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episode 27

Which Camera Lens To Use?

This post will be all about lenses as we have received a lot of emails from people who want to know which kind of lens to get for a particular subject or situation one is shooting in. This will be more of a beginner guide but will cover the many types of lenses out there and give you a scenario of when you can use lenses for a particular situation. I will go over types of lenses and then look at what lens you should use for maybe shooting wildlife or sports or other things. You might also wwant to check out our Short Guide for Camera Lenses post.

Types of camera lenses

Standard lens

This first kind of lens is very much considered as a standard lens. It’s not a particular lens but is a focal length. The focal length is what you normally see in a lens, maybe an 18-55mm, and that’s kind of considered to be the kit lens that you typically get when you buy a camera that includes a lens with it. It’s usually called a kit lens and has 18 to 55mm range to it and that’s kind of a lower end or entry level range and then you have some other ranging from 24 to 105 mm and stuff like that. Any range between the 18-55mm which is a crop sensor and around 24-105 mm or 24-70mm that could be considered a standard lens or some kind of an all-around lens and the reason for this is because you have the wider end down the lower number, the lower focal and gets the lower ends and gives relatively wide shoots but then you have a little zoom in there so you can still capture things that are a little bit far away but you do not get as close as you would if you had a telephoto lens.

Before we get started with all other types of lens, it’s good to point out that a lot of people think that kit lens that you might get for your camera are kind of throwaway lenses, such that you don’t need to worry about keeping those even if you want to buy a camera that doesn’t include a lens. They think that even if you don’t have a lens starting out, you just get a camera body and get a separate camera lens with it but I personally think that if you buy a camera that has a kit lens with it, definitely use that lens especially if you are a beginner. The reason for that is because it gives you the opportunity to capture a little bit of a wide angle but then get those smaller telephoto ranges thus helping you play with the focal lens. Not everybody will have the money to go out there and buy the lenses after buying a new camera but just because it’s called a kit lens and it’s cheaper and is most probably made of plastic doesn’t mean that it’s not a really good lens.

Personally, some of my best photos back when I started doing photography were taken using kit lens that came with the camera and specifically a kit lens that came with the camera and was two or three years older than the actual camera. The reason was that I broke mine after it fell and damaged the front element. I went online and found an 18-55 mm kit lens that was not the same version but still worked with my camera. Technically, my shots were taken with a very cheap and outdated kit lens and it still turned out very great. As we talk about these lenses, don’t worry if you don’t have the best equipment out there because although the lens does matter, what matters more is the actual photo itself and that’s the composition, the color and all that stuff.

Telephoto lenses

These are lenses that you can use to zoom in the subjects that are very far away. Some people don’t know the actual difference between the zoom/telephoto lenses and the super telephoto lenses and also the variance in prices that you might see when looking at particular focal length. So, let’s say you are looking at a lens that’s 17-200mm, you might see this and wonder why it is selling at $800 and wonder why a lens of the same focal length is going for $2000. Typically, the reason for this is that the one for $800 is probably for f4 lens and what that means is that this is a very focal length lens meaning that if you have it at its widest opening, it’s going to be an f4 or something around that range (I’m trying to be as general as I can be and different lenses have different characteristics and it is hard to pinpoint each individual characteristic of a lens).

However, let’s say it’s an f4 when you zoom to around 70 and when you zoom into around 200 it moves from an f4 to an f5.6. That means the lowest aperture you are going to get is an f5.6 which actually cuts out a lot of light. This means you can’t use this kind of lens in a remotely dark situation because your shutter speed is going to be cranked up to a high ml so you don’t introduce that shake. The pricing of that lens will be around $100 or thereabouts and that’s because it’s a varied aperture lens and typically those aren’t as high quality or constructed the same and are probably cheap as well. This does not mean they are bad but they are cheaply made compared to those going for $200 and at exactly the same focal length. Let’s say the aperture is f2.8 and the lowest aperture you get is f2.8 and no matter how many times you zoom in even to 300, you will have the ability to shoot at 2.8 which allows more light to come into your camera and gives you fast shutter speeds in different low light situations. That’s the different pricing that you will see with these types of lens

On the other hand, I mentioned the super telephoto lenses and these are lenses that go to crazy higher amounts when it comes to focal ranges. Typically, they range from 200mm to 400mm but you still can get one that goes to 1000mm but the higher the focal range the more expensive they become. Depending on what kind of camera you have, crop sensor or full frame, you probably have to figure out what kind of lens suits you best. Crop sensor camera can get you really close to a subject that’s far away especially if it’s around 400. A full frame camera does not bring you as close but it’s still a good focal range and that’s something you need to think about. When do you need a super telephoto lens? Depending on the type of photography you, you probably might need it but doesn’t warrant a lot of different situations.

Wide angle lenses

Wide angle lenses give a very wide open view. For a crop sensor camera, you might see a good wide angle lens that’s around 10-18mm or 10-20mm and on a full frame camera you might see 14mm or 15mm to around 17mm and that will be a good wide angle range as well. These lenses give you a good wide range situation and you can shoot in most landscapes, real estate and the more the minimum apertures you have like we talked of the telephoto lenses, you might be having a wide angle lens that shoots at f2.8, obviously you will be able to capture a lot of low light situations and get a shallow depth of field but then you can also get away with shooting a wide angle lens at f4 and that’s not a bad deal as you are not losing a lot of light there but that can definitely go for different price ranges. If you are looking at a lens no matter what lens it is, usually if you see a varied aperture lens compared to a standard focal length lens, the standard focal length lens especially if it is a lower range is going to be a lot more expensive.

