Choosing a lens can be an incredibly daunting task for some. You may have already spent hours researching lenses to find that you just can’t seem to pull the trigger on the right lens for you.
Well, you’ve come to the right spot. We're going to teach you how to choose a good camera lens.
In this article we’re going to discuss how to choose a good camera lens. We will touch a bit on the technical side of a lens (aperture, focal length, etc). Then we will move into the equally (or sometimes more) important aspect, what you’ll be using the lens for.
By the end of this article you’ll know how to choose a good camera lens and be much more confident in pulling that trigger on your next purchase!
Technical aspects of a lens
I thought it would be fitting to include the technical side of a lens in this article. Seeing as these aspects affect your image and how your lens performs in different situations.
Please keep these aspects in mind when moving forward through the article.
Aperture is represented by a number value on any lens. An example would be f/1.8. These values can range from f/1.4 to f/22 (sometimes even lower and higher).
Keep in mind, there are aperture blades within your lens. These blades open and close to allow more or less light through the lens. The value mentioned before represents the amount of light allowed to pass through your lens. The lower the value (like f/1.14) means your lens is open really wide. This allows a lot of light in. A value of f/22 means your lens is practically closed, allowing very little light in.
This setting (or lens ability) has great benefits including being able to shoot in darker environments (the lower the aperture the better). You’ll also get shallower depth of field (again, the lower the better).
Aperture plays a very big role in both its ability to perform and its price. General rule of thumb is to obtain a lens with the lowest aperture value as you can afford (or that the manufacturers make). I’m not saying you have to use very low aperture values, but it will be there if you ever need it.
This aspect normally holds the most importance. Rightfully so, seeing as focal length determines the way your photo/video looks overall.
Not only does focal length change the way your image looks (such as field of view), it affects the way the environment is seen through them.
- A 50mm lens is considered (by most) to be what the eye sees. Let’s say this is the “standard” and the environment or subject isn’t changed much. It’s literally what you see through your eyes.
- A 24mm (or lower) will change the way your eyes see everything by “stretching” the image. It elongates anything that’s close to the lens. This is only exaggerated the lower you go in focal length.
- A 100mm is going to do the opposite. You’ll get a much tighter shot, but human proportions are spot on and you have a fair bit of compression with the foreground and background. This changes the environment with both compression and a tighter field of view. This focal length (well, 85-135mm) is fantastic for portraits.
Continue reading to learn the most important aspect on how to choose a good camera lens!
What will you be shooting the most (most important aspect)?
This is what you’ll have to ask yourself, over anything else. Think of this question as the foundation of your decision. Other things such as aperture and focal length are built off of the answer you make.
Next we’re going to discuss areas of photography (and some video). Each of these areas benefit most from specific focal lengths (or ranges/zoom lenses).
Let’s get going!
Sports photography and videography lens
In sports photography (and videography), you’re generally standing on the side-lines capturing footage. Depending on the location (and game) you’re standing at varying distances from the players.
Your goal is to capture a single player, or a small part of the action (multiple players) in the entire frame of your camera. To do this, you would want a significant zoom lens. This will allow you to zoom in and out and adjust on the fly when needed.
I personally recommend a 70-200mm (at minimum), depending on what type of sporting event. You also have the option of using a teleconverter if you need extra reach, but don’t want to spend more money on a longer lens.
You can check out my article here that discusses the best Canon lenses for sports.
Lens for events
Event shoots can be a tricky subject. Sometimes you may need to be right up on the action, and other times you will want to get wide shots of the entire event.
Over the years, you would find me with multiple lenses at an event. From wide and ultra-wide primes to significant zooms and everything in between. The one lens that I’ve found I’ve used the most over the years is the 24-70mm.
This zoom/focal range allows you to take wide angle shots as well as getting in close for portraits or detailed shots from a distance. These lenses have apertures as low as 2.8 as well (great for low light and bokeh).
This is a touchy subject because there are so many variables that go into wedding photography. It’s literally its own entity and people have created entire successful businesses around it. This leads to the idea that everyone has their own style and the way they want their photos or videos to look.
What I will say, is have one piece of glass for each focal category (wide, mid, telephoto). This can be accomplished by picking up (or looking into) a 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm.
These three zoom lenses will give you the versatility and ability of any photographer on the planet. Yes, you can have prime lenses that fall somewhere in the middle of one of the zooms. But having the focal range of all three allows you to be prepared for any situation that a wedding may throw at you!
Portrait photography lens
There is no doubt there is a range of focal lengths that are perfect for portrait photography. This range is between 70mm and 135mm. Why? Because of foreground/background compression and background separation. The longer your focal range, the more compression you will receive as a result.
Depending on your style, you may want to go with a lens that has a very low aperture value, such as f 1.8 or f 1.4. This will allow you to get a very shallow depth of field and beautiful bokeh. Just note, shooting at such a wide aperture may pose focusing problems if you get too close to your subject (this may be your style all-together).
