Understanding Camera Lenses For Beginners
Trying to understand the large variety of camera lenses can get confusing. Which camera lens is best? What is the difference between them? When and how should they be used?
No matter if you are a complete beginner or
an advanced photographer, the choices can become overwhelming.
How do camera lenses work?
A camera lens is a collection of optical lens
\es that is used to capture, focus, and then transfer the light to the camera sensor. Pretty nifty, huh?
We don’t actually need to understand the complex mechanics of how and why the lens works. Just a few key features should be enough to send you on the way to becoming a great photographer.
The first term you need to familiarize with is focal length. This is not the physical size of your lens but a distance from the lens when it is focused to infinity and the camera sensor.
The focal length affects the size of a field of view – the amount that the lens can see. The shorter the focal length – the wider the field of view is. At longer focal lengths the field of view is much narrower and the camera captures a smaller portion of the scene.
Camera Lens Quality
Now that we roughly understand how camera lenses work, we need to consider another important factor: quality and price of your lens.
Common problems with lenses are speed (the lowest aperture the lens can shoot at) and distortion. Mostly, these problems are more prominent with cheaper lenses. Because they are manufactured with lower quality glass, often your overall picture quality is much lower.
Really, you don’t want to spend all your money on the camera body and then come short on the lens. This is a mistake a lot of us make when starting out, and it results in much lower quality pictures. Over the years, your lenses will become the most prized possessions in your kit, while the camera bodies will be easily replaced with newer models.
After going through a long process of finding the best DSLR camera, you are presented with a wide variety of lenses. To make this process easier and quicker, most shops now offer bundles that include Kit Lenses. These are relatively cheap all round lenses, which are mostly 18-55mm or 70-300mm.
Although the 70-300mm offers a greater zoom, I would recommend getting 18-55 for more natural looking pictures.
However, if you are thinking of taking photography more seriously, then it is worth considering investing in a more expensive lens, as Kit Lenses tend to be slower and not as high in quality.
Prime lenses are lenses with fixed focal length for example 50mm or 80mm lenses. These are favored amongst the photographers as they are tend to be built from higher quality glass. Prime lenses also tend to have lower minimal apertures which improves the speed of the lens.
Because there are no moving parts in the Prime Lens, they are sturdier and traditionally of higher quality.
The downside of Prime Lenses is that there is little to no flexibility. If shooting conditions change, so will your lens. That means any trip will include at least 2 or 3 different lenses. That is a lot of space and a fair amount of weight added to your kit.
If you do a lot of travel photography, or are often on a move, perhaps you should consider investing in a high quality Zoom Lens as this would give you more flexibility and space.
Zoom Lenses, as you may have already figured out, are lenses that have a range of different focal lengths. The Kit Lenses that we spoke of earlier would also fall into this category too. Although traditionally photographers used to favor Prime Lenses, in recent years Zoom Lenses started to gain a lot more popularity.
The major disadvantages that Zoom Lenses used to have is being slower (higher aperture) and traditionally lower in picture quality.
However, with technologies rapidly increasing, Zoom Lenses started to become better in quality and that is why a lot of photographers now include them in their kit.
Probably the most popular specialist lens would have to be the Macro Lens. These lenses allow us to capture small objects at full frame, creating some amazing shots and interesting large prints. Most commonly, macro lenses have magnification of 1.0x. This allows them to fill the sensor with the small detail you are focusing on.
While standard lenses suffer from slight curvature, macro lenses are usually flat field. This means that everything from corner to corner is in perfect focus, and there is no distortions on your beautiful flower shots.
For a lot of us, buying a dedicated Macro Lens can be a little over the budget, especially if it is not used that often. A good solution for that is Achromat Macro Filters. These attach to your standard lens and transforms it into a shorter focal length Macro Lens.
Have you ever seen a sports photographer or a wildlife photographer? With one of these giant lenses that are so big they look like a telescope. These would be Telephoto Lenses. They help you shoot things that are not so easy to get close to (e.g. a hunting lioness – probably fair to say you’d want to keep your distance from her!)
Telephoto Lenses are generally above 300mm focal length, and often include magnification for an ever greater zoom. Some Telephoto Lenses are so big that you would need a second tripod just to support the lens.
These lenses are most popular with sports, wildlife, and astral photographers.
Wide Angle Lenses
The standard focal length is often considered to be 50mm. This gives you images that are approximately same as your eyes see them in real life. Lenses that have focal lengths of 35mm, 20mm or 14mm have a much wider field of view and are commonly known as Wide Angle Lenses.
These become very useful when taking pictures of landscapes or interior shots.
With Ultra-Wide Angle Lenses, you can take pictures of 180 degrees view in front of you. These are known as Fish Eye Lenses, as they create a lot of barrel distortion, and the final images end up looking similar to what a fish might see.
While Wide Angle Lenses are quite popular, the Fish Eye Lenses are more of specialty lenses that are owned only by those who really understand how to use it best
And now it’s up to you
As you can see, buying your first camera and the first lens can be a great big hassle. Unless you have unlimited funds, you want to really understand each lens’s purpose, as they are a big investment. Buying your kit should not be a rushed decision. It takes time and thinking to make sure you get it right.
Hopefully we have answered some of the questions you had, and made it easier to make a decision about what is best for you and your photography needs. If you still have unanswered questions, go ahead and leave them in the comments. We will answer them and will give you all the advice that we can. Don’t forget to subscribe!