Prime lenses

These are probably some of my favorite lenses even when one is a cheap but I really like them just because they are super sharp because there’s not a lot of glass to go through but it’s typically one or two pieces of glasses that the light has to go through. As such, it’s a lot sharper than a lot of wide angle lenses and telephoto lenses and that’s a really good thing. They also typically come in a lower aperture thus giving you a warm f1.8, f1.6 or f1.4 and thereabouts and are just but fun to use. One of my favorite and I don’t have it though I wish I did is the Pancake f1.8 which is a very skinny lens and I just love the way it looks on camera. You can get a variation of those but the prime lens don’t have any zoom capability whatsoever and if you see it as 35mm prime, it means you will get that 35mm and you will not zoom since it even doesn’t have zoom ring on it but only a focus ring. Those are just fun to play with.

Macro lenses

A lot of people think that any lens can be macro if they just switch it to the macro mode in any camera, but this is far from the truth. Macro lenses are great especially if you want to shoot up-close photos of a particular subject but they are also very expensive. They are great for insect photos and instances where you need to zoom into the eyes of a bee or any other insect, a flower or other small objects. Macro lens are constructed a little bit different especially because many lenses have a limited focusing distance. This means you can only get so close to a subject before the lens will not focus anymore and it’s just going to look blurry.

If you have a microlens, they normally have a very close focusing distance which means you can get very close to the subject and focusing can be right in focus. You can even zoom out very far from the subject and get really close and this makes the lenses very amazing for use. If you really want to make that your niche in photography, just taking up-close micro shoots, by all means, you should grab the microlens because you will not regret it. But if you want to be an all-around kind of a photographer, you can skip the microlens.

Types of situations you can use the lenses in

Having looked at the different lenses available, let’s look at different situations you can use them in, to kind of get you into the right mindset if you are looking into buying another camera or lens and you want to figure out what kind of a situation you might need them for.

When it comes to general shoots such as flowers, people or pets among other things, you’ll probably be going to be able to get away with the standard telephoto lens which is 18-55mm or 24-70mm or something like that. This is especially so if you are a beginner and you’re not really comfortable with different lenses, the standard lens is going to be able to handle a lot of different situations. You should have the standard lens in your bag all the time as this gives you the ability to still get wide and telephoto stuff relatively close when you want to shoot different photos.

If you’re shooting large groups of people, landscapes, architecture, real estate or stuff like that, you definitely want a wide angle lens. Especially since I’m in this field a lot when it comes to real estate, a lot of people think that you can’t get away with using a standard kit lens because it’s an 18mm, relatively wide but you will see the difference if you switch from 18mm on the crop sensor camera to 10mm on a crop sensor camera. You will see why people always go to really wide angle lenses to capture that type of environment. This is particularly because you see a whole lot more of the situation than you would if you had just a standard kit lens.

On the other hand, if you are shooting sports, a lot of action stuff or wildlife, you can get away with a standard telephoto lens that’s around 70-200mm or around that focal range. However, if you are shooting things such as birds or wildlife, you will need the super telephoto lenses that get really close to the subject. If you are shooting a lot of moon stuff that you want to get really close to, you will need a real super telephoto lens or a telescope to get really closer shoots. However, a lot of people don’t know that just as we said in the beginning that you can use a standard lens, you can actually use a telephoto lens when it comes to portraits. The reason for this is that if you have a cheaper telephoto lens, one that has a varied aperture with aperture that’s as lowest as you can go of f4 or f5 around there, you are not going to get a nice bokeh background as much as you would if you had a low aperture of f2.8. What you can do is zoom all the way into your subject and you do need a lot of room to move back and forth in order to compress the background and make it look like one of those professional photos. Once again, these are beginner tips because a lot of people don’t know that telephoto lens can be used by zooming out the subject, blow out the background and kind of mimic the looks of a low aperture lens.

Obviously, with a prime lens, you can technically use it in a lot of different situations especially people and in particular when it comes to street photography. There are many different lenses available but what you need to is zoom into the subject using your feet and that’s something many people cannot get used to but you must zoom in with your feet, get there and focus while close to the subject.  That’s what many people don’t like but if you can get over that stigma, you will be able to capture really good photos.

That’s all the basics about camera lens that I would like to cover in this post but if you are a photographer that’s just getting started, you should get those different types of lenses for different situations but always have the standard all-around lens for whatever you feel is best for you. If you are going into architecture and landscape photography, you will really need a wide angle lens or a telephoto lens if you want to venture into sporting events and all other like stuff but if you want to get into wildlife and other stuff that’s far away, then you’ll need a super telephoto lens. It’s good to have a variety in your camera bag but don’t go crazy and buy every type of lens out there because most of the time probably you’ll stick to one particular lens. In my case, the wide angle lens never leaves my camera despite the fact that I have all these other types of lenses.

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