Hello guys! So far we have gone through some of the basics of photography on “XDrive Photography Learning Sessions“. We concentrated mainly on the concepts of photography and exchanged views on different topics already. Photography is about creativity, and we all agree that “it’s the eye behind the camera that matters not the camera.” Having said that, we also have seen professional photographers using expensive camera gear and creating very inspiring pictures. That means camera gear definitely matters once you reach a certain level of proficiency in photography. So I thought this week we will discuss on the lenses.
Now you might ask “why lenses, why not the cameras?”. Well, I feel most of the cameras what we already have purchased in the recent times have a capability to produce good results. In my opinion, we have to care much on the lenses than the camera body when it comes to image output. Also, by upgrading the lenses will give you a chance to really assess the capabilities of your camera and find out what exactly is your stumbling block, is it a camera or a lens? Getting an excellent lens to your collection is not a waste of money as you can use the same lens even when you upgrade your camera, provided you stick to same brand and format of the camera.
Please note this article is for photo enthusiasts, who have already own a DSLR or comparable camera like mirrorless etc. If you are a pro-grade photographer this post may not impress you, so please don’t get offended! 😀
Most of you already have purchased your camera with the kit lens such as 18~55 mm and have done lots of photography. I have seen many beginners tend to buy a zoom lens as their second lens. Most people get tempted to buy a 75~300 (f4-5.6) budget zoom lens. For some reason, people assume that zoom lenses produce better picture because you can reach to the subject closely! On the contrary, I have seen people who purchased the zoom lens seldom use them. Instead, they continued using their 18~55 mm 95% of the time! Please note these kit zoom lens’s aperture range starts from f4 and taking account of long focal lengths you are susceptible to camera shake very easily. You need to use a very high shutter speed, and this going to be very challenging task at underlit conditions. You will end up using high ISO and end up with poor quality pictures. I feel most of you will relate the above scenario to your first camera purchase.
So, coming back to lens selection, what lens you should buy? Please note that there is no one “must have lens list” which works for everyone. You have to choose a lens based on the kind of photography you do. No point getting the zoom if you are not doing wildlife photography. Similarly, no use getting that expensive macro lens if you seldom need such close-ups.
Before we go further let me introduce you to a type of lenses called “Prime lenses” Basically the prime lenses are lenses with fixed focal lengths. That means you can not do any zoom on these lenses. If you have a 20mm prime lens, you will get only 20 mm. These prime lenses have larger aperture settings such as 2.8f or 1.8f or even 1.4f, unlike your kit lens. That means they work better under low light conditions, they give faster shutter speeds in comparison to kit lenses. That’s why they are also called “fast lenses.” Since these lenses are fixed focal length, they are less complicated and have less moving parts. Their optics are better designed, and they produce better images. Since they have larger apertures, you will create an excellent background blurs than the kit lenses. The lower DOF creates the better subject isolation too. True macro lenses are prime lenses.
So, instead of talking about lenses in general, let me present you my set of lenses. But note that, this list is based on my type of photography. I do a lot of travel photos, closeup photos and occasional sport/wildlife. I do not like to carry too many lenses on a daily basis.
30 mm f1.4 lens (Prime): This lens I use it for general purpose. Basically, this is the lens attached to my camera 90% of the time. Since its 30 mm, I am able to do landscapes(able to manage), portraits, and street photography. I also use this lens for night photography as its f 1.4. This allows me to take almost all pictures without the use of flash at night with the available ambient light itself. Also, this lens helps me to do closeup photography too. Now you know why this is my favourite lens. Check the below samples.
Portrait at f2.2, 1/3200sec, ISO100, check the background separation.
Landscape shot at f8, 1/100 sec, 30mm.
It was a totally dark environment, the only light source I had was the fountain lights, the lens worked very well at f 1.4, 1/30 sec, ISO 800 at 30mm. Any other lens I had to sacrifice the quality. On the right, you can see the crop of the left image showing fine water spray. The aperture of 1.4 is the advantage here.
