As a professional photographer and instructor I get asked a lot what type of lens someone should invest in next. Assuming you already have a decent tripod since it is one of the most important tools a photographer should own, a tool just as important would be your lens. As a matter of fact, for the hobbyist, I think your lens is more important than your camera body. Don’t get duped into thinking that the camera takes good images, the photographer that knows how to use their tools outside of AUTO MODE is the one deserving of the credit.
In a later blog I’ll discuss what to look for when purchasing a new camera body, but for now we’ll focus on lenses. Your lens is one of the most important things in your bag of photographic tools and you should make that purchase keeping in mind the type of photography you mainly like to photograph and your budget.
Here’s what I mean, if you’re mostly into photographing:
Insects and flowers - you should invest in a MACRO lens
Landscapes – a wide angle lens (anything below 35mm is considered wide angle)
Portraits – a 70-200mm zoom lens or a 50mm prime/fixed lens (anything 70mm and higher is considered a telephoto lens and a lens that can’t zoom is considered a prime or fixed lens)
Creative shots – a fisheye or a Lensbaby (but realize they both have limited use and you wouldn’t want them as a general lens)
Sports – Fast glass/telephoto lens 300mm or grater (fast glass is a lens with a small f-stop/wider aperture opening)
Nature – A zoom lens in the 300mm or greater range
Concerts, stage productions or weddings – Fast glass, fixed lens or telephoto depending on the freedom you have to move around or not.
If you live in a humid climate like I do here in the Tampa Bay area the material your lens is made of can be of utmost importance. I am constantly moving in and out of hot and air conditioned environments and what happens to plastic when it gets hot and cold? It expands and contracts. So what happens to the lenses in your plastic body when that happens? The glass moves. What happens when the glass moves? You end up with blurry images. Quality lenses are worth saving up for so you know you have quality materials.
After materials are considered the next most important thing I look for when buying a lens is the aperture or f-stop and how low an f number/wide an opening it has. The lower the f-stop the faster the glass you have. Generally when looking at a lens it will read like this: Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 or this: Nikon 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6. What’s the difference between the two? Well the second lens will usually be less expensive, it’s listed for $396.95 on Amazon at the time I’m writing this. The first lens is listed for $1,499.00. Notice on the second lens that the aperture has a rage of f/4.5-5.6. This means when you’re zoomed in on your subject (300mm) you will only have an f-stop of 5.6 but when you’re zoomed out all the way (55mm) your aperture opens up to 4.5. This means when you zoom in on a subject you let less light into the camera via your aperture setting than if you were zoomed out. I prefer a lens that has no rage of your widest aperture opening because it gives me more freedom to let more light into my camera without adjusting my ISO keeping my images from being grainy. Your f-stop/aperture helps you let more light into the camera in low light situations. Think indoor sports like basketball or volleyball or formal events like weddings or stage productions.
WHAT DO I BUY?
So, to answer your question of what kind of lens to buy, well that depends. You’ll have to answer that question yourself by asking first, “What am I shooting mostly?” and then refer back to the list I gave you. Then ask, “Am I shooting in a lot of low light situations?” If you find that you are, a low f-stop should be a priority.
WHERE DO I BUY?
Personally, I am a fan of used lenses. Did you know that a camera body, like a car, loses value? Did you also know that a lens doesn’t lose value anywhere near as fast as a camera body does? And that’s if it loses value at all. In some very rare instances lenses have been known to gain value over time. So where do you look? EBay is a good place to start as well as Amazon.com. Be smart about it though, make sure whomever you’re buying from has a good reputation on the site you use. Other places you can find new and used lenses are Adorama or B&H Photo. Personally, I shop all 4 for the best deal. There are also local shops you can check out, here in the Tampa Bay area we have North Tampa Photography.
If you didn’t understand some of the terms I discussed in this article, then you might want to take photography class that will teach you this and more. If you’re in the Tampa Bay area I teach a class called Photography Basics several times a year. It’s a 7 week class for two hours a week, usually in the evening. Take this class and you will be able to get your camera out of Auto Mode and into Manual Mode by the time we’re done. You can find out more about when classes are taking place by visiting my web store here.