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It’s amazing what you can do with a standard DSLR camera these days but if you want to specialise or open up a world of new possibilities then choosing the right camera lens is vital.
It can be pretty mind boggling to choose from the enormous range of lenses available on the market but if you simplify your search you’ll make faster progress than trying to take account of every detail of minutiae along the way!
Another consideration you need to keep in mind while selecting a lens for your camera is that different manufacturers often use different abbreviations for the exact same thing, although a quick Google search will clear this up for you too.
What are the Major Types of Camera Lens and What Do You Use Them For?
Despite the dizzying array of camera lenses that are available you can quickly narrow down your search if you understand the main types and what they’re generally used for.
|Focal Length (millimeters/mm)||Lens Type||Popular Uses|
|4 – 14 millimeters.||FishEye Lens||Creative Projects, Experimental Work and Abstract Photography|
|14 – 35 millimeters||Wide Angle Lens||Real Estate, Architectural and Landscape photography|
|35 – 85 millimeters||Standard Zoom Lens||Travel, street, portrait and general photography|
|85 – 135 millimeters||Short Telephoto Lens||Portraits, studio work and street photography|
|135 millimeters +||Medium Telephoto Lens||Wildlife, action and sports photography|
|300 millimeters +||Super Telephoto Lens||Wildlife, nature, astronomy and sports photography (from a distance)|
|35 – 200 millimeters||Macro Lens||Close up photography.|
It’s a little surprising to learn how many different types of lenses there are in photography, especially when you’re first starting out but they roughly break down in two main types – zoom lenses and prime lenses.
This is one of the most versatile of the lenses and can be used in a wide range of genres. Ideal for everything from your holiday wildlife photographs to street photography and even portraiture.
A zoom lens is a common piece of equipment for many freelancing photographers, with the most popular being the 70-200 mm zoom; which you’ll see in the hands of many wedding photographers. You can also get zoom lenses with a greater range of 18-270 mm which will let you work close up and from quite a significant distance.
The zoom lens is by far the most generally useful of the lens types and if you’re starting out in a freelance career or want to add to your equipment and broaden your horizons then it’s a fantastic choice.
Unlike the zoom lens, a prime lens has a prefixed focal range. This means that you can’t actually change the zoom range and instead they are manufactured to deliver perfectly on a very specific type of photography. These are designed for both amateurs and professionals and a great for producing bokeh images and portraits.
One of the most popular prime lenses is the so-called ‘Nifty Fifty’ Lens, which is a 50 mm lens that is designed to mimic the focal range of the human eye. It is commonly used in portraiture. A 35mm prime lens on the other hand is commonly used in landscape photos.
If you’re wanting to take photos which require an even greater focal range than a standard zoom lens will provide you with then you can use a telephoto lens. These lenses have huge zooming potential and have ranges that run from anywhere to about 100mm right up to an incredible 600mm and more!
These lens are fairly heavy, bulky and come with some pretty hefty price tags as well. When you are using a telephoto lens you’ll need to use a tripod to keep the camera steady to ensure that you don’t have shakes and blurs in the photos.
If you want to take photos of the stars at night, sports from a large distance or most kinds of wildlife photography, then a telephoto lens is an absolute must have!
Wide Angle Lens
If you’re working with landscapes or cityscape photography then there are few things more useful than a good wide angle lens. These lenses have a fairly broad field of focus and let you capture more of the foreground than a standard zoom lens.
For work in real estate or architectural photography you also need a wide angle lens so you can capture the entire width of buildings, rooms and other features in one clean shot.
A fisheye lens will give you an unprecedented wide angle view of the scene but it also creates a distinctive ‘fisheye’ effect on the photograph. They’re a great tool for taking experimental and abstract photos but in terms of professional or freelancing photography they are not as useful as the other options. They are great for shooting indoors or taking some fun shots in the city but if you’re thinking of getting one definitely do your research beforehand so you don’t end up being disappointed by their limitations.
Other Factors To Consider When Selecting the Right Camera Lens For Your Needs.
It goes without saying, that before you start searching for the perfect lens you should try to have a pretty clear idea of what you are going to be using it for and why you need it. Depending on the genre you are working in there will be specific requirements that need to met when selecting a lens but there are also a few general specifications that need to be considered and apply in all cases.
