I tell my students to invest in their lenses more so then there cameras. Why? The kinds of lenses that you buy -- brand, focal length, fast or slow, zooms or primes and optical quality all play a major role in capturing high-resolution imagery. The 35mm DSLR camera is the camera to own if you are serious about getting creative and building your portfolio. The DSLR also allows you to build an arsenal of optics - lenses -- your tools in your tool bag so to speak. When it comes to lens selection, there are many things to weigh up before you decide to spend some of your hard earned money.
You can base your lens choice on the camera brand that you own, such as Canon or Nikon. Matching the camera brand with the lens brand can be good since the technology is matched. This may lead to better performance and fewer issues but may be more costly. Think about other named brands such as Tamron, Tokina, Rokinon and Sigma. These brands offer good optical performance and will save you quite a few dollars. Just be sure that the lens you buy indicates that it is for your particular brand of camera. For instance, "Tamron 18-200mm lens for Canon". Do plenty of research on the lens you are thinking about purchasing and be sure to check out the reviews. You would need to consider not only the brand and any cost savings on your budget but also focal length, fast or slow glass, zooms versus primes and optical quality.
Which focal length?
The lens focal length choice is based on what kind of photography you are pursuing. Short focal length lenses usually stay within a range from 10mm to 55mm. Most of your "kit" lenses are 18-55mm. These lenses are optimized for "scenic" photography because they cover a wide field of view but will give you less magnification. Lenses below 35mm will give you a wider field of view and thus more coverage and less magnification. The downside is that you will have to deal with more expansive distortion. This distortion is seen in your subjects as curved lines which become more pronounced the closer to the edge of your image. This type of distortion is caused by the curvature of the lens and the lower your focal length, such as 8mm or 14mm, the more curvature and distortion you get. The 35mm focal length is on the borderline between wide-angle and normal. This focal length is very nice to shoot with. The 50mm or 55mm on a "kit" lens is what is called a "standard" or "normal" lens because the optics give you a view that is very much like how you see things with your eyes. The 50mm was, back in the film days, known as the "nifty fifty" and is a great focal length for composing environmental portraits and also great for travel and night-sky imaging. It is also a very nice landscape or night-sky lens since it gives you a nice field of view without expansive distortion. The focal length range of 70mm - 135mm is ideal for shooting portraits and, as a medium telephoto range, can be ideally used for travel and landscapes subjects. As we get into longer focal lengths not only do we increase magnification but our image subject is compressed within the frame.
If you are shooting wildlife and sports, then the 200mm or higher focal length is for you. These lenses are much longer focal lengths and will compress your subject even further. These lenses are longer and heavier and so you must also think about the weight you will be carrying and the space in your camera bag. The 200mm range is also very good for portraits, travel, landscapes as well as wildlife and sports. Once again, remember that optical quality, zooms vs primes and the speed of your lens will determine weight and cost. The 400mm and above focal length is now getting you into "super telephoto" territory. These lenses can be much heavier to carry and to hand-hold and will take up more space. The 400mm is a very popular focal length for imaging wildlife and sports. The 400mm can also be used for magnifying on scenic landscapes and for celestial use.
Remember that you must consider all the various factors before you purchase your optics. Are you hand-holding or using a monopod or tripod? Which subjects do you mostly photograph? Do you need "stablization technology" on your lens? Do you need a zoom or prime lens? Is a "Kit" lens sufficient or do you need higher quality such as the Canon "L" or the Nikon "Nikkor" lenses or maybe a mid-range quality lens? How wide open does the aperture go? There is usually quite a cost difference between a lens that opens to f2.8 as opposed to f4 or f5.6
STAY TUNED FOR MY NEXT BLOG ENTRY WHERE I WILL COVER FAST VS SLOW AND ZOOM VS PRIMES LENSES!