Do you want to go carefree with your camera on vacation? Or are you going into the Himalayas on the hunt for a snow leopard? It does affect which lens you bring.
To better tailor-make our series of lens advice, we've divided photographers into 4 types in "How do I choose a lens?": starters, amateurs, prosumers and professionals. We've asked you for your favorite subject because that determines partly what the best lens is for you.
To make the lens offerings clearer, we divide lenses into 10 groups, which you may already know from our overview of lens reviews:
1.The best lenses with a fixed focus
Previously, there were only fixed focal length lenses. Lenses with a fixed focus have lost a lot of ground to zoom lenses, because if you want to have more or less in image if you have a fixed focus, then you walk forward or backward. Or by switching lenses. It may sound weird, but that is precisely the reason why more experienced photographers appreciate fixed focus lenses. By actively changing your distance from a subject, you are forced to think about composition. That delivers more keepers at the end of the ride. Factoid: In the past, image quality with fixed focal length lenses was always better than with zoom lenses. Today, there are many zoom lenses with such a high image quality, that you no longer see the difference in image quality with the naked eye. Lenses with a fixed focal point are usually still more compact or slightly stronger than zoom lenses.
Which lens with a fixed focal point do I buy first? A standard lens delivers a familiar image (WYSIWYG), a high brightness and a very high quality/price ratio.
2.The best zoom lenses
With zoom lenses, the focal length can be varied. With a zoom lens, you can remain in the same place and yet get more or less in frame by rotating a ring on the lens: "in or out". This makes zoom lenses an attractive alternative to a set of multiple lenses with a fixed focal point. The larger the zoom range, the less often it you have to change lens. In doing so, you reduce the chance of dust on a sensor.
Tip: In addition to the standard (kit) zoom lenses, there are also wide angle zooms and telephoto zoom lenses. They differ in terms of focal length in the zoom range. What focal length do you prefer to use? On the sites of most suppliers there's a lens-simulator, with a series of shots taken from the same position. If you'd like to try it out, click on the picture of the Nikkor Lenses Simulator. You can both view the influence of the focal length and of sensor size.
3.The best superzooms, vacation zooms or walk-around lenses
Zoom lenses with a zoom range of more than 5x, we put in the category superzooms. These superzooms, walk-around zooms or vacation zooms you can compare with a Swiss army knife. They are ideal for those who, for example, only want to take 1 lens on vacation, but want to take a system camera or SLR. In general you can say that the larger the zoom range, the more compromises the designers have made to make an affordable lens with good image quality. Factoid: Some superzooms offer such high image quality, that for a part of the zoom range, you will see no difference in quality from much more expensive lenses. That's usually at the ends of the focal length range, where more specialized wide angle and telephoto lenses offer a clearly visible better picture quality. Attractively priced superzooms are not for nothing quite popular with starters and amateur photographers.
4.The best standard lens
In terms of focal length, the standard lens is the average Joe among lenses. If you take a photo with a standard lens, then it approximately corresponds to the image that you see if you don't look through the viewfinder. On a camera with a full-frame sensor that's at a focal length between 35 and 65 mm. With a camera with an APS-C sensor, you need a lens with a focal length between 24 mm and 45 mm; with a micro-43, a focal length between 18 mm and 35 mm. The zoom range of the kit lens, which you buy when you buy your camera, almost always includes the focal lengths that are associated with a standard lens.
Tip: First-rate on the cheap? On a camera with an APS-C sensor, a 50 mm f/1.8 standard lens – designed for a camera with a full-frame sensor – is very good to use for portraits with a nice bokeh. Your photos are then virtually indistinguishable from a portrait photograph taken with a more expensive 85 mm lens at f/2.8 on a more expensive camera with full-frame sensor.
5.The best wide-angle lens
Lenses with a small focal length, we consider – converted to 35 mm equivalent – 24 mm or less, have a wide field of view. They're called wide-angle lenses. These are ideal for those who want to get a lot in frame and/or get close to the subject. The smaller the focal length, the greater the chance you run that straight lines will be distorted (ball/barrel-shaped). The same applies to the distance to the subject: if you make a shot of a person with a wide-angle lens, then the face is not very flattering, with a too-large nose.
You don't always need to have a portrait lens, if you want to take a picture of someone. A wide angle can work.
6.The best lens for portrait photography
With a portrait lens, you make a screen-filling, natural-looking portrait. In addition, you often prefer a limited depth of field with portraits. The blurred background ensures that the model will get all the attention. On a camera with a full-frame sensor, a focal length between 85 and 135 m and a brightness of at least f/2.8 is suitable for this purpose. Portrait lenses are also widely used by wedding photographers.
