How to Choose the Lens That's Right for You

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A question we hear often at B&H is, "What lens should I buy?" We may follow up with, "What are you going to shoot with it?" The reason for this is because different lenses are meant for different shooting situations. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a lens (or lenses) for your camera system.

Consider the Focal Lengths

Different focal lengths will render your images differently. Some focal lengths are better suited to specific situations than others. For example:

 If you're shooting portraits in a studio, you might want to consider the equivalent of an 85mm, 70-200mm, 135mm, or 100mm lens. These focal lengths allow your camera to render flat images without any distortion. That means that noses and other parts won't stick out too much.

– For your kids' soccor game you may want some serious zoom power, such as a 55-200mm or 70-300mm lens. Also consider these focal lengths for taking pictures of wildlife.

– If you're taking that first step towards getting real serious about your photography, consider the nifty 50mm F/1.8 lens, or the equivalent. These lenses are also great for walking the streets and taking photos.

– Shooting an event? Consider a 24-70mm, 17-55mm, 35mm, or a 70-200mm. (The latter when the event venue is huge.)

– Many of you probably love taking pictures of flowers. If you're going to do this, you're best off with a macro lens.

Mind Your Shooting Style

Do you like getting up close and personal to your subjects, or do you prefer taking pictures of them from further away? You need to consider this for two reasons. First, the minimum focusing distance varies with different lenses, and secondly, some lenses focus closer than others.

– If you like to work up close to your subject, you may want to get a 24mm, 35mm or 50mm equivalent.

– When you shoot with one focal length, the photos you shoot in the series tend to mesh together easier, because they are all mostly from the same perspective.

– Those that want a variety may consider a zoom lens, such as a 24-70mm or a 70-200mm.

– Photographers that need to work further away should consider 85mm, 100mm, 135mm, 70-200mm, 120-300mm, and 70-300mm lenses. Most people don't use focal lengths beyond those.

– Maybe you want a creative effect. Consider tilt-and-shift lenses, fisheye lenses, lensbabies, etc.

– If you want to be the fly on the wall, be sure to read up on the type of focusing motors that your lens has been constructed with. Some are louder to focus than others.

Apertures are Your Friend

Apertures, also known as f/stops, are overlooked by many consumers. Most people in this market segment tend to just look at the zoom range. What they don't realize is that the relatively small f/stops often associated with most zoom lenses will force them to raise their ISOs, or shoot at a slower shutter speed than they should be.

With this in mind, apertures are extremely important to your exposure. The larger the aperture, the more light will be let into the image, and you'll also be able to get that dreamy background blur that many people love. The photo was was shot with an F/1.4 aperture focusing on the cat's eye. Notice how to rest of the photo is blurry.

The smaller the aperture, the less light will be let into the image, and more of the image will also be in focus.

Think About What You're Shooting

Ruminate about what you're shooting. There are a bunch of questions to consider before you make a lens choice:

– How much light there will be—are you shooting by day or by night? Also will you be indoors or outdoors?

– How much your subjects may be moving around.

– The types of photos you're trying to go for. Do you want to purposely seperate your subjects from the background? Or would you prefer to have everything in focus in order for your photos to have more of a sense of place?

– Do you want to switch out lenses, or just have one that will be able to handle nearly everything?

– How will the lenses work with your camera—will there be a crop factor involved?

– Will you need image stabilization with the specific focal length(s) you are using?

– How close can you realistically get to your subjects?

There's Nothing Wrong with a Backup Plan

Why not have more than one lens with you? The benefits are:

– A better variety of perspectives

– More versatility

– Ideally, a variety of aperture ranges. I usually travel with my 35mm F/1.4 L and 85mm F/1.8.

What is your go to lens? Let us know in the comments below.