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When I first started writing about digital cameras the main question i was asked by readers was ‘Which Camera should I buy?‘ Usually they were in the market for a point, fairly entry level point and shoot digital camera.
However these days with the increase in people buying DSLR cameras (they are so much cheaper and more people are feeling comfortable enough with digital now that they want to take it to the next level) the biggest question that I’m now asked is ‘Which Lens Should I buy for my DSLR?‘
Answering the question is something of a minefield as each digital camera manufacturer offers a large range of lenses of different qualities and budgets. Add to this that each photographer shoots differently and has their own styles and preferences and it can be something of a minefield to navigate to answer the ‘which lens’ question.
What follows below is an attempt to unpack the different types of lenses that most manufacturers offer in the DSLR market. I’m not going to get into talking about specific lenses but want to give a brief introduction to some of the terms and types of lenses that you’ll come across as you begin to explore the DSLR lens market.
Keep in mind that most DSLRs are not what are known as ‘full frame’ cameras. Their sensors are generally smaller than full frame and as a result lenses don’t have the same impact on these cameras as they would on a film camera. This is why you’ll often hear manufacturers talking about the ‘equivalent’ focal length of a lens.
Standard Lenses – this is a term that seems to be disappearing a little from terminology. Traditionally on film cameras it was used to describe lenses in the 50mm range because this is what usually came with the camera.
Kit Lenses – These days the lens that is offered as a package with the DSLR is generally called the ‘kit lens’. It is generally an entry level quality zoom lens. They are usually a fairly general purpose lens designed for everyday shooting. My personal preference is always to buy the DSLR as a body only and to upgrade the lens from the kit lens as they are generally at a lower to medium end of the spectrum of lenses.
Prime Lenses – A prime lens is a lens that has one focal length only. They are becoming less popular in an age where photographers like to have the convenience of a range of focal lengths at their finger tips (see zoom lenses) but they are definitely worth considering. Zoom lenses are increasing in the quality that they offer but prime lenses are known (especially at the top end) for their image quality and speed (faster aperture).
While many like the convenience of zoom lenses I actually enjoy the challenge of prime lenses and find that they make me think about my photography a little more than when I have a zoom attached (I get a little lazy).
Telephoto Zoom Lenses – Zoom lenses are the most popular DSLR lenses at present and come in a range of configurations and levels of quality. Obviously the benefit of zooms are that you do not need to physically get closer to your subject to get a tighter framing of the image. These lenses can have quite narrow ranges or quite long ones.
Keep in mind that if you buy one with a long focal length (for examples you can get them in lengths ranging up to 300mm or longer) that the longer your focal length the more impact that camera shake has on your images. More and more lenses these days are being released with Image Stabilisation (IS) to combat camera shake.
Macro Lenses – these lenses are specifically designed for shooting objects up close. Many lenses and cameras come with a ‘macro’ setting but true macro lenses will produce images that are life size and that enable you to get in incredibly close from the subject you’re shooting.
Wide Angle Lenses – As their name suggests, these lenses enable their users to take shots with a very wide perspective. They are useful for landscapes and for getting in nice and close to subjects still fitting a lot of them in.
Wide angle lenses come both as prime lenses but also are being found at the lower end of telephoto zoom lenses increasingly. Be aware that very wide lenses will sometimes distort your image a little (or a lot), especially at the edges of your photos where they can be quite curved. This can be used to great effect but can also be quite frustrating at times.
At the extreme end of the ‘wide angle’ range are ‘fisheye lenses’ which purposely distort your image in a curved way to get more into the shot. Again this is a style of photography that many love but is an art to get right.
So there you have it – you’re now at least equipped with some definitions and starting points for shopping for your next DSLR lens purchase.