Color & Light
Meeting Photo Challenges
Creative Image Processing
Nature & Outdoor
Creating Better Photographics
Night & Low Light Photography
Light & Exposure
Close-Up & Macro
Digital Black & White
Color & Design
Choosing & Using Lenses
Digital Photography Equipment
Buying A Lens; Tips On Making The Right Choices
After you buy a good camera that allows you to change lenses, it will become obvious to you that it is not the camera that enables you to be creative in photography. It is the lenses. The features on your camera, like fast auto focus, a large LCD screen, accurate Metering modes, and various custom functions are all important, but it is the lenses that have everything to do with the artistry of the images you take.
2. Focal Length: The focal length of a lens is the distance from the front glass element to the point in the rear of the lens where the image is focused. This definition isn’t really important, though, in terms of buying a lens. What is much more important is what type of pictures you like to take. For example, if you shoot a lot of sports, wildlife, or birds, you will need a telephoto lens to magnify the subjects in the frame so your pictures have more impact. To take the close-up of a leopard (#1), I used a powerful telephoto lens and this made a huge difference in producing a successful picture. Had the cat appeared much smaller in the frame, it wouldn’t have been a strong photo. Similarly the frame-filling shot of an Abyssinian Roller (#2), is dynamic simply because I used a telephoto lens to take this close-up photograph.
Telephotos are defined as any lens with a focal length longer than 50mm. A 50mm lens is considered “normal” because it approximates what we see with our eyes. The longer the focal length of the lens, the more magnification you will have. If you want to fill the frame with the face of a friend who is posing 10 ft away, you can use a 200mm lens. If you want to fill a significant part of the frame with a small bird on a branch about 30 ft away, you would need a much longer telephoto like a 500mm or 600mm. As the focal length increases, so does the cost.
Wide angle lenses are defined as having a focal length less than 50mm. As the focal length decreases—24mm, 16mm, 10mm, etc.—the angle of view increases. In other words, the lens is able to include more in the picture. Extreme wide angle lenses have unique perspectives, and they exaggerate the graphic design in a shot dramatically.
Study photos (#3, #4, and #5). This gives you a sense of what the various focal lengths will do for you. All of these were taken from the same shooting position, and I used a 24mm, 70mm, and 200mm focal length lens, respectively. This beautiful location is Lake Bled, Slovenia.
3. Zoom Lenses: A zoom lens is one that offers a range of focal lengths in one lens. Zoom lenses can be constrained to the wide angle part of the focal length range, such as a 16-35mm or 10-22mm; they can be only in the telephoto range, like a 70-200mm or 200-400mm; or they can include both wide angle and telephoto. Two examples are 24-105mm and 18-200mm.
A “fast lens” is one with a large maximum aperture, such as f/2.8 or even f/1.4. The larger the lens aperture, the more it costs, the heavier it is, and the larger it is.
A large maximum aperture is worth its weight in gold. In countless situations, from dim cathedrals to active children playing outside on a cloudy day, large maximum apertures mean the difference between sharp pictures and images that are soft or significantly blurred. They can also mean the difference between being forced to use a tripod to get a sharp picture and being able to hand-hold the camera. Yes, you can always increase the ISO to get that faster shutter speed, but the downside to that is there is an unwanted increase in digital noise and a degradation to overall picture quality when you do so.
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