Photography with Jessica – Lenses

Last time I introduced you to a couple of great DSLR’s and I just know you’ve been waiting on the edge of your seat the entire month to learn all about which lenses are right for you!

There are basically three main classifications of lenses, and you will know what they are by their focal lengths listed in mm (millimeters):

wide – anywhere from 45mm and lower

medium – 50mm 

telephoto – anywhere from 55mm and higher

A 50mm medium lens gives you a normal field of view just as you see it with your eye.   A telephoto lens will make things appear closer than they really are (commonly thought of as “zoomed in”), and a wide-angle lens will make things look farther away than they are (commonly thought of as “zoomed out”).

As you can see in the diagram, a wide-angle lens will give you the widest field of view.  This “zoomed out” view is useful if you don’t have a lot of room to back away from your subject, such as inside a house.  A wide lens is also great to take with you on vacation if you want to take pictures of large buildings (cathedrals, castles, etc.)

A telephoto lens is useful when your subject is farther away, such as photographing a child in sports or dance performances.

A wide-angle angle lens will make the background look like it’s farther away from your subject, whereas a telephoto lens will make the background look like it’s much closer.

A wide-angle lens also adds some degree of distortion.  The wider the angle, the more distorted the image will be.  Objects that are close to the camera will look much larger than objects that are far away.  And elements near the edges of the photo will have a stretched-out look.  This distortion can be used to enhance the artistic quality of your images…

Or it can just look really weird (I took this picture of their hands, intending to crop out the rest)…

Just be careful about getting people’s limbs or especially their heads near the edge of the frame!

Some lenses have a zoom capability so they will have a range of focal lengths, for example an 18-55mm lens will cover a wide to medium range, while a 55-250mm will cover a medium to telephoto range.  Other lenses are fixed so they don’t zoom.  With a fixed lens (also called a prime lens) you have to move closer or father from your subject with your feet!  This may seem inconvenient at first, but you soon get used to it and the fixed length lenses tend to deliver slightly sharper images than zoom lenses.

Lenses are also labeled with another number, which refers to the aperture (or how wide the lens can open) and is measured in F-stops.  This is useful to know because the wider your aperture, the more background blur you can achieve, and you can also shoot in lower lighting conditions.  So if you like that blur, get a lens with the lowest possible aperture number (like f/1.2 or f/1.8).  The fixed length lenses typically have wider aperture capabilities.

So, what lenses should you buy?  Keep in mind that the following suggestions are just that… suggestions.  Use these as a starting point for your own research.  There are tons of lenses out there from many different brands.  I don’t pretend to know everything about all of them and I highly recommend reading reviews on the lenses you’re considering.  Fred Miranda is my favorite site for reviews.  Also, many camera stores rent out lenses very affordably, so that’s an additional way to make sure that a lens is right for you before you buy.

Remember that Canon cameras require Canon lenses and Nikon cameras require Nikon lenses!  There are also other good quality lens brands that can be used on both Canon and Nikon and they are usually less expensive.

I would recommend starting with the Canon or Nikon 50mm f/1.8 – This is a fixed length medium lens (neither wide nor telephoto), so you’ll need to get used to “zooming with your feet”.  It has very wide aperture capabilities which is important to get that beautiful background blur!  I would use this lens to take pictures of people as well as inanimate objects and landscapes.  It’s very reasonably priced.  ***NOTE – this lens does not support auto-focus with the Nikon D40, D60, D3100, D3000 or D5000 cameras so I don’t recommend it if you have one of those cameras.***

Then when you’re ready to expand your lens collection, I would look for a zoom lens in the wide-angle range (the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 is good) and a zoom lens in the telephoto range (the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 is a nice choice).  Look for something with a low aperture number.  Be aware that if the lens gives an aperture range, it means that the lowest aperture doesn’t work if you zoom beyond a certain point, so I would avoid lenses like that.

As you embark on your lens hunt, feel free to email me ( with any questions you may have!  And just in case anyone is wondering, here’s what’s in my camera bag:

Camera –

Canon 5D Mark II

Lenses –

Canon 85mm f/1.2 L (L-series lenses are the bomb and this one is my favorite)

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L

Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro (for super-close-ups)

All these lenses are GREAT and I love them!

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  1. Lindsay says

    Thanks for the tips! Jessica shoots my baby’s photos and she is seriously the best! She has a great package for Baby’s First Year that is so worth it!! I’m looking forward to seeing more of her tricks on your blog!

  2. Audra says

    GREAT post! I am getting a DSLR in August and searching all the info I can on cameras and lenses. This was very informitive! Thanks again!!!

  3. says

    Amazing post! I just did a photography blog post a few days ago…I wish I had had this to link in there…amazing information :)

  4. says

    Great tips! Thank you so much for the info…I was just thinking about getting a new lens for my upcoming vacation and now I know what to look for!

  5. Jacki says

    Hi – i know this post was done several days ago but I havent been able to ask a question until now – would you have a chance to explain the differences between 1.2 1.8 and is there one in between? Sure makes a huge price jump between the two. Thanks!

    • says

      Jacki, I just emailed you! But the simple answer to your question is that the 1.8 will have a little bit less background blur than the 1.2.