The larger the sensor, the larger the aperture and the longer the focal length, the more you can isolate the subject from the background.
7.The best lens for animal pictures: the telephoto lens
Do you like to photograph wild animals? Are you often on a tower to enjoy the view, but you're disappointed that the buildings have become so small in the distance in your shot? A telephoto lens has a great focal length and a small field of view. The longer the focal length, the more a subject comes into the picture. With a telephoto lens, your perspective becomes compressed, whereby the distance between background and subject seems less. Some architectural photographers use this effect. Telephoto lenses have a shallow depth of field, making the background fade. On a picture of a tennis player at Wimbledon, you often see nothing of the audience that is in the background. If you want to make sharp pictures with a telephoto lens, then you need a fast shutter speed (1/1000 second or faster). If you use a telephoto lens for a subject from such a great distance, flashes are usually no longer possible. Bright telephoto lenses are therefore highly popular with professional photographers. But those lenses are very big, heavy and expensive. Slightly less bright telephoto zoom lenses are much lighter, smaller and more attractively priced. Starters with an 18-55 mm zoom lens (on a camera with an APS-C sensor) often choose as a second lens a zoom lens with which they can get closer to a subject. In our list of reviewed telephoto lenses, we use a focal length, converted to a full-frame sensor, of 200 mm or more.
Thanks to the long focal length of a telephoto lens you can photograph from a safe distance.
8.The best lens for indoor/low-light photography
Are you a lover of available-light photography, such as night photography, concert photography, documentary photography, or interior photography? Or make you like shots during the blue 15 minutes? Then this type of lens is for you. In this category, we've classified all lenses with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or lower. The advantage of these lenses is that you can play with depth of field and that you can make sharp images in low light. The main disadvantages of these lenses are a higher price, a higher weight and larger dimensions. It seems that the lens errors are almost 10 times as large for each stop that a lens gets brighter. It also means that lenses with a brightness higher than f/1.8 – and for telephoto lenses f/2.8 – are very expensive. Until recently, many bright lenses, except for some telephoto lenses, were not quite as sharp at maximum aperture. You only got really sharp images after 2 stops stopping down, but that's not what you buy a bright lens for. The lens designers have made huge technological progress in recent years. There are now bright lenses, such as the Panasonic 42.5 mm f/1.2 and the Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Art, which also offer phenomenal image quality at maximum aperture.
Factoid: What a lot of photographers look for is the extremely small focal depth that bright lenses provide at full aperture. A portrait with razor-sharp eyelashes, but vague nose and ears, is not universally appreciated. Front-focus and back-focus problems largely fall away in the depth of field if you go above f/2.8, but are below that sometimes painfully obvious. Accurate focusing places much higher demands on camera and photographer.
9.The best lens for macro photography
If you're interested in details, you'll want to get as close as possible to you subjects, and then macro lenses are ideal for you. If a subject is represented as big on the sensor as the subject really is, in technical terms a scale of 1:1, then we're talking about a macro lens. With zoom lenses, you come regularly across the name macro, while that strictly speaking is not true because the maximum magnification of these zoom lenses always less than that of true macro lenses. You might also want that if you focus on a certain distance, then the whole image is perfectly sharp at that distance. That is never quite the case and is called field curvature. Macro lenses have less field curvature than ordinary lenses. In addition, most macro lenses have very little distortion. Therefore, macro lenses are also used by photographers who specialize in reproduction photography.
10.The best fisheye
Fisheye lenses are highly specialized lenses with a very short focal length and a characteristic, barrel distortion. Fisheye lenses distort much more than wide-angle lenses and are therefore less versatile. That's why we made a separate group.
Tip: If you're looking for a way to distinguish yourself from other photographers, then you should definitely try a fisheye. Fisheye lenses are little used, so making a good shot with a fisheye lens is definitely noticeable. The big challenge is to continue to make shots that don't get boring.
Are you a photographer with a Nikon D3000, D3100, D3300 or D3200 SLR camera? Then you're in luck. On the basis of the 200 lens reviews that we've done, we're starting to make purchase suggestions to newcomers and amateur photographers with a Nikon beginners camera. Soon we'll examine the question, "What is the best lens for my Nikon D3300?" However, before we get there, we immerse you in the secret language of lenses and we answer the question: "What do I look at when buying a lens?"
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Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.