The Essential Three-Lens Kit

It's tempting to stick with the 18–55mm kit lens offered with most entry-level DSLRs to avoid navigating the pros and cons of hundreds of compatible lenses. But there's a reason that professional photographers carry bags full of optics: Different lenses are superior in different scenarios. These recent models will have you covered in nearly every situation – all of them will get sharper shots and truer colors than the starter lens that came with your camera.

Pancake Lens: Snap this lens in for great street and walking-around shots. With pancake lenses, the trade-off is simple: They're compact enough to go anywhere, but with no zoom, distant subjects stay distant. The Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM is one of the best – it's almost an inch tall but can focus on objects less than a foot away. [$200;]

The 24-70 Zoom: This popular zoom lens can alternate quickly between close-quarters, wide-angle-crowd, and long range-subject shots. Our pick is the Tamron SP 24–70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD (for Canon, Nikon, and Sony cameras). It's got a first-in-class vibration-compensation feature for crisp focus without a flash. [$1,300;]

The Superzoom: Stabilized superzooms like Sigma's 18–200mm f/3.5–6.3 II DC OS HSM (for Sony, Pentax, Nikon, and Canon cameras) are smaller than the rifle-size telephotos used by pros bellying across African savannas but still capable of world-class nature shots. This one uses low-dispersion glass that replicates colors accurately. [$720;]