Buying Camera Lenses: The Ultimate Guide

A camera without the appropriate lens is useless to a photographer. The lens is what focuses the light from what you see through the viewfinder into a spot on the back of the film.

If you remove the lens from your camera, the only kind of image you can produce is white light.

A good lens can make a great picture but the best camera body with a poor quality lens cannot make a great picture.

There are dozens of different types of camera lenses available, designed for use in a wide range of circumstances. Although, buying any type of camera lens will not help in the betterment of your photography, especially if you are considering photography as more than a hobby.

In this article, we have grouped several important factors that you have to keep in mind while purchasing a camera lens to help you choose the right lens – what type of photography do you do? The focal length, aperture, image stabilization, different type of lenses and compatibility with your camera sensor.

What do you want to take photographs of?

Other than the features of the lenses that appeal to you, what type of subjects and scenes you want to shoot also depend a lot on the right lens.

The way you interpret a scene is also important, as well as how you perceive an image or a subject.

For example, a wide-angle lens is an excellent tool to capture a group of people, however, some photographers may also prefer a telephoto lens.

Focal length

Focal length is the first number used to describe a lens. In combination with the camera’s sensor size, focal length determines the angle of view covered by the lens.

Lenses are often referred to by their “35 mm equivalent” focal length. For example, an 18-55 mm kit lens for APS-C can be described as a 28-90 mm equivalent.

An APS C camera that has an 18-55 mm lens will cover the same angle of view as a full-frame camera with a 28-90 mm lens.

In most cases, selecting the right focal length relates to what sort of subject matter you’re interested in photographing.

Different applications benefit from different focal lengths. For example, landscape photography tends to lean toward wide-angle lenses with 14mm to 35 mm focal length.

Architecture photography also works better with wide-angle lenses.

For example, if you are interested in portrait photography, the best lenses are between 45mm and 85mm. At these focal lengths, the proportions of the face and body are true to life and are really flattering.

In most cases, wildlife and nature photographers require long focal lengths in the 300 mm to 600 mm range. With these focal lengths, you can get nice and tight shots of birds and other wildlife without scaring your subjects away.

Ultra Wide Angle lenses

Ultra-wide angle lenses are often considered specialist lenses. The range of these lenses is not usually included as a part of a kit lens.

These lenses create such a wide angle of view that the images can appear distorted. This is mainly because our eyes are not used to seeing in that sort of range.

Wide and ultra-wide angle lenses are about putting yourself, the photographer in the centre of it all and not just getting the whole of a scene in.

These lenses are not particularly suited for portrait photography as they enhance the perspective so much that the facial features sometimes appear unnatural.

Wide Angle lenses

Wide angle lenses offer good light, and the right depth of field; how much of your scene will be blurry and how much of your scene will be sharp?

This comes in handy especially when you shoot nature-themed scenes. Physically, the wide-angle lens is more convenient to carry around because they are smaller than zoom lenses and are lighter.

With these lenses, you don’t need to worry about the outcomes of your photos even if you took them in a secluded area where the light is limited.

Wide-angle lenses are not always great for portrait photography. It makes the facial features appear differently – the nose may become wider or the eyes may look stretched or sunken.

Standard lens

A standard lens is about 35 mm to 70 mm. It is in this range that the lens will reproduce what our eyes see, excluding our peripheral vision.

This range is an excellent choice for street photography or in a close setting with friends such as at a dinner table or in a club.

A standard lens such as a 50 mm f1.8 is a great and affordable addition to your lens kit. The results are outstanding.

Telephoto lenses

A telephoto lens will help you get as close as you want to your subject without risking the loss of a moment.

So you won’t need to worry about getting hit by a car while crossing a busy street to take a picture. You can take the picture from where you are using a telephoto lens.

The disadvantage of using a telephoto lens is that the most economical models start at f3.5 or f4.5, thus not allowing a lot of light in.

If you are ready to spend more, you could try and purchase the models that reach f2.8 which is usually what professional photographers prefer.

Zoom lenses

Zoom lenses are named using two numbers which indicate the extremes of the range.

For example, 24-70 mm for a typical zoom kit lens.

Zoom lenses give you a variable f-stop range, as well as a wide range of focal lengths. This is one of the main reasons why many photographers choose to get the zoom lens.

Prime lenses

Prime lenses are fixed focal length lenses which do not tend to zoom and are represented with a single number. For example, 50 mm.

Purchasing a prime lens, on the other hand, will give you better brightness and quality.

Prime lenses are much easier to control and manage or even correct if there are any errors. That is why you tend to get better quality photos as compared to zoom lenses.

Macro lenses

If you plan to take extreme close-up shots, you should go for the macro lens as they are intended for taking close-up shots of small subjects and creating crisp and sharp images.

If you choose a Macro lens, you will have good quality photos even at the closest distance with your subject.

Your macro lens should have at least a 1:1 magnification and should allow you to use a varied range of focal lengths.

This magnification basically means that the close-ups or extreme close-ups will not result in a blurry image no matter the distance between you and your subject.

Aperture

The aperture specification of a lens describes how much light it is capable of capturing.

The lens apertures can be expressed in several ways, like F4, f/4, and 1:4 all meaning the same thing.

A smaller number means that the lens has a larger maximum aperture and therefore can gather more light. For example, an F2.8 lens will collect twice as much light as an F4.

Any lens that has a large maximum aperture allows the photographer to shoot in any low light conditions and shoot indoors without having to use a flash.

Wide apertures also give decreased depth of field which is an important aspect to look for in creative photography.

Longer lenses give less depth of field for the same aperture when focused at the same distance.

Lenses are usually described by their maximum aperture value. So when you see an aperture range written on the side of a lens, for example, f3.5 – 5.6, those are the maximum aperture values at the wide and long ends of its zoom range.

