Camera Lens Guide for Beginners: How to Choose a Lens for Your Camera?

  • Blog
  • 22 min read
Camera Lens Guide for Beginners

In this camera lens guide article I’m going to tell you about lenses that are absolutely valid for any camera with interchangeable lenses, all SLR, Pentax and Sony as well. For hybrids this is also valid, only you have to do a small calculation that I will explain later. So do not worry, even if you do not have Canon or Nikon, these tips are valid anyway.

The problem of choosing a lens is something that comes up very often in the questions posed by photographers – I get dozens of emails every day and it’s something that comes up super often and it’s understandable because there are more than 150 lenses available for Canon or Nikon SLR – even for other brands – including those of third-party brands Tamron, Sigma, etc., and without the right approach, it’s difficult to get away with the choice without having the urge to screaming because it’s really a big headache.

Why Should We Choose Right Lens?

Lenses often needs a certain investment; it is far from free. If you had all that means, you would just have to buy all the possible lenses and you would have everything you need for all your possible, future and hypothetical needs.

But there is a need to compromise between the budget and other constraints such as, for example, weight, size, and what is expected of a lens – it is important, however.

That’s what I’m going to help you do today, the right trade-off between all those constraints and your needs.

Have A Good Gait

I was just talking about a good move, voluntarily. I insist on the term “approach” because it is the most important thing.

Indeed, I am often asked questions like “what is the best lens between this one and this one?”, “what is the best lens for landscape? “– this is already a better question, but it is a question to which there is rarely an answer because it often takes more details. Without details, a very generalist question like that makes no sense. But it is forgiving, the information we usually find is often focused on “what is the best lens”, not necessarily in relation to another, but in any case, without thinking about the needs.

You may also like to read: Nikon Nikkor Z 24mm f/1.8 S Review: Best Lens for Landscape Photography & Wide Angle Applications

Define Your Needs

Why am I talking about needs? Because it’s important. This is the first question to ask, it is really the basic. One lens is better than another only if it better meets your needs. It cannot be said that a high-end 16-35 is better than an entry – level 75-300 in absolute. It doesn’t make sense, because try to be a pet with a 16-35: good courage. You will have a better result with a lens at 200 than with a lens at 2000 because it will certainly be more suitable. So, your needs, this is the first step.

I willfully caricature, a 16-35 and a 75-300 it is extremely different, but it is to emphasize that you need to know for what purpose you want to buy a new lens:

  • Is it simply to replace your kit zoom because you find it lacks some quality?
  • Is this to have better optical quality than what you currently have with a lens?
  • Is it to have a lens that is more specialized in a particular field of Photography as – landscape, portrait, macro, animal photography, low light photography?

Only you can answer this question, but it is really fundamental, because it is your answer that will greatly facilitate your choice.

In addition, you need to have a global view on everything you want to do. For example, I recently got an email from someone who told me they wanted a wide-angle lens for landscape, and a lens to make macro, for a budget of about 800-900 dollars. It’s already a good budget. For this price, what could I advise him? I could advise him an excellent wide-angle lens, I could advise him an excellent macro lens, or I could advise him a good macro lens and a good wide-angle lens. It may not be the “best goals in the world for professionals”, but it will probably be more pleasure to be able to exercise without pain his two areas of preference and it is quite likely that he does not see the difference with the really very pro goals that cost much more.

You have to have a global view of your needs and think that if you have a budget, aren’t you going to use it in half? Trying to ask yourself that question.

The first step is to pinpoint your needs, but also your budget – because sometimes people say between 500 and 1000 dollars, but is it more like 500 or 1000 dollars? Because it still changes things. Often, if we say “this one is good, it makes 900 dollars “people say” yes, but it’s a little expensive, finally “, so the idea is to also identify its budget and then its possible constraints.

Easy Handling & Weight

This is important, especially weight, for those who carry their equipment on travel or hiking. Many people take advantage of going somewhere to take photos; obviously, landscape photos, when you live in the heart of Paris, it is not always easy, so you enjoy the trips, you are on the move with and when you are on the move, the weight is important. If you end up not taking the camera because it’s too heavy, it’s not worth it. We must therefore think about this criterion too.

And we must also, eventually, make priorities. Why? Because, if you have for example 300 dollars of budget, you will probably have to choose a single goal for a single practice and postpone your other wishes until later. If you want to do 3-4 different photo practices, with a single lens it will sometimes be a little complicated and especially, when you have a limited budget, it will not be possible and you will have to make a priority and really know what photo practice you want to push a little further.

Once you have done this, you will be able to determine the photographic constraints associated with your need.

