I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently from readers getting started in Disney Parks photography who want to expand beyond their kit lens and want to know what the next “best” option is for their DSLR. This isn’t an easy question to answer, as every photographer’s interests vary, but I always try to give a couple different options. I thought it would be useful to expand upon this a bit with a blog post in which I rank 10 such options.
For starters, I was going to title this post: “Top 10 Lenses for Disney Parks Photography on a Budget,” but then I realized everyone’s idea of budget photography varies. I preface with that because these lenses are not the absolute best options out there, but instead they are the best value for the money. I’ve focused on third party options (with one exception), as I’ve found those always offer the best bang for buck. I think these are the 10 best values for Disney Parks photography.
With the first party options, you’re paying a premium for the name. Now, the reason that “name” can command premium prices is because it usually comes with higher quality and reliability, but the gains are typically disproportionate to the added costs.
Finally, you’ll note that some of these lenses are for “full frame” and some are for “crop sensor” cameras. If you don’t know which type of DSLR you have…there’s a 99.76% chance you have a crop sensor DSLR.
10. Tamron 18-200mm – This makes the list for two simple reasons: price and utility. It beats out a lot of competitors, including its more versatile cousin, the Tamron 16-300mm solely because of price. I’ve tested a lot of these all-in-one lenses, and am really hesitant to recommend any of them because they are a compromise lens. You give up image quality and aperture in exchange for a lot of zoom range. If you want a light camera bag or a decent “backup” lens, this is a good option, but I would not buy one of the more expensive ones. At only $200, this lens represents good value, and allows you to save more money on lenses that will enable more creativity and better quality photos.
9. Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 – I expected this lens to be total garbage. At less than half the cost of the (excellent) Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 VC–which itself is significantly less than the Nikon and Canon alternatives–that would certainly make sense. However, image quality is strong, and the f/2.8 aperture is awesome to have. Still, this is a compromise lens (albeit to a MUCH lesser degree than the Tamron 18-200). What you compromise here is a little at the wide end, image stabilization, and a bit of quality. I would recommend this for full frame shooters on a budget or crop sensor photographers who have an eye on upgrading to full frame in the near future. If you’ll be shooting with a crop sensor camera for a while, that 28mm minimum is going to be really restricting.
8. Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 – This is the budget full frame or “future proofing” crop shooter ultra wide angle option. For a <$350 lens, it delivers shockingly high quality results. The perceived downsides are not much of a big deal: it’s manual focus (super easy on a wide angle) and it doesn’t have any zoom (90% of the time, my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is on 14mm), which probably scares away some newbie photographers, but this is a sleeper favorite of many ultra wide angle fans. Now, I would never trade my beloved Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens for this…but that lens also costs $2,000, so this is a slightly cheaper option. 😉
7. Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 – I love my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d save the money and get the Tamron (a lot of people actually think the Tamron is the better lens–not just the cheaper lens). Either version–with or without VC–is a great lens, but if your budget allows, I’d definitely go for VC as it really comes in handy with telephoto lenses like this. I am finding more and more creative uses of the 70-200mm lens, and as I wrote in my Using Telephoto Lenses in the Disney Parks, it’s not just about the zoom. Plus, this is another full frame lens, so it’s great for “future proofing” if you are thinking about going full frame someday.
6. Sigma 30mm f/1.4 – I can’t speak to the newer, more expensive “Art” version of this lens, but the original flavor is a Disney photography powerhouse. Great for dark rides, fun for environmental shots or creative depth of field ‘detail’ photos, and even good for crisp starbursts in night landscapes. The original did have quality control issues (which I’ve heard the Art version corrects), so I wouldn’t buy used. I also might consider skipping this and getting the Sigma 18-55mm f/1.8 if your budget allows, even if that one isn’t quite as “bokehlicious.” Read my Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Review w/ Photo Samples.
5. Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 – This is the fisheye lens I used to develop my iconic style (that might sound really full of myself, but I don’t mean it that way). I loved this fisheye for crop sensor shooting so much that I kept using it when I upgraded to full frame until I preordered the Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 last fall when it was announced. This lens is beyond fun, and would be the #1 lens on this list but for the fact that it’s probably wise to do the “responsible” thing and get more versatile lenses first. If you’re irresponsible like me…get this lens early on. Read my full Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye Review for more photos and thoughts.
4. “Nifty Fifty” 50mm f/1.8 – Only since moving to full frame have I become a fan of this lens. For crop sensor cameras, it felt like an awkward focal length, especially for Disney photography. I still think that’s true, but…it only costs $100 and is high quality. That price tag is pretty compelling. Personally, unless money were extremely tight, I would not get this. It does enable some really nice looking shallow depth of field shots, but it boxes you in creatively. However, if buying this is the only way you can get an f/1.8 (or faster) lens, definitely get it. You’ll see why once you do some shooting at f/1.8.
3. Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 – A good compromise from the Sigma 18-35mm if you want more zoom and don’t need the f/1.8 aperture. More importantly, it costs a little over half as much as the Sigma. It’s a matter of personal preference (and budget), but I think the Sigma 18-35mm is worth it. It’s effectively multiple prime lenses in one, and really opens some creative doors. Read Our Full Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Review w/ Photo Samples.
2. Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 – Yes, this lens will set you back $800. It’s worth every penny. While I really liked the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 when I had it, I always also carried the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 because I felt the Tamron was a bit lacking in the depth of field department. This lens does not have that issue, and effectively replaces both of those lenses, plus the “Nifty Fifty.” In my Sigma 18-5mm f/1.8 Review, I discuss why I think this lens is especially well-suited to Disney photography, making it a great pick. There are cheaper “compromise” options, but if you want to get serious about Disney photography, save your money and get this lens. You will not be disappointed. Read Our Full Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Review w/ Photo Samples.
1. Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 – Part of why I made the leap to full frame was for the exceptional Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, but before it, this was my most used lens. While I have no regrets with the Nikon 14-24mm (have I mentioned that I love this lens?), I think the Tokina comes close to rivaling its quality…for about $1,500 less money. (Unfortunately, camera gear is a game of diminishing returns on the higher end.) With an aperture of f/2.8, the Tokina is fast enough to use hand-held at night or on dark rides, and its image quality is stunningly sharp. If you are into photographing the architecture of the parks, this is the lens for you. Read Our Full Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 Review w/ Photo Samples.
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If you’re looking for other photography equipment recommendations or photography tips in general check out a few of my top photography blog posts. The best place to start is my Ultimate Disney Parks Photography Guide. Some additional posts you might enjoy:
Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Infrared Photography Guide & Tips
Choosing the Best Camera Bag for Travel
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Do you have any favorite lenses that are good values? Any lens you’re considering that’s not listed here? Other questions? Any recommendations? Share any thoughts or questions you have in the comments!