Buying DSLR Camera Lenses: How to Pick the Lenses That You Need
Buying a DSLR camera lens is a big decision. Most lenses cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, which means that you want to make sure that you're getting a lens that you'll use for years to come. With dozens of lenses available, it's often hard to know where to start. While the decision can be overwhelming, finding the right buying guides with comprehensive reviews and comparisons will make the process quicker and less stressful. The following walks you through the basic information that you need as well as the most useful resources available so that you can buy the right lenses for your DSLR photography.
Prime Lenses vs. Zoom Lenses: Which is Better?
There are two critical basics that you must familiarize yourself with before moving forward with the lens purchasing process.
Zoom vs. prime
The first basic is learning the difference between zoom lenses and prime lenses. A zoom lens is any lens that has a range of focal lengths (i.e. 70-200mm). A prime lens is any lens that has a single focal length (i.e. 50mm). Typically prime lenses offer higher quality (i.e. sharper images, faster focusing) while zoom lenses offer more flexibility. Most photographers shoot with both zoom and prime lenses.
Types of lenses
The second basic is learning the various types of lenses. The following includes a brief overview of the most popular types of lenses.
- Kit. A kit lens is the lens is offered with package deals for entry level DSLRs, such as the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. Most current model kit lens are solid lenses. If you're a new DSLR user, these lenses are a great place to start. You can get comfortable shooting with a lens before you commit to a big investment.
- Wide angle. The term wide angle is self explanatory. If you want to shoot a wide perspective or want to get in close to a subject while still fitting a lot of detail into a frame, you should consider a wide angle lens.
- Macro. A macro lens lets you shoot subjects up close. Many point and shoot cameras have a macro setting. However, a true macro lens offers a level of detail that you can't get with a macro setting. Just a few popular uses for macro lenses include product photography, food photography, and certain types of wildlife photography (i.e. flowers, insects).
- Telephoto. A telephoto lens is a great option when you want to shoot subjects that are far away while still capturing small details. Many people use them for shooting animals both in captivity and in the world.
Now that you're familiar with the basics of DSLR camera lenses, you have to ask yourself two key questions.
- What kind of shooting do you enjoy? One of the most frustrating aspects of deciding which camera lens to buy is that there is no single lens that is a great fit for everyone. You have to think about what types of shooting you do and what lenses will be the best fit for them. For example, a 100mm macro lens may be a great fit for a commercial food stylist while a 70-200mm zoom lens may be a better choice for a wedding photographer.
- What is your budget? For most photographers, cost is an important factor. You want to get lenses that meet your needs without breaking the bank. It can be fun to daydream about high end future purchases, but ultimately you must be realistic about your budget and should research camera lenses in your price range.
As you start to narrow down the lenses that you're most interested in purchasing, there are a number of resources that you can use to help you with your decision. Even entry level lenses can cost several hundred dollars. As such, you don't want to rush into anything. Consider using one or more of the following resources to help you make an educated decision.
Digital Photo Recommendations and DigitalRev are two of the top places that I get information about varying lenses.
There are numerous photography sites and blogs with detailed written reviews for all sorts of photography equipment, including DSLR lenses. You can also read reviews on e-commerce sites, such as Amazon and B&H. If you want reviews for a specific lens or a specific type of lens (i.e. macro, telephoto), simply do a Google search for it and browse several of the top results. Many reviewers include photos that they've taken with the lenses.
Macro Photography Options (Canon 100mm L vs Tamron 90mm vs Extension Tubes vs Filters)
On a similar note, there are tons of photography YouTube channels that have extensive gear reviews. With a video review, you often get a hands on feel for a lens that many written reviews can't offer. If you're considering a specific lens, it's best practice to watch multiple channels. While it's great to have a few go to resources that you trust, it can be helpful to get varying perspectives with a range of image samples before making a major purchase.
As you search for written reviews and videos, look for content that compares varying lenses. For example, if you're thinking about buying a macro lens, look for videos in which reviewers compare the Canon 100mm f/2.8L against the Canon 60mm f/2.8.
Do you know other DSLR photographers? These people can be a great resource for future lens purchases. Talk to them about what they do and don't like about given lenses and what they think would be a good fit for your shooting needs and preferences. If you don't know a lot of DSLR photographers, you can also get personal recommendations via photography forums and channels, such as Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Don't be afraid to ask fellow photographers for advice. Many people are more than happy to share their insight.
Recently I borrowed the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 from Borrow Lenses for a trip to Orlando.Click thumbnail to view full-size
- borrowlenses.com: Rent professional cameras or camera lenses
Rent professional Canon, Nikon, Sony or Olympus cameras or just lenses. Underwater equipment for rent also available. Low pricing and great customer service.
Rent and buy amazing gadgets - cameras, lenses, wearables, fitness gear, drones, and more.
Rental / borrowing sites
It's extremely helpful to read and watch reviews about photography gear, but there is nothing quite like trying it out for yourself. There are quite a few sites that allow you to rent lenses for a fraction of the retail price. It may seem crazy to sink money into renting a lens, but it can be well worth it. You're better off spending a hundred dollars figuring out that you don't actually need a lens than putting thousands into a purchase that you're going to turn around and re-sell a few months later. Many sites offer perks such as in person pick ups and counting rental fees toward purchases.
Many local camera shops offer gear rental as well.
Simply type the name of the lens into the search box on Flickr to see images that people have taken with it.
Flickr has a dedicated Camera Finder but not a dedicated Lens Finder, which is too bad. However, you can still use the general search function to get an idea what kind of images people create with particular lenses. For example, if you shoot landscapes, look for images of landscapes in the search results for the lens of your choosing. It's important to use this tool as a general guideline. Photographers of all different skill levels shooting with entry level to professional cameras and everything in between post their images on Flickr. Just because an image looks spectacular or mediocre on Flickr doesn't mean that the images that you take with the lens will look the same way.
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