Camera lenses: helping you to choose the right one!
Whether you are an experienced photographer or a beginner, you will know about the importance of a camera lens. It does not matter if you have a Reflex or a Compact camera; the lens is the element that will affect the overall quality of your photos. Each camera lens has a function, but the variety available also results in a bigger issue: the cost! So it is better to buy a lens that matches your needs perfectly.
However with such a large choice on the market, this is easier said than done. Let’s have a look at the characteristics of camera lenses so that you can make the right choice.
Understanding the technical aspects of camera lenses:
Here are some definitions so that you don’t get lost in all of this technical jargon!
Focal length: The focal length (or focal distance) indicates the angle that a lens can cover. The shorter the focal length, the wider the angle; the longer the focal length, the more the angle will be restrained. This is expressed in millimetres and the size varies from 16mm (wide angle lens) to 200mm (telephoto lens).
Aperture: This is associated with the value of the focal length and determines how bright and sharp your photos will be. It is a calculation based on the relation between the lens’ focal length and the diameter of the entrance pupil, expressed in the form of ‘f/number’. Values go from f/1 (large opening) to f/16 (small opening).
Focus: This is the setting applied to obtain the correct image sharpness for the shot you have chosen for your photo. Outside this zone, your photo is not considered as perfect. The limited area between the sharp part of your frame and the blurry part is called the depth of field.
The different types of camera lens
The majority of cameras are sold with a lens included, which will we call ‘standard’ or ‘classic’ lenses. This type of product is offered to suit the majority of different ways you may use your camera and generally allows you to take good-quality photos in normal situations (family photos or holiday photos, with a focal length between 16mm and 85mm). Brands such as Tamron or Nikon have recently released hybrid models, like the Sigma DN A, which covers a large amount of situations with semi-professional quality. However if you wish to specialise in a certain type of photography, here are the lens models that are available:
Wide Angle: A wide angle lens has a short focal length (between 16mm and 35mm), which allows for a very wide angle. This lens is perfect for scenic shots and panoramic photos. There are also models called fish eye, with a significantly reduced focal length which creates 180° angles.
Telephoto lens: The paparazzi’s favourite! Telephoto lenses are useful for taking precise photos at a distance. The larger the focal length (between 90mm and 300mm), the further away the subject can be. Moving on from their precision, there are constraints such as their size and they are generally much heavier and more costly than other lenses. So there is not much point in buying this model if you just want to photograph your grandmother in the garden…(even in a huge garden!)
Macro: If you want to photograph ants in your garden, a macro lens is what you need! For macros, the focal length is not as important, but rather the focus is the dominating factor. The focus is very weak on these lenses, which allows you to frame everything properly, even when you are really close to what you are taking a photo of. Avoid this type of lens unless you really think you will get use out of it. (Flowers/Animals etc.)
One last thing to consider when it comes to lenses: be careful with compatibility! Besides some names such as Sigma which propose lenses that can be adapted to all brands, most lenses need to match the camera brand. For example you cannot put a Nikon lens on a Canon camera.
With or Without Zoom?
Now that we have looked at the different type of lens, the question of zoom should also come into your decision:
There are prime lenses (where you have to physically go closer to the subject to zoom) and zoom lenses (the zoom can be modified on the lens itself). The advantages of having a zoom might seem obvious (why move when you can stay in the same place?) but both type of product has its advantages.
Prime (or fixed focal length lenses) are often cheaper, lighter and offer a sharper and brighter image than a zoom lens with the same focal length (50mm for example).
On the other hand, zoom lenses have the enormous advantage of being multipurpose because you can go from 50 to 70 in the simple click of a finger. It is the most logical choice if you are an amateur photographer.
Other functionalities and accessories
Other functionalities could make owning a lens easier, notably with autofocus which allows for automatic focus, all while being quick and silent (referenced as AF on the model, which is the opposite of MF for manual focus). For photography aids, there are also stabilisation options, which use a movement detector to capture and compensate any shaking or brusque movement the moment you take your photo. Great to avoid any blurry spots on your snaps!
There are also weather-proof lenses that are resistant against water and dust for those that want to take photos in less favourable conditions (rain, sand etc…). Of course, it is better to have a weather-proof camera as well if you buy a lens like this.
The good news is that these functionalities are found on more lenses than ever for the general public.
In terms of the cost of lenses, protective cases, cleaning kits and other accessories are necessary to keep your material in good condition. You will also find compatibility devices between several brands (Canon lens for a Nikon camera for example), which are called step rings. Accessories such as a tripod (useful for a telephoto or macro lens), UV filters, lens extenders and caps are also available.
So to wrap up, the important thing to think about is how you plan on using your lens. Once you have chosen your lens type, there is no secret, it is often price that determines the quality of your product. Trust reviews because they will also have good advice, but don’t forget: no matter how good your lens is, it is the photographer that has to get the picture perfect when pressing on the button!