What Lens to Buy? A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Lenses

When it comes to photography, lenses are unquestionably the “holy grail” that everyone is always talking about. Glass has always been the object of a photographer’s obsession, regardless of their level of experience. There is, to a certain extent, a rational justification for the famed fixation with glass.

Lenses, other than lighting equipment, are the pieces of camera equipment that have the most influence on the quality of a photograph. In this essay, I will cover the fundamentals that an amateur photographer needs to understand before purchasing a new lens. Before you continue to read this essay, I strongly suggest that you first read Understanding Camera Lenses: A Beginner’s Guide by Spencer.

Where to begin?

The choice of lens is sure to be towards the top of the list of things that might make a newbie feel overwhelmed with confusion. Even very experienced experts sometimes run into trouble. When it comes to selecting lenses, the process has become even more bewildering as a result of the proliferation of websites and YouTube channels that continuously evaluate various lenses. In this regard, Photography Life is not an exception because we have analyzed a large number of lenses in depth together with the results of their Imatest tests.

Permit me to instead walk you through some of the more fundamental factors to take into account when purchasing a lens, especially if you are starting out in the world of photography.

1. Budget

If money were no object, I imagine that every photographer would immediately be carrying around a 400mm f/2.8 or a 600mm f/4 lens in their camera bags. The amount of money one has available is almost always the key determinant of the kind of photographic equipment that one carries with them.

Fluorite prime lenses of 400mm and 600mm focal lengths are, without a doubt, the sharpest, quickest, and most intimidating glasses now available. However, how many of us are willing to spend more than $12,000 on one of these? The majority of photographers begin their careers with equipment that is considered entry-level and gradually goes up in terms of sophistication.

2. Crop body kit lenses

The vast majority of beginning photographers start out with a digital single-lens reflex (DX) camera, which nearly invariably comes packaged with a lens kit. Beginners typically choose a twin lens kit that provides coverage from 18 millimeters to a greater focal length, such as 55 millimeters, 105 millimeters, or even 200 millimeters and beyond, depending on the brand.

In all likelihood, none of us are going to stick with the camera and lens that we initially purchased for the rest of our lives. As we continue to improve our photography, we are beginning to feel that the equipment we now have is no longer sufficient. Eventually, some photographers will come to the conclusion that they would be better served by purchasing a full-frame camera instead of a DSLR or mirrorless model. After that moment, crop-sensor lenses of any kind will be made available for purchase since they will no longer be compatible with the standard system.

In contrast to camera bodies, photographers like to keep their lenses for a long time. If you shoot with a Nikon, Canon, or Sony camera—all of which offer full-frame options—you should consider the possibility—and even the likelihood—that you may upgrade to the full frame at some point in the foreseeable future. Therefore, if you decide to update the lenses that came with your camera, I suggest going with a full-frame lens.

It is a truth that every manufacturer produces either professional or semi-professional level crop lenses. However, despite the fact that these lenses are of high quality, you will need to change them in order to use full frame. If you invest a little bit more upfront to get a glass that is compatible with full-frame cameras, you will save money in the long run since you won’t have to replace your entire set of lenses when you upgrade to a full-frame camera.

3. Sharpness

It is very evident that sharpness is the topic of all the excitement. Isn’t it? Let me examine the possibility that I purchase the lens with the highest degree of sharpness available. Does that ensure that you’ll always end up with the most outstanding pictures? The correct response is “No.” It will come down to how much of that sharpness I am able to channel into positive action.

There has always been a heated dispute among photographers over which lens is the sharpest. A lens that one photographer finds to be exceptionally sharp could look like rubbish to another photographer.

For instance, if you were to hand-hold a Nikon 300mm f/4 PF ED VR lens for an entire day of photography, the resulting photographs would be superior to those obtained by hand-holding a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 ED VR lens in the same scenario. The latter is unquestionably superior in terms of clarity, bokeh, and the speed and precision of the autofocus system; yet, because of its sheer weight, it is difficult to handhold for extended periods of time.

