The Scoop on Lenses

November 28, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Carolina Beach SunsetCarolina Beach Sunset Hey Everyone!  Last blog we discussed camera bodies and when and if you should upgrade.  This blog we'll be talking lenses and the scoop on them.  Kit lenses, primes, and zooms. So some of the big questions are: What lenses do I need? What is a kit lens?  What is a prime lens?  Zooms? These are all very big and difficult questions and can be overwhelming for a new photographer looking to upgrade lenses.  The answer to these questions are all from me, not necessarily the industry standard but my opinion.  And in my opinion, investing in good-quality lenses is way more important than what camera body you have.  Lenses last a lot longer than camera bodies and can be used for decades.  I still use on occasion vintage lenses from the 60’s and still get good quality results from them.  So buying the best quality lens you can afford to me is more important than buying the latest and greatest gadget body you could buy.

What are kit lenses? Kit lenses are usually cheaper-made lenses that come with your camera, and you usually buy them as a kit, hence the name.  They are usually not as sharp as more expensive lenses, but sharp enough for everyday.  The focal range varies by manufacturer.  The quality control on these lenses is not as precise as a more expensive lens might be, so you could get a copy that may not be too sharp.  But you could also get lucky and get a good copy that is extremely sharp.  I have a kit 55-210 lens that is very sharp and works well.

Primes vs Zooms: What are prime lenses?  Prime lenses have just one focal length.  A 50mm, 35mm, and 85mm.  So if you want the subject to be closer, you walk closer.  And if you want the subject farther away, you back up.  Primes are great for a few reasons.  They are usually cheaper, and you can get a larger aperture like f1.4 that can make great background blur for portraits or for separating the subject.  They used to be considerably sharper than zooms, but zooms have caught up to them as far as I’m concerned. They are smaller and lighter if that is a concern for you. What are zoom lenses?  Zooms have ranged focal distance like 16-35mm, 24-70mm, or 70-200mm.  If you want the subject closer, you just turn a ring on the lens and, zoom, they get closer, hence the name.  Zooms' advantage is that they are easy to compose a subject by zooming.  You can cover a number of focal lengths with one lens.  They are larger and heavier than primes if that is a consideration for you.

What lenses do I need?  First you have to decide what kind of photographer or photography you’ll be doing because the choices a landscape photographer may make compaired to a portrait or a wildlife photographer would be different.  What type of photo you are looking to get will determine what type of lenses you will be wanting to purchase.  Let’s break it down into categories.

Everyday shooter.  If you're just getting into photography and you shoot primarily when you take vacations and events your family and kids have, I would suggest the kit lens that came with your camera kit.  They usually have a large focal range from say 55-200ish.  It varies by brand.  But these lenses are versatile and can do a lot and are not specialized.  A good carry-around lens.

Landscape:  Landscape photographers like to shoot very wide or long.  So a 16-35mm and say a 70-300mm lens would work great, the greater the maximum The MetroThe MetroCommuters waiting for the Metro in Washington DC. aperture you can afford.  F4 is fine.  2.8 is good also, especially for the 16-35 that would give you the option of shooting astro photography with the 16-35 when you have the 2.8 model.  For landscape photography, weight is also a thing to consider since you usually have to haul your gear maybe miles to the location you're going to shoot.  So the smaller aperture f4, especially in the 70-300, would make that lens considerably lighter and just as sharp because you would rarely need to shoot at F4 or smaller with that lens.

Portraits: Portraits can be shot with a wide range of lenses, but usually 75mm and longer give the best results, especially for head and shoulder shots.  And the bigger the aperture the better, so f2.8, 1.8, or even as low a 1.2 is desired to give that creamy blurred background.  Here is where primes really shine.  Primes seem to be cheaper and tac sharp compared to zooms with large constant aperture. When portrait photographers find a lens that they really love, they will shoot it forever.

Wildlife/Sports:  Wildlife photographers like it long, so 200mm plus up to 600mm.  These are large, expensive lenses to buy, up to $10,000, but there are some cheaper versions that work great for $2,500 or less.  They just have  smaller apertures.  Sports photography also falls in this category, but they use all ranges of lenses from wide to super telephoto.

Street:  Street photographers like 50mm and smaller.  Small concealed lenses on small bodies are great for street.  As s street photographer, you want to blend in with the environment, and a large camera with a big lens is just the opposite.  35mm seems to be the sweet spot for street photographers.

Wine glass SplashWine glass Splash So did I answer any questions?  Probably not.  You have heard or seen on YouTube about the holy trinity of lenses that every photographer should have.  They are a wide zoom, medium zoom, and a telephoto zoom and usually cover a distance focal length of say 16-200 and usually at f2.8 aperture.  Don’t get me wrong.  These are great lenses no matter what manufacturer makes them, but they are heavy and expensive.  And depending on what you shoot you may not need them.  My advice is to start with a focal length range that you seem to shoot a lot.  For me, a 24-70 range is where 90 percent of my photos are taken.  Rent that lens and use it awhile to see if it fits you.  If it does, great.  Buy it and shoot it a lot while you're saving for the next one.  By doing this you can invest in a good quality lens and take your time, save up some money, and get another good quality lens.  To me, one good-quality lens is better than three low-quality lenses.

So you're probably wondering, "Well, Max, what do you have?"  Well, I am a gear hound and have had a lot of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) in the past, but I’m trying to make my gear smaller in quantity and larger in quality.  So when I shoot landscape photography, I carry three lenses:  a 10-18mm f4(16-25mm full frame equivalent) for wide angel stuff, a Ziess Sony 16-70mm f4 (24-105mm full frame equivalent), a Canon 70-200 f4L (105-300mm full-frame equivalent), and a Metabones adapter for the Canon lens to my Sony.  For street photography I use primes, mostly a 23mm f2.8 Rokinon (35mm full frame equivalent), a Sony 35mm f1.8 (50mm full frame equivalent), and then a Sony 55-210mm f3.5-56 (70-300mm full-frame equivalent).  I do have a specialty lens, a Rokinon 12mm f2.0, that I use for astro photography and extension tube that I use with my Sony 35mm for macro closeup work.  I also have a cheap 50mm f1.8 lens that I use for portraits.  I have some vintage lenses that I also use, but these are my main lenses that I use.

I hope this has helped you.  Deciding on what to get can be confusing and a big investment.  Take your time and get what’s right for you.  Next time I think I will talk about finding the sweet spot of your lens, what aperture and focal length is the sharpest. Until then, keep shooting!




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