Black Friday has come and gone, and I’m sure many of you took advantage of the Nikon Z camera deals. Now, the real dilemma … which lens to buy first?

Let’s be clear, one of the biggest shocks to newbie photographer is the pricing of quality glass. I remember being floored by how much a lens cost. These days, a quality lens that represents a good value is right around $1,000. So that’s the budget line I’ll be working with. That said, before we get into this article, understand that there is no absolute “right” answer to this question.

Zoom or prime?

When Nikon introduced the Z mount cameras they opted to produce a line of high quality — albeit slower and relatively budget-friendly lenses.

In the zoom category they came out with the 24-120mm f/4, the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 and the 24-70mm f/4. For primes, Nikon opted to release the classics first, 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.8. They have released others, but generally speaking, these are the big three most photographers will consider first.

For the record, all are truly excellent and all represent reasonably good values, but which one first?

What are you wanting to photograph?

Invariably, this is the question I like to ask first when someone says to me “which lens should I buy?” I always respond with, “what do you want to photograph?” because lenses and cameras vary as much as automobiles — both in terms of pricing and capability.

The first question you must answer is “what do I want to photograph?” The second question I like to ask is “will you be working indoors or outdoors?” This matters because if you’re a parent and you’re wanting to get great shots of the kids running around the house, then a faster lens might be a necessity.

Depending on what you shoot, here’s how I usually respond.

“I want to photograph my kids running around the house — indoors and outdoors”

Then I would recommend a general purpose prime lens. In my mind, I would push them toward the 50mm f/1.8 or the 35mm f/1.8. Both are optically outstanding and the 50mm is in particular a great value for what it is.

The f/1.8 isn’t fast per se, but it isn’t slow. With today’s amazing camera sensors, bumping the ISO up to 1000 or even 3200 will result in a fast enough shutter speed indoors in low light with negligible degradation in image quality. I would highly recommend the f/1.8 lenses from Nikon.

35mm examples

50mm examples

“I want to photograph landscapes”

In this instance, the assumption is going to be that you’ll be outdoors and using a tripod. A faster lens isn’t an absolute necessity. Therefore, I would suggest one of the more economical zoom lenses.

The 24-120mm offers a constant f/4 aperture while the 24-200mm offers a bit more versatility with a variable aperture. Both have very good image quality. Because landscape shooters are using tripods the majority of the time, a fast shutter speed for handheld shooting isn’t a make or break consideration.

If you also find yourself outdoors most of time, they offer a lot of value as general purpose lenses. Bottom line, both of these lenses are great options.

“I want to photograph portraits”

If you’re wanting to shoot portraits, then I think the 50mm f/1.8 or the 85mm f/1.8 would fit the bill nicely! I have both and optically they are both great. Bitingly sharp optics, quick, silent and accurate focus and both represent great values.

I use both in my professional work and I am constantly smiling at the results. Moreover, if you ever decide to make the jump to paid professional, both of these lenses can carry over into your professional work.

50mm portrait examples

85mm portrait examples

So, which lens?

If you read between the lines carefully, you’ll note that one lens appears twice. You’ll often hear professional photographers refer to the 50mm f/1.8 across all systems as the “nifty fifty.” That’s because it usually represents a nice, useful focal length, high quality glass and a great value to boot.

So if you ask me which lens to buy first — unless you’re shooting landscapes on a tripod — then I think it’s almost impossible to go wrong with the nifty fifty!

What say you? Sound off in the comments below!