Best lenses to buy for $600 – Canon or Nikon


In present day, starting off as a freelancer is expensive and there is not a good return on investment (ROI). Personally I worked on everything I could get my hands on, for little to no pay, to get my name out there and network with other professionals. It took me 2 years to get up on my feet to start bringing in money to compensate for equipment costs. Keeping that in mind, you don’t want to blow $4,000 of your hard-earned money until you have a good demo reel and experience to back up that beautiful machine you want.

With that being said…get an affordable DSLR camera (T3i, T2i, GH2) that does the job for under $700. Spend your money on glass that can be used for your whole career! Don’t buy the cheapie variable aperture lenses you will have to turn around and sell! Plus who wants to lose 2 f-stops when they zoom in? There are many affordable options that can make your cinematography look beautiful!


1. The most important factor (in video) is having a constant low aperture.

On set you can get into some low light situations and having a “fast” lens makes the job so much easier. The lower the aperture (how fast the lens is) the more light that can be let in. That means an f1.4 will handle better in low light than an f2.8+. Most prime lenses will be available in the f1.2-f2.8 range. Most telephoto lenses will be in the f2.8-f5.6 range. It’s important to get the fastest lens because DSLR’s don’t handle low light well due to their dynamic range. If the shot is too dark you have to bump the ISO to gain light. Once you exceed ISO800-ISO1600 (in most DSLR’s) there will be noise present in the shadows and deep blacks.

2. The second most important factor for me is the clarity in the bokeh (blur in background).

Cheapie lenses with start to distort the bokeh making strange artifacts and hexagonal shapes from highlights on objects. If you are making a professional video, you don’t want to destroy it from the beginning.

3. The third most important factor is the compatibility of the lens.

What cameras can it be adapted to with no vignette or a soft look to it? Most Canon lenses can only be used with Canon cameras. Only specific L series lenses can be adapted to certain camera. The adapter for those lenses is crazy expensive!! Manual lenses are the easiest to adapt because of the lack of all the electronics. You can get a cheap $15 fotodiox adapter and put them on about any camera known to man. That means your investment is protected and usable for the life of the lens!

There are more factors to consider but that is a lot to keep in mind. As long as you consider those factors, you will be happy with your purchase!

Now for the real reason why you are here. What lenses should I start off with as a broke filmmaker?

Keep in mind you want a wide range of focal lengths for various types of projects. For example, I have a 28mm, 50mm, 105mm, 50-135mm, and a 100-300mm. I am completely covered from 28mm-300mm. Anything else I need I can borrow from a buddy or rent.

 1. ($150) The first lens I would recommend would be getting a 50mm prime. (Medium Shot)

They are extremely affordable, have a fast aperture and the picture from them is beautiful. Many people prefer the “Nifty Fifty” 50mm f1.8 as their first lens. They run about $120 new and are made of plastic. The other thing I don’t like about them is the focus ring is on the outside front of the lens. It would be difficult to hook up a follow focus if not impossible. Remember this is a “permanent” investment.

I went with the Nikkor 50mm f1.4 Manual Focus lens. They are made of metal and the aperture can be controlled right on the lens itself. The bokeh is creamy and clean with little to no distortion. You can pick it up for around $150 but also can find it way cheaper if you look around. For the extra $30 you are buying a lens that compares to the quality of a $400 Canon USM 50mm f1.4. The biggest difference is this lens can be adapted to any camera out there!!! The focus ring feels amazing and the quality is unbelievable.

 2. ($200) The second lens I would buy would be a 28mm prime. (Wide Angle)

I like to stick with Nikkor Manual Lenses because of their quality, picture, and affordability. There are various wide-angle lenses that Nikkor makes with faster apertures and wider frame, but this is about good quality and getting your rig built CHEAP!

I got the Nikkor 28mm f2.8 Manual Lens.  The f2.8 aperture is good enough to do well in low light and the lens is just beautiful!!

3. ($250) The third lens would be a telephoto to cover the 50-135mm range. (Close Up)

My favorite lens of them all is the Nikkor 50-135mm f3.5 Manual Lens. I absolutely love this lens! It’s the most expensive of all the lenses but boy is it worth it!!! The clarity its amazing! I have used this lens for almost every video I have shot as well as photo shoots! Getting a telephoto lens like this for less than $1000 is a steal! The only lens I have seen that can hold up to it is the 70-200mm f2.8L IS . That lens is $2,600 alone!

So we have 3 lenses for $600 so far!!! WOW!! I have purchased a single lens more expensive than the 3 combined and the quality is the same if not better!

If you have more budget, here is some other great lenses!!

4. ($599) Tokina 11-16mm f2.8  This is extremely wide and perfect for a steadicam or glidecam system

5. ($270) Nikkor 35mm f2 This is your 50mm equivalent for crop sensored cameras

6. ($100) Nikkor 100-300mm f5.6 This is a serious zoom with great quality!

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