Are you thinking about buying a new lens for your DSLR or compact system camera? Remember, the best lens isn’t always the most expensive.
The best lens for your camera is the one with the features that best match your needs as a photographer. These 9 essential lens tips should help give a solid foundation of what you might be looking for when you go to choose the best lens for your camera.
How to choose the best lens for your camera
Lens Tip 1: Speed
Aside from sharpness, this is the key thing to consider. ‘Fast’ lenses have wide maximum apertures – f/2.8, f/1.8 etc. They let in more light and enable you to achieve faster shutter speeds. The downside? They’re heavier and more expensive. ‘Slower’ lenses are cheaper, but you may need to increase the camera’s ISO in order to get action-stopping shots in low light. The speed of a lens is also relative to the focal length – a 500mm f/4.5 lens is relatively fast, whereas a 100mm f/4.5 is slow.
Lens Tip 2: Minimum focus
How close can you get before the lens reaches its near focus limit? This is an important consideration when choosing a telephoto lens. It’s all very well getting a lens which offers a huge magnification, but if you can’t get close enough to make the most of it you’ll have to add extension tubes to get closer.
Lens Tip 3: Floating or fixed aperture?
Another factor that determines whether a zoom lens is cheap or expensive is whether it keeps the same aperture throughout the zoom range (more expensive) or if the aperture gets smaller as you zoom from wide to long (cheaper). The downside of this kind of ‘floating’ aperture (such as f/4.5-5.6) is that, in order to maintain the same exposure, the shutter speed needs to become slower as the aperture gets smaller. So you need to be aware of possible camera shake creeping in.
Lens Tip 4: Handling
How a lens feels in your hands shouldn’t be overlooked. Do the zoom and focus rings fall in the right place for your fingers? Can you hand-hold it? Does it have image stabilisation?
Lens Tip 5: Rotating filter ring
Cheaper lenses can have a front element which rotates as the lens focuses. This causes problems when you’ve got a filter attached – particularly a polariser, the effect of which changes as it turns. The only solution is to focus first before making filter adjustments.
Lens Tip 6: Optical quality
It’s only by testing a lens in a camera shop and reading reviews that you’ll know if a lens’ quality will meet your expectations. Sharpness is key, but so is a lens’ ability to handle flare, vignetting and optical aberrations. Most of those letters after a lens’ focal length – APO, L, ED, ASP – aren’t marketing gimmicks, they do actually signify better glass has been used.
Lens Tip 7: Distance scale
This is useful for calculating depth of field in order to maximise front-to-back sharpness in a shot, and so is particularly good for landscape photography. Many modern lenses, such as this 55-200mm, don’t have one though. Do you think you can live with that?
Lens Tip 8: Type of zoom
There are two types of zoom lens – the push/pull ‘trombone’ style, or the more common ring type. The push/pull type are simpler to use, although longer versions can become unwieldy when zoomed right out.
Lens Tip 9: Lens hood
Not all lenses come with a lens hood. Factor the extra cost in if they lack one – they’re essential. The same is true for a tripod collar for larger lenses.
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