Lenses are arguably the most important part of your camera set-up, they can make or break your pictures, but determining which camera lens is best for you isn’t as complicated as it may seem.
Lenses can be classified into subgroups like prime, macro, wide-angle, normal, telephoto, and zoom lenses, and are also rated in regards to f-stop or speed. Lenses control the image that’s projected onto your imaging sensor, and ultimately what photos you are taking home.The following article will explain the basic types of digital SLR camera lenses, how they work, and how to select them to help you choose the perfect lens for your lifestyle.
Which Camera Lens is Best for You
Focal length, usually represented in millimeters (mm), is the basic description of a photographic lens. A number lower than 30-50 mm will take in a bigger view than you naturally see, while higher numbers mean focus will be on a smaller aspect of your view.
It is not a measurement of the actual length of a lens, but a calculation of an optical distance from the point where light rays converge to form a sharp image of an object to the digital sensor or 35mm film at the focal plane in the camera. The focal length of a lens is determined when the lens is focused at infinity.
Prime lenses are fixed focal length lenses like a 50mm f/1.4 lens. To zoom with these types of lenses you need to use your feet and to get closer or farther away from the subject.
Traditionally prime lenses are sharper and faster than zoom lenses. Prime lenses also tend to have a larger maximum aperture (f/1.4 to f/2.8). This is an advantage when shooting in low light conditions as it will increase the possibility of hand holding the camera and freezing the subject without shake or blur caused by the longer exposures.
Photographing using prime lenses with large apertures also means you can get a shallow depth of field which is useful for portraiture where you might want a softer or blurred background (also known as bokeh).
When should you use a prime lens? Anytime you want to get a sharp, high-quality picture. Portraits, night photos, and action shots are some traditional uses for primes, but a range of focal lengths (from 10mm up to 300mm and beyond) means you can find a prime lens for any type of photography that you’re interested in. 50mm “nifty fifty” primes are great all-around lenses, and 85mm are often the preferred portrait lenses for professional photographers
Standard/Normal Lenses (Kit Zoom Lenses)
Normal lenses try to mimic how the human eye sees and are some of the most versatile lenses you can use. Their focal lengths range between 35 and 70mm (on my Nikon, because of the smaller sensor, the standard lens is 18-55mm), and whether you’re going for landscapes, portraits, action photos, urban shoots, or anything else you might come up with, a standard lens will work.
These lenses are designed to be versatile, which is why they are included with most cameras as a “kit” lens.
Telephoto and Superzoom Lenses
Lenses with long focal lengths 100mm and higher are called telephoto lenses. A long focal length seems to bring the subject closer to you and increases the subject’s size in the frame.
In addition to being used to photograph subjects you can’t (or don’t want to) get close to – like sports or wildlife – telephoto lenses can be used for shooting portraits and even landscapes where their normalization of relative size can be used to give a sense of scale.
Offering a one-lens package, superzooms come into their own if you can’t (or don’t want to) change lenses. This could be when in situations where it wouldn’t be safe to switch lenses, or when traveling and you don’t necessarily want to be weighed down by five lenses.
Wide-Angle and Ultra Wide-Angle Lenses
Wide-angle lenses have short focal lengths that give the visual effect of “pushing” the subject away from you and making it appear smaller. The beauty of wide-angle lenses is you can be relatively close to your subject and fit a broad stroke of the background into the scene.
Because of the very wide viewing angle of these types of lenses, straight lines near the edges of the picture can end up looking curved. Rectilinear lenses correct for this, creating straighter lines, but cause some interesting perspective shifts: the objects near the edges of the picture appear quite a bit larger than those further away. Fisheye lenses increase the curve of straight lines, result in very distinctive pictures
Many people only reach for a wide-angle lens when trying to get the whole of a subject in the frame, whether that’s a building, a large group of people or a landscape. However, while those are perfectly good uses of one, they can also be used for interesting portraits where you want to place a subject in a situation. Examples of wide-angle lenses are 15mm, 17mm, 24mm and 28mm lenses.
Macro lenses are specialized lenses that excel at close-up photography and many of them produce a 1:1 image, which means that your subject is reproduced on the camera sensor at life-size which allows for huge amounts of detail. These types of lenses are used for extreme close-ups on small objects like daisies, pennies, insects, and food. Examples of macro lenses are 50mm and 100mm macros.
Macro lenses also excel at creating images with a shallow depth of field, leaving only the foreground in focus, as in the image above. Though normally used for close-up photography (at which they excel), macro lenses can also be great for portraits thanks to their typical sharpness and focal lengths.
It goes without saying that when you’re deciding on which camera lens is best for you, you want to buy a lens that will attach to your camera with the proper lens mount. Camera manufacturers generally make lenses with proprietary mounts which will only fit their devices. It’s important to know which mount your camera uses before heading out to buy a lens.
So, which camera lens is best for you? You may want to look at your photography style when making this important decision.