Choosing Camera Lenses

The camera lens is as important to photography as the camera itself. Image quality depends on a lens's resolving power, sharpness, chromatic distortion, and optical qualities. Fortunately, lens design, the availability of quality optics, and robotic manufacturing techniques enhance the performance of kit and budget-priced lenses. The quality is not far behind that of professional camera lenses.


Camera Lens Formats and Sizes

The number and variety of lenses on the market can be confusing, especially as many lenses for one type of camera aren't compatible with other cameras. To choose the right lens for your camera, you need to know:

  • Your camera's lens mount
  • Sensor size (full frame or cropped)
  • Whether the camera is a mirrorless or DSLR

Fortunately, manufacturers code their cameras and lenses. For example, Canon uses the EOS EF mount lenses on its full-frame cameras and EF-S lenses on its APS-C DSLRs. It uses the RF mount for full-frame mirrorless cameras and the M mount on compact mirrorless cameras. While Canon EF lenses fit EF-S cameras, you need a mount adapter for Canon mirrorless cameras. Similarly, Sony E-mount lenses fit Sony APS-C mirrorless cameras, while FE mount lenses fit full-frame and APS-C mirrorless cameras. There are many other variations, so take time to get it right, or seek advice.

Digital Camera Lenses

Most cameras have a kit lens that zooms from wide angle to medium telephoto. Consider other lenses, such as ultra wide-angle lenses for landscapes, superzoom lenses, and telephoto zoom lenses for sports and wildlife, to add to your lens collection. Prime (fixed focus) lenses offer excellent optical quality. Their wide, maximum aperture makes them ideal for portraits, macro photography, and wildlife. Weight and size are another consideration. DSLR lenses can be relatively large and heavy, while the shorter flange distance of mirrorless system lenses allows for smaller and lighter lenses.

Professional Camera Lenses

Most manufacturers offer advanced lenses intended for professional photography. Examples include Canon L, Sony G Master, and Sigma Art lenses. Another option for professional photography is medium format lenses and cameras. These have large, high-megapixel sensors or film backs offering higher definition and quality.

Digital cameras produce excellent HD and 4K video. Many professional videographers prefer digital cinema lenses to standard photographic lenses because of the ability to manually control focus and aperture. These cine lenses are available in most popular DSLR and mirrorless mounts as well as with professional PL film and video mounts. Some videographers use anamorphic lenses. They compress the 2.39:1 wide-screen aspect ratio into a standard full-frame 35mm film sensor, capturing the maximum level of detail.

Specialty Lenses

Specialty lenses deliberately distort perspectives to create unique effects. For example, a Lensbaby tilt-and-shift lens allows you to correct vertical and horizontal perspective and change the focal plane. Other special effects lenses include fish-eye lenses that capture full 180 degrees, soft focus lenses for portraiture, and lenses with unusual bokeh effects.