How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

Choosing the right camera lens can be a difficult and confusing process. There are so many different types of photography, each with their own unique challenges and photographic requirements.

But don't worry!

In this post we will go over what factors you should consider when choosing a new camera lens for any type of photography. We will be covering sports, weddings, events, portraits, macro, food product and landscapes - determining which lens is best for that style or genre!

By the end of this article, you'll have better idea of how to choose a good camera lens, and most importantly, which one will work best for your needs.

How to choose a good camera lens (1)

How This Article Will Be Structured​

Seeing as you're looking for help with choosing a good photography lens, we're going to include small bits of information (nothing to overwhelm you) of what makes up a camera lens; and why that aspect is important when making your choice.

So this article will be structure as such:

  • Main aspects of a lens (to be aware of)
  • Genre's of photography (and the lenses that are best suited for them)
  • Our recommendations for 'best of'.

We will include videos within the article to help better explain an aspect, when needed.

Let's dive in!

Breakdown Of A Camera Lens​

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

I have included the image above just to show you what the inside of a typical lens looks like.

Not all lenses look or are made up the same - I just thought you would find it interesting (or surprised) about how complex a lens is and what goes into making one.

You can save and reference the photo above, throughout the article if you'd like.

Aperture And Its Importance​

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

Aperture is one of the many key components in a lens - it can determine how much light enters into your camera and ultimately affect the image's exposure.

The aperture is represented by an 'F-stop' (a ratio that indicates its size) which ranges from F/0.95 to F/32 with most lenses having settings between F/2.8 and 22. A lower stop number means a wider opening for more light; while higher numbers mean less light entering through it (letting less details show).

Aperture Isn't Much Different Than The Pupil In Your Eye​

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens
How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

A great way to relate to aperture, are the pupils in your eyes. When you go from outside to inside on a bright sunny day - you squint, and sometimes, have to shut your eyes, until your eyes adjust. Your pupil, while adjusting, are getting smaller to control and manage the bright sunlight. The same can be applied to aperture.

On the opposite end, if you're inside in a bright lit room and walk into another room that's really dark, you can't see anything. You then have to wait for your eyes to adjust. Your pupils are getting larger to allow in more light, and before you know it, you're able to see (if only a little bit).

Aperture And The Iconic 'Bokeh'​

Photography exercises for beginners

Bokeh is described as soft foreground and background blur found in most professional photos. This effect alone is what sets professional photos apart from something like a cell phone - although, cell phones are trying to implement this effect with software (doesn't look nearly as good and natural as a professional camera/lens)

In a nutshell - the lower your aperture number (or larger the opening) - the more bokeh you will have. Distance from you and the subject - and the subject and their background - will determine the intensity of this effect.

Both quality of glass and aperture plan major roles in the lenses cost. The lower your aperture value (bigger the opening), generally equates to a more expensive lens over one that doesn't open as large.

Example: A 50mm lens with a f stop of 1.8 doesn't open as wide as say an f1.4 or f1.2. The f1.8 will be the least expensive, while the f/1.2 will cost the most (and in some cases, thousands of dollars more. I will leave a chart below as a comparison.

Focal Length And How It Effects Your Image​

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

We could go super in depth in the section - but that wouldn't be the point of this article. I'm going to keep this super simple and as easy to absorb as I can.

Focal length will have a direct effect on the way your image looks. Certain focal lengths give certain 'looks' compared to others - and that look can't be achieved with any other focal length.

50mm Landscape Photography

Wide angle lenses will 'strech' your image making everything in the picture seem smaller and much further away than they do in real life. While telephoto lenses compress the foreground and the background to give a more life-like image as a result (most of the time). Keep in mind, there are extremes to either of these ideas.

Meaning - there are ultra-wide lenses on the market like the 12mm Laowa that go to the extreme of width and produce images that look nothing like real life.

The same can be said for super telephoto lenses, such as a 400 or 600mm. While the subject might not look much different than in real life (like a person), It's a much tighter shot and their background will be extremely compressed and will be much larger than it is in real life.

You can use either of these to your advantage for stylized shoots with really awesome effects (but nothing natural, if that's what you're going for).

I have included pictures and a video example to help explain this further.

Are You A Hobbyist Or An Aspiring Professional?​

This is something you may already know - or something you're still toying with and haven't figured out yet.

