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camera lens guide

everything you need to know before buying interchangeable lens

26 Feb 2020

There is definitely is a charm about interchangeable lenses, giving photographers the flexibility to shift between genres or formats, and helping beginners explore their way into their new passion. Given below is a complete beginner’s camera lens buying guide with all types of interchangeable camera lenses explained, listing out the essential features to consider in an interchangeable lens and how to choose camera lens as per your needs.

Hardware mounts:

Pro-tip before you start your journey with a new set of camera and interchangeable lenses is to be aware that you are committing yourself into loyalty with a certain brand and series. For instance, Olympus and Panasonic share the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) mount and lenses can be used on either brand’s cameras, whereas Canon may use EF, EF-S or EF-M mounts while Nikon may use the F mount. You’d have to use an adaptor to interchange lenses between Canon and Nikon camera bodies but it will compromise on the function it was designed to deliver. Third party lenses are also available, like the ones from Tamron, Sigma, etc. which are generally cheaper and a bit low on quality, but some of them can be of excellent functionalities.

Focal length

(expressed in millimetres): Determines the angle of coverage of the scene by your lens. If you want to cover more scene in your frame, like for landscape photography, you need wide-angle lenses which have shorter focal lengths, whereas for close-up images and portraits of objects taken from a distance, you need longer focal lengths like that of telephoto lenses.

Camera sensor format:

The focal length and lens range will translate differently depending up on the size of the imaging sensor of the camera it is mounted on. Multiplying the camera sensor’s crop factor by the focal length of the lens will give you the full-frame equivalent. For example, an APS-C sensor which has 1.5x crop factor with an 18-55mm lens will give you a 27.82.55mm full-frame equivalent, while MFT that has a 2x crop factor will give you 36-110mm range.

Aperture range

(expressed as the “f/stop”): The f/stop number determines how much light can pass through the lens. Smaller the number, like f/2 or f/2.8, the larger will be the aperture and more light can pass through. Larger aperture will make the lens bigger, heavier and costlier. Therefore many times lenses of same focal lengths vary in prices, for example Canon’s 50mm f/1.2 lenses are more expensive than its 50mm f/1.8. Apertures can also be in ranges, for instance in a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6mm lens, the widest aperture offered at 18mm is f/3.5 and f/5.6 at 55mm. Larger apertures can not only shoot in low lights even without flash, but also have faster shutter speeds.

Zoom or prime:

Prime lenses have a fixed focal length. To get a close-up or distant image frame, you have to move yourself closer or farther from the subject to maintain the correct focal length. Zoom lenses on the other hand offer a range of focal lengths, which is indicated as a range from the shortest to the longest, for example, 28-200mm. There are pros and cons to each. Check out “Prime Lens vs. Zoom Lens” for a detailed guide.

Image stabilisation:

This might not be considered much of a priority, but for camera bodies that don’t offer in-body stabilization; lenses with image stabilization will help both amateur and professional photographers alike by reducing shake, and also allowing low-light condition shoots. Different brands will use different stabilisation technologies, like Canon uses IS, Nikon uses VR, and OSS technology in Sony.

Speciality lenses: types of camera lenses and their uses

1. Tilt Shift Lenses:

also called "perspective control" or PC lenses: Provide interesting ‘Depth of field’ options, from extremely shallow to deep, artificial depths of field. They do this by reducing distortion and achieving straight lines for their images. Used for landscape, architectural and portrait photography.

2. Macro Lenses:

Allows focusing very close to the subjects with exceptionally shallow depth of field at a near microscopic level. Used in taking photos of insects, flowers, food photography, as well as for the classic ring photograph by wedding photographers.

3. Ultra Wide Angle Lenses:

For extremely wide shots of focal lengths shorter than 20mm. Their barrel distortion has a tendency to stretch the background, creating almost surreal looking images.

4. Fisheye Lenses:

While most camera lenses look to minimize distortion in images, a fisheye lens will on the contrary warp an image using a convex front element within the lens for highly surreal imagery. It is popular in sports photography for getting closer shots to the subject, like in skateboarding and surfing.

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