Subjective roadmap to purchasing a lens
Modern cameras with interchangeable lenses, both mirrorless system cameras and SLRs, are very, very good.
So good, in fact, that the differences in image quality are getting harder and harder to identify, even for experienced photographers.
With lenses, the differences in image quality are bigger. It’s not true that the most expensive lens is also the best. Additionally, our reviews show that zoom lenses in terms of image quality may be just as good as specialist lenses with a fixed focal point. It pays therefore to spend the extra time and attention on the choice of a lens. Did you know we also use a lens much longer than a camera?
Experience a macro lens.
More creativity and image quality with interchangeable lenses
SLRs and mirrorless system cameras are more expensive, bigger and heavier than a smartphone. There is no real difference in terms of resolution, yet they offer some really great benefits that translate into extra creative freedom and nicer pictures, which lend themselves better to editing, if you want to do that.
A major advantage of a ‘real’ camera is the larger (full frame, APS-C or micro-43) sensor, which provides a higher signal-to-noise ratio, a larger dynamic range and more accurate color reproduction. Also in the creative respect, a camera with interchangeable lenses delivers has advantages. The smaller sensors of compact cameras make it impossible to play with depth of field. Did you know that a compact camera with a bright f/2 lens has the same depth of field as a full-frame camera at f/10? Then you can’t really talk about playing with depth of field, right? If you want a bokeh in a smartphone recording, then you will have to manually add that with software.
The most telling difference is that with a system camera (with or without a mirror) you get the ability to change lenses. Depending on what you want to shoot, you can choose a specialized “dedicated” lens for your system camera, with the highest possible image quality. That delivers the possibility for more beautiful pictures, also in comparison to a compact camera with a large sensor. But if the quality differences in lenses are relatively large, how do you choose the best lens for your camera?
Which should I choose?
The first downer: We don’t choose the best lens for you.
Weekly we get asked for personal lens advice. Should I buy Lens A? Or maybe lens B? That we cannot say. What is important to me when buying a lens? How do I make a good tradeoff between price and quality? What do I need to watch out for when buying? We do not know. We don’t know you well enough. In the end, you will have to choose a lens for yourself.
But we’re going to do our best to help you in the decision-making process. In this first episode of “How do I choose the right lens? Subjective roadmap to purchase a lens “, we focus on you. What do you like to photograph? What type of photographer are you? In the second episode, we focus on the lens and a few general concepts and principles that you will need later in your choice of the best lens. After that, comes the fun part.
You get a pattern from us on how to choose a lens
|At the end of the second installment, the CameraStuffReview readers will divide into smaller groups. It won’t take long, even though there are more than 200 lens reviews on CameraStuffReview. Based on all these reviews, we’ve made a critical selection of good lenses, each of which might be the best lens for you – and your camera. We’re going to give concrete advice to individual groups of photographers (starters, amateurs, professionals), with different brands of cameras (Canon, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic). It therefore becomes a series of customized articles, instead of one long, more general story. A novice photographer with a Nikon 1 camera needs completely different advice than a professional photographer with a micro-43 camera, to take two random examples.|
What do you like to photograph?
|You probably have an immediate answer to this question. What are your favorite subjects to photograph? We recently asked this question, and almost 500 readers filled in the survey. Thus, we have some idea what you guys like to photograph. You might like a number of completely different types of photography equally. You might not have figured out yet what you like. That makes it harder. Try in advance to make a list of what you like to shoot, because we’ll come back to that in the next installment. If you have a preference for holiday photography, street photography, portrait photography, astrophotography or nature photography, that matters in choosing the best lens. It might turn out that our series “HDICTRL? SRTPAL”(= How do I choose …. etc.) is an excellent excuse for you to buy multiple lenses over the coming months. We’ll be happy to help.|
|Flamingos at the edge of a crater lake. Did I need to change lenses?|
What type of photographer are you?
