Although most people like the convenience of a subcompact camera, some buyers demand better image quality, which is why they will often choose an SLR—single-lens reflex camera, which lets you change lenses, among other advantages. Almost all consumer-level SLRs come with kit lenses, which are generally fine but basic. To get the most from your SLR, consider buying a step-up SLR lens.
We've just updated our Ratings for SLR lenses. So if you're in the market for an SLR lens or are looking to buy a holiday present for your favorite photographer, here are some things to consider.
More zoom. Most kit lenses have only around 3x optical zoom. But several zoom lenses in our Ratings have 5x to 8x zoom, and a few have as much as 14x zoom, like the Sigma 18-250mm DC Macro OS HSM ($800). That can be important if you want to get close shots of your subjects when you're shooting sports from the sidelines, or you're capturing an on-stage photo, for example.
Wider apertures. Nearly all kit lenses that come with SLRs have maximum apertures that open only to f/3.5. But many of the standard step-up lenses in our Ratings, such as the Nikon 17-55mm ED-IF AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom ($1,400), go as wide as f/2.8. That difference lets you use faster shutter speeds and lower ISO settings (especially in low light) and can provide shallower depth of field for more professional-looking photos.
Sturdier construction. Another advantage to step-up SLR lenses is that they're often built to be much sturdier than kit lenses, which are generally housed in plastic. That means step-up lenses won't get damaged as easily. Some even have weather seals that make them dust- and water-resistant. Note that this doesn't make a lens or SLR waterproof; you'll need a pricey housing for the whole camera to take it underwater.
For more details on SLR lenses, check out our latest Ratings.