Lens Buying Guide – Introduction – So You Want to Buy a Lens…

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Introduction… So you want to buy a lens?

Lens Buying Guide Page 1 - Lens GroupingStepping into the world of lenses can be a daunting task, but we have written this guide in hopes of making your buying decision relatively easy. The first thing to remember is: Making a lens selection is as personal as the style of the photographer. In other words, what you buy must first of all satisfy you. Second, you’ll get a chance to select from the wide variety of lenses available today – everything from fixed to zoom lenses, large telephotos, and even specialty lenses like fish-eye.

The vast array of lenses in today’s market offers new opportunities for photographers to expand their capabilities and make the most use of their cameras. Understanding the terminology and engineering of the lenses in today’s market will help you make a better decision in your camera and lens purchasing.

…which lens is your perfect mate?

There is not a single lens that is absolutely perfect for every lighting and photographic situation, which is why you shouldn’t limit yourself to just one. Standard lenses have a focal range of 35mm to 80mm, with the 50mm (standard on 35mm cameras) being the most common. These lenses are fairly adequate in most lighting situations and good for general purpose photography. The added benefit of this range is its portability; because they’re not big or heavy, standard lenses allow you to travel lighter.

Photography Style… What is your shooting style?

You may not be able to define your shooting style just yet. No problem. But you can start to do so by asking yourself what kind of subjects you shoot the most.

  • Do you shoot indoors or outdoors? What are the lighting conditions you are normally shooting in?
  • Do you take close-ups and really pay attention to detail and texture? Are these subjects insects, flowers, and collectibles? Are they product shots?
  • Do you take photographs of vast landscapes and subjects that are far off in the distance?
  • Are you an action photographer who takes photographs of fast-moving objects and subjects like sports?
  • Are you a wedding, event, or portrait photographer?
  • Do you take pictures of interiors and architecture?
  • Is the weight of a lens a consideration if you travel frequently or need to be on the move?
  • Do you prefer compact, convenient lenses; or those that are bulkier and offer better quality?

Thankfully, lenses are manufactured to meet the need of all these different types of shooting styles. Many accessories, like filters, step up/down rings and extension tubes, are available to enhance these lenses so you can take advantage of the full potential of your equipment.

…what is your budget?

Lenses cost money, and the more engineered and specialized they are, the more they cost. Determine which style of photography is your priority and how many lenses you will require. Knowing your photographic needs is the first step in choosing the right lens.

Under $400

Lenses in this range are usually labeled as multi-purpose lenses. They will probably have a focal length between 28mm to 200mm , with their largest f-stop being f/2.8 to f/5.6. You may find some Tele Converter lenses in this category as well, but predominately it will be fixed lenses at 50mm and standard zoom lenses. A solid third party lens manufacturer like Tamron offers great all-purpose lenses in this price range and will provide you with good lens choices for adequate lighting conditions. However, these lenses may not serve you well under low lighting situations where using a flash unit is prohibited. Nikon, Canon, and Pentax all make lenses in this range as well. 
Lenses under $400 »

$400-$800

This range will encompass a large selection of lenses that begin to be more specific in application and include additional engineering features that offer better quality images. You will notice that the zoom lenses will have a smaller range and the introduction of wide angle, and macro lenses fall into this group. The fixed focal length lenses in this group are further away from the 50mm size, allowing for wide angle and telephoto views. These lenses may have special coatings to minimize internal reflections, aspherical lens elements, internal focusing, or other elements offering a superior product.
Lenses $400-$800 »

$800+

The sky is the limit! Entering the professional photographer’s price range will give you the option of purchasing specialized lenses for specific lighting conditions and photographic situations. Premium lenses with large apertures of at least f/2.8 allow for indoor, low light photography; while telephoto lenses of 300mm or more offer you the ability to bring subjects in closer with optimum clarity and focus. Specialty lenses such as shift/perspective lenses are available that enable you to shoot architecture without distortion.
Lenses $800 and over »

Next – Lens Quality

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About Author

Woodrow Walden is a Toronto-based photographer and the Social Media Community Specialist for Vistek.