How to Choose a Camera Lens

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INTRODUCTION
WHICH CAMERA LENS IS SUPER EFFECTIVE?

Welcome to my guide on how to choose a camera lens. There are hundreds are lenses in the world now – It is no wonder people get so lost in choosing a camera lens.

Good for you rich people, you can just “gotta buy em all”. As for the rest of us poor folks, we have to choose one super effective lens, and stick with it for a long time.

So this is what the guide is all about, helping you to choose a good lens. A small note before we begin – this is a beginner friendly guide. I will mention a few very basic things briefly in this guide, and I will go into schooling mode.

Sorry to those who are a little more advanced, you might want to close your eyes on a few of the beginner sections below.

 

 

NAVIGATION
TABLE OF CONTENTS

Section A
Camera

Section B
The Subject

Section C
The Specs

Section D
Considerations

Section E
My Experience

Closing
Cheat Sheet

 

 

SECTION A
YOUR CAMERA AND LENSES AVAILABLE

Step one, check if your camera lens can be detached and changed. Determine the mount system that your camera is using. Seriously. I have confused people coming to me before, asking if they can buy lenses for their smartphone.

Sadly at time of writing this guide, no smartphone camera has an interchangeable lens system. So don’t confuse “lens attachments” with an actual interchangeable system.

 

A1) WHAT IS YOUR CAMERA’S MOUNT SYSTEM?

Nikon DSLR users – You only have the “F mount” lenses to deal with. Although some older lenses will still work on a modern Nikon cameras, you still want to do your research on backwards compatibility.

Be careful not buy a DX lens for a FX camera though. DX lenses do work on FX cameras, but you will suffer a megapixels lost while shooting in crop mode.

Canon DSLR users – If you have a modern EOS camera, all EF-S lenses will work. It is backwards compatible with the older EF lens too. For the even older lens families, you are going to need an adapter.

As for all the others – Sony, Pentax, Leica, mirrorless users, please do your own homework on which mount system your camera is using… or this guide will never end.

For those with a fixed lens that cannot be changed – Sorry, but you are stuck with that one lens. You might want to consider a camera with an interchangeable lens, or try to fit on a lens attachment instead.

In any case, there are lens adapters out there where you can mount Canon lens onto Nikon cameras, in vice versa, and even across many different systems.

Although they are quite interesting, I don’t really don’t recommend getting those. Adapters are in “compatibility mode”, and some lens features may not work properly when you use an adapter.

 

A2) THIRD PARTY LENS

Now that you know which mount system your camera is using, it is time to look for the range of lenses available. Apart from looking at your own camera brand’s “original” range of lenses, I have an honorable mention to make.

Third parties such as Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina produce mighty decent lenses… and they only cost a fraction of the “original”. So please do take a look at what they have to offer as well, and expand your range of available selections.

 

SECTION B
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SHOOT?

While there is no fixed rule that if you shoot this certain subject, you must get that certain lens. But what you want to shoot, will still pretty much determine the type of lens to get.

 

That is because certain lens makes sense for that subject :

  • If you want to shoot macro, you will need a macro lens for sure.
  • Wide angle lenses go well with landscape.
  • You do not want to go too close to people in portrait photography, medium telephoto lenses will do the job.
  • In wildlife photography, you will want to stay far away. Use a long telephoto lens.
  • A wide or medium telephoto should work well on the streets.
Macro
Join the Macro World. Photo By Pingyeh Peng
Portrait
The portrait world. Photo by Tatsuo Suzuki
Cloudy Grey
Or maybe the good old landscape

Again, don’t let these recommendations restrict you. Who says that you cannot use a telephoto lens for landscape? Who says you cannot use a wide angle lens for wildlife? If you have a crazy idea, just go for it.

 

SECTION C
THE LENS SPECS

This is probably the most important part of the choosing process – looking at the capability of the lens itself.

This is also the most confusing part to most beginners, when you do not know much of the technical stuff. But here are a few of the common things that I usually put into consideration.

 

C1) CHOOSE YOUR FOCAL LENGTH

What is focal length? It is basically “how near or far you can see with the lens”, and it is typically measured in mm. E.G. 16mm, 50mm, 200mm.

The smaller the number, the more “zoomed out”; The bigger the number, the more “zoomed in”. For what you want to shoot, choose a focal length that makes most sense to you. Use the below as a generic guideline.