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens
How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

If you fall in the former - great! If you're in the latter, no worries at all. Take your time, photograph different genres, get your feet wet in all of them if you'd like... the more the better! Determining what you enjoy photographing or filming the most will ultimately determine what you'll stick with and the type of lens you'll need for that genre.

For instance, a wide angle lens is great for landscapes and real estate photography while a telephoto lens (zoom lenses) are great for portraits, wildlife, and so many more. You'll benefit much more with their focal lengths that someone shooting real estate, for instance.

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

While a telephoto lens and a wide angles lens can be used in either of those scenarios (even though they aren't the best) - macro photography is in a league of it's own and requires special lenses and very low aperture (among a lot of other aspects, like powerful lighting and a tripod most of the time...).

I'm sure you can see the importance of determining what you'll be shooting the most. Once you've made a choice, you can move forward in choosing the lens that works best in that genre.

Sports Photography And Videography Lens (Telephoto Lenses)​

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

Sports photography is tricky. You're shooting fast moving subjects from a great distance (most of the time). It's important to choose a lens that will give you the most versatility in regards to aperture and focal length when shooting.

A 100-400mm f/focal range is ideal for sports photography as it'll allow you to shoot from far away without sacrificing too much quality or bokeh (the aesthetic blur, which can be used creatively).

The key to sports photography is knowing your lens before you start shooting. It's also imperative that you know how far away from the subject you want to stand in order for them not move too much when they're running or playing their game of choice.

Sports and Wildlife photography/videography is some of the most difficult to shoot and takes a significant time to master. So if shooting football, soccer, hockey, etcetera... be patient and enjoy the journey

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens
Photo Title Price Buy
Canon EF 100-400mm...image Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM $2,399.84
Sony FE 100-400mm...image Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5–5.6 GM OSS $2,398.00
Nikon AF-S FX...image Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 80-400mm f.4.5-5.6G ED for Nikon $2,296.95

A Good Camera Lens For Events​

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

Events can be tricky. The most important thing about filming or photographing events is - knowing the location/venue. We're talking size of the space, how many people will be there, will it be indoors or outdoors, will it be during the day or night... You get the idea.

Once you have all of that information - you can move forward with making a lens choice for that specific event.

Now, we do recommend a few 'event lenses' that can be used during any event... These would be zoom lenses.

A lens with a focal length of about 24-70mm is recommended. The widest end (24mm) will give you the most amount of background, and zooming in to 70mm gives you an excellent close up shot for portraits or detail shots.

When shooting indoors... make sure that if possible - you set you camera to a slow shutter speed. This is because there's not going to be as much light coming in from outside sources. Using a faster lens (low 'f stop') can help combat this problem and allow you higher shutter speeds.

If it's outdoors then anything around 16-35 would work great! Again, we're talking about zoom lenses here so choose accordingly when buying one for events/weddings/etcetera...

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens
Photo Title Price Buy
Canon EF 24-70mm...image Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens $1,899.00
Nikon AF-S FX...image Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED for Nikon DSLR Cameras $1,596.95
Sony SEL2470GM E-Mount...image Sony SEL2470GM E-Mount Camera Lens: FE 24-70 mm F2.8 G Master $1,998.00
Sony 24-70mm f/4...image Sony 24-70mm f/4 Vario-Tessar T FE OSS
NIKON NIKKOR Z...image NIKON NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S for Nikon Z Mirrorless Cameras $996.95

A Good Camera Lens For Weddings​

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

Weddings are hectic, to say the least. We (as a photography company) have only done a handful of weddings and found they weren't for us. Maybe we happened to get unlucky with the clients that we had - but we just didn't enjoy it - regardless if the photos came out amazing (which they did).

But, if this is a genre you're thinking about (or are already in) - that's great! You can make an amazing living, travel, meet great people... the list goes on...

Now, as far as a lens... We used (and tons of other photographers/videographers) 4 lenses for weddings. This included a 16-35mm, a 24-70mm, and a 70-200m. The final was a prime lens, an 85mm (sometimes a 135mm if we knew we could use it.

I'm sure you see the trend in that recommendation. All three zooms covers every single focal length from 24mm to 200mm. All of which are f/2.8. You can purchase less expensive f/4 versions - but be aware that pictures/video will be a little harder to take indoors and/or at night.

