Selecting a proper lens for your DSLR can be confusing and overwhelming but with some basic information and guidance, lens selection can be exciting, less confusing and save you money! Here are 10 quick tips you need to know:
1) Selecting a lens or lenses should be based on what type of photography you do.
If you are into capturing sports, wildlife and high magnifications of landscapes and the moon, you would need a telephoto lens and/or super-telephoto lens. This can be anywhere from 100mm to 600mm or more. For scenics and travel, a lens in the wide-angle to normal range, or say 12mm to 35mm range is a good choice. If you are trying to capture travel scenes with people in it then a normal 50mm lens is good. Portraiture requires a focal length range 85mm to 135mm with 85mm and 100mm being the "sweet" spot.
2) Prime lens or Zoom lens?
There has always been two camps (Prime and Zoom) - even with today's advancements in optical technology, "prime" lenses are still a tad bit sharper, weigh less and cost less. These lenses are easier to engineer optically and have less optical elements. They are better for your budget and are lighter then zooms. "prime" lenses also tend to be faster, meaning that their apertures (len's opening) open wider to let in more light (an advantage for low-light photography) for example, f2.8, f2.0, f1.8, f1.4, f1.2 Another advantage is that wide open apertures give you, the photographer, more softer backgrounds (less DOF (depth of field) also known as Bokeh. Disadvantages are that selecting "prime" lens means that you will need to interchange them more often and you would have more lenses in your camera bag. "Zoom" lenses, on the other hand, are more flexible in the field. Zooming your lenses, say 24-105mm, allows you to instantly "crop" your composition and eliminate distractions aka "clutter". With zooms, you carry fewer lenses, your camera bag is lighter and in some cases, purchasing what is known as an "all-in-one-lens" (16-250mm) allows you to keep just one lens on your camera all the time. Disadvantages are that "zooms" are more costly, weigh more and are a little less sharper.
3) "Kit", Intermediate or Pro lens?
So what quality lens should you invest in?
"Kit" lenses are designed for the novice and those on a strict budget. There ok to use if you are first starting out and they will give you decent images. Your best choice is to upgrade to an intermediate lens say in the $400 to $600 range. The saying is "You Get What You Pay For" and so this certainly applies to photography. Better quality lenses give you sharper optics and more robust lens construction meaning that when using your lenses in harsh conditions, the weather-sealing in your lens design will help you. Pro lenses such as the Canon "L" lenses (with red stripe) and Nikon's "Nikkor" lenses are the most expensive but you get the best in optical engineering for high resolution images and weather-sealing that will hold up to the harshest conditions.
4) Purchase a "protection" filter for your new lens.
It is a low-cost investment but a vital one to purchase what is called a UV/Haze or "protection" filter to cover ALL your lenses! Be sure to purchase a filter that is of the same diameter as your lens, e.g., 58mm....you should buy this filter and place it on your lens before you start taking photos. You do not want to get dust or scratches, dings, dents, liquids onto your new lens. The more you pay for your lens, the more important it is to have a "protection" filter on.
5) What quality filters should I purchase for my lenses?
The quality of your lens filters are just as important as your len's quality. You would not want to buy a $20 filter to put on your $1,500 Canon "L" Pro lens. Matching good quality filters with high quality lenses are important to good resolution and protection of your lenses. Some good filter brands are Tiffen, Hoya, B&W, Schneider, Heliopan. Be sure to look for a filter that is "fully multi-coated" FMC If you are purchasing the highest quality lenses then you should be buying the highest quality filters. The only needed filters in today's "digital age" are the "protection or UV/Haze", the Polarizer and you may want to invest in a Neutral Density or Graduated Neutral Density filter.
6) Use the lens hood that came with your lens.
Higher cost and therefore higher quality lenses usually automatically come with a lens hood. Lower quality lenses may not so you would need to buy one. Either way, putting that lens hood (shade) on your lens is just as important as using a "protection" filter. The lens hood does three things: 1) protects your lens optics from stray light; 2) protects your lens from damage; and 3) acts as a rain shield from when you are shooting in "misty" or "drizzle" conditions.
7) Pros and Cons of "IS" aka "VR" "VC".....stabilization.
Plain and simple....if you are hand-holding your lenses most of the time, purchasing a lens that has built-in Image Stabilization (IS) is crucial. Nikon calls it vibration reduction (VR) and other brands use other terms. Look for a switch on the lens that indicates stablization or IS, VR, VC, etc....if your not sure, ask your photo dealer. This stablization technology helps prevent obtaining "blurry" images due to camera shake and this technology works wonderfully but it is limited. A lens with stablization technology will cost you several hundred dollars more but is well worth it. It has become more standard now for camera companies to include "IS" on many of your bundled "kit" lenses. e.g., 18-55mm.
8) For those of you who may be more advanced in photography or find that what you do involves making lots of prints and enlargements, "resolution" is king. Resolution is how much detail you can capture in your subject. If you are using a full-frame camera you would most likely benefit from using Pro quality lenses. This matching between the camera's processing unit and quality of sensor (digital chip) with Pro quality optics makes for high-resolution imagery which is vital when enlargements are needed.
9) Lens 101: Always keep your optical glass elements (front and rear) clean and cover with caps.
You should make it a habit, before you shoot, to clean your front and rear lens optical glass. You would not want anything on your optics such as stains, dust, etc...to show up in your images. After your photoshoot is over, immediately cover your front and rear elements with your lens caps.
10) Lastly, try to keep your lenses (and camera) away from beach areas where sand and salt is deadly to your photographic equipment. If you must photograph at the beach, keep your gear (especially your lenses) protected.