If you have just purchased your first camera and feel a bit dissatisfied with the kit lens, maybe it is time for an upgrade. Becoming an excellent photographer does not end with buying a camera. Many experts will tell you that the secret in making a good photo lies within the right lens.
Choosing a proper lens, suited for your needs and in line with your budget, can be a tiring and challenging task. That is how I have decided to put together a list of tips and tricks that will help you properly navigate through the lens market. If you need any help with picking the right lens for your camera body, keep on reading.
DSLR or Mirrorless? It matters!
Modern digital cameras are separated into two categories – DSLR and mirrorless cameras. They both have their pros and cons, but it is not just about camera bodies, it is also essential when choosing a lens. If you are a DSLR owner, especially a full-frame DSLR, you want to go for a lens optimized for DSLR cameras. If you are a proud mirrorless camera owner, you want to check the market for lenses designed for mirrorless cameras.
Though they are not present in such numbers, you can find them without breaking a sweat. The logic behind the comparison between mirrorless and DSLR is that you will usually have to mount your camera with an adapter if you want to use the DSLR lens on a mirrorless body and vice versa. Some lenses come equipped with various adapters that will ensure the mounting of lenses, but often it is a tedious task.
If you use a mirrorless camera, let’s say Nikon Z series. It would be best if you stuck to lenses explicitly made for Z series cameras since mounting DLSR lenses will require an adapter. On top of that, some lenses are optimized for certain camera types to ensure the proper working, follow the simple rule. Use mirrorless lenses for mirrorless cameras and DSLR lenses for those cameras.
Prime is prime, but zoom can vary
Prime lenses are fantastic for portrait and close-up photography. They provide a great depth of field and smooth transitions between subjects in focus and blurred background. However, their focal length is fixed and is given a single unit (35 mm, 55 mm, 85 mm). This focal length is called fixed, which means that it is the only one available, so you can’t zoom in nor zoom out. This can be an issue if you need to stand closer to your subject or feel like you need to zoom in or out for whatever reasons.
Zoom lenses come with a range of focal lengths and are given in mm units (24-70 mm, 70-200 mm). It means you can zoom from 24 mm to 77 mm (or any other value for that). They are great for framing wider scenes into the shot or shooting distant objects like stars, mountain summits, or wild animals. These lenses are usually more expensive and bulkier. They vary between how much light they let in through the blend and how much they distort an image at a particular focal range.
Aperture and focal length – light and distortion
Aperture represents how much of a light a lens can let through the sensor. It is expressed as a value called an f-stop. The lower the number, the more light lens allows going through. For example, a lens of f-stop value f/1.4 enables a lot of light to enter the sensor. The images it produces are of good quality in terms of lighting and exposure. Most of the high-quality lenses sit in between f/1.4 – f/5.6 in terms of aperture. Of course, you can shoot at a more narrow aperture when the lens doesn’t open so much (and you can usually get sharper images if you stop two values before the maximum aperture). Still, the more light lens lets through, the better it is.
The focal length is essential when it comes to shooting both close and distant objects. The higher this number is, the more you can zoom in and frame subjects distant from the camera. A smaller focal length captures subjects closer to you, which is often used in macro and portrait photography. On the other hand, the higher value of the focal length (200 mm or higher) is used in wildlife photography or astrophotography, because you shoot objects at a higher distance from your camera.
Price and materials – is it an investment or a hobby?
Saving up for a new lens is always a good thing. It can take your photography to the next level, but photography gear is often expensive. That is why you need to ask yourself, is photography a hobby or a (planned) profession? If it is former, you should opt for a cheaper option, because there are so many right lenses you can buy at a reasonable price. On the other hand, being a professional (or planning to become one) will require you to use a high-quality lens or a set of those, which means you should consider your buying as an investment. In this case, aim at the highest quality possible.
With that in mind, it is essential to take notice of the materials used for lenses. Most of them are made out of metal and plastic. The quality of those materials can vary. The rule of thumb is – the more expensive the lens, the better materials it uses. However, you can make some compromises here as well. If you mainly shoot portraits and macro, you can get away using an all-plastic lens. It probably won’t be “weather-resistant “and doesn’t have the latest sealing technology, but it will do more than a decent job.
On the other side, if you like to spend time outdoors and indulge in wildlife and shoot astrophotography, or in the rain, you might want to consider buying a sealed lens. These lenses are usually equipped with quality lens caps and robust metal. Most of telephoto and wildlife lenses are like that, but of course, there are some differences. With that in mind, pay attention to what you want to shoot and what compromises you are willing to take.
There are lots of things to consider when choosing a lens. Your taste and needs will define and refine as you gain more experience and skill. But at first, you want to check basics such as those mentioned above. If you just use these tips and tricks to ponder upon when choosing a lens, you will make a good choice in your first picking. So explore the market and take some awesome shots!
Write by John Bennet, Photographer & a part-time author of the Lensespro blog. He has been a professional photographer for over six years, and he has great knowledge & passion for camera lenses.