I have details for you in the book, but I can give you one or two examples so that you understand what I mean.

For example, for the portrait, you will need not over-distort the face of the subject, since the idea, in general, is to make it beautiful – we will prevent people from looking like they have a four-meter nose and most often a blurred background. You may not always be going to make a blurred background, but you will like to have the opportunity to do so.

For the wildlife photo, you will mainly need to strongly fatten your subject – fatten is not the best term, in any case visually bring it closer to being bigger in the frame, and possibly to work in low light if you want to work in the forest, for example. It will depend on your practice, but if you can work in low light you will be more versatile in wildlife photography.

You may also like to read: Telephoto Lenses for Canon: Best Telephoto Lens for Wildlife Photography

If you take the landscape picture, for example, you will want to have a wide-angle view and there, on the contrary, you may not especially need a blurred background, since in landscape it is done quite rarely, so the criterion related to it will count less.

I return to the technical criteria right after.

We will go back to what these constraints imply, technically, in the choice of the objective right after, because we must first take stock of these indispensable technical characteristics, let me explain a little what it is so that you understand why they are important.

I detail them in the book long enough for you to be able to fend for yourself and understand my selection of optics well.

Because the goal is not to tell you “you want to do landscape, buy this”, it does not make sense, but it is that you understand why you need to buy this or that type of optics. If not, you’re going to go to camera lens store, you’re going to say “I want this” and the guy is going to say “ah, we don’t have it anymore” and he’s going to try to sell you something else and it may not be the most suitable thing. Because he is a camera lens store seller and not necessarily a photographer, he didn’t necessarily do it either – it’s not just his fault, I don’t blame camera lens store sellers or others. The important thing is to know why you buy a lens.

Focal Length

To begin with, we will remove the simplest, but also the most obvious question, is the question of focal length.

What is called focal length, or sometimes short focal length, is what you might commonly call zoom. This is not the best term, it’s quite improper and experts will jump if I talk about zoom, but basically, if you zoom you increase the focal length. It will create two effects: you will see further – for example, Sir over there, I will only see your face if I zoom in, but I have a smaller field of view, I see only you, I do not see the people around. Conversely, a wide-angle, if I photograph with a very wide-angle, I will see from there to there, I will see more things, I have a wider field of view, but the subjects are less close, because you, I will see you in smaller in the frame.

This is the difference between what is called a telephoto lens where you see far, but in a reduced way, and a wide-angle lens where you see not far, but in a much wider way.

I’ll show you some examples of focal length to give you a little idea. There I speak in equivalent 24-36, I will explain after what exactly it is.

This is the grand place in Lille, it’s my place. It is taken at 28 mm, it is a relatively wide-angle focal point; you can see the square, you can see the passers-by, all the buildings around, and the statue in the middle, you can see it, it is present, but it is not very big in the image.

90 mm is what we call a small telephoto lens and I already have detail. You can see that the detail of the image corresponds to the center of the first photo and that we have evacuated a good part.

200mm here we really see the statue only, it takes a large place in the picture. This is the difference we make in terms of focal length.

This focal length, it is obvious that it will play a role in the choice of your lens, according to the photo practice envisaged. If you need to see wide for landscape, you will choose what is called a short focal length, that is, a wide-angle. Conversely, if you need to zoom a lot, to “see far”, you will choose what is called a long focal length, so a telephoto lens.

It may seem basic to some, but it is a useful reminder because you have to put everyone on the same level, because it is really the basis in choosing a lens: which focal point are we going to choose? And it depends on your use, as I said before. (I’ll come back to the details later.)

Sensor Size

Then you have to understand a more complex notion hang on, but you will see that it is not so complicated that it. It is impossible for me to do a detailed course on each notion, but I will try to be brief and talk directly about the concrete and the consequences that it has for you.

Basically, with the same lens, the smaller the sensor size, the greater the apparent focal length.

To be very clear, on a full-format sensor – so the SLR quite expensive, to make it simple – when you put a 50mm on your full-format, it will behave like a 50 mm. it is called a “normal” focal length, that is, you have a vision close to human vision. What does that mean? This means that when you go to put your device in the eye, you will not have the impression either to see flat on the sides like a horse, or to see very far. You’re going to have a pretty intuitive vision. This is a 50mm put on a full frame.

You put exactly the same lens on a so-called APS-C sensor – it’s a slightly smaller format that’s on the vast majority of SLRs – the apparent focal length will increase a bit. It will be multiplied by about 1.5 (1.6 at Canon, I pass you the details, this is not very important), so it will correspond to a 75 mm on full frame. That is, if you put a 50 mm on an APS-C, you will have the same frame as a 75 mm on a full frame. That means you’re going to have an image that’s going to be a small telephoto lens and you’re going to see a little bit further, but you’re going to have a smaller field of view.

