First glass: the best entry-level camera lenses for less than £500

Barrels for beginners

Photography was once reserved for tweed-wearing architects with a pipe perennially in hand. Thankfully, the days of stuffy snappers are long gone.

With the invention of digital cameras and limitless free YouTube education, it’s never been easier to become an artistic content creator with an eye for stills. And while some might be happy shooting with filters and a flagship smartphone, the more serious among us will always prefer to use a ‘proper’ camera to fulfil their artistic ambitions.

But once you’ve got a camera, the next big question is which lenses to buy – which is where things get tricky. Luckily, we’re here to provide some clarity. The best optical investments will give your photography a professional sheen, without breaking the bank. Whether you want a telephoto for wildlife, a wide angle for landscapes or something to capture portraits with stunning blurred backgrounds, this list is packed with excellent lens options that are sure to fit into any budget, no matter the brand you’re using.

1) The nifty fifty

The first lens for many of us (besides the barrel that might be bundled with your camera body), nifty fifty refers to formidably sharp 50mm glass. If you’re using a Micro Four Thirds camera from the likes of Olympus or Panasonic, 25mm is the equivalent.

This focal length is perfect for portraits, street photography and everyday shots. The super wide f/1.8 aperture makes blurred backgrounds a breeze. It also means you can shoot at rapid shutter speeds, even in low-light conditions. And as with any fixed focal length lens, you can forget about twisting the barrel, experimenting instead with moving around to find different framing options.

50mm glass tends to be very budget-friendly regardless of the manufacturer, which means it’s ideal for first-time photographers. Pick one to fit your camera from the list below for a solid prime starter lens.

2) Canon EF-S 10-18mm F/4.5-5.6 IS STM

Wide-angle lenses are ideal for shooting epic scenery or stunning interiors. Because of the unique perspective effect captured at focal lengths like 10mm, they also offer lots of room for creative photography – especially when experimenting with foreground/background object placement.

This wide-angle barrel is designed for Canon’s APS-C DSLRs - or their mirrorless cameras with the right adapter. It comes equipped with image stabilisation to combat blur when shooting in dark conditions, plus an STM autofocus system for quick, quiet focusing. Handy if you have to shoot somewhere hushed.

3) Sigma 18-300mm F/3.5-6.3 C DC Macro OS HSM

Can’t decide what kind of photos you want to take? You don't have to, with this do-it-all solution for Nikon and Canon APS-C DSLRs.

Capable of capturing everything from wide-angle vistas to faraway details and wildlife, the huge 16.6x zoom range makes it a truly versatile lens solution for shooting every day.

It has a hyper-sonic motor for fast autofocusing, in-built image stabilisation for sharper shots and it's incredibly light and compact. Ideal if you're looking for a flexible barrel that won't take up your entire kit bag.

4) Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G AF-S

This ultra-wide aperture mid-telephoto lens from Nikon is a dream for portrait photographers. With a nice long focal length, it’s great for getting tight headshots, while the maximum f/1.8 aperture offers bags of separation by creating a soft blurry background – complete with dreamy bokeh balls – while keeping your subject’s face nice and sharp.

Another thing to love about this lens is that it’s designed to work on both APS-C and full-frame Nikon DSLRs, so it will grow with you as you climb the camera ranks. It can even work on Z mirrorless cameras with the FTZ adapter.

5) Fujifilm XC 50-230mm F/4.5-6.7 OIS II

If you’re one of the many photographers opting for a camera from Fujifilm’s brilliant range of APS-C mirrorless models, this telephoto zoom is the perfect companion to your kit lens.

With a large zoom range and handy in-body image stabilisation, it's brilliant for getting to closer to the action without losing sharp detail. Which means it'll cover you for handheld protraits, wildlife photography and sports action.

It also benefits from the quintessentially elegant Fujifilm design, plus it’s extremely light for the versatility it offers.

6) Panasonic 14mm F/2.5 Lumix G II ASPH

This Micro Four Thirds lens fits camera bodies from Olympus and Panasonic. It offers an effective focal length of 28mm - due to the M43 sensor crop factor - making it a perfect walkabout lens for all occasions.

It’s great for everything from astrophotography to environmental portraits to travel shots where you want to capture more of the scene, while the ‘pancake’ design offers a tiny profile that helps when going incognito. Because there's nothing like a big barrel to scare away the stars.

7) Sony 35mm F/1.8 OSS

Sony’s modern answer to the classic focal length, its 35mm f/1.8 is a compact prime lens with a fittingly formidable reputation.

Designed to work with Sony’s brilliant range of APS-C mirrorless cameras – including the A6400 – it offers the perfect focal length for full-length portraits, intimate street scenes or dramatic travel shots. It excels when shooting from the hip, too.

And thanks to that wide f/1.8 aperture, it’s great for blurring backgrounds or gaining the advantage when working in darker environments.