Hello! Long live Technique Tuesdays! It has been awhile since I’ve been able to post one; I spent the summer absorbing my last few months in Vancouver before moving to Toronto a month and a half ago. Suffice to say this last month has been CRAZY trying to get used to school again! But being here has sparked my work ethic (haha) so I want to make sure I keep putting these out there for everyone!
The number one question I get asked the most is:
What type of lens should I use?
This is always an intriguing question to me. Lenses can be versatile, but my number one reply to this question is:
The lens is not as important as the person!
I don’t say this with a passive aggressive undercurrent of being like “oh, haha, lenses? How absurd. I am above them.” The only reason I say this is because I want people to know that THEIR eye is more important than the lens eye. A creative angle, thought, or light choice can happen no matter what the lens. I cannot express how important this thought is: depend on yourself and your eye and not your technology.
(I might also say this because I can’t afford new technology… but that’s beside the point!)
OKAY. So you’ve asked me that question and I’ve responded with the above.
The next thing to consider is:
What do you want to take photographs of?
Lenses can be very situational OR they can be very versatile. Here is what I mean:
Most affordable lenses these days are zoom lenses, otherwise known as telephoto lenses. What I mean by that is that it has a ring on the lens that lets you change your distances (or mm). For example, my favorite of these is 18-200 mm, meaning it can go wide and zoomed out at 18mm all the way up to 200 mm, which is closer to your subject. This is very handy and I LOVE my telephoto lenses because they are versatile. Downside: their image quality is not as good as a prime lens.
What is a prime lens? A prime lens is a lens that focuses on only one distance. An example of this is my beloved 50 mm. These lenses are often more expensive, but their image quality is gorgeous.
Oh George! Buy an SLR! Source.
The NEXT thing to think about is image stabilization (IS). This is your camera’s/lens’ ability to stay still when taking photographs, even when zoomed in (which is tougher). Some companies have IS in their camera body, like Sony. More often than not it will be in the lens (such as Canon and Nikon). This is lame, because the lenses with IS can cost 500+ more than their non-IS version (for Canon L lenses for example). This frustrates me because I feel IS should be in every camera no matter what–common sense? Otherwise, say you have an 18-200 mm zoom with no IS; you zoom in to take a photo of a bird–snap snap–and then it’s fuzzy! It will always be fuzzy unless you have a tripod.
Therefore, it is worth saving that extra bit to get a lens with IS; it will make all the difference! If you do not need this and can deal with never zooming in, always using a tripod, etc etc than you are fine getting a cheaper lens with no IS.
The NEXT thing to think about is f-stop. I discussed this briefly in my Depth of Field Technique Tuesday, however it is worth going over again with my handy very professional graphic:
The circles in the image above show the f-stop on the box. The smaller the number, the blurrier your background will be a.k.a the more “bokeh” your image will have. People love this for portraiture, food shots, insects/plants, basically anything close up where you need your subject to be the main focus.
This is something to consider when buying your lens if you are looking into portrait photography. It may be cheaper to buy the 17-85 mm with the f/4.0, however that means your backgrounds will not get as blurry as say a prime 85 mm with f/1.4, which is a great one for small focus points and blurry backgrounds. So consider the f-stop number you may want when purchasing your lens ESPECIALLY if you think you will be taking portrait photos!
OKAY. So, three aspects of a lens to think about:
- the zoom/prime
- the IS or no IS
- the f-stop number
you may want. These are 3 things I usually think about when purchasing a lens.
To go back to the main question though, you must answer yourself:
What do you want to take photographs of with it?
This is important because if you go out and buy a 2000 dollar wide-angle lens and then NEVER use it because all you do is take photos of plant leaves and people’s faces, that’s a bad thing. A very bad thing. When you buy a lens you want it to serve a purpose. All of my lenses are integral to my photography. I constantly carry most of them with me because they all do different jobs that I actually utilize. This is key.
This does not mean you have to buy a unique lens for every single situation you may be in. This is the DREAM of course, but we are not all that rich (now I’m just thinking about all the new lenses I want!). All it means is that you have to think about the type of photography you enjoy, the type of photography you want to work on, and the type of photography you think matters to you.
Below I’ve made a general list of the types of lenses and what their most common uses are. REMEMBER: you don’t have to fit inside this box! I’ve used my 50 mm for nature or landscape photos; I’ve used my wide angle for close-ups; all sorts of fun stuff!
I am a Canon user, so I’ll leave a tidbit for my fellow Canonites, just in case. There are two main types of lenses: EF lenses, which are lighter and have plastic components. They work well but they are cheaper and therefore not professional quality. Then there are L lenses, which are heavier, have metal components, and take high-end photos, particularly for enlargements. They tend to be more (by quite a bit) but depending on what you will use it for it could be worth it to save up!
Lenses are super fun and creative and amazing and constantly changing with technology to be better and better. However, in the end the really fun and creative stuff is on your end!
Happy shopping, and feel free to comment with any questions! 🙂
PS: Because I am a Canon photographer I will be focusing on Canon lenses because that is what I know best. However, if you have something else just googling it with your camera type will often give you the equivalent!
REMEMBER: most telephotos can be used to get the prime lens ranges; the only difference is that their quality may not be as good. Also, using a prime is fun because it forces you, the photographer, to move your body around! Sometimes this is fun, also good exercise.
LENSES AND MOST COMMON USES
35 mm (f/1.8 etc) good for portraiture shots and low light situations
50 mm (f/1.8 or f/1.2) have to be a bit further away than 35 mm if taking portraits (can get about 2m from subject) — similar look though
85 mm have to go even further than 50 mm! up to 4m however a bit of a different focal length than the above (get more of surroundings around your subject)
100 mm although this is technically a macro lens it makes for great portraits! If you get one with f/2.8 or around there you’ll get a good background blur.
**NOTE: I’ve never noticed a HUGE difference between these; they are the standard prime lenses for “portraits” but as I’ve said before, they can be used for different purposes. So many people love 85; so many love 50.
17-55 mm is thought to be a good focal range for beginners, often the mm used the most in other telephotos! Canon has a good one with f/2.8 and IS.
18-55 mm this is the one your camera normally comes with! Utilize it!
70-200 mm starting to go into the long end of the zoom but this is useful if you like getting a bit closer shots!) good for event shooting (concerts etc
18-200 mm I use a SIGMA lens for this; I like it for more wide angle landscapes which make for great dramatic shots
24-105 mm my favorite all-purpose telephoto if I don’t need that wide angle!
10-18 mm for wide angle shots only. If you’re a newbie I wouldn’t recommend this, only because it has such a narrow and specific range. Of course, if you LOVE wide angle and it is your PASSION then go for it!
MACRO LENSES: I know this is up for debate a lot, but Tamron makes the best macro lenses, pretty much. I am not sure about specs because I don’t have one myself and don’t do a lot of macro photography; this is worth researching more!
PPS: When you go into a camera store, don’t be shy! Ask them if you can test the lens out. This is important! Sometimes they hover which can be awkward. I hate looking at cameras or lenses. I get all anxious. But if I’m going to spend money, then you bet I’m going to try it out first. Think of it like buying a 2000 dollar coat; you wouldn’t NOT try it on before buying it, right? Have this mentality when you go! Even when just looking. You do not have to commit right away, remember. I usually float into a store 4-5 times before I buy something. No pressure, my friends.
NEXT POST: will be about camera bodies and WHAT IN THE WORLD that tiny writing even means on the labels in the store. I know I’m going a little bit backwards, but that’s okay! Just keeping y’all on your toes.