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Because of this, it is imperative that you consider not just the dimensions of a lens but also its applications in the actual world. There is no guarantee that the sharpest lens is also the best lens. There are other considerations than sharpness that are as important.

The construction quality, the bokeh, the tight focusing distance, the weight, the filter compatibility, and many other effects continue to be crucial. If I had to choose between a lens with “average” clarity and an extraordinarily rapid autofocus speed, I would choose the latter for my wildlife photography.

4. Autofocus

When it comes to autofocus in a lens, there are two aspects that one has to have an understanding of AF accuracy and AF speed.

Permit me to evaluate the sharpness of two lenses that are pretty comparable to one another. The Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR almost matches the sharpness of its more specialized relative, the Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF ED VR prime lens. However, in addition to its lighter weight, the Prime’s faster focusing is one of the things that sets it apart from other cameras.

When photographing birds that are perched, any lens might produce comparable results. When photographing birds in flight, however, a prime lens will almost always produce better results than a zoom. For further information, have a look at the post comparing Prime and Zoom.

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The performance of the autofocus system is, of course, also dependent on the camera. If you attach a lens designed for a professional camera to a camera designed for beginners, the results will not be as expected. But regardless of the camera you choose, in general, you’ll find that specific lenses focus more quickly than others, and taking this into mind is still quite essential.

5. Prime or Zoom?

Prime lenses, which are the only type of lenses that may only have one focal length and do not have the ability to zoom, are the best option when it comes to overall performance. However, many photographers find that zoom lenses are a better option than prime lenses due to the considerations listed below.

  • Regardless of how things look when they are written down, it will take some time for a beginning photographer to recognize, let alone capture, any discrepancies in photos taken in the actual world. In the world of photography, pixel peeping is a skill that requires experience.
  • To get the ideal composition while using primes, “zooming with your feet” is required. This indicates that you will need to either get closer or further away from the subject of your photograph at all times. This extra component with prime lenses can lead to users taking images with a worse quality, which is especially problematic for novices who are already focused on finding the appropriate settings. On the other hand, when you have a zoom lens in your possession, it is much simpler to turn the lens in order to experiment with different compositions.
  • The technology that goes into lenses has seen significant advancement in recent years. Back in the day, the difference between primes and zooms was much larger than it is now. However, a significant portion of that divide has been closed.

6. Weight

Have a look at the picture of the Himalayan blue sheep that’s been provided for you below. Following a long journey of over 10 kilometers, the photograph was taken at an elevation of more than 14,000 feet. It was captured with a Nikon D750 and a set of 200-500 f/5.6 lenses. It is pretty unlikely that I will be able to travel with a Nikon D5 and either a 500mm or a 600mm f/4 lens attached to it. Not to add the weight of an appropriate tripod, which is required for the aforementioned combination. In point of fact, I crave a Nikon Z6 and a 500mm f/5.6 PF ED VR lens rather than what I have.

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Other Lenses

I get the impression that I could construct a list quite similar to this with many different lenses for Nikon, and the list would be practically endless if you considered all of the other manufacturers that are available. The lenses that were discussed before are supposed to serve as illustrations of some types of things that should be considered when purchasing a lens; however, there are many more solid selections available in addition to the six that I described here.

There is a rationale to Nikon’s decision to produce dozens, and maybe even hundreds, of lenses when all of the third-party possibilities are considered. Therefore, choose an approach that is conducive to your success and move forward without looking back.

Conclusion

In this post, I will discuss the majority of the important aspects that one should look for when upgrading from the lenses that came with their camera kit. I will also provide several examples of lenses that have these desirable qualities. Even if there are certain lenses on the market with a greater optical quality, such as Nikon’s “trinity” lenses and prime lenses with an aperture of f/1.4, I wanted to demonstrate that lenses with a lesser price point may still be utilized successfully for photography.

Do you have any recommendations for lenses that photographers shooting with Nikon or other brands should use? In particular, lenses that are available at a modest price while yet providing a good value. In that case, if you could post them to the comments area so that other readers may benefit from them, that would be great.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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