Family portrait 🙂 at f 1.4, ISO 100, 1/4000 sec. But check only the face is sharp and not the other parts of the subjects. You have to be very careful while shooting at f 1.4
18~200 mm f 3.5 to 6.3 image stabilised zoom lens: This is not a prime lens, but I bought this lens along with my camera long time back. It worked as a general purpose lens since it covers almost full shooting range of 18~ 200mm. But it adds a lot of weight to my camera. The size also an issue. But I need this lens for sports photography, this lens serves as my zoom lens. I do birds or any zoom based action on this lens. But since it’s not a fast lens, I have to be careful while shooting under low light conditions. The image stabilisation helps to minimise the camera shake at zoomed positions. When you are buying a zoom lens make sure to have image stabilised lens. If you want to do dedicated sports photography try to invest on 300 mm prime or 200 mm prime (expensive) or at least buy a 135 mm prime and later crop to the image. I am looking for an opportunity to sell this lens and get a 200mm prime in the future. Check the below samples shot with this lens.
19 mm f2.8 Prime: This used to be my landscape and night photography lens before I bought the 30 mm prime. It has wider coverage than 30 mm. If you are very serious landscape and scenery shooter then lens in this range is advised. There are ultra wide lenses for professionals use such as 12mm which is again expensive and has a very limited use for me.
The lens you might also be interested in investing in.(I dont have any of the below)
Macro (prime) lens: If you are into a closeup and macro photography definitely you should get a dedicated macro lens. They are bit expensive, but they have superior lenses. Make sure the lens says 1:1 magnification (printed on the lens). Be aware of misleading cheap lenses with the macro tag on them. Choose the right focal length before you purchase based on the type of photography you do. For budget phtotogrphy, you can look for 100 mm and use it as sport/wildlife photograhy. 60 mm could also be used for portraits.
50 mm f1.8 prime: This is a very popular lens for portraits and the close-ups. Surprisingly this lens is not that expensive to buy. Generally, its considered that this is a MUST have lens for any photographer. Since I have 30mm, I am trying to use that as my portrait lens. But 30 mm could be used as waist length portraits, for closer portraits I feel 50 mm is ideal. But 50mm is too narrow for street photography or as a general walkaround lens.
200 mm f 2.8 prime: This is a must have lens for anyone who is into sports and wildlife photography. f2.8 gives you lot leverage when it comes to low light shooting. This is the best replacement for a zoom lens. Its very important to remember, if your image quality is good, you will be able to crop your images to a certain extent and still have close up view, so that you do not need that 300 mm zoom capability. Having a larger megapixel capable camera will compensate for the lost pixels by cropping.
Basically, the above list is the one you should be looking at whenever you think of upgrades. It’s very important that you choose the right tool, in this case, the right lens for an occasion you are presented. Yes, it’s not easy to pack a bunch of lenses wherever you go, but that’s where your all rounder lens comes into action. In my case, if I am unsure of what shooting opportunities might come up I take my 18~200 mm lens. If I am attending an event at night I take my 30 mm prime. All planned tours I take both the above lenses.
Hope this article helped in understanding what are the options you should consider when you are planning for next lens or when you are packing for your vacation next time. Remember lenses remain with you for very long time, not the camera bodies. So invest wisely on the lenses.
Let me know your thoughts and the setup you already have. Let me know how you use them. Please make sure to check out my earlier sessions here. Have a question? Post it below.
- Post atleast one or two pictures you have taken with different lenses if you have, keeping today’s topic of “Lenses” in mind. Apply all the things we learnt in the previous sessions. (New or old photos accepted!).
- Let me know type of camera(mobile, DSLR, point and shoot)
- Try to put EXIF data (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) so that I can comment better unless you shot the picture on the mobile phone.
- Add a tag ‘XDrivePhoto’.
- Add a pingback to this post. (Basically, copy the URL of this post, and paste to your post. (Anywhere)
- Title the post as “XDrive Photo Lesson – 11 – Lenses”
Your ping-backs may not appear immediately as I have to enable them later. I will check your post, and I will comment on your post itself. I will post selected contribution links to this post later so that others can also see and learn from them. (Please note there is no time limit for your contributions, you can post them anytime, I will respond to them as you contribute. You can also make more than one contribution to the same topic)
Although these lessons are geared towards newbies, expert photographers also welcomed heartily. I need to learn too! There are no teachers here everyone is learning.
Cheers and Happy clicking!