If you’ve been a digital photographer with a DSLR camera for any length of time, then you may have seen that pupil-busting look in your photography friends’ eyes, the lens “crazies.” You may also suffer from this insidious malady, which can infect your bank account, robbing it of its will to live. In its extreme form, the lens “crazies” is manifested as an uncontrollable urge to acquire more lenses than you actually need. Hopefully, this PhotographyTalk article will serve as a slap in the face to bring you back to reality if the lens “crazies” have you in their grip.
1. One of the classic mistakes of many first-time DSLR camera owners (and even experienced ones who should know better) is to focus all their attention on which camera body to buy. Wrong! The smart digital photography consumer understands that the process is quite the opposite. First, determine what kind of photography you want to shoot; second, select the best lens or lenses you can objectively afford for that type of photography; and, only then, concern yourself with the camera body that is compatible with those lenses. If you have the self-control to follow these three simple steps, then you will save yourself plenty of grief, stress and looks of dismay from your spouse when there is no money to feed and clothe your children.
2. Now, there are no hard-and-fast rules about what lens size matches with a particular type of digital photography. Compelling landscape images, for example, can be shot with various focal lengths, as each result in distinctive, creative compositions. In most cases, grand, panoramic landscapes require an ultra-wide or “standard” wide-angle lens. There may be occasions, however, when a short telephoto or the regular range of telephoto lenses is specifically required, such as the narrow view of a steep-sided canyon in Zion National Park or similar locations, for example.
3. A general guide for matching a type of photography with the appropriate lens is as follows. Focal lengths refer to use on full-frame DSLRs. The focal lengths will be less on APS-C 1.6x DSLRs.
- Landscapes and Interiors – ultra-wide-angle lens of 16–20mm.
- Landscapes, Travel and Group Portraits – wide-angle lens of 24–35mm.
- Travel and General Purpose – normal lens of 50mm.
- Travel and Portraits – short telephoto lenses of 85–200mm.
- Sports and Wildlife – standard telephoto lenses of 200–300mm.
- Sports and Wildlife – long telephoto lenses of 400–600mm.
4. If you’re an entry-level, or even mid-level, digital photographer, who owns a DSLR camera or plans to buy one, then the first lens you should consider, and the only one you may need ever buy, is a zoom lens. If the type of photography you’ll be shooting is approximately in the top half of the list above, then your best choice is 16–85mm, 16–105mm, 24–120mm or similar focal length ranges. There is also a selection of zoom lens of 18–200mm, 18–250mm and 18–270mm that provide both the ultra-wide-angle and mid-telephoto focal lengths.
This will save you from the lens “crazies” syndrome of buying a multitude of prime, or fixed, focal length lenses to cover a telephoto’s range. Even a relatively narrow range of 16–105mm could be the equivalent of four different prime lenses, such as 16mm, 35mm, 85mm and 105mm. In general, prime lenses are “better” than zoom lens. They are faster, smaller in size and built with higher optical quality. If you’re like the great majority of digital photographers, however, then buying a prime lens as your first is definitely the first symptom of the lens “crazies.”
Typically, most sports and wildlife photographers are professionals or very serious amateurs. Photographing significant sports events requires media credentials and successful wildlife photographers usually have to commit considerable time and money to travel to the best locations to capture wildlife images. Only photographers at this level actually require long telephoto or telephoto zoom lenses. For hobbyists and mid-level enthusiasts, an 18–270mm zoom lens also covers the lower end of the sports/wildlife range.
5. Another factor that will save you from the lens “crazies” is how you will be using the digital photos you shoot. If most of them will be shared through social media, placed as low-resolution images on Web sites or printed in small sizes, then you don’t need a lens at the high end of optical performance. Conversely, if your goal is to make large to gallery-size prints, then superior optics will be needed to reproduce sharp, clear and color rich images of that size. This translates to a more expensive lens of just about any focal length.
6. The final preventive measure you can take to avoid the lens “crazies” is to consider your future as a digital photographer. If you foresee remaining a hobbyist, taking pictures of family members, family events, friends and vacations and travel, then you are unlikely to need a higher-level DSLR camera during the future. You may upgrade to an equivalent, or slightly, better lens and camera body, as yours becomes old. If your goal is to reach the highest amateur level or go pro, then at some future date you may move from a crop-sensor to a full-frame DSLR. It’s important to remember that the lenses you purchase for your crop-sensor DSLR aren’t compatible with a full-frame camera body.
Unfortunately, there is no pill or medical specialty that will save you from the lens “crazies.” It’s a self-healing process that begins by remaining calm, patient and doing your homework before you spend any of your hard-earned money.
Photograph by Photography Talk member Lee Michel