Here at Pictureline, we asked around about some of the most frequently asked questions coming at the employees, and one of the most common questions is, "I bought a DSLR and it came with a lens. After six months, now I think I want a lens to do different things and that has better quality. What lens should I get next?" Depending on what kind of photography the person likes, the staff here has a couple of go-to lenses for the first lens to buy after the first lens. In responding to the photographers, the staff also tried to consider the price of the lens and how much value each photographer could derive from lens.
THE NEW MOTHER OR FATHER
Overwhelming, the staff here suggests that new mothers or fathers who are looking for a new lens after the kit lens go for a reasonably priced prime lens. Some immediately wonder why a prime lens (fixed focal length) is suggested. The value for a new parent (who likely has a some new baby expenses) is very high with a prime lens: primes offer the highest quality in optics, usually at a lower cost than expensive zoom lenses. They are able to do this because of simplified optics, fewer elements, and therefore less need to coat lens surfaces to improve sharpness, as is often the case with these professional zoom lenses.
Looking back, the staff thought that they suggested an 85 mm prime lens. The reasoning was that new parents often focus in on the new little kiddo, and an 85 mm does a great job as a portrait lens. The primes in both Canon and Nikon at 85 mm are both awesome. The f/1.8 means that the maximum aperture on these lenses is very wide. The wider the aperture, the more blurry the background (the bokeh). Blur the background, and focus on the kid.
THE KID'S SPORTS SHOOTER
When a photographer drops in the store or calls in, our staff is happy to give our opinions on what lens the kids' sports shooter might want next. The kit lenses that come with the DSLRs are usually a short, medium zoom like an 18-55 mm. People who are photographing any sports will suddenly realize why photographers at NFL games have giant long lenses. They want to get into the action. Actually, they usually have a few lenses, long, medium, and wide angle (when the receiver almost runs into them). Keep your kit lens for the wide shoots and dip into a reasonably-priced zoom, perhaps a 70-300 mm, both made by Canon and Nikon. Note: these are not the professionals "must have" lenses, but you will notice a serious upgrade in lens quality from the kit lenses. You're on your way!
THE LANDSCAPE LOVER
The photographer who got into this crazy hobby/profession for the love of the wide angle world will want a wide angle lens. A really wide one. The kit lenses are reasonably wide, but they are not the top quality. When you want more, consider not a prime wide angle lens, but a value-priced zoom (they are cheaper in this range!). Canon lovers will want the next step up: the 17-40 mm L lens is half the price of the 16-35 mm and is of really nice quality. Big step up.
THE WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER
The lover of birds, bears, and wolves will be needing the longest lens possible. The kit lens can suffice for closeups, but a value-packed long lens is what Pictureline staff will steer the wildlife photographer toward. See "The Kid's Sports Shooter" above.
THE INCESSANT TRAVELER
The traveler has needs, needs for better photos and less weight. Once you realize that the kit lens has no bokeh (no blurry background), you will want something that has a little more interest when you go to take a portrait of some interesting person in another country. Most people also want a good zoom lens as well, as this limits the amounts of lenses in the bag. Many photographers love one, solid, awesome medium zoom like a Canon 24-105 mm f/4 or a Canon 24-70 mm f/2.8. Nikon shooters may go for an 18-200 mm if they don't care as much about the bokeh, or the 24-70 mm if they need a good wide aperture.