Choosing the Right Lens

Choosing the Right Lens


Do you ever worry about which lenses to pack for a shoot? 

Or do you pack every lens you own…just in case? I don’t blame you if you’re a bit confused and overwhelmed right now. 

With so many lenses to choose from, it’s hard to know which one is the best fit! 

Here’s some questions that help you pick the perfect lens, every time. 

1. Do I Need a Prime, Macro or Zoom Lens

Prime lenses have a fixed focal length. This means that you cannot ‘zoom’ these lenses in or out—you have to move physically closer or further away from your subject to change perspective. 

They have wider maximum apertures than zoom lenses do, so they give you better results in low-light situations.

A macro lens, usually 50 to 100 millimeters, is used to get in super close to capture fine details. It can focus at infinity to one to one, meaning what you’re shooting is the same size in front of your lens as it is on the sensor. 

Macro lenses are often used in product and wedding photography (for showcasing the rings and flowers.) They are also a mainstay of nature photography (e.g.snowflakes, flowers, and insects.) 

A zoom lens has variable focal lengths that let you shoot a variety of subjects without having to change your lens. Their biggest drawback is their limited low-light capabilities, as their optics are inferior to prime lenses. 

And that brings us to question 2…

2. Do I Want to Create Bokeh?

Bokeh makes your subject stand out in sharp focus from the background of your photo. The photo of the roses below is a great example.

Notice how the roses in the foreground are in sharp focus, with a soft, blurry background behind them. In particular, you can’t see any sharp edges on the background objects.

You’ll see bokeh extensively in portrait photography, because you want the focus to be on your subject, not on the background.

This beautiful portrait of a little girl incorporates both bokeh and backlighting to add timelessness and a touch of mystery to the photo below. 

There are two types of lenses you can use to create bokeh. (Well, three, actually!)

While you can use a zoom lens, a telephoto lens with a maximum aperture of f2.8 or f4 is even better. 

Prime lenses are ideal for creating bokeh, because their maximum apertures allow for a shallow depth-of-field (only the foreground of the photo is in sharp focus.) 

3. How Much Weight Am I Willing to Carry?

Instead of just packing everything in your bag on a trip, or vacation, thinking about what you’ll be shooting at your destination can simplify your packing.

For example, if you’re going hiking in the mountains, keeping your gear bag as light as possible is a must. You’ll get tired fast lugging around a heavy bag in steep terrain. 

Mirrorless cameras, such as a Nikon Z-6, Sony Alpha A7 III or Canon EOS RP are great choices if you like to hike into a location. They are much lighter than their full-frame DSLR counterparts. 

Or if you’ll be doing street photography, you want a small lightweight camera and lens to be discrete, and also so you can move as freely as possible. (Mirrorless cameras are a great choice here as well!) 

A prime lens such as a 35mm or 50mm is ideal for this purpose, because they are lightweight and compact, and help you blend in with the crowd. Shooting with a big telephoto lens like paparazzi draws negative attention—fast! 

Into portraiture? Weight isn’t as big of a consideration here as it would be in the two scenarios above. Many photographer's standby portrait lens is a 50mm prime, but many others like a slightly longer lens because they feel the compression they provide is more flattering to their subjects. 

Many photographers like to shoot portraits on a tripod to minimize any camera shake. Shooting on a tripod makes weight less of a consideration than it is when hand-holding your camera. 

4. Do I Need a Telephoto Lens?

If you need to get close to your subject, without being disruptive, choose a telephoto lens. 

They are ideal for action shots, like trying to capture a surfer on the beach or a performer at a festival – or even for photographing candid shots.

If you need even more reach, consider a super telephoto lens (200mm-to-400mm.) 

Super telephoto lenses are a must for wildlife photography. It’s important to maintain some distance between yourself and wild animals because they can be unpredictable. Too many photographers have found out the hard way what happens when you get too close. 

So pack that super telephoto the next time you want to capture some great wildlife photos! 

5. Do I Need A Wide Angle Lens?

A wide-angle lens refers to a lens with a wider field of view than the human eye. (For reference, a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera has the same field of view as your eyes.) 

Any lens with a focal length of 35mm or less qualifies as a wide-angle lens on a full-frame camera. On a crop sensor camera, wide-angle lenses range from 10mm-24mm. This is because of the extra magnification effect created by the smaller crop sensor.  (If you’d like to read more on the differences between crop sensor and full-frame cameras, click here.) 

One drawback to wide-angle lenses is they create distortion because of their optics. This distortion makes your portrait subjects look shorter and wider than they are in real life—so they are a definite don’t for portraiture. 

But wide-angle lenses are ideal for landscape photography, real estate photography and astrophotography. Any time you want to capture large expanses of land, sky or large buildings, then a wide-angle lens should be your go-to.

I Hope that Helps You Choose the Right Lens!

I ask myself these questions whenever I’m packing for a shoot. 

There’s no use lugging around extra gear if you won’t need it!

If you’d like some extra help choosing lenses and camera settings, be sure to join me for a FREE camera training session!

To register, click on the image below and choose your training time. 

13 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Lens”

  1. Nice simple description, totally helped. Thankyou. My husband thought I was crazy when I used our 35mm for landscape in Alaska, instead of our 18 to 400 tamron. My next vacation I hope to get that 18 to 24 mm or something similar.

  2. when shooting family portraits outdoors, which lens would be ideal in order to blur the background but keep the subjects sharp?

  3. patty fahlstrom

    I am hoping to learn about photographing my 2D art for website use, etc. Do you have a recommendation of a particular class or a camera setting to use?

    1. David Molnar - Your Photography Mentor

      I don’t currently have a class for photographing your 2D art, but it may be something we decide to do in the future.

  4. This couldn’t have come at a better time, David! I’ve accrued so many lenses through the years ( mostly kit lenses) and with your help and your team have a better understanding of which ones to let go….trying to consolidate and this has been so helpful! Would love to be able to someday add the 70-200 mm to round out my “better lenses”. Thanks so much for giving me a better perspective!

  5. I’m curious what lens you would recommend for family portraits outdoors to keep the subjects sharp, but yet a blue to background?

    1. David Molnar - Your Photography Mentor

      Jo, you can still use that Nifty Fifty. It’s the aperture setting that you want adjust to blur the background.

  6. I have a Canon EOS rebel T100 digital SLR camera 18 mega pixels. I want to buy lens for it other than the o e that came with it. I want aens for zoom and blurry backgrounds. What you suggests.

    1. David Molnar - Your Photography Mentor

      You will get a blurry background with a lower aperture number. You can select your zoom based on your needs-what are you planning to zoom in for a photo? You can select that and then find the zoom lens that will have a low aperture (or f-stop) number. Lenses can get expensive. I would suggest considering upgrading your camera and then get a lens for it. Just a thought. Happy shopping!

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