- Weight: This is a very practical consideration but always worth making. If you’re going to be travelling large distances or working in the field then you might want to save on the size and weight of your lens if you don’t need the extra functionality.
- Aperture: The aperture on your lens determines the depth of field within which it can work. A lower aperture figure translates to a deeper depth of field and vice versa, a higher aperture figure refers to a shallower depth of field. If you’re working in landscape photography then you want to make sure you can achieve a very deep depth of field and for macro photography you’ll need to be able to work in a much shallower depth of field. The maximum aperture will be shown for any lens that you buy. This tells you how much light can enter the lens and be recorded by the image sensor. You’ll see the aperture is represented by various different notation styles, including for example, f/2.8 or sometimes 1:2:8 – both are the same. The smaller the aperture is, the more light can enter. On a zoom lens, you’ll see two aperture numbers which show you the amount of light that can enter at the widest zoom and also how much light enters at the maximum zoom; for instance, you might see f2.8-f5.6.
- Focal Length: Another thing to consider when choosing a lens is the focal length. This is measured in mm and tells you whether the lens is, for example, a telephoto or wide angle lens. If you’re doing wildlife photography then you will generally want a telephoto lens whereas for real estate and architectural photos you’ll be better served with a wide angle lens. Telephoto lenses are more prone to blurriness though and can show up any shakes while taking the photo but they do let you get close up to a subject with being physically close to them. A wide angle lens usually has a better depth of field within a shot and has better brightness levels than a telephoto lens will have.
- Fixed (prime) lens or a Zoom Lens? Generally speaking you are going to be wanting a zoom lens that gives you a range of focal lengths as opposed to a fixed (or prime) lens that only has one preset focal length. When you are choosing a zoom lens you will see that the focal lengths are always specified for you. For instance, you might see a lens with 18-55mm as the focal range. If you want to understand how this translates to the zoom of the lens you simply divide the second number by the first, which in this case is approximately 3 – therefore the zoom lens is a x3 zoom. There are some advantages to getting a fixed lens though. Firstly, they are usually a lot smaller, compact and much lighter to carry around with you. They often have better brightness levels and allow you to practise in one focal range.
- Autofocus Speed: Depending on what you’ll be using your lens for you might require an autofocus that works at high speeds. This is essential for sports photography or other action photography where you won’t have time to focus in the heat of the moment. This can be a very important factor to consider in some cases so do bear it in mind.
- Specialist Features: There are a wide range of lenses, including many that are highly specialized. For macro photography you can use a macro lens and in other cases a tilt shift lens will be more appropriate. Other lenses have an inbuilt vibration or shake reduction that can be very useful if you’re not able to use a tripod in your work. Always do your research before buying a specialty lens and be confident that it’s going to be useful for what you aim to do with it.
- Lens Quality and Manufacture: When you’re choosing a lens you always want to make sure that it is well made, sturdy and will last you a long time. There are many variations in the designs of lenses that include ergonomic features, sand and water proofing casings and weather sealing. Extra features will always cost a little extra money but can make all the difference to the lenses practical day to day usage.
- Is the lens compatible with your camera? It’s 100% essential to make sure that any lens you are planning to buy is compatible with the equipment you already have and most important of all, your camera! This is an obvious point but it bears mentioning because even experienced photographers have accidentally bought a lens which is not compatible with their camera!
- Price: It’s always relevant to consider the price of a new piece of equipment and a lens is no different. If price is a problem and you’re working to a tight budget you can get some fantastic second hand lenses with fewer headaches than if you were buying a second hand camera. You may not get a warranty or any guarantees but if the seller is reliable and has some good reviews the risk might well be worth taking in order to make some significant savings.
Identifying the Right Camera Lens Takes Some Thought But The Results Can Be Life Changing!
There’s always going to be a lot of factors to consider when it comes to choosing the right lens for your chosen path through the world of photography; and whether you’re a keen hobbyist or a working pro your choices will have serious ramifications! At first, it’s best to start narrowing down the options to a few basic types of lens and then work down through the more complex details and specifications of each!
It’s an exciting purchase to make though and once you do get hold of a lens you’ll no doubt think to yourself that there are others which might be useful too. A new lens will literally give you a set of new possibilities to work with and will provide your creative inspiration new avenues to try out.
Which factor is most important to you when it comes to selecting a lens?