Thursday, 21 March 2013

Which Camera Lens Should I Buy?

Each week I usually get an email asking me the same two questions… “What lenses should I buy?” and “what camera should I buy?”

I enjoy taking the time to respond to them because I remember back when I was making that decision for the first time. Heck, I even struggle with what my next purchase is going to be… “should I go with the Nikon D4, or should I stay using what I have… should I invest in that super telephoto lens, or will I not use it like I intend?”

I addressed the camera in my previous post, see that post here…   In this post I want to discuss lenses…

There are a lot of different types of lenses appropriate for so many varieties of different situations… and in reality you could weigh down your pocket book and camera bag with lenses you are rarely going to use. Personally, I find myself relying on four lenses in my bag: a solid wide angle lens (Sigma 10-20mm), a fast general purpose zoom (Sigma 24-70mm), a telephoto zoom (Sigma 70-200mm) and a longer telephoto lens (Sigma 120-300). These four lenses give me the versatility to shoot in almost any conditions. Plus, a variation of each of these lenses is available from any manufacturer, for any camera.

The general purpose zoom

This is the lens that sits on my camera the majority of the time. For APS-C cameras, something between the 18mm and 70mm range is best… I use the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 on both my crop sensor camera and my full frame camera.

This focal range will give you the ability to go fairly wide while also being able to zoom into objects off in the distance. This lens might be your kit lens, but it should preferably be fairly fast (a fixed f/2.8 if possible) to give you greater control over depth of field. It makes a great “walkabout” lens when you aren’t sure what you will be shooting or you are headed to a family birthday party.

My lens … Sigma 24-70 f2.8. Click here to read about this lens.
Here is a sample photo from using that lens.
Click on the image to look at a larger version.
The wide angle lens

The length of this lens isn’t as important as its ability to create a landscape scene or capture the point of view of a taller building. There are ranges of 10mm to 24mm in this category, and for the extreme, some manufacturers push there wide angle lenses as low as 8mm. Personally, I consider that in the fisheye category and the lens that wide will give you distortion you may not want.

I am not as hung up on aperture with this lens as most people are. You will hear from the camp of people that says you need an f2.8, and you will have others that say you do not. Personally, I use this lens for landscape 90% of the time. When I am shooting landscape it is in the golden hour or blue hour… and that means a tripod and an f-stop of f8 to f20… I rarely set my aperture at f4 on my landscape lens as I want the majority of the image in focus.

My suggestion, buy a quality wide angle lens and save yourself the money and do not get that higher priced f2.8 wide angle lens.

My lens … Sigma 10-20mm F4.0-5.6. Click here to read about this lens
Here is a sample image from that lens.
Click on the image to look at a larger version.

The Telephoto zoom

The telephoto zoom should be in the general range of 70-200mm with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 (faster is nice though). This will give you a lot of distance to work with and a very shallow depth of field to bring focus to your subjects. For faster moving objects, the bigger aperture (f2.8) will allow you to shoot at faster shutter speeds which will help capture moving objects (birds, sports) as well. This is also an excellent portrait lens as the focal length minimizes distortion and narrows the angle of view to fill the frame with your subject.

My lens … Sigma 70-200... F2.8. Click here to read about this lens.
Here is a sample image using that lens.
Click on the image to look at a larger version.

Longer Telephoto

When the 200mm focal length will just not do, a longer telephoto is a good option.

The ranges on the top end of the length range are from 300mm to 500mm, and above… but there is a cost factor when you start getting into that range, especially with apertures of f2.8 to f4.0.

One train of thought is to buy in the 300mm range and purchase a teleconverter to increase the focal length… There are 1.4x, 1.5x, 1.7x and 2.0x teleconverters depending on the manufacturer. But be careful, a teleconverter will, in some minor instances, make your automatic lens, manual. It will reduce the aperture by one or two stops… For example, a 300mm, f2.8 becomes a 600mm, f5.6 with a 2.0x teleconverter.

I am lucky enough to shoot with a 120-300 f2.8 and have access to other lenses in the Sigma line-up through my relationship with them here in Canada. I also have a 1.4x teleconverter that increase my 120-300mm f2.8 to a 168-420mm and I only lose one f-stop.

My lens … Sigma 120-300... F2.8. Click here to read about this lens.

Other longer telephoto lenses that I have access to through Sigma are:

Here is a sample image from my last shoot with the 50-500 F4.5-6.3.
Click on the image to look at a larger version.

I am sure many of you reading this have other lenses you would consider essential. A good prime portrait lens like a 50mm f1.8 or a longer prime lens like a 90mm f2.8… and those are great lenses to own also.

However, for someone who is new to photography or who has just bought their first or second DSLR and money is a consideration, these four lenses will give them the versatility to shoot in almost any situation.

Please email me or comment below on this blog if you have any questions, comments or information you want to add.