses and they are the 70-200mm as it covers two of the three portrait focal lengths and the other lens being the fabulous 50mm. I cannot recall his name off the top of my head but a very successful wedding photographer in New York City makes all of his living using only the 50mm and the 135mm L lenses, so anything is possible with your skills and creativity as he pulls in six figures a year with just those two in his camera bag.


Old Glory, captured with the RF 85mm F/1.8 IS STM

Be sure to check out this episode’s show notes and see some of the images I have captured with all 5 of my favorite lenses.


Also be sure to join the Liam Photography Podcast Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/liamphotographypodcast/ You can reach the show by call or text @ 470-294-8191 to leave a comment or request a topic or guest for the show. Additionally you can email the show @ liam@liamphotographypodcast.com and find the show notes at http://www.liamphotographypodcast.com.

You can find my work @ https://www.liamphotography.net on and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @liamphotoatl. If you like abandoned buildings and history, you can find my project @ http://www.forgottenpiecesofgeorgia.com. and http://www.forgottenpiecesofpennsylvania.com.

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