A Beginner’s Guide to Camera Lenses.
Buying your first camera lens can be daunting and many of us happily settle for the lens that comes with the camera. We may spend hours researching the camera body and give near fleeting thought to the lens.
Yet it’s the lens that actually records the image, not the camera body, so haven’t we got this all the wrong way round?
I would say yes! My old photography tutor once told us that that when buying a camera, spend 2/3rd of the budget on the lens and 1/3rd on the camera body………… Advice I am still happy to pass on today 25 years later.
I would recommend you don’t just settle for the bit of ‘glass,’ (photography slang for lens) the manufactures supply with the camera. They are often cheep, light, plastic and not very good.
“Instead decide what type of photography you want to do,
consider your budget, the weight of the lens,
then make an informed choice.”
Most entry level DSLR camera come with a wide angle zoom, usually a 18-55mm and believe me in this range there are some truly shocking lenses out there. Two of the worst being the Nikon AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II and the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Even on a top of the range camera body you will struggle to get a decent image from one of these.
My choice in this zoom range would be the Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 EX DC Macro HSM for Nikon or the Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 EX DC Macro for Canon.
But lets not get ahead or ourselves. Let’s first think what we want to use our camera for. Most of us, having purchased our first cameras, what to shoot anything and everything, from Landscapes to Portraits, Travel to Flower photography.
Camera lenses are divided up into 3 broad groups – wide-angle, standard, and telephoto. A standard lens has a focal length of about 50mm in film camera terms, and is said to be the length that equates most closely to human vision.
A lens with a focal length of around 35mm or less is classed as a wide-angle. As the name suggests, these lenses encompass a wide area of view, including more in the frame than a standard lens would. They also exaggerate perspective and increase the feeling of depth in an image.
A telephoto lens will generally have a focal length of about 70mm or higher. In the same way as a telescope, they bring distant objects closer. They also have a flattening effect on perspective.
So what focal length or range of focal lengths might you need? To a large extent, this will depend on what you want to photograph. Landscape photographers often use a whole range of focal lengths, as their subject matter can vary so widely. A portrait photographer may use a range of lengths from standard to medium telephoto – a short telephoto can give a comfortable working distance between photographer and subject while still making a frame filling portrait. Wildlife photographers and sports photographers will generally work with long telephotos as their subjects are often quite far away.
But this is only a very general guide, and there are no rules about what lens you can or can’t use for any particular genre of photography!
Most of us start off with buying just one lens, so it need to coupe with a wide variety of shots– I would recommend a 24-70mm. Or better still a 28-150mm .
You may now find that, even within the same manufacturer, there is a wide range of prices for the same zoom length. The main reason for this is the size of the maximum aperture in the lenses.
The aperture controls the amount of light that the lens allows in, and a wide aperture (represented by a low f stop number) lets in more light than a narrow one. A lens with a wide maximum aperture is described as “faster” than one with a smaller maximum aperture. This may be important in low-light situations. Also, because lenses with wider apertures are more expensive to manufacture, they tend to be generally of a higher quality.
“Choose your lens based on it focal length as well as its aperture size.
As a general rule the larger the maximum aperture the more expensive and also the
heavier the lens”
Get FREE Photography tips and ideas from our experts in your inbox.