How to Choose the Right Camera Lens

How to Choose the Right Camera Lens

One of the principal advantages of the 35mm SLR is the Option of changing lenses. However, there are so many camera lenses around, which one is the best to be used to produce the right image? It's easy to be seduced into collecting lenses by the expectation that the object itself will help you take better pictures. It won't. Lenses are like spanners in a tool box: you can tackle most jobs with a limited range of sizes, or with just one adjustable spanner; extra spanners don't make you a better mechanic, though they will extend the range of tasks you can tackle.

Lens quality is another trap. Most lenses for SLRs provide extraordinarily good quality, so that unless you make giant enlargements, you'll probably never fully exploit the optical capabilities of your lenses. Remember that many factors affect the sharpness of your pictures, and lens quality is just one of them. Unless you habitually use a tripod, camera shake is likely to set a limit on picture sharpness much sooner than lens resolution, and over long distance, heat haze and mist are also factors. Tests in camera magazines may enable you to make objective comparisons between lenses, but they are carried out in an optical laboratory, and in practice you'll probably notice only the grossest of differences in the finished picture.

Finally, bear in mind that what you carry in your camera bag is there to aid you, not to be a burden. If you hesitate about carrying your camera bag half a mile across sand dunes, it's time to take something out of it.


Telephotos take you closer to the subject

  • A telephoto or a long zoom is a sensible second lens if you already have a standard 50mm lens for your SLR. Landscape photography will often present physical obstacles that prevent you from getting close enough to the subject: telephoto lenses bridge the gap.

Travel light with a mid-range zoom

  • For maximum versatility and minimum weight, mid-range zoom lenses are unequalled. The most versatile lenses have focal lengths ranging from 28mm to 200mm, but watch out for hidden drawbacks - these wide range zooms often focus no closer than 7 feet (2 meters) and have small maximum apertures, limiting low-light use. Zoom lenses make cropping in camera especially easy: not only do they save you the trouble of constantly switching lenses, but they also provide intermediate focal lengths - such as 130mm - for fine-tuning composition.

Expand the horizon with a wide-angle lens

  • The qualities of a wide-angle lens are easy to appreciate in practice. With a wide-angle lens on your SLR, the foreground looms larger and the background recedes into the distance: small changes in camera position will radically alter the appearance of the picture. Wide-angles are small and light too and you'll hardly notice the extra weight.

More about camera lens features

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