Last updated on 5 July 2022
Budget lenses aren’t all bad – in fact, some of them can give more expensive lenses a real run for their money. If you think you can’t get any good glass for under £500, then it’s time to think again!
In the photography world, it tends to be a given that top-quality glass is key in getting great photographs. While that is often true, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. Premium lenses often cost more than a used family car, and it can be hard to justify that cost unless you’re a professional photographer who uses expensive lenses a lot in the course of your work.
If your lens budget doesn’t run to several thousand pounds, then what to do? Well, there are several affordable lenses out there that will do a wonderful job. Ok, so they may not be as sharp and as fast as the premium glass, but personally I think that razor-sharpness all over the frame doesn’t make for a great photo on its own – lots of different factors make a photo special.
So, without any further ado, I’m going to show you some hidden budget gems of the lens world, with choices for Canon, Nikon, and Sony cameras for those who don’t want to spend more than £500 on a lens.
Let’s get to it!
Best Budget Lenses for Canon
These budget beauties are great for Canon EF/EF-S DSLR cameras and range from macro lenses to telephoto.
Meike 85mm f/2.8 Macro
This lens is a manual focus, not autofocus, so that may be a dealbreaker for you. However, if you are willing to use MF this lens is a good general-purpose portrait or landscape lens. It really comes into its own as a macro lens, though. It’s a well-made budget lens that will get the job done.
Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM
This ultra-wide angle lens has a slow maximum aperture at f/4.5, but it does feature Canon’s IS (image stabilization) which allows you to hand-hold your camera at much slower shutter speeds and still get sharp images.
Ultra-wides like this lens are ideal for landscapes or cityscapes, and this Canon zoom lens is sharp. Annoyances like chromatic aberration and barrel distortion are also controlled fairly well.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
Everyone should have a 50mm prime lens in their collection, and this redesign of the old classic Canon 50mm is a bargain. If you want sharpness in a fast lens, then the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is an excellent choice.
50mm is a versatile focal length, enabling you to shoot everything from street to portraits.
Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro Contemporary
If you want a lightweight travel lens and aren’t too bothered about slow maximum aperture, then the Sigma 18-200mm might be your ideal budget lens choice. This zoom lens will give you maximum versatility with a focal length range that covers portraits, landscapes, street, and nature photography. It also doubles as a nifty macro lens, too!
Best Budget Lenses for Nikon
Looking for good budget lenses for your Nikon DSLR? Here’s a few great, affordable choices.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
This nifty fifty millimetre f/1.8G is one of the best and most talked-about cheap lens for Nikon DX cameras. Picture quality is great, it has ultrasonic AF, and the large f/1.8 aperture gives you plenty of light and some nice bokeh too. On top of this, the Nikon 50mm comes with a weather-sealed metal mounting plate that makes this lens ideal for using in a range of weather conditions.
Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1
Third-party lens makers like Tamron and Sigma produce some gems when it comes to decent budget lenses, and the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 macro is no exception. This particular lens is something of a legend among macro photographers, and if you want to spend a little more than £500, you can get the newer and more souped-up version of this lens with image stabilisation and weather-sealing: the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD.
If you’re looking for a great budget macro lens that you can use for portraits too, both versions of this lens are a sound choice.
Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 PRO FX
Although it’s up at the top end of the £500 budget range, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is a lens designed especially for Nikon FX cameras. This wide-angle zoom is great for landscape photography, and image quality is very good due to the super-low dispersion elements in the lens.
It comes with a nice, wide focus ring so that you can switch back and forth easily betweeen AF and MF, and the silent DC motor makes fast work of autofocusing.
Nikon AF-P DX 70-300mm f/4.5-6.5G ED VR
Those looking for a good telephoto zoom that won’t break the bank will be happy with the Nikon 70-300mm. It features a stepping motor that is used for AF in this Pulse AF lens for Nikon DX cameras. One thing to note – it’s not compatible with older Nikon cameras like the D7000.
You can buy it with or without the image stabilisation (VR), but the stabilised version is more expensive, although it gives you more flexibility to use it hand-held in low light conditions. When you use it on a DX camera, the crop factor will give an equivalent focal length of 450mm – plenty of scope for using this lens for everything from portraits to large landscapes and wildlife.
Best Budget Lenses for Sony
These budget beauties include Sony and third-party lenses for Sony’s APS-C and full-frame cameras.
Sony E 30mm f/3.5 Macro
This lens generally goes for around £200 brand new, so it’s a bargain – and it performs impressively, too! It does have a short focal length for a macro lens, but you can use this one for landscapes, street, and group portraits as well as macro photography.
Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
There isn’t a massive amount of choice when it comes to good zoom lenses for Sony’s APS-C mirrorless cameras. The standard 16-50mm kit zoom sold with many A6000 series cameras isn’t very hot when it comes to optical quality, and the Zeiss and new Sony equivalents are shudderingly expensive. While this lens is around the £500 mark, it’s certainly worth it.
This makes the Sony E 18-145mm a good choice. It gives a good zoom range which makes it versatile for many types of photography. It does need quite a bit of lens correction in your editing software though, but that’s a small price to pay for a zoom that gives good optical quality even at the extreme end of the zoom range.
Tamron 20mm f/2.8 Di III OSD M1:2
This ultra-wide prime lens for full-frame Sony E-mount cameras is awesomely sharp and gives great image quality all round, although as with most ultra-wide-angle lenses you’ll need to correct the barrel distortion digitally in your editing software.
Sony E 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS
This one is a real bargain for Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras, and gives a generous equivalent focal length of 82.5-315mm on the crop frame APS-C sensor. It’s AF is fast and smooth, and although it’s not got a great maximum aperture, Sony’s OpticalSteadyShot stabilisation is great for compensating for this in low light situations.
This Sony lens also works with full-frame Alpha 7 cameras in crop mode, and it’s massively cheaper than other comparable full-frame lens options for the Alpha 7.