The lens of a camera is arguably what makes a photograph. The beauty of DSLR cameras mean that you can swap, switch and interchange your lenses to suit subject matter, scenery, lighting and the overall vision you as a photographer have for your art. Like purchasing a DSLR, a huge range of lenses is available to you as a customer and this may get overwhelming.
To aid in your lens-buying process, we at PB Tech have put together a handy guide for a first-time buyer or beginner photographer looking to advance their photographic skills with a new lens.
Before beginning, we’ll explain what the terms used in this guide mean:
A lens’ focal length is the distance between the lens and the image sensor when the subject is in focus, more often than not measured in millimetres. In the case of zoom lenses (those with two numbers eg. 18-55mm), they state the minimum and maximum focal length. In layman’s terms, it’s the range of widths available to be captured by the camera with the lens.
The shorter the focal length (e.g. 18 mm), the wider the angle of view and the greater the area captured. The longer the focal length (e.g. 55 mm), the smaller the angle and the larger the subject appears to be.
The easiest way to remember this calculation is the more focal length = the more reach you have on a subject matter, or the closer you can get. For example:
A Prime Lens has a fixed focal length, such as the 55mm or 35mm lens.
Aperture entails how much light a lens is capable of gathering. Apertures can be expressed in several different ways: F4, f/4, 1:4 and so on, but they all represent the same thing. The lower the number, the larger the aperture, and thus the more light the lens will allow to collect.
If you’re wanting to shoot in lower light (eg. at night, in dark places like clubs or bars, or do street/event photography) without a flash, go for a lens that has a lower number in its aperture.
Larger apertures also add a decreased depth of field to a photography (i.e. how much of the picture around the focus point appears blurred), which is an important aspect of creative photography and something to keep in mind. If you’re going to be primarily shooting portrait photography, it’s best to purchase a lens with a low number/large aperture.
Credit: SamRielly @ Flickr
Any lens wider (with a smaller number) than 50mm (full frame) or 35mm (APS-C) is considered a wide-angle lens. It’s able to capture far more subject matter in a shot than your regular focal length lens. (See: Focal lengths 12mm and 24mm above.) A lens is considered wide-angle when it covers the angle of view between 64° and 84°. These lenses are fantastic for street, event and travel photography.
Credit: Richard Simko @ richardsimko.com
A telephoto lens is a specific type of a long-focus lens in which the physical length of the lens is shorter than the focal length. They allow a photographer to produce a close crop on a model, which allows the photographer to take a close-up shot without intruding on their subject. These lenses are great for shooting wildlife, portrait, sport and street photography.
Credit: Lee Simmons @ Flickr
Now our terms are explained, let’s get into the lenses:
The best place to start when you’ve first bought your DSLR is the standard 18-55mm lens. Almost all entry-level camera bundle kits will include this lens, but if you’ve just bought a body alone then worry not – every photography brand that manufactures DSLR cameras also manufacture the 18-55mm.
The 18-55mm is a great lens to start learning with. The ‘standard’ of beginner lenses, it suits most immediate photographic needs with a decent wide angle range and the ability to zoom in on far away subject matter. This lens is great for learning about rule of thirds, placement of subject matter, cropping, angles, aperture, and all the other basic principles of photography. The lens works with all auto and manual modes on your camera, and gives you the ability to manually adjust focus, or let the camera do that for you.
Image Credit: Stefano Podestá @ Flickr
The best place to start when learning how to capture images with a telephoto lens, the 55-250MM (or 55-200mm/220mm) allows you to zoom further on subject matter and capture stunning close-crop photographs at a distance. Like the 18-55mm, this lens also comes equipped with both AF and MF modes, giving you the ability to learn how to manually adjust focus or just let the camera do it for you. For a beginner, the 55-250mm lenses can appeal with its ability to offer a dynamic range of shots, as well as being at the cheaper end of the telephoto lens price range.
Image Credit: Kaye1963 @ Flickr
Perfect for beginners, a Twin Lens Kit contains an entry-level DSLR body, an 18-55mm lens and a 55-250mm telephoto lens (the recommended entry-level telephoto lens). This will set up a beginner photographer with the tools needed to explore a range of photography and subject matter, including sports, wildlife, nature, portrait, travel and lifestyle.
PB Recommends: Canon EOS 700D Twin Lens Body & Kit
One a photographer has mastered these two lenses, the next upgrade recommendation would be to look at purchasing a Prime Lens, specifically the f/1.8g 50mm lens.
Upgrading to a prime lens is usually the next step for a photography enthusiast looking for a lens past the standard beginner options. With a fixed focal point, the 50mm comes in two aperture modes: f/1.8g and the f/1.4g – the latter being more expensive – and offers the ability to take beautifully focused photographs in a constrained depth of field. Coined the “nifty fifty” by photographers worldwide, the 50mm lens gives you eight times more light capture than that of a typical lens kit in the 1.8g alone. Prime lenses typically produce nicer bokeh than standard lenses, sharper focal points, and are light in weight so they won’t weigh you down in terms of portability and ease of use.
Image Credit: Sample Image @ iamnikon.com
Image Credit: Zoë Chipperfield @ Flickr
To be considered a ‘macro’ lens, a lens must be able to produce a life-size image of an object on the camera, with a magnification of 1:1 at its closest focal setting. Although at first this may not sound that impressive, the photographs captured with these lenses certainly put those thoughts to bed. Macro lenses allow a photographer to create massive enlargements from shots of tiny subject matter – even more so than a zoom or telephoto lens. While bulkier than the average lens, these are perfect for photographing still life, small objects such as coins or stamps, nature, details in eyes and other body parts. For the enthusiast wanting to capture stunning detail and create beautiful images, the macro lens is the way to go.
Image Credits: Elliot Choi @ Olloclip.com
Hopefully this guide has shed some light on the different DSLR lenses available for you as an entry-level or enthusiast photographer, as well as terms and features of each model.