Start getting more from your Canon lenses! In this expert guide written by our friends at the Canon magazine PhotoPlus you’ll find tips on how to use your Canon lenses to their full potential, as well as essential lens-buying advice and the best lens choices for different situations.
The major plus point of owning a DSLR over a point-and-shoot camera is being able to switch lenses to suit your subjects, rather than making a hash of it with a fixed lens on your compact that might not be wide enough or long enough, or fast enough, or sharp enough.
But there are hundreds of different lenses available for your Canon DSLR and knowing which lenses are best for your needs, and then working out how to actually use them, can baffle even the most dedicated enthusiast photographer.
In this guide we have compiled no less than 40 top tips for getting the very best from your Canon lenses (note that when we say ‘Canon’ lens, we mean ‘Canon-fit’, so that also includes popular third-party brands such as Sigma, Tamron and Tokina).
From standard and wide-angle zooms to primes and macro lenses, from telephoto and superzooms to specialist fisheye and tilt-shift lenses, we cover every type of lens, and explain the best techniques for using them.
Plus we share our buying tips so you know what to look out for, and provide a list of the very best lenses in each category to consider when you’re upgrading…
How to use Canon lenses: standard & wide-angle zooms
01 Avoid converging verticals of buildings
Wide-angle lenses enable you to squeeze more of a scene into a single frame, but you’ll need to be close to subjects in order to make them appear large enough.
This can cause problems when you’re shooting architecture; if you point a wide-angle lens upwards when you’re standing close to a building you’ll end up with converging verticals, where the top appears much narrower than the base. You can use this effect creatively to make structures appear to tower above the viewer.
Alternatively, stand further away and zoom in, use a tilt-shift lens or fix the converging verticals in Photoshop.
02 Watch the corners
Not all Canon cameras show the whole picture through the viewfinder. The Canon EOS 700D, for instance, shows 95% of the area being captured, so it’s all-too easy to find that unwanted elements have crept into the corners of the frame when you check your pictures.
While it can be straightforward to crop the image or clone the distractions out in your photo editing software, why not fix it at the time of shooting? Zoom out slightly before you take the shot and glance around the edge of the frame before zooming in again.
Another easy solution is to use Live View, as this shows the full image from the camera sensor, although it can be tricky to fine-tune composition in handheld shooting.
03 Take sharper shots
Affordable standard zooms tend to have slow maximum apertures, such as f/5.6 or f/6.3. This means that for a given focal length they let in less light than a zoom with a fast maximum aperture, such as f/2.8.
There’s a risk that pictures will be blurred in low light or when you’re photographing moving subjects, so increase the ISO to compensate (or let your camera handle this by choosing the Auto ISO setting). It’s definitely worth buying a walkaround lens with Image Stabilization, if you can stretch to it.
04 Hyperfocal distance
Landscape photographers frequently make use of the hyperfocal distance when using a wide-angle lens. The hyperfocal distance is the shortest focus distance at which everything, from close-range to infinity, will appear sharp.
The setting you need to use changes according to a complicated formula that depends on the focal length of the lens, the aperture and even the size of the camera’s imaging sensor, but there are many smartphone apps available that calculate the hyperfocal distance for you once you’ve tapped in all the necessary info. Simply manually focus the lens at this distance to maximise the depth of field.
05 Use Lens Correction
Squeezing a range of focal lengths into a single lens means that compromises have to be made in its design, and zoom lenses can show considerable amounts of distortion.
However, software can correct for the likes of bowed horizons and chromatic aberration (red and green halos around high-contrast edges). We’d recommend shooting Raw files and then using the Lens Corrections feature in Adobe Camera Raw.
You can let the software do the corrections automatically (based on predetermined lens profiles) or carry out a manual correction using the sophisticated tools available.
What to consider when buying one of these Canon lenses…
06 EF-S vs EF
Canon makes lenses in two different mounts. EF-S lenses are engineered to only work on cameras with APS-C-sized sensors (so, everything bar the full-frame 6D, 5D and 1D bodies). If you’re thinking of going full-frame in the future, consider EF lenses as these are compatible with all Canon DSLRs.
07 Distance scale
Not all wide-angle lenses have a focus distance scale printed on their lens barrels, but it’s something to look for if you plan on doing lots of landscape photography. The scale will enable you to set the hyperfocal distance accurately – something you’ll have to guesstimate with lenses that lack it.
08 Close focusing
Some zooms are marked as having a ‘macro’ function, but this is really just a marketing gimmick to indicate that they can focus fairly close. For true 1:1 life-size photography you’ll need to buy a dedicated macro lens.
09 Filter compatibility
If you want to add a filter to the front of the lens, check the front of the lens barrel. You’ll find the diameter of the filter thread detailed here. Standard lenses tend to have smaller filter threads, so if your filters are too large for the lens, buy step-up adaptors.
10 Zoom range
Ultra-wide zooms cover a range of focal lengths, but it’s the shortest focal length that you should be guided by. Chances are, once you’re bitten by the UWA bug, you’ll predominantly use it at its widest setting. In the EF-S mount consider lenses that start in the region of 10mm – every millimetre makes a huge difference at the wide end.
PAGE 1 – How to use Canon lenses: standard & wide-angle zooms
PAGE 2 – How to use Canon lenses: prime lenses
PAGE 3 – How to use Canon lenses: telephotos & super zooms
PAGE 4 – How to use Canon lenses: specialist lenses
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