How To Buy The Best Digital Camera Lens

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How To Buy The Best Digital Camera Lens

Buying a camera lens is a major investment. You can pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars. However, choosing the right camera lens can be overwhelming. All the sizes, features, options, brands and prices available makes for much to consider. Understanding a few basic principles, however, simplifies the process of choosing a lens.


This seems obvious, but you must know your camera brand when you choose a lens.

Brand-Specific: Canon cameras need lenses with Canon lens mounts, Nikon cameras need Nikon lens mounts, and so on. Note that the key factor here is the lens mount, not the lens itself. Lenses made by Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and other camera manufacturers will fit only cameras of that brand.

Third-Party Lenses: Third-party manufacturers make lens mounts that fit different brands of cameras. The two main third-party brands are Tamron and Sigma; they both produce a range of lenses at affordable prices, sometimes hundreds of dollars cheaper than brand-name lenses.

Availability And Price: It often makes sense to go with a third-party lens because of its cheaper price and the greater selection, but some photographers prefer name-brand lenses because of their ensured fit and high quality.

Fixed Vs. Zoom Lenses

A primary decision you'll need to make is whether you want a fixed focal-length lens or a zoom lens.

Affordability: Typically, fixed focal-length or prime lenses are more affordable and lighter than zoom lenses. They don't have the moving mechanisms present in zoom lenses, so they don't cost as much to manufacture, and often they're not as heavy. Generally, prime lenses are also higher quality and take clearer and more precise photos than zoom lenses.

Flexibility: A zoom lens means you can stand in one spot and zoom in or out as needed. For many photographers, this flexibility outweighs considerations of price, weight and quality. Would you like to carry a large camera bag with different lenses for different purposes, and are you serious about your photo quality? If so, fixed lenses might be best for you. Would you prefer to have the flexibility and portability offered by one lens the can be used for multiple purposes? If that's the case, choose a zoom lens.

Focal Length

The focal length of a lens is the distance the lens requires between your camera and the subject.

Short Focal Length: The shorter the focal length of a lens, the closer you have to be to your subject. A 50mm lens, therefore, requires you to be closer to your subject than does a 200mm lens. Closer focal lengths are good for portraits and snapshots, whereas longer focal lengths work well for wildlife and sports photography.

Wide Angle: Wide angle lenses, with 28mm focal length or less, are good for landscape photography. Standard lenses, with 35mm to 88mm focal length, work well for portraits and general, everyday snapshots.

Telephoto: Telephoto lenses, with 100mm to 300mm focal length, are a necessity for most sports and action photography; and super telephoto lenses, with over 300mm focal length, are preferable for wildlife photography.

Fixed Lenses: Fixed lenses will have a fixed focal length, while zoom lenses will have a range of focal length. The longer the focal length, the more expensive a lens will be. You need to decide exactly what you need your lens for and what subjects you intend to shoot. It might be that a basic 50mm lens is just fine for your purposes if you mostly want to take basic portraits of family, friends and pets. If you're into photographing distant action -- a running cheetah on a safari, say, or a runner in a track meet -- you'll want to invest in a lens with a longer focal point.

Maximum Aperture

Another number you'll need to pay attention to is the maximum aperture of a lens.

Aperture: Aperture is the size of the opening in a lens. The aperture of a lens is expressed as an f-number, such as f/2 or f/16. The smaller the f-number, the larger the aperture.

Large Vs. Small: Larger apertures allow for more flexibility. They will let in more light, allow you to take photos in lower light and give you the option of using faster shutter speeds. Larger aperture lenses are more expensive, but they're worth the price if you want to take indoor, natural light photos.

Special Features

In addition to these basic considerations, note the variety of special features and options.

Silent Auto-Focus: This lens enables you to take photos quietly, without disturbing your subject.

Image Stabilization: This helps you to keep an image steady, even when your hand might have a minor vibration that would otherwise result in a blurry photo.

Manual Override Of Auto-Focus: With this, you can manually focus on a subject, even when the auto-focus feature is turned on. Manual override appeals to photographers who want maximum control.

Choosing a lens involves knowing exactly what kind of photographer you want to be and what kinds of photos you want to take. Think hard about what you want your photos to look like, and the perfect lens for you will easily come into focus.


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