Digital Camera Lenses types & buying guide: The photos that you capture with your camera depend a lot on the type of lens you use. Finding a good digital SLR camera is time-consuming, but trying to find the best digital SLR lens to go with it is not easy either. Here’s a guide to Digital Camera Lenses (for beginners) and how to find the right one for your needs. Learn about the factors that make a camera lens better compared to others. Here are useful tips on selecting a lens, and what to look for in camera lenses.
We all know how important lenses are, and if you’ve already spent some time taking pictures and reading more about photography, then I’m sure you already have some camera lens in your wish list.
Make Your Pictures Look Better
As a casual photographer you may never have felt the need to know more about lenses because most digital cameras come with a fixed zoom camera lens. The lens is attached to the camera and it cannot be removed or replaced.
But as you become a serious photographer and buy an expensive camera, you can replace the lens with other specialized lenses. Most SLR cameras have removable lenses so you can use one for accordingly.
The good thing about removable lenses is that you can buy them as and when you have the budget, or whenever you feel you are ready to move on to the next level.
So if you having trouble taking pictures under low light conditions or in the dark, you can go in for lenses that collects more light. The better lenses are a lot more efficient at delivering the available light to the sensor in the camera.
Also, high-end cameras come with larger sensors and larger lenses that gives better results in low light conditions.
One thing to keep in mind – the flexibility to change lenses means you have to be careful about dust, which can get on the image sensor if you are not careful. The compact cameras are usually sealed (as you cannot remove the lens) so dust cannot reach the image sensor.
Types of Camera Lens
The advantage of most recent cameras is the flexibility that it gives you when it comes to digital camera lenses. You can choose from a wide range of lenses depending on the style of photography that you like.
The only drawback to this is that most of the time you’ll inevitably be thinking of getting that extra lens, which obviously means more expenses.
Its important to understand the different types/kinds of DSLR lenses: Macro, Normal, Telephoto, Wide Angle, Zoom, Filters.
There are lenses that are available for adding effects as well. Some of these lenses can be quite expensive but they can make a lot of difference to your pictures.
Here are some of the more popular ones:
Telephoto, long focal length, long lens and zoom in are some of the words use to refer to these lenses.
Basically, it means a lens with a long focal length that easily magnifies the subject.
And why would you want to use it?
There are instances where it is not feasible / advisable for you to get close to the subject, for instance in sports or wildlife photography.
That is where you use these.
It is also typically used in wildlife photography, as getting close to a subject might disturb it. The long focal length of the telephoto lens lets you keep your distance and still fill the viewfinder frame with the subject.
Wide Angle Lens
Most of you would be interested in shooting buildings, landscapes, interiors, and street photography. That is when you would need a lens that can easily capture a much wider scene.
That is where a Wide-Angle lens helps.
A wide-angle lens is a lens with a short focal length. It is also referred to as wide-angle, short focal length, short lens and zoom-out.
It basically means the same thing, and that is to capture a wide view.
Though having separate lenses can give you more flexibility, it can also be a pain to carry them.
A more convenient option is to use a zoom lens; these have the capability to change its focal length, which means you don’t have to carry/ change multiple lenses while shooting.
Zoom lenses can usually change their focal lengths from wide-angle to standard, and from standard to zoom-in.
And if you own an SLR camera, the changes in focal length, depth of field and image size can easily and accurately be seen in the viewfinder, courtesy the SLR camera’s optical system.
Zoom camera lenses come in further variations, such as Optical zoom, Digital zoom & Cropping zoom.
For best results, photographers prefer Optical zoom.
Here comes another one, preferred by most by portrait photographers.
A prime lens has a fixed focal length that is not modifiable. For that reason it is also known as a fixed lens.
Prime lenses often have wider maximum apertures, making them faster. Besides, wider apertures allow for brighter images in low-light situations, as well as greater control over depth of field.
No wonder then, that portrait photographers use these.
Prefer having insects and flowers as subjects? You need a lens that is suited for close up photography!
Marco lenses or lenses with a macro mode are ideal for this purpose.
The camera lenses with longer focal lengths are useful for taking close ups of subjects that could otherwise be easily distracted.
Though similar to a normal lens, these are able to get much closer to the subject. Macro lenses can produce images at a 1:1 ratio. The optical quality of a macro lens is normally very high.
These are used only by experienced photographers for special effects.
Fish-eye lenses are more like wide-angle lenses but offer a distorted perspective of the scene so that objects are magnified in the center, and diminish in size and clarity in all directions in proportion to the lens’ shape.
Do you have a camera that has a fixed lens? You may want to use lens converters to decrease or increase its focal length. These fit between the lens and the camera body, and are available usually for cameras that have a fixed lens.
Extenders extend the range of the lens. For example, a 2x lens converter will make a 100mm lens into a 200mm lens. Extension tubes are used to increase magnification in macro close-up photography.
Factors to Consider When Buying Camera Lens
There are several factors that you may look at, most of which are usually subjective. Here’s a list of parameters that have some measurable criteria attached to them, and how you could evaluate it.
- Lens Weight
This is the easiest criteria to measure. We all want things that are lightweight; nobody wants bulky stuff. So assuming the lens meets your other criteria, pick the one that is the lightest.
- Lens Sharpness
If you look at the pictures taken by most lenses, you’ll see that the images captured by the inexpensive ones are typically somewhat sharper at the center but not so great near the edges.
If you look at the results for each aperture, they will be different. So you need to consider the lens sharpness (mostly contrast).