Compatibility with your camera sensor

In digital cameras, the sensor is the part that records the image when you press on the shutter.

Sensors in most DSLR cameras and mirrorless cameras are bigger than sensors in point-and-shoot cameras, so the resulting images are clearer and more realistic.

The CMOS sensor is larger than the CCD sensor and can capture more light, which allows it to produce higher-quality images.

This difference in size can also affect the structure and overall function of your camera, so make sure that the lens you purchase is compatible with your camera’s specs and body.

Image stabilisation

Image stabilisation increases the number of sharp images you get caused by a natural handshake when shooting without a tripod.

Many lenses offer their own stabilization to compensate for the shaking.

If you use a long telephoto lens, there is a feature called the “In-Lens” stabilization which has proven quite more effective than the “In-Body” stabilization.

Optical image stabilization is represented in various ways by different lens manufacturers. Here are some of the abbreviations to look out for:

  • Canon – Image Stabilization (IS)
  • Fujifilm and Panasonic – Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)
  • Nikon – Vibration Reduction (VR)
  • Sony – Optical Steady Shot (OSS)

Compatibility with your camera

Not all lenses work with every brand or model of a camera. For some cameras, you will need an adapter to connect to another brand’s lens.

Although, it is worth noting that even with an adapter all features of that particular lens might not work on a different camera.

Lens mount

Each camera manufacturer uses its own propriety lens mount, meaning that lenses cannot be swapped across different brands.

There are two exceptions in lens mounts – Micro Four Thirds and the L-Mount. There are in collaboration with other camera companies such as Panasonic, Olympus, Leica, and Sigma.

Many DSLR mount lenses can be adapted to work on mirrorless cameras made by the same brand, but lenses for mirrorless cameras cannot be used on DSLRs.

Sony allows some third-party lenses for its mirrorless E-mount system, but for Nikon and Canon, there are fewer third-party options available.

Build quality, weatherproofing

Make sure that the lenses that you are about to purchase are weatherproof as they will come effective during bad weather conditions or dusty situations.

The general rule is that the more expensive a lens is, the better built it is likely to have.

The kit lens that comes along with cameras is rather lightweight and plastic in construction. If you spend a bit more, you can something much more durable.

Some lenses also incorporate environmental seals against dust and water; generally, this tends towards the top end of the price spectrum.

Autofocus performance

Autofocus performance in a lens is an important factor to look for. If the autofocus has a good performance rate, you will be able to capture the perfect moment at any event,

That is why it is essential that you use good-quality autofocus lenses that are faster and quicker.

Mirrorless cameras have been introduced to the camera market quite recently and so there is an interplay of the optical designs that affect the performance of the lenses.

There are quite a few modern lenses that have no physical connection between the focus ring and the focusing lens elements, as it were in the older SLRs and DSLRs.

Although modern autofocus has its benefits, there is a huge number of manual focus lenses on the market.

Price

Everybody has a different budget and the amount of money you are willing to spend on lenses determines which lenses come into consideration.

Lenses tend to get very expensive very quickly. If cost is a concern for you, consider a middle-length zoom lens – for example, a 24-70 mm f2.8 lens.

This is a workhorse lens that works well in a variety of situations, from portraits or landscapes.

You can save a lot of money on filters by buying smaller lenses. If you are curious to see how much, search for circular polarizing filters and compare the price of the same filter in 58 mm and 70 mm sizes.

Many photographers feel that they need to invest in name-brand lenses to use with their name-brand cameras.

If you are on a tight budget, you can invest in third-party lenses after careful investigation. Brands like Rokinon, Sigma and Tamron produce similar lenses to brands like Nikon, Sony and Canon at a reduced price.

Some brands may also have multiple versions of lenses available at various prices. So if it is not of much importance to you, you can buy a lens without lens functions like image stabilization or auto-focus motors.

Manual lenses take time to get used to and require a lot of practice but are often much less expensive.

Try it out in person

You can choose a couple of lenses that you feel are right for your photography field and practice on them and compare their features and prices.

The benefit of trying them out in person rather than buying them online is that this exercise will help you find the kind of lens that you are looking for.

Think about the weight and size of your lenses carefully, as you are going to be the one who has to carry them around.

Holding the camera in your hand will tell you how light or heavy the camera lens is and whether it is comfortable for you.

A large telephoto lens can weigh as much as 10 pounds. So if you are a wildlife photographer then a telephoto lens will be worth the weight.

Read reviews

The best thing you can do while buying a camera lens is to look around different websites or camera selling shops and compare before deciding on one type or brand.

You can read reviews on various lenses on different websites or even talk and consult your photography friends or colleagues to make a smart purchase.

You should pay close attention to things like how the lens work in low light situations, how sharp images shot with the lens are, and how quickly and how well can the lens focus.

There are sites like BorrowLenses, which will help you choose the correct lens to rent or try out before you actually go ahead and buy.

Conclusion

If you want to explore the full potential of your camera and your creative photography, adding another lens or two to your collection other than your kit lens will help you in the long run.

To improve your image quality, the best way to go along with it is to replace your kit lens as soon as possible.

Prime lenses are a good choice as they are always going to provide better image quality at a cheaper price rate.

They are said to be excellent low-cost alternatives to kit lenses.

Own a few, good quality lenses, don’t overbuy. Keep the big picture in mind. Keep the next photography shoot in mind and then accordingly choose your lens.

In conclusion, in any kind of photography, using the right camera lens – which is the most important part of a camera is crucial for achieving the perfect shot.

And maximizing the use of your camera’s interchangeable lenses can turn your photographs from amateurish to professional.

So choose your lens wisely!

Shabbir
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