At some point in your photography journey you are going to outgrow your kit lens, the lens that came with your camera. The kit lens is usually a good lens to get started with, but not good enough to allow you to really take advantage of the true power of your camera. Modern interchangeable lens cameras (whether DSLR or mirrorless) are capable of producing images of stunning quality, and the thing most likely to prevent you doing so is the lens. Upgrading your lens is one of the easiest ways to increase the quality of your photography.
Choosing a new lens, however, can be a daunting task—there is such a vast range of options out there. But there a few considerations to keep in mind which can simplify the process. First and foremost, think about the type of photography you want to pursue. Lenses are generally classified according to focal length, and most usages have a preferred focal length. This is true whether you plan to shoot action sports, portraits of your kids, architecture, or anything else besides.
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Many photography enthusiasts look only at zoom lenses, and never consider the option of buying a prime lens. But prime lenses, also known as fixed focal length lenses, offer a significant advantage over their zooming cousins. Because they contain fewer glass elements, they create sharper images with greater clarity.
Prime lenses have one more advantage over zoom lenses because they usually have a large maximum aperture. The aperture, in combination with the shutter speed, determines the amount of light that reaches the sensor. A larger aperture lets in more light, but it also reduces the depth of field, that range of distances within which everything is sharp and in focus. A large maximum aperture allows you to create dreamy, blurred-out backgrounds that portrait photographers love.
If you are interested in making portraits, an 85mm lens is considered the best choice, because it is flattering for human subjects, and it also allows you to stay close enough to your subject that you can maintain conversation, which is important if you want to make an effective portrait.
In terms of value for money, it’s hard to beat a prime lens. It’s true that you have do more work to frame your images the way you want, by physically moving closer to, or further from your subject, but this can actually help you become a better photographer by forcing you to think more carefully about your framing.
Telephoto Zoom Lenses
Nature and wildlife is a hugely popular area of photography, but it’s also a uniquely challenging one because your subjects are often skittish and elusive. They are difficult to get close to, and in the process of trying to do so you’ll probably scare them off anyway. So you want a lenses that will allow you to get closer without actually getting closer; enter the telephoto zoom lens. You’ll likely want a lens that can go to at least 200mm, less than that and you may find yourself struggling to fill the frame with your subject.
Wide-angle lenses are generally in the range of 16-35mm, and they allow you to capture more of the scene in front of you than longer lenses. Street photographers often favor this type of lens, for example, and they are also very useful when photographing interiors or architecture, anything where space might be limited. The downside of wide angle lenses is that they tend to distort things, giving you a sort of ‘bulge’ effect. This is why wide angle lenses are generally not used for portraits.
Macro lenses are a specialized type of lens used to create close up images that reveal a level of detail not visible to the human eye. You’ve probably seen some of those amazing close-ups of flowers; these require a macro lens to create. What’s unique about macro lenses is that they have a very short minimum focusing distance, you can get very close to the subject of your photograph and thereby capture all that amazing detail. Macro lenses are often prime lenses too, and can be used for other types of photography. The focal length is usually long enough that they can be used for portraits too.
Standard Zoom Lenses
The most popular type of zoom lens is the standard zoom lens, which usually incorporates a range of focal lengths that cover wide-angle through to portrait usages, for example a 24-70mm or a 17-50mm. This is the lens that will allow you to shoot the biggest variety of subjects effectively. The trade off is that you won’t get the sharpness or shallow depth-of-field of a prime lens.
Fisheye Camera Lens
Fisheye lenses are very wide-angle lenses which are often used to interesting effect in action sports photography. They capture an almost surreal amount of the scene in front of you and create a pretty wacky look that can be used to great creative effect.
It’s worth mentioning the ‘crop factor’ that applies to cameras with sensors of different sizes. The focal length stated on the lens presumes that the camera you are using has a ‘full-frame’ sensor, approximately equivalent in size to the old 35mm film standard. In reality, smaller APS-C sensors are more common, which are somewhere around two-thirds the size of a full-frame sensor.
Lenses, as you know, are circular and they actually capture a circular view, but the camera sensor, being rectangular, only captures a cropped portion of this view. APS-C sensors crop out more than full-frame sensors, and so give the appearance of being more zoomed in. Canon cameras with APS-C sensors, for example, have a crop factor of 1.6, which means that a 50mm lens will actually behave like a 80mm lens. So in order to choose the right lens for your camera you need to be aware of the crop factor that applies to that camera.
Take the next step
Now you have a better idea of what kinds of lenses are available, continue on your photographic journey by choosing a new lens from the great selection at Best Buy.