Part II: Picking The Right Lens For The Job

Picking The Right Lens For The Job_Blog Post III

Note: This is Part II of a Part II series. Read Part I here.

If you bought a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you likely bought it because of the flexibility it provides by allowing you to change the lenses.

There are many different varieties of lenses ranging from ultra-wide fisheye lenses to ultra-telephoto, and everything in between. But just because you have figured out the best focal length for your needs doesn’t mean that’s all you have to consider in a lens. In fact, the journey has only just begun! Lenses can have a staggering amount of complexity in features and functionality that can cause the price to double, triple, or more.

Lens Features

Here are some of the most common features to look for in a lens for your camera:

Aperture
The aperture range of a lens is one of the most obvious characteristics that determine the usefulness of a lens. Lenses with a wider aperture (a smaller number) allow in more light and are therefore more useful in low-light situations, though this usually comes at an increased cost.

Another thing to look for is whether the aperture is fixed across the focal zoom range or variable. Lenses with a fixed aperture can maintain the same maximum aperture across the entire zoom range. However, less expensive lenses may decrease the maximum aperture as the lens is zoomed in to tighter focal lengths.

Some manufacturers include a control ring on certain lenses for controlling aperture manually. Lenses with this feature provide more manual control over the aperture but tend to be more expensive.

Example: An aperture of f/2.8 or f/4.0 is typical among most professional zoom lenses. Prime lenses may go to f/1.8 or even wider. For lenses with a variable aperture, you may see numbers such as f/4.0-5.6. This means that at the widest focal length, the maximum aperture is f/4.0, but as you zoom in to tighter focal lengths, the maximum aperture decreases to f/5.6.

Autofocus
While aperture is one of the first aspects a photographer might look at when choosing a lens, autofocus is often one we take for granted. Today, almost all lenses from the major camera companies have autofocus included, but that hasn’t always been the case. Even today, not every lens has autofocus included, especially when looking at less expensive lenses from third-party manufacturers.

Another factor to consider when looking at the autofocus is the type of hardware responsible for the focus movement. There are multiple types of motors available on the various lens manufacturers. Some autofocus motors are faster but produce more noise. Others might be quieter but not perform so well at smooth transitions. It is essential to research the autofocus systems available in the lenses for your camera to help determine the appropriate system for your needs and price range

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Autofocus 
While aperture is one of the first aspects a photographer might look at when choosing a lens, autofocus is often one we take for granted. Today, almost all lenses from the major camera companies have autofocus included, but that hasn’t always been the case. Even today, not every lens has autofocus included, especially when looking at less expensive lenses from third-party manufacturers.

Another factor to consider when looking at the autofocus is the type of hardware responsible for the focus movement. There are multiple types of motors available on the various lens manufacturers. Some autofocus motors are faster but produce more noise. Others might be quieter but not perform so well at smooth transitions. It is essential to research the autofocus systems available in the lenses for your camera to help determine the appropriate system for your needs and price range.

Weather Resistant
Having a lens with weather sealing can save you from a lot of heartaches if you get caught in the rain while out shooting. Photographers who work with landscape, wildlife, or any activity that requires them to shoot outside can benefit from having a weather-resistant lens.

It’s important to remember, though, that the lens isn’t the only thing that needs to be sealed. Pairing a weather-resistant lens with a camera that doesn’t have water or dust protection will simply mean the elements get into the camera from a different place.

Another thing to consider is the level of protection of the weather sealing. Protection against light rain is not going to help a photojournalist who wants to take photos during a massive hurricane.

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Optical Image Stabilization 
Image stabilization is an interesting feature for lenses because, for certain situations, it can be a huge help in capturing useable images you have no other way of capturing. Still, at other times optical image stabilization can be simply a marketing gimmick, or worse, can actually ruin your shot.

Image stabilization in a lens works by continually aligning the lens elements and the sensor in a way that reduces the vibrations that are caused by holding a camera in your hand or from the wind shaking the tripod, for example. By reducing the effects of these vibrations, a photographer can use a slower shutter speed, allowing for more freedom to use more conservative aperture and ISO settings or to hand-hold the camera at shutter speeds that you usually wouldn’t be able to.

This feature can be especially helpful for lenses that fall into the telephoto range due to the increased effect that vibrations and camera shake have at longer focal distances.

However, it is crucial to understand that the mechanical elements in image stabilization technology can have some drawbacks, especially when capturing video. This is because the elements can cause unwanted noise and create image shake as they continuously try to align the lens elements with the sensor.

Macro Lenses
Macro lenses allow photographers to capture images from incredibly short distances from the subject, allowing viewers to see impressive amounts of detail. Because of this, macro lenses are fantastic choices for photographing small animals, capturing close-ups in product photography, and more.

You may be asking yourself why macro lenses are listed in the lens features and not in the lens categories. The reason is that macro lenses come in a wide range of focal lengths and are actually a function of how the lens elements are organized.

Since macro lenses are typically designed to carry out specific functions, they usually are fixed focal length, or prime, lenses, and provide unparalleled performance in their particular niche area. Macro lenses do have some important tradeoffs to keep in mind, as they are often less versatile, as well as larger and heavier than similar non-macro lenses.

Filter Size
Though it is not the most important aspect of a lens, the size of the filter that a lens can accommodate is also something to think about when looking for which lens is right for you. Filter size, often written on the lens with the symbol “ø” followed by a number, refers to the diameter, in millimeters, of the screw-on filter that can attach to the lens.

Filters come in various types, including polarizing and neutral density filters and colored filters for changing the image captured by the camera in multiple ways. Typical screw-on filters range in size from about 50mm to 80mm.

While converters are available to attach larger filters to smaller filter sizes, having multiple lenses with the same filter size can make life much easier (and cheaper, since you don’t need to buy multiple sizes of the same filter.

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