Some prime lens ranges you may want to look into is the 85mm, 100mm, and 135mm. All of which offer their own look and style possibilities.
Macro photography and videography
This is a very niche subject. The ability to shoot things that are small and fill the entire frame with the subject completely in focus… it’s not only awesome, but quite difficult to master.
If you find yourself searching for the right macro lens - I would recommend looking into the 90-100mm macro range. Make sure the lens shoots at at least a 1:1 ratio. This means you’ll be able to fill the entire frame with the subject and get them in the entire frame. A 2:1 is even better - any higher is overkill in my opinion.
Aperture doesn’t matter as much in macro in my opinion. You’ll want to keep your aperture around f/8 to f/11 so you aren’t fighting to pull focus in the most critical moments (shooting bugs for instance). You’ll also get an incredibly sharp image within that aperture range.
A quick recommendation - you’ll want to purchase a flash to allow you to spread more light over your subject during macro photography. You’ll notice when getting that close to your subject - it’s quite dark. The smallest of shadows become incredibly apparent when magnified as such. A flash is your best bet.
This is coming from personal experience, but a 50mm does everything I need in food photography. I mount a camera directly over the food (with great lighting) to capture an establishing shot of the entree. I then move from angle to angle, all with a prime 50mm.
There really isn’t any need to purchase anything more or less than the 50mm. You’re in a static environment and are able to stage everything. A 50mm Is hands down one of the best.
Product photography/videography (B-Roll)
I have always (and will continue) to recommend a macro lens for product photography. The idea of product photography is to capture the product in a static environment, life-style, and the details.
It’s all about the details.
There are many options on the market for macro lenses that work great for product photography. The one I use and will continue to use for quite some time is the Laowa 100mm 2x macro.
It allows me to capture sharp staged images as well as portrait-like lifestyle images. But capturing the details is where it’s at. You’re able to achieve a 2:1 ratio or 2x magnification. This allows you to get the smallest of details, if you need to.
The only downside is the lens is completely manual. Everything.
There are alternatives on the market such as the Sony 90mm macro and Canon’s 100mm macro. All of which do a great job (but will cost you quite a bit more).
Landscape photography lens
To be honest with you, landscape photography has to be one of the most diverse when it comes to your choice of lens. You can literally take an amazing landscape with any lens. This includes ultra-wide all the way up to super telephoto. It only depends on the look you’re trying to achieve and the location you’re currently in.
As far as aperture goes, I don’t recommend anything under f/4. You’re wasting your money if you buy something lower than that if you’re only going to use it for landscapes. Generally speaking, you’ll be shooting between f/8 and f/11 to achieve the maximum amount of sharpness and the least amount of depth of field (bokeh).
Your style matters
If your style is capturing grand locations, go for a wide or ultra-wide lens such as the Laowa 12mm. You’ll be able to capture incredibly wide shots that are equally as sharp.
You can also play it safe and purchase a 24-70mm which allows you to take wide angle shots as well as a bit more closer/detailed shots. I have shot countless landscape photos at 24mm
If you find yourself wanting the telephoto look, the doors are wide open really. I shoot on a 70-200mm f/4, personally. But I know others who use a 200-400mm and even a 300-500mm. It’s really all about your setting and what kind of look you’re going for!
A combination of all
If you find yourself wanting a lens that can do pretty much everything while not completely mastering any specific look in particular…
Then look no further than a 24-70mm. I can’t stress or suggest this lens anymore than I already do.
You’re able to achieve so many different looks and types of shoots with it. From landscapes to portraits, you really hit them all.
This is due to its focal length range. You hit 4 major lengths within the same lens. These include 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 70mm. This means there’s an incredible amount of versatility built into this single lens.
This is the very reason why so many professional photographers (including myself) has this lens either in their bags or on their camera at all times.
To conclude all of this information, and answer you question, how to choose a good camera lens…
You need to start by answering the question, what will you be shooting the most. Use that as a foundation. Once you have figured that out, go through the article again and see what focal ranges are recommended within that niche.
Again, go with the lowest aperture lens you’re able to afford (aside from landscape).
Use all of this information as a foundation for actually pulling the trigger. There is never an end-all-be-all answer to a question like in photography or videography. We create art. There is no real right or wrong (unless you take straight sh*t photos or video).
Be creative. Choose what you believe is right. Better yet, rent the lens you’re thinking of purchasing it, before you purchase. It could save you dearly in the long-run.
That’s it for now!
I plan on updating this article from time to time over the coming months/years. As my idea of photography and videography change over time, my recommendations change as well. And when they do, I’ll pass that information onto you guys.
If you would like to check out our work, be sure to head on over to JnRPhotoVideo. We offer photo and video services here in San Diego!
As always, thank you all for reading. Until next time, keep shooting and creating!