I’m getting a Sony APS-C mirrorless camera – what should my first lens be?

Canon 35mm 1.4L lens

I convinced a friend of mine to jump on getting a Sony A6000 as this is, in the opinion of more than a few pro photographers, currently the single best value camera on the market.  His next question, naturally, was “what lens do I get for this camera?”  I had, you see, also told him not to get it with the kit lens.  This might be a topic for debate, but in my own opinion at least, most kit zoom lenses are garbage, while in comparison you can get much better optics for far less money with a prime lens.  Yes, I am severely biased – I have been shooting with only two prime lenses for well over a decade, and of those two lenses, mainly I have only been actually using the Canon 50mm 1.2L (the other is the Canon 35mm 1.4L, 1st gen).  Even after getting the Sony A7RII, on that camera I pretty much exclusively shoot with the 50mm 1.2L Canon lens.

Anyway thought I would share my reply to his question:

 Regarding lens choice, it really depends on your budget.  Best lens will cost almost double what your camera body cost.  Cheap but decent lens will cost you around $150.  The guys on the Alpha mirrorless podcast seem to really like the kit lens that you can get with the A6000.  Personally I recommend against zoom lenses, as usually you will get prime lens at lower cost that is much higher quality optics than any zoom lens.  But lens choices (native) from Sony / Zeiss are not nearly as wide as with Canon for example.  But, with the Sony plus an adapter you can actually use many lenses from other brands, plus third party lenses such as Sigma.
I have this Carl Zeiss prime lens which I plan to use with the A6000.  I got it back when I got my Sony Alpha video camera.  It’s probably still the best option in it’s class, although then again when I tried it on my A7RII it was full manual only, if I recall.
This lens is still just as expensive, if not more, as when I bought it.
This is the full line up of native Sony lenses, you will get best in class performance with your new camera from them (e mount lenses, only).
My advice, again, is to go with a prime lens.
I googled “best value prime lens for sony aps-C e mount “ and found this 50mm prime for $250 from best buy:
That same search above also brought up this article which you might want to read before choosing your first lens.
It looks one lens they recommend is $400 on Amazon, but I would google around and see if you can get it anywhere cheaper if you decide on it.  Same article they also recommend a cheaper non-sony alternative (don’t think it needs an adapter) for $170.  Before you decide, look at the customer questions/answers – they go over the pros/cons.
You can get a Metabones IV adapter and then use Canon lenses with your camera, as well.  Canon offers some of the best lenses in the industry – it’s what they are known for.  But your autofocus will never be as fast as with comparable Sony e-mount lens.
Now, money aside, keep in mind the focal length you choose depends on what you want to shoot / the desired look.  I shoot mainly portraits, and I happen to like the 50mm focal length for that.  Other photographers like 85mm for portraits.  It’s a matter of taste.  50mm is a pretty universally loved prime and you really can’t go wrong with it (I am talking full frame equivalents, mind you).  On the other extreme, fish eye lens is not something you want to get, as you would only use it for rare shots.  Another very popular prime focal length is 35mm – it’s what almost all the photos you see in newspapers are shot at.  It’s supposed to be a very versatile focal length.
So, in full frame equivalents, these are all good choices:
  • 35mm
  • 50mm
  • 85mm
or any other length you decide on.  Really it’s your choice.  I still strongly suggest you pick some lens to rent for a weekend and shoot a bunch with it.
Also, keep in mind A6000 is a APS-C sensor, not full frame sensor.  So for example the 24mm Zeiss lens I have is a “35mm full frame equivalent”.  There is some simple math to figure it out, but I can’t remember it so when I need to look these things up I just google for an online conversion calculator.You should probably stick to APS-C sensor Sony e-mount lenses, at least in the beginning.  I almost exclusively use my Canon 50mm 1.2L lens with my Sony alpha camera, but that lens is super amazing (best in class, of any brand) and no way I am going to ever shell out thousands of dollars to get a Sony lens that just comes close to it.  I plan to eventually get a super wide angle Sony lens, though, and any lenses I buy in the future will definitely be Sony E-mount.  Sony’s new lenses are also pretty awesome, quite comparable with Canon.

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