A few years ago, I came across the term ‘gear lust.’ Suddenly all those feelings of wanting, dreaming, and lusting over the latest and greatest lens and cameras that I would see in glossy magazines and catalogs were categorized as a known condition. How could I choose the right lens to use and buy for my photography when there were so many options out there?
Did I really need to choose? Couldn’t I just buy everything and make myself a happy camper?
Pretty soon, I came crashing down to earth and realized that buying every single lens out there was not practical and near impossible given my finances and photography budget.
So, I learned fairly quickly how to understand my photographic needs and choose a lens that best fits that need – from a usability, functionality and budget perspective.
Here are some tips on how you can choose the right lens that works for you, based on your photography style, needs, and budget. Remember, these are all very individualistic, so make sure you are honest when answering these questions.
1. Understand your photography style
When we are starting out as photographers, there is a need to master everything. And rightfully so.
The early stages of learning any art form is one of exploration, and we should try everything out there.
When I first started, I was exploring different genres and editing styles. I explored moody to black and white, to light and airy, and everything in between.
I soon found myself gravitating towards a light bright airy style. This meant photographing wide open and using a lot of natural light in my photos. I realized that my lens needed to be fast to focus and let me photograph wide open at apertures of around f/1.2 through f/2.
These needs saw me gravitating towards prime lenses. I found that they worked well for me in post-processing for the style that I wanted to focus on too.
Even though my genre and specialization have changed slightly, my photography style has remained fairly consistent. So these lenses have served me well.
So, take the time to understand what photography style works for you and then try out different lenses. Do you prefer working with zoom lens, or are primes more your style?
You will find that choosing the right lens for your style of photography becomes much easier when you take the time to understand what your photography style is rather than buying something and then adjusting your style to match the gear you have.
2. Understand your photography needs
When I first started photography, I considered myself a family and lifestyle photographer. Soon I added newborn and weddings into the mix.
I quickly realized that while I love kids, I just could not handle newborn photos. Newborn shoots take a lot of time and a lot of patience, waiting on babies to be cooperative.
However, I found my sweet spot with weddings and lifestyle photos.
As I tried out different lenses for this type of work, I quickly realized that speed and wide angles were important for family photos and weddings. With weddings, I often found myself in the back of the room, taking photos of the couple at the altar or interacting with family and loved ones. As I did not want to intrude on these special moments, I found that a lens with a good zoom was pertinent.
With this realization, I invested in the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 because this lens had everything I was looking for – the zoom and speed.
I also found myself renting the Canon 35mm f/1.4 for larger weddings to take wide-angle photos. My second shooter would use this lens to get a different angle as we photographed side-by-side.
So, take the time to understand your photography needs. Do you want to focus on close-up portraits or do you want wide-angle photos of architecture? Perhaps you want to experiment with street photography? Do you want to do more macro or wildlife photos?
Choosing the right lens will become a breeze when you really narrow down what your photography needs are.
3. Acknowledge your budget
If you have to pick only one lens because of your budget, understand that it is perfectly okay, and even the top photographers do that occasionally. The amount of gear you own does not equate to skill and proficiency.
For my very first photoshoot, I rented a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens and used that with my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. I had no idea what I was doing other than the fact that I had read that the nifty-fifty was the best thing since sliced bread!
I hated that lens and couldn’t wait to return it. Fast forward a few years, and once I had the understanding and the budget, I invested in the L version of the 50mm. It is now my favorite lens for portraits of any kind. The bokeh from this lens is pure magic!
You can get creative with what you have.
Change up your angle. Change up the focal length by moving closer or backing out.
No matter what the limitations, for the most part, you can make it work.
4. Find the happy match between lens and photographer
This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? With so many choices out there, what lens should you choose, and when? Investing in camera gear should always be a healthy balance between need, wants, and budget. The last thing you want is a closet full of gear that you never use.
Rent or borrow a lens that interests you so you can test it out for yourself first before outlaying a big amount of money on something that may not suit your needs.
An example of this is the Sigma 135mm f1.8 I was interested in buying. It is an incredible lens. I was so tempted to buy it having heard about its awesomeness from all my photographer friends. However, when I had a chance to test it out, I realized that I get a lot of the same results from my 70-200mm f2.8 for the way I was using it. So it would have been an unnecessary addition to my gear.
Selling off your unwanted gear is always an option, but it’s better to get it right to start with. Remember, needs and styles constantly change, and that is fairly common among photographers. That way, if you find yourself needing the same lens down the road, you can always keep using what you have or upgrade to a newer version.
As I slowly move away from weddings and more towards travel and culture, my needs have changed. I want to travel light and wanted the most bang for the gear I lug halfway around the world. Hence, I choose lenses that fit that need.
I’ve been lucky, because the lenses I chose for my initial needs, still suit my new needs. My go-to lenses are the 24-70mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.2 and 70-200mm f/2.8. I find that this combination works the best for travel portraits, wide-angle landscapes as well as the occasional wildlife photos.
Good gear is essential for a good photographer, but expensive gear does not make a good photographer.
If you only have a kit lens and cannot afford anything else, that’s perfectly okay. Master your craft with what you have, and when the time is right, choose the right lens based on what you need and what you can afford, not on what is the latest/coolest gadget on the market.
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Do you have any other tips to choose the right lens for your photography? If so, please share in the comments section.