It seems a "Which lens should I buy?" question hits this forum on a daily basis as more and more folks take the plunge into the world of DSLR's. Most of these folks are upgrading from decent PnS cameras that have lenses especially designed for the camera they are permanently attached to, and produce really good quality images.

Then they start to see the truly beautiful images that people are able to produce with a DSLR, scrape together enough money to purchase one (usually with the kit lens that comes with), and are somewhat disappointed when their images aren't as spectacular as they were expecting.

So I started thinking about a thread that would help new Canon DSLR users put together a kit of lenses that would help them to produce the tack sharp images that they see others a fraction of the cost of the pro grade "L" glass that produces most of those images.

Before I start naming lenses, however, I want to make two points:
1) Good lenses do not necessarily good pictures make. The 18-55 "kit" lens in the hands of a photographer that understands light and composition will produce better images than a 16-35 "L" in the hands of a photographer who doesn't.

2) Ask most pro photographers about the lenses that produce the sharpest images across their entire aperture range, and they will say "primes". Zoom lenses are very convenient for changing your composition without changing your position, but if you can learn to zoom with your feet you can save a whole lot of money without sacrificing image quality. Still not convinced? Ask yourself this, when was the last time you attended a wedding where the Hassleblad toting photographer had a zoom mounted on front?

Having made those two points, you next need to decide what focal length you need. A good kit for the average photographer would probably cover from 28mm - 200mm. Since Canon DSLR's have a 1.6x crop factor, that becomes roughly 18mm - 125mm. This range can be handled very well with 4 prime lenses:

Tokina Pro ATX 17mm f3.5 - $390
Canon 28mm f2.8 - $150
Canon 50mm f1.8 - $80
Canon 135mm f2.8 - $275

For a total cost of - $895

Whoa, you say. $900, I thought you said that we'd get off cheaply...

Everything being relative, you are getting off cheaply. All of these lenses have fast apertures (and are sharp wide open - try that with your average zoom). Given the optical advantages that primes offer, we would have to compare them with pro grade zooms to replicate the speed and quality. Here are a few:

Canon 16 - 35 f2.8L - $1370 (OR) Canon 17 - 40 f4L - $680
Canon 24 - 70 f2.8L - $1135 (OR) Tamron 28 - 75 f2.8 - $375
Canon 70 - 200 f2.8L - $1140 (OR) Canon 20 - 200 f4L - $580*
Total: - $3645 (OR) - $1635

*Not a completely equivalent comparison since the tele-zooms go out to 300mm equiv on a Canon DSLR.

To be fair, the Canon "L" zooms win hands down in build quality and autofocus speed (many of the primes feel "cheap" and "plasticky"). But if it is image quality that matters (and you don't have $1200 per lens to spend), the primes won't let you down.

Bottom line - if image quality is your #1 priority, and you don't have/want to spend thousands on the best pro grade glass, give the primes a try. You will be pleasantly surprised with the results!