The magic of a digital SLR camera is all in the lens. From wide angle to telephoto, different lenses can give you a radically new perspective, and spectacularly gorgeous images.
I am an avid amateur photographer who has investigated the capabilities of my kit lens. I love it, particularly at its widest angle. But I would like to explore something new, so I turned to Bryan, my local expert at Ladner London Drugs. Bryan sold me my DSLR three years ago, and has patiently answered questions whenever I need information for this blog.
It was a quiet morning when I went into the store. Bryan agreed to show me a variety of lenses that would fit my particular camera (I have a Nikon D5000).
First, a note about terminology. Lenses are labeled according to focal length, for example 18 – 55mm. As a rule, the larger the focal length, the longer the lens and the more telephoto capability.
• Lenses below 20mm are considered wide angle.
• Lenses above 85mm are considered telephoto.
• Lenses in the middle are for general purpose photography.
A second note about Compact System Cameras. CSCs are much smaller than DSLRs, so the focal lengths are different. There are CSC telephoto, wide angle, and portrait lenses, just like DSLR, but they will be labeled differently, depending on the manufacturer. Bring in your camera when lens shopping to find the perfect fit.
The kit lens is aptly named, since it is usually included when you buy your camera body. A typical kit lens is 18 – 55mm. This gives you a relatively wide angle when you zoom all the way out, good for landscape photography. When you zoom all the way in, this lens is good for subjects that are not too far away.
Basic Zoom Lens
As it turns out, I received two lenses when I bought my camera—London Drugs often bundles camera bodies with two lenses, which costs much less than buying them separately. The second lens is a basic zoom lens (55 – 200mm) that is good for filming kids’ sports, some wildlife photography, and other subjects that require a close-up shot. I find the zoom lens particularly good for filming kids: I can keep far enough away that the camera is not a distraction, but I can still zoom in on little faces.
Having two lenses works just fine, unless I want to switch from wide-angle to telephoto very quickly. This happened on a recent boat trip. The landscapes from the water were so pretty, so I used my kit lens for the wide angle. We then spotted an eagle in a tree, feasting on a fish. I had to change my lens fast to the telephoto. Fortunately, the eagle was a slow eater.
For more versatility, an all-in-one lens (18 – 200mm) is a good investment. You can film a nice wide angle, all the way to an intimate close-up without digging into your camera bag. For even more telephoto power, an 18 – 300mm is also available. This lens would be fantastic for wildlife photography, sports photography, as well as landscape and portraiture.
I asked Bryan, which lens does a typical DSLR owner buy when she wants something new? His answer surprised me. He said after the kit lens and the basic zoom, DSLR owners tend to buy a 35mm portrait lens. This is a fixed lens—no zooming—that has a large maximum aperture. This translates into photos with a narrow depth of field—a crisp face with a pleasantly blurred background. Since fixed lenses allow in extra light, this lens is also great for lower light photography. This is an affordable lens that can transform your portraits.
We’ve all seen the nature enthusiasts with their enormous lenses and tripods. While these are fantastic for capturing birds and wildlife, even a smaller telephoto lens like a 55 – 300mm will get you close to the action. This is the lens that I looked through in the store, and I could easily read the signs on the televisions in the next department over. The downside to telephoto lenses is that the more they magnify the subject, the more they magnify handshake. I prefer to hold my camera (rather than using a tripod), which is an important consideration when choosing a telephoto lens.
As Bryan took the wide angle lens out of the box (this one was a 10 – 100mm), he said, “this is the one I’m saving up for.” After looking through the viewfinder, I have to agree: the wide angle is at the top of my list. The difference between 10mm and 18mm (the widest angle on my kit lens) is incredible. This lens can capture breathtaking panoramic shots. When I go on my around-the-world tour, I will have this lens in my bag.
The fisheye lens is a special order item, so I was not able to take a peek at it. I do love the distortion of fisheye lenses, however, especially with landscapes and architecture. The fisheye lens is a specialty item, but for the artistic photographer, it could be a lot of fun.
When You Go Lens Shopping
Make sure to bring your camera with you. Lenses are manufacturer-specific, and you want to make sure your new lens will play nicely with your camera. If you are unsure which new lens is for you, also bring in some photos. The experts at London Drugs can help you pinpoint the limitations of your current lens, while suggesting a lens that will get the job done.
Angela Ford, photo blogger