  • Landscape : You most probably want to capture as wide as possible. Use a wide angle lens, from 8mm to 35mm.
  • Street : Close, but not too close. Far, but not that far. From 35mm to 85mm.
  • Wildlife : Don’t want to become food for the animals? Then shoot from far. Get a lens that is at least 200mm.
  • Portrait : Everyone has a different take. Anywhere between 20mm to 135mm.
  • Macro : I am not a macro expert, but my personal favorite is 100mm macro.

 

C2) ZOOM OR PRIME?

Before we go on to the next, we shall address the issue of choosing between a zoom or prime lens. For you new guys, a prime lens simply mean a lens that has “no zoom”. So zoom lens or prime lens – Which is better? Well, there are plus and minus to each.

  • Zoom lens in general, have more moving parts and thus more clunky mechanically. They are typically heavier and more expensive as well (more parts and glass).
  • Prime lens on the other hand, don’t have a lot of moving parts. They may not be as convenient, but they are built like tanks. The general feedback so far is “a zoom lens will break in 10 years, but a 15 years old prime lens still rocks”.
  • Prime lens typically have better optical quality. Typically. So-called.

Please don’t be mistaken that prime lens are the better choice, there are great zoom lens too – There are many popular zoom lens such as 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm.

The choice is up to you.

People who are into travelling will find that zoom lenses are more convenient. While people who are into producing quality pictures will want a good prime lens.

Zoom lens, they offer more convenience, but they are a little more bulky.
Prime lens, not as convenient, but generally smaller and built like a tank.

 

C3) APERTURE

Next stop, aperture. Again for the newbies, aperture simply means “how much light the lens let into the camera”, and it is measured in f-number. E.G. f/1.4, f/3.5, f/11. The smaller the f-number, the more light the lens lets into the camera. I.E. f/1.4 lets more light in than f/4.

So what has aperture got to do with selecting a lens again? Technically, a f/1.4 lens will perform much better than a f/4 lens in low light – Simply because the f/1.4 lens will allow a lot more light into the camera.

Typically, the smaller the f-number is on a lens, the better it is since it performs better in low light. But do take note that the smaller the f-number, the more expensive the lens tends to be.

 

C4) LENS BUILD AND QUALITY

Now onto the last part to consider for getting a new lens – All the other consideration factors.

Build Quality : Cheap plastics or metal tank? Solid or flimsy? How does it feel in your hands?

Optical Quality : Any special coating? How does it perform? Lens Flare and Ghosting? Sharpness? Vignetting?

Sealing : Is it weather sealed? Will it break if I shoot in the rain?

Auto-focus : How well does auto focus work on this lens? Accurate or bonkers? How fast and how noisy?

Image : Do you like the images and colors produced by this lens?

 

SECTION D
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

If you already have a few lenses in mind, do not just jump in and slap a wad of cash on the counter.

It does not hurt to listen to what others have to say first. It does not hurt to try things out first.

 

D1) READ ONLINE REVIEWS

But don’t be lazy, there’s no harm in doing some online research. Hop onto forums and groups to ask for feedback on the lenses you have chosen. Watch YouTube videos and find some sample photos.

 

D2) DON’T BUY FIRST, RENT OR BORROW

If you think that you have found your true love, try not to buy it first. Look for friends who have the lens, lend it and try it out. Rent the lens from a shop if you have to. The most important thing is, you need to be sure that you will not regret buying the lens.

 

SECTION E
A SMALL EXPERIENCE SHARING

If you have just started out with photography, chances are, you will want to try out everything possible.

You will either want to buy a whole bunch of lenses or buy one super zoom lens that “one size fits them all”.

Well, please don’t and let me explain more.

 

This comes from my experience, and I think this is very important. When I just started out with photography, I was very much into the older prime lenses. Because generally, the older prime lens are cheaper, and they have decently good optical quality.

But here’s the problem.

After a few years into photography, I have a cabinet full of old prime lenses. Every shoot is a pain, I had to carry a lot of lenses around, and I had to constantly change lenses. I later got myself a super cheap and convenient 18-250mm lens, which I regretted instantly.

Sure thing it’s convenient, but the optical quality is just beyond bad. That was when I sold all my old prime lenses, the below average super zoom, and got myself a 24-70mm f2.8 gold ring lens.

Not a cheap buy, but it is stuck with me for years now. So this is what I will recommend to you guys who are serious – Don’t waste your time and money. Just buy one good lens, and keep it for 10 years.

 

SECTION F
CHEAT SHEET!

That’s it for this long guide. As a “final gift”, I have summarized everything into one cheat sheet.

Choosing a lens is definitely not an easy decision, but I hope this guide has helped you. Cheers, and happy shooting!

 


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