A butcher uses a different knife than a fishmonger, or someone who’s peeling a potato. It’s the same with photography. For every photography application, there are specialized lenses for sale. Those are usually fixed-focal-length lenses. But there are also broadly applicable lenses on the market, often zoom lenses.
What you need depends on the type of photographer that you are. A professional places very different demands on a lens than a beginning photographer. That is why we have photographers and lenses arranged in groups. To simplify it, we have chosen just four types of photographers, and we immediately link an available budget to each type of photographer.
“My first camera with interchangeable lenses”
|A starter is looking for an inexpensive lens, which may not cost much more than the camera. A starter typically has a compact, easy-to-operate camera and is limited to 1 or 2 lenses, which together weigh no more than 7 ounces. The starter only photographs in jpg. Ease of use, compact size and low weight are also for the lenses more important than just that little bit of extra image quality. This is why starters usually choose zoom lenses. For this group of photographers, we start with a budget of up to 500 euros (list price) for purchasing a new lens. That is an upper limit. Usually we come in much lower. You will be surprised how many excellent lenses there are for sale with a retail price of 250 euros.|
“I’m already convinced of the usefulness of interchangeable lenses”
|An amateur has discovered the fun of photography and often has a few lenses. It’s not rare that these lenses together weigh over 1 kilo. Amateurs also shoot mainly with zoom lenses. In addition, they choose from among creative considerations and, because of the higher brightness, a single lens with a fixed focal length. Most amateurs shoot in jpg, but among the seasoned amateurs you can also find a lot of RAW enthusiasts.|
“I am, in good English, a prosumer”
In the prosumer group, we put two photographer types together. One group includes the professional who has a limited budget available. Not every professional photographer needs or has the budget for camera-equipment of many thousands of euros. The prosumer group also includes the consumers who find a high price for a lens (read: more than 1000 euros) not a problem, if there is fantastic image quality in return. Because when it comes to image quality, the prosumer is a perfectionist. The prosumer takes all pictures in RAW + jpg at the same time. The jpg files are used for Facebook, Flickr, private websites and photo books. The RAW files are to make an impression on the photo club.
The most important (artificial) distinction between the prosumer and the fourth group of photographers (professional) is construction quality and brightness. Our prosumer works only occasionally in extreme conditions (heat, cold and moisture), whereby the construction quality is just a little bit less important than for the full-time professional. And if there are two lenses equivalent in image quality with different brightness, then our prosumer chooses the cheaper, less bright lens.
“I want build quality and image quality of the highest level”
A professional photographer is financially dependent on her/his camera and lenses. One missed shot can make the difference between success or no income. Therefore, a professional is willing to pay more for a heavier build quality, higher brightness and extra sealing against dust. This type of professional possesses multiple cameras, a sophisticated set of lenses with a fixed focus and a few zoom lenses that serve as workhorses under the toughest conditions. It’s not rare for those cameras and lenses to weight over 1 km, per piece. The Pro only photographs in RAW.
You may have already noticed that in our overview of camera reviews, the same starter/amateur/prosumer/pro format is used as here. We thought it useful to use the same types for the lenses. In our camera review overview, we have not explained what we mean with these four concepts. Now we have.
Each grouping is a cliché and is thus certainly not applicable to you. However, we have really need these labels to make the huge lens offerings manageable. Pick what you think is important and see which group(s) you partly or completely recognize yourself in. It will help you later in choosing the best lens.
Sometimes there are good arguments to place a camera or lens in multiple groups. Even so, we aren’t going to do that. Then it becomes such a mess, don’t you think? That every camera or lens is only in 1 group means that in some cases you could argue over whether we have made the right choice.
That could be, but we aren’t going to do it. Take our groups with a grain of salt. Then they’re easier to digest.
In the meantime, if you have an idea about what you like to photography, what type of photographer you are and how much money you have, then you’re ready for the next step. That is the next installment, in which we – beware, this is my last pun – zoom in on the different types of lenses. See you soon.