Getting started in photography: Choosing the right lens

When it comes to choosing lenses for SLR video cameras, there is a dizzying array of options. From wide-angle to telephoto, zoom to prime, fish-eye to fast to wide aperture lenses, the choice seems difficult. Actually, it isn’t. In the end, it’s all about asking yourself a basic question: What do I want to photograph?

Different lenses for different subjects

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If you’re just starting out in photography, you’re probably still figuring out what you like to shoot. Maybe one day you’re taking some family portraits and the next day you’re taking landscape photos from your vacation. On the other hand, you may have decided from the beginning that you prefer to photograph wildlife, and that’s all you want to do. In either case, the lenses you need to get the most out of these subjects vary widely. To get a sweeping landscape image in your viewfinder, you need a wide-angle lens. However, trying to take a photo with the same lens would result in a tiny little person and little else in the frame, unless you are right in that person’s face and smell their breath. Trying to photograph a wild bear from 100 or more yards away is simply impossible (and you really don’t want to get too close to a wild bear). In an ideal world, you would have 3 different lenses for each of these subjects. But in an ideal world, you would also be a millionaire and could afford all the lenses. So the important thing is to decide what kind of photography interests you and choose your lenses accordingly.

Length: Zoom versus Prime

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There are advantages to using both zoom and fixed (non-zoom) focal lengths. On the one hand, zoom lenses are flexible and reduce the need for a whole bag full of lenses that you have to keep changing while shooting. On the other hand, a quality fixed focal length lens can be worth its weight in gold. Prime lenses, when well built, usually produce a sharper image of much better quality. This is because they have fewer lenses and moving parts. Therefore, the incoming light does not have to pass through as many objects and is less scattered. Another fantastic advantage of fixed focal lengths is that they are usually “faster” than zoom lenses. This means that you can use slower shutter speeds because the lens needs less light to get a proper exposure. This is especially helpful when you want to shoot with available light.

Aperture

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Another important aspect to consider when choosing your lens is the maximum aperture. This is indicated in the description with an f symbol. For example, f/2.8. The lower this number is, the wider the aperture selection. For example, if you want to shoot a portrait with only the facial features of your subject in focus, you would use a large aperture. If you want to shoot a sweeping landscape where everything needs to be in focus, you would use a small aperture (high number). If you choose a lens with a larger aperture, you will have more options when shooting.

It is well known that lenses can cost as much or more than the cameras themselves. Even with lenses, it’s important to remember that you get what you pay for. While no piece of equipment alone can make the difference between a good photo and a bad one, a well-built lens that uses quality glass can deliver sharper images. Therefore, it pays to think carefully about the lenses you buy and purchase the best quality you can afford. If you are clear about what kind of photography you want to do, the process can be much less overwhelming and more cost effective.

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