A great lens is a beautiful thing. It’s just as important as a quality camera body. Images captured with flat, soft glass will result in a loss of the many megapixels on modern DSLRs. As you become a better photographer, you will begin to appreciate the differences between lenses.
Which lens or lenses should you use to start? The choice you make will depend on the type of photography you want and your budget. This tutorial will show you how to find the best lens for your style of photography.
Some allusions shattered
This may shock you, but it was for me when I first started. An SLR lens will not fit on any SLR camera. An SLR lens from Canon won’t fit on a Nikon, and a Pentax DSLR with an older Pentax lens will not work. There are many mounts for cameras. This simply refers to the size and shape to which the lens attaches. Be careful before you grab that bargain lens from the charity shop. Make sure it fits and works with your camera.
A lot of new DSLR deals include a lens at a significant discount or for free. A general-purpose zoom lens means you can experiment with different focal lengths. They are also cheap, although they aren’t free like an airline meal. The image quality is not excellent. I recommend that you spend a bit more and aim higher.
Zooms, primes wide-angles and zooms for telephotos
A zoom lens is something most people know. You can use it for a variety of focal lengths. The ‘general purpose’ zoom ranges from 24mm to 70mm. It is my most used lens. 24mm or anything below 35mm is considered wide-angle. 70mm and above is considered telephoto. The term wide-angle can be explained by its ability to cover a large part of the view in front. Telephoto is the reverse. Telephoto is similar to a telescope. It allows you to see a smaller area but magnified or ‘brought nearer.’
Prime lenses have only one focal length. They don’t zoom. You can choose from wide-angle, standard, or telephoto. Its focal length is approximately 50mm, which gives you roughly the same perspective as the human eye. It lacks the flexibility of a zoom, but it makes up for it in sharpness and sometimes in wide aperture. This allows for crisper photography in low-light conditions. A wide aperture lens is called a “fast” lens.
Horses as courses
Different types of photography require different lenses. A telephoto is an excellent choice for photographers who are interested in sports and nature photography. It can be a big bazooka that has a focal length of 300mm. When he/she is surrounded by action, a candid street photographer or photojournalist will opt for a wide-angle lens. Portrait photographers might stick with a standard lens, possibly a prime lens, to achieve a narrow depth focus and draw attention to their eyes. Landscape photographers might use a variety of focal lengths, so it is a good idea to get a general-purpose zoom.
There are no hard-and-fast rules. The best nature photography that I have seen was captured with wide-angle or standard lenses. It’s thrilling to see the wild animals close up and get a unique perspective.
Keep your options open.
When they start out as photographers, they have no idea what they might photograph. Although you may be passionate about nature, it soon becomes apparent that waiting days for a photo of a woodpecker is not realistic. Instead, you might point your camera at your children.
To be flexible, I recommend that you start with a general-purpose zoom. You have a lot of options for experimentation with a zoom in the range of 24-70mm to 28-105mm. Although you may not be able to capture the batsman’s expression when he is out of the game, you can still take many portraits, landscapes, and close-quarter shots.
Not only for portraits but also for prime lenses, 50mm is a great lens to have. 50mms are small and sharp, but also fast. Although the benefits of speed and sharpness may not immediately be apparent, they will increase as you move on. You can get 50mms for as low as $100.
Yes, you may want to add a telephoto zoom (something around 70-300mm).
The F factor
There may be lenses with identical focal lengths but at very different prices. Quality can be defined by many factors. Materials are the most critical factor in quality. They determine image quality and durability (beware of plastic lenses).
The ‘F-number is probably the most critical factor. This is the aperture width. A cheap zoom might be marked f4.5 to 5.6. In low light conditions (dusk, indoors), sharp shots would be difficult. F1.4 is my favorite prime lens. This lens lets in up to four times the light of a cheap zoom. Although it may seem a bit arbitrary, this makes a huge difference when you’re shooting in churches without flash.
Producing lenses with larger apertures (smaller F numbers) is more costly. However, they are generally of better quality.
Where and how to purchase lenses
I love ‘almost-new’ second-hand lenses that can be found online. You can usually save hundreds of dollars by purchasing a second-hand lens that has been only used a few times, as opposed to a brand new one. However, the lens should still be inspected by you unless it is an eBay seller with proven quality.
Dust and mold are the first things to look for in a lens that is less than new. Point the lens towards the light by removing the caps from both ends. You can take a moment to look through the lens. You might consider renegotiating the price if there are any traces of mold or dust.
Note regarding resale: It is best to keep the original box and all accessories (such as pouches or lens hoods) intact. Your lens will retain its value better than any other product.