On the Micro 4/3 that equip quite a lot of hybrids, especially the Panasonic and Olympus hybrids, this focal length will be multiplied by 2. So, if you have a 20 mm lens on it, that’s a 40 mm so something pretty close, too, to the “normal” focal point of human vision.

That’s why I put this little painting on you to sum you up.

So, it is important when choosing your lens to say that the size of the sensor is important anyway. That’s why we can say that the 50 mm is close to human vision, but on an APS-C it is much less close to human vision, so you have to think about it too.

I’ll take another example. Let’s imagine that you wanted an ultra-wide-angle lens, so a lens with a very short focal length, to photograph the vastness of the landscapes. You really want to see the whole valley spreading out in front of you. With a normal wide-angle lens, you see this, but we may not see the mountain on the side, so you want something really very wide. On full frame, a lens like a 16-35 mm, for example, will do this task very well, because a 16-35 mm is really the King zoom to make very wide-angle on full frame, it’s perfect.

On the other hand, you put this 16-35 mm on an APS-C, it gives a 24-53 mm and 24 mm, it’s not bad, it’s wide-angle, but it’s not ultra-wide-angle and you may not see your mountains on the sides. So you have to be careful when choosing, because you might read somewhere that a 16-35 mm is a very good ultra-wide-angle, and that’s true, but it’s a very good ultra-wide-angle on full frame; on APS-C, it’s going to make a very good wide-angle. It’s a little different usage.

Should I Take a 24-70 f/2.8, or Something Like That, on An APS-C?

On a full frame, a 24-70mm f/2.8, that’s good, you have a real wide-angle and you have a small telephoto lens, so here, I’ll be able to take everyone, there, about that angle of view there, or I’ll be able to take a portrait of the lady in front, with a 70 mm, with the same lens. But you put the same thing on an APS-C, it’s a 35-105, something like that, and now it’s a little more complicated, because with a 35mm.  I’m going to have a vision like that, so it’s already going to be less versatile, especially for landscape, it’s a little tight, and I’m going to have a 105mm so on the other hand I’m going to be able to take a very tight portrait of the lady, but it’s going to be less versatile because, so, you’ll have fewer wide angles. So, you have to be a little careful, it is not because the 24-70 is an excellent goal in itself – which in general is actually the case – that it is necessarily adapted.

That’s why there are specialized lenses for APS-C sensors, really made only for that, like, for example, the 17-50 and when you multiply 17-50 by 1.5, guess what? It gives about 24-70; it’s not for nothing, it’s to give the same focal range on an APS-C as what you can have on a 24-70 on a full frame.

Maximum Opening

The next point that you need to be really careful about, and that is just as important, is the maximum aperture of the lens.

As a reminder, aperture is one of three settings that allow you to adjust the exposure of a photo. There is aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity. The larger this aperture is going to be, the more light will enter the device. Why am I telling you this? Because the maximum aperture you can use on your device is determined by the lens. Not by the camera, it has absolutely nothing to do; it is determined by the objective.

A large maximum opening will serve you for two things:

First in low light, when you do not have much light you will be able to get more into the device. You will have photos well exposed, not too dark, or in any case not blurred. Because it can happen with a lens that has a small aperture to have too blurred or too dark photos, or even downright both.

And it has a kind of double cool effect, which is that a large aperture will allow you to have a shallow depth of field. If I do the focus right there on the computer, I’m going to have some blur in the back, I’m not going to see the gentlemen-ladies in the front. So, it allows you to have a shallow depth of field which is an effect that you can look for or not, but in any case, you have the opportunity to do it. That doesn’t mean you can’t close your diaphragm to have a great depth of field, in any case, you have the opportunity to do it.

That’s why maximum openness is really important in choosing your goal, because it will still determine your choice in a lot of situations.

The shallow depth of field, I had forgotten that I had given you a small example. That’s what happens at f/1.4, it’s really a very big opening. I’ve done the focus here; I already have the foreground which is blurred and I have my background which is blurred too. The keys of the piano, in the background – we know that they are the keys of the piano, we are not stupid either, we guess them well, but they are blurred. And if I take the same photo with exactly the same lens at f/11, you see that the key at the front is sharp, I did the focus in the same place, it’s useful to specify it, but the keys are sharp to the bottom. This is the difference between a large and a small opening. It is taken with the same lens, the lens opens up to 1.4, but it is able to close to f/11 if necessary. It simply gives the opportunity to do so. More creative possibilities, actually.

