Buying a Camera Lens

Making the Most of Your Budget

Before you rush out and spend all the money you have on the camera itself, remember that without a good quality lens the pictures that you take will not turn out to be all you hoped for. A high quality camera lens is the key to taking good photographs. Without one it's a non starter. Therefore the best thing that you can do is select a good solid camera, perhaps without all the bells and whistles that you had dreamt of saving a good proportion of your budget to spend on the camera lens or lenses. In fact if you can only afford one good quality camera lens then it is better to start out with that rather than two cheaper lenses. You can always add a second or third camera lens later and if in the future you want to upgrade the camera itself then you can also do that. The important thing is to start out with the best quality camera lens that you should afford.

Should You Buy a Prime Lens or a Zoom Lens?

If you had bought a SLR a few years ago and asked for a lens to go with it, you would have been handed a 50mm standard camera lens. It is still very much a camera lens that every photographer should have. The optical quality of a good 50mm is superb and they offer excellent value for money as they are cheaper in comparison with a zoom lens. They are small and light to carry around and the fact that they have a fast maximum aperture means that they handle low light situations better than their zoom counterparts. The other point worth noting about a 50mm lens is that in terms of focusing it sees things in a way that very similar to the naked eye.

Today the standard camera lens to be sold with a SLR seems to be a 28-80mm zoom lens. The benefits are obvious as it can be considered as three prime lenses in one. I can feel the traditionalists wince with that one! Not only does that make you budget go further, but there is less to carry and within reason you are always ready for your next shot. The fact is that the quality of zoom lenses in particular has improved dramatically over the past decade. One point that the traditionalists make that is worth taking note of is that a zoom lens can make you less likely to make the most of your camera. Always get in as close to your subject as possible rather than letting the zoom do all the work.

Independent Manufacturers.

Again in years gone buy you probably wouldn't have considered putting a camera lens made by an independent manufacturer on your prized Canon or Nikon SLR, unless it was purely to save money. Times have changed and the quality if the lenses produced by the independents has improved markedly. This is particularly true of lenses by Sigma. A lot of deals are offered where the camera comes with a standard lens produced by the same manufacturer as the camera. These probably offer you the best value for money, but when you are looking to add a second or third camera lens to your system there is no need to ignore a lens from an independent manufacturer.

Types of Lens

There are three basic camera lens types, standard, wide angle and telephoto. The power of a camera lens is measured in millimetres and is known as the focal length of a lens. The 50mm lens is deemed to be the standard lens for a 35mm camera. Any camera lens with a shorter focal length than this is considered to be a wide angle lens and any lens with a longer focal length is considered a telephoto lens.

When to Use a Wide Angled Lens

Wide angle lenses are popular with landscape photographers. They are great for highlighting foreground objects with the background almost fading into the distance. The depth of the picture is therefore accentuated. The most common focal length for a wide angled lens are 24mm and 28mm.

When to Use a Telephoto Lens

The telephoto lens is basically the opposite of the wide angled lens. Therefore it is great for bringing far away objects right up into the meat of the picture. The obvious example would be sporting events. If you go to major football match you will see press photographers lined up at the end of the pitch using telephoto lenses to get excellent action close ups. These lenses also reduce the depth of field. This can be an advantage as you can focus right in on your subject, producing a crystal clear image, whilst the foreground and background surrounding it become out of focus.

Other Lens Types

Most people will have heard of a Macro Lens. These lenses are used for close up photography. The have similar properties to a normal lens, but they are able to focus a lot closer to the subject. Common focal lengths are 50/55mm or 90/100/105mm. The lenses with the longer focal lengths come in very handy for taking close ups of subjects that might otherwise be scared away. The optical quality of a macro lens is normally very high.

A Fisheye Lens looks surprisingly enough like a fisheye. Their angle of view is a full 180%. There is a trade off in that the pictures produced are distorted in that the centre of the picture almost comes out to meet you whereas the top, bottom and sides of the picture appear to be further away. You can buy both circular and full frame fisheye lenses with full frame being the most common.

Shift/Perspective Control Lenses are expensive, but handy if you shoot pictures of a lot of tall buildings. To get all of a tall building into a shot can often mean that you have to tilt the camera backwards. The drawback of this is that the building itself can appear as if it is leaning forward. This is because the camera wasn't upright at the time when the picture was taken. The Shift/Perspective Control Lens has front elements that can be adjusted so that you can get all the building in the shot and still keep the camera upright.


A teleconverter is a piece of equipment that sits between your camera and the lens. It can rather cleverly increase the focal length of the lens. The standard models are the 2x and 1.4x converters. For example the 2x converter will turn a 200mm lens into a 400mm lens. So why isn't everybody using them and why does anybody bother buying a 400mm lens. The reason is quality. A converter will reduce the amount of light getting through. This can not only make focusing harder, but you will also either need to use slower shutter speeds or faster film. In addition the optical quality of the lens is also reduced. The problems are not so pronounced with a 1.4x converter and professional photographers prefer these. Again it is wise to buy the best teleconverter that you can afford.

Taking Care of Your Camera Lens.

When you have paid a large sum of money for a lens it makes sense to treat them very carefully. The most important things to keep in mind are to make sure your lens stays dry at all times and extra care needs to be taken in dusty or sandy areas. Make sure that your lens caps are securely fitted whenever the lens is not in use. A lot of experienced photographers attach a clear filter to the lens. It is far less expensive to replace a scratched or damaged filter then it is a lens. When cleaning take the utmost care.

Return to the Help Centre

Camera Lens