Choosing and Buying a Camera Lens

There are more than 5 different camera lens companies, hundreds of different terms and there are even freaky white lenses. How can you, as a beginner, know which lens to buy?

By reading and thinking. However, before reading this entire article, I must warn you – most of the time, buying a new lens is better than buying a more expensive DSLR camera! Especially if you don’t even know everything about your camera, like its controls, features, shutter speed, ISO, frame rate etc.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever get yourself a better Digital SLR, just do it when you know a lot about photography. Otherwise, you’ll be buying cameras however using the same 18-55mm lens that pretty much gives the same quality on the cheapest or most professional bodies.

Focal Length

The most important thing when buying a new camera lens is without a doubt, choosing the focal length. Want something wide, telephoto, macro, fisheye? There are plenty of different options, let’s break them down into three groups:

Wide Angle Lens : below 20mm

Standard Lens: 20 – 85mm

Telephoto Lens: 85mm+

15mm

If you mostly want to photograph landscape or anything wide, then buying a wide angle lens wouldn’t be such a bad idea. You are of course not limited only to landscape, however it just makes it easier for you to photograph that as you get so much more in your shot! What’s really wide? Anything below 20mm, while ultra-wide is a lens below 15mm.

50mm

Most photographers shoot pretty much everything they see. Are you the same? You should get a standard camera lens, the range is anywhere from 20mm to 85mm and these are the most common focal lengths we use. Great for everyday things, parties, nature, flowers, animals and much much more.

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500mm

If you want to photograph things that are really far away from you (sports, wildlife, nature) then buying a telephoto lens would make your life so easier. Anything above 85mm is considered telephoto, however personally, I think 150mm+ is where it really starts. These lenses allow us to get close to our subject without moving, therefore not distracting them. You could of course run on the basketball court and shoot the players with a wide angle lens however I think you’d be thrown out of the arena.

100mm – 1x magnification

Macro photography is simply great. The fact that you can make tiny things look like big objects just opens up a new chapter in your photography life. Macro lenses do not actually get that close to the subject, they magnify if it. The ratio is 1:1 (aka 1x), anything below that, like 1:2 is not macro. With such lenses, you can shoot bugs, flowers, electronics, portraits or anything else that you think would look really cool when magnified!

Prime & Zoom Camera Lenses

Prime:

A prime lens is simply put, a camera lens with only one focal length. You can’t zoom, period. Though, as a beginner, you might be asking yourself – why would I hurt myself and buy a prime lens like 50mm, when I can just get a 18-200mm and live on. The answer is really simple, these lenses have less glass elements inside and therefore quite often have less problems and better image quality. However, I would recommend you to get a zoom lens first if you’re completely to new to DSLR photography and then see what you need.

Prime lenses have less elements inside of them and therefore have less (visible) mistakes and usually better image quality

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They are usually faster, which means that they have wider apertures, like f/1.2, f/1.4, f/2.0. While on the other hand, many cheaper zooms start at f/4.

Zoom:

The second camera lens group are zooms. They have many focal lengths and they make photography much easier. For example; Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. You can go all the way from 18 to 55 and all numbers between without needing to change between different lenses.

Zoom lenses are usually cheaper than primes at similar focal lengths

Instead of switching from like a 24 and 70mm lens all the time, you can just buy a 24-70mm lens and zoom when necessary.

Zooming from 18 to 55 takes less than a second. Switching between two different lenses can take anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds. Plus, if you are in a really dirty, sandy place, your sensor might get some of that too.

Aperture

We are now at the third part, which is also very important as it mostly affects the price of a camera lens. Aperture – we usually want wider apertures because they allow us to photograph in darker conditions and completely blur the background/foreground so our main subject can really stand out!

Fixed/Constant Aperture:

All prime lenses have a fixed aperture, that is because we can not zoom with them. And quite often, they have really really wide/big apertures that allow us to shoot with fast shutter speeds (that is why we call them fast lenses) or blur the background.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM – f/1.4 is a very wide aperture – this is a fast lens.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM – even though it’s a zoom, the aperture f/2.8 is constant at 70 and 200mm. The price is bigger though and it’s heavier.

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Variable Aperture:

You guessed it. These apertures change when we zoom from one focal length to another. However actually, most of the zooms have a variable aperture, which makes them cheaper, lighter and smaller.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM – It is f/4 at 300mm, while the widest at 30mm f/5.6. That is small when you compare it to 50mm f/1.4, however the thing is, you can use such lenses without any problems outside, or even inside if you bump up the ISO a little bit.

Features

Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction – By having IS in your lens, you can shoot with longer shutter speeds without getting a blurred shot. Some help you even up to 5 stops (like shoot at 1/4 instead of 1/125 and still get a clear shot), however remember, it works only on still objects!

Focusing Motors – Canon calls them Ultra Sonic Motors (USM), Sigma calls them HSM and every brand has its own name. Lenses with this motor make auto focusing more precise, silent and faster.

Full Time Manual Focus – Instead of switching from AF/MF button all of the time, you can focus manually even if the lens is set to AF! Saves a few seconds and energy.

Rotating Front Element – If you are going to use polarizing filters on your lenses, make sure their front element does not rotate as the effect will be constantly changing!

Which Camera Lens To Buy

Since most of you plan on buying, or already own, Canon and Nikon DSLR bodies, the choices are to stick to those categories, but choose from the many options above. Enjoy the shopping for glass!