The variety of lenses that can be fitted to a DSLR camera is one of the biggest advantages they have over other types of cameras. From telephoto to macro to wide angle and everything in between, lens manufacturers have something for everyone.
A camera is really only as good as the lens it has fitted to it. Even the best camera offerings from Nikon and Canon will take substandard photos with a substandard lens. This is why it is always the advice of photographers to “buy glass” or invest in lenses over camera. Purchase the best and fastest lenses you can afford…the improvement to your pictures will pay you back.
Things to Consider:
When buying a new lens, the first thing to consider is what focal length do you want to invest in?
The lower the focal length, the wider the angle.
- 1 – 35mm : Wide Angle
- 35-100mm: Portrait
- 100mm + : Zoom
The kinds of lenses you collect will depend on the kind of photography you want to do – a wildlife enthusiast will have more use of a with a zoom lens than a landscape photographer and portrait photographers will want to stick to the sweet spot of 50-85mm. Macro lenses are also on offer to get you extreme close up shots of small details.
Zoom vs Prime:
Some photographers love zoom lenses, where others love fixed focal length. Each have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages:
+ cover a wide range of focal lengths, allowing the user to stay in one place and change the scope of the image.
- high quality zoom lenses tend to be more expensive than primes.
- Quality of focus is likely to deteriorate at either end of the focal range.
+ it is cheaper to produce a high quality, fast fixed focal length lens than it is to produce a zoom.
+ They are likely to have larger apertures than their zoom equivalent.
- You have to “zoom with your feet” if you want to change your distance to the subject or change lenses.
One of the first lenses that people buy after their kit lens is a “nifty 50″ 50mm f1.8 prime lens offered by both Canon and Nikon at a very reasonable pricetag. There is no doubt this is a great lens for a great price (usually around £80-£100/$100-$130).
The aperture of a lens is opening in the lens that lets in light. Lenses have a series of blades that open and close, much like the way your iris controls the size of your pupil. The larger the size of the opening, the more light that is let into the camera. The larger the number (measured in something called f/ stops or f/ numbers), the smaller the aperture.
The kit lens that came with your camera is likely to be a 3.5-5.6, zoom lens. What this means is that its aperture decreases as you zoom. It opens up to 3.5 at its widest angle (though sometimes this is only in auto settings) and at 5.6 at its tightest. This is not very fast and can limit your ability to shoot in natural light. Big open apertures are important to getting that lovely bokeh (background blur) and to letting in lots of light into the camera, but sadly as f/ numbers go down, pricetags go up. Generally speaking, good lenses have a large aperture (so an f number of 2.8 or lower). These lenses will work in lower light conditions and be able to get sharper images. To get apertures that wide, the manufacturer will have to use high quality glass and will give you the sharpest images with the best colour representation.
Branded vs 3rd Party Lenses:
In addition to the lenses offered by your brand of camera, you are also able to buy lenses from 3rd party manufacturers. Tokina, Sigma, and Tamron are the 3 biggest and offer a wide range of options for most camera brands (though they do tend to favour Nikon and Canon). It used to be that professionals only used first party lenses, as they were known for better quality. As time has moved on, 3rd party lenses have increased in quality, whilst often still being cheaper than branded options. Making the decision between a 1st and 3rd party lens can really be about what you want out of a lens for what price, not whether or not it is made by your camera brand.
Things to consider when buying a lens:
- Think about the kinds of shots you want to take – do you like extreme close up of details? Buy a macro. Do you want to take portraits? A 50mm or 85mm prime would be your best bet. Looking to capture groups or landscapes? Think about a wide angle lens.
- Research!! Amazon reviews and digital photography forums are great places to see real life reviews of the lenses in action. For more technical reviews, check out DP Review or Photozone
- If it’s a 3rd party lens, make sure you buy the mount that is for your camera brand
- Always buy the best quality you can afford.
- Local camera shops often allow you to rent before you buy. Take a lens out
for a test spin before you commit.
- eBay is a great place to buy and sell 2nd hand lenses, with many lenses
retaining much of their value. If you try something and you aren’t reaching
for it, sell it on!
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