Stabilization

The last small criterion that I want to address quickly is stabilization.

To make it very simple, from a certain shutter speed, which is quite slow, you will have blur of moved. The blur of moved is due to something quite simple, when you hold your device, in fact you are not stable. You feel like you are stable, but you tremble a little – even if you do not smoke and do not drink coffee. This speed at which you are going to have blur, it depends in particular on the focal length – I will pass you the calculation because this is not the subject of today. What I want you to remember is that the longer the focal length is, so the further and smaller you’re going to see, the more likely you are to have motion blur, at equal shutter speed.

Stabilization is a device that will help combat this blur of movement. Come again? Simply, if you move a little down, it goes a little up. In fact, it detects your movements and it does the opposite.

Stabilization is a device that helps combat blur and that you will be able to photograph at speeds that are 1 to 4 times slower than what you could do without, and all without blur. The idea is not to have one.

Why 1 to 4 times? Because the devices are more or less effective depending on the lens. It is obvious that stabilization on a target of 300 euros and on a target of 2 000, in general, there is a small difference. So, on very high-end lenses, you will be able to shoot at quite slow speeds. For example, on a 70-200 from Canon, at 200 mm where one should photograph at least 1/200, or even a little more, one can sometimes photograph up to 1/25. Not at all strokes without blur moved, but in any case, with a fairly high percentage of success. So, we can manage to go down low enough and gain light.

This stabilization will serve you if you often work in fairly low light, and it will serve you all the more if you have a long focal length. If you have something very wide-angle, I will not go so far as to say that it is useless, but you will need it much less urgently. Let’s say that if you have a telephoto lens, stabilization is going to be a criterion that will go a little more into account. You’re going to say, ” if there isn’t, it might be a problem for me at some point.” On a wide angle, on the edge, it’s going to be a less serious problem.

Last thing, if your subject is fast, it’s not going to help freeze the subject. Since, to freeze the subject, you need a fast shutter speed and you can have stabilization, it compensates for your movements to you, and if your subject is five meters to the right, you will not have the device that will jump you out of your hands and make five meters to the right to follow the subject. It’s important to think about it, because sometimes people say ” I take pictures in low light, I have subjects that are blurred because they move, do I have to take stabilization? “It’s no use for that, it will compensate for the blur of movement of the photographer, but not compensate for the blur of movement of the subject.

Summary of These Characteristics and Methods

There are other features in choosing a lens that I will not detail in full today, I prefer to go back to the method and explain to you by which end to take the problem.

#1 – Determine for what purpose you need a lens. Or multiple purposes, possibly, if you have multiple uses.

#2 – Determine the budget that you are ready to devote to it, your possible desire for lightness or small footprint (in general both go together).

And eventually, you make priorities if you have several practices in mind, because sometimes there may be a need for them.

#3 – Determine What are the constraints of the use we are talking about and therefore, what are the characteristics of the lens you need.

I go back to what I was saying, the portrait, I need a blurred background, so large maximum aperture, because that’s why we can do it; I need not to distort the faces too much, so if I want to make a tight portrait (because we distort the faces when we approach) and I have too wide-angle, I have to get very close to do it so it is not suitable.

On the other hand, if I take a small telephoto lens, I won’t have to get too close to do a close-up portrait and that’ll be fine. So, to do the portrait I’m going to choose a small telephoto lens with a large aperture.

To make the landscape, I want something very wide-angle, and there, for the shot, the maximum aperture will count less. Because, finally, in landscape we will do little background blur, so the maximum aperture counts less.

This does not mean that we only make a landscape with weak openings, but in any case, it is less important as a criterion.

#4 – You will greatly reduce the choice, you just have to choose the best optical quality / price ratio, the lens that will give you the best optical quality, the best image quality for the price you are willing to devote to it.

There are other criteria that can be taken into account, including the speed of autofocus. For example, if you take pictures of subjects in motion, in concert, in sports, even in reporting, sometimes it can still be important to have a camera with a quick focus. It’s influenced by the camera and the lens, it makes two counts, but still.

There may be a need for tropicalized (so-called) construction, that is, not waterproof – do not throw it into the water – but weatherproof. It can be nice if you work, like going in the rain in Iceland, it can be nice to have a tropicalized construction. It depends on your needs, if you do photography in the studio, tropicalization, we do not care completely; you will not have rain that will fall in your studio, in any case, I hope.

Thank you, and feel free if you have any questions.