We recently talked a little about great DSLR cameras, and I just know you’ve been waiting on the edge of your seat to learn all about lenses and which ones 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”).
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 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!
A telephoto lens is useful when your subject is farther away, such as photographing a child in sports or dance performances.
All About Lenses
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 – they can tell you all about lenses and which ones work best!
- 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.***
- Click the links below to read more and purchase from Amazon-
When you’re ready to expand your lens collection, here are a few lenses I love:
- Wide-angle range – the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. (Amazon Link HERE)
- Zoom lens in the telephoto range – the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8. (Amazon Link HERE)
- 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.
And just in case anyone is wondering, here’s what’s in my camera bag:
*all items are linked to Amazon for your shopping convenience! 🙂
- 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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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica is the talented Arizona photographer and owner of Jessica Downey Photo. She was a member of the Somewhat Simple Creative team in 2011. As you embark on your lens hunt, feel free to email Jessica (firstname.lastname@example.org). Or you can contact her via Facebook with any questions you may have!
This post originally published in July 2011.