- Lens Speed
This can be an indicator of high quality lens, though this parameter is mostly considered for good low light performance. It has been observed that manufacturers usually put their best glass into their fastest lenses.
For example, F/2.8 is a faster lens than F/5.6 and faster is usually better. So if you have the money, by all means go in for the fast lenses.
Another thing to remember is that zoom lenses with constant apertures tend to outperform variable aperture zooms, where the lens speed changes with the focal length.
- Type of Lens Element
This is important because quality impacts the lens performance. It is seen that lenses with low dispersion glass eliminate chromatic aberrations that can have an impact on the image contrast and sharpness.
Also, lenses with Apochromatic and Aspherical elements reduce distortion, and add contrast and sharpness. So try to have more of these in your inventory.
- Chromatic Aberration
Most lenses give halos around high contrast objects, which make the pictures look soft. Almost all lenses have some amount of CA, so you have to decide whether it really bothers you or how much is acceptable to you. As with most problems, even this can be corrected in Photoshop. However, if you own a pro lens then you may not even notice it; its minimal.
It simple means how the out-of-focus background appears; it means the rendition of out of focus points of light. If you see well defined edges in the out of focus circles of light, you have a bad bokeh.
Again, this is subjective to some extent, and the use of a faster and better lens takes care of the Bokeh.
- Lens Flare
Lens flare is often unseen or unnoticed in the viewfinder, but can reduce the contrast of your pictures. You can test a lens by shooting backlit subjects and then looking for washed out contrast in the picture.
More expensive lenses have coatings to reduce lens flare, and may even include special lens hoods that are designed to reduce flare.
- Light Fall Off
How is the corner to corner illumination when you shoot a picture with the lens? You can test this by shooting any photo wide open that also contains the sky.
A lens with a better light fall off characteristics will have the same illumination from corner to corner.
- Minimum Focus Distance
Most of the time, the better lenses tend to have closer minimum focus distances, but this is a bit subjective as you’ll have a better idea of how much this should be.
- Focusing Speed
Not among the really important ones, but this factor can be critical to some types of photography.
In this case, you want one that acquires focus quickly and accurately.
To test a lens, you can measure the time between the shutter press and the beep to know how long it takes to autofocus. Lesser is better!
- Digital Lenses for Film Cameras
Not all lenses with all cameras, so it’s important to ensure that the lens you intend to buy works on your cameras. And lenses made specifically for digital cameras will often not work properly on film cameras.
Some lenses will work with digital cameras that have an APS sized sensor, but are worthless on film cameras. Similarly, some don’t work on full frame digital single lens reflex cameras. In case you shoot shoot both digital and film, stay away from special digital lenses.
- Lens Construction
How about the Lens Construction & build standards? In this case, it is more of how it looks and feels. If it feels cheap, it probably is. The better ones will usually have the right fit and finish.
Few points for consideration here!
Cheap plastic lenses are more likely to fail than magnesium lenses
Lightweight is always good but it must still be sturdy and should look well-built
Sealed lenses will not be impacted much by dust and moisture, as compared to the unsealed ones
Solid metal lens mounts will not bend as will plastic lens mounts
- Image Stabilization
Nowadays, this is available on most high-end lenses.
For longer (300mm plus range) lenses, stabilization is a very important factor. However, they work differently on different lenses so you should be aware of that.
For example, some work only when used on tripods, some work in panning mode while others do not, and so on. Besides, Canon has three versions of stabilization; Nikon has two.
So choose one that fits your requirements the best.
It can be a challenge to use your camera with those big lenses, especially when you have to make those adjustments. This factor refers to the usability aspect of the lens.
How easy is to turn the focusing rings?
Can you still turn a polarizing filter when the lens hood is attached?
You need to ask these questions as it deals with physically using the lenses, and it will have an impact every time you take a photo with that particular lens.
One thing to remember is that. It’s very easy to get carried away and buy something that you really don’t need, for your kind of photography. Do you really need a lens with three pieces of low dispersion glass, or maybe two pieces of LD glass would suffice for your kind of photography?
So do evaluate the lens, and see how much you are paying for what you are getting, and whether you really need it or not.
How to Choose the Right One?
The first thing to realize is that the ‘perfect camera lens’ in the world may not exist at all. So the best thing to do is to find something that will suit your needs well.
And here’s an easy way to do that, useful when you’re looking for a new lens. Its better to follow these steps in the order mentioned, as it gets rid of the unsuitable ones with every step. By the time you get to the last step, you should only have to compare 2 or 3 lenses rather than 20 to 30.
So here are the steps:
- Decide on Focal length: How much you need will depend on what you like to shoot
- Decide on the type: Do you need a prime or zoom lens?
- What’s the maximum aperture you need?
- What extra features are you looking for
- Choose between first or third party lenses
- Read reviews to further narrow your options
You can read here for more useful tips on selecting the perfect camera lens for your camera.
However, getting good gear is just part of the solution to any problem. One also needs to learn how to use it. You will need experience so that you can take advantage of the gear that you have. The lenses that you buy will NOT automatically give you the results that you desire. It’ll require an understanding of the DSLR camera, how to use the various settings, what exposure to use, and so on.
There are also camera lens accessories that you may consider buying. So choose the one that is more suited for your needs and within budget.
Camera technology, similar to other kinds of technology, is improving at an alarming rate. The cheapest consumer lenses today are better than most pro lenses that were available several years back, and it is only going to get better from here. Zoom lens technology has improved, and so has autofocus.
So if you are really after that particular expensive lens, you need to have valid reasons for doing that. The points discussed here will help you evaluate the pros and cons, and help you make the right judgment when choosing a camera lens.