The versatility of the zoom trio (16-35, 24-70, 70-200mm) is unmatched in the weddings industry - and is a staple for most successful wedding photographers. There isn't much you won't be prepared for with those 4 lenses.

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

Choosing A Good Lens For Portrait Photography​

looking amazing in pictures

I'll tell you right now, portrait work is our bread and butter. It's what we do on a daily basis. We love everything from meeting new people and building relationships, to editing different styles and looks depending on the clients needs. From a creative perspective, there isn't many other genre's of photography that allows a client to be whoever they want to be that day... we absolutely love what we do!

Now, choosing a good camera lens for portrait photography is a little trickier than some of the other genre's we've discussed thus far.

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

One one hand you have a zoom lens that can hit multiple focal lengths and adds that versatility. One the flip side, you have prime lenses that, while do not allow you to zoom, the maximum aperture (wide open) is much greater, allowing more light, more bokeh and subject-to-background separation.

Let's break this down a little more.

Prime Vs. Zoom Lens For Portraits​

Best Camera Settings for Indoor Photography No Flash

For starters, we rarely take portraits with a zoom lens. For one, the results from a zoom lens compared to prime lenses is quite noticeable at times.

You'll have softer images from a zoom and sharper images from prime lenses. Your maximum aperture (opening) is also lower on a zoom compared to a prime (typically zooms only go to f/2.8 - while primes can go as low as f/1.2 or even f/0.95).

On the other hand, a zoom lens give you multiple focal lengths in the same lens, while a prime is a fixed focal length. From a cost perspective, a zoom less is more cost effective (a 24-70mm is 3 main prime lenses in one: 24mm, 35mm, 50mm)

Photo Title Price Buy
Canon EF 50mm...image Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Standard and Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras, Fixed $399.00
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR...image Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G Lens + Acessory Bundle and Cleaning Kit $440.95
Sony FE 85mm...image Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens $1,698.00
Nikon AF-S FX...image Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras $1,596.95
Sigma 85mm f/1.4...image Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon EF Cameras + Sigma USB Dock with Altura Photo Advanced Accessory and Travel Bundle $1,099.00
Canon EF 135mm...image Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens for Canon SLR Cameras - Fixed, Black - 2520A004 $719.99
Sigma 135mm f/1.8...image Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens for Nikon F $1,128.00
Sony FE 135mm...image Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM Lens $1,695.95
Sigma 135mm F1.8...image Sigma 135mm F1.8 DG HSM Art Lens for Sony E (Bundle) $1,399.00

What you should keep in mind when deciding between a zoom and a prime

First off, there is nothing wrong with taking portraits, either professionally or as a hobby, with either one of these types of lenses. Both of them have their pros and cons - much like anything in life.

This decision is obviously up to you. You you value versatility and multiple focal lengths over bokeh and low light performance? Or would you be ok with a fixed focal length and love that buttery bokeh and background separation you get from say a 135mm f/1.8.

As for what we recommend - in terms of primes - a 50mm, 85mm, 135mm, or 200mm (very steep in price). Your f-stop will determine both the cost and quality.

As for zooms - we would recommend the 70-200mm (f/2.8). This will hit all of the focal lengths mentioned above, but will ~2 stops less light.

Best Camera Lens For Beach Photography

Macro Photography And Lenses​

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

Macro lenses are quite versatile when you look at them from just a lens perspective.

For starters, these are strictly prime lenses. Their focal length ranges from ~24mm all the way up to 100mm. The difference in focal length determines how away from the subject (insect, miniature figure, water droplet, etc.) you can be when photographing them. Generally speaking, the further you are away from the, the better. You don't want to be too close as to scare them when trying to setup your shot.

As with most prime lenses, aperture values go pretty low, letting in a greater deal of light. This is very important, as the further you macro (or magnify) a certain area of an object, the less light you're able to absorb without flash. You may get to a point where flash is the only option to photograph certain subjects in macro.

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

Macro lenses also make for pretty good portrait lenses too. The distance from you to the subject doesn't affect what the lens is able to do - So if they're further away than macro (distance of a normal portrait) - you get the same results as you would from a lens of that focal length.

While some consider macro lenses to fall in the 'specialty lenses' space - their reason for use is somewhat specialty - but it can be used for so many things, not just macro.

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens
How To Choose A Good Camera Lens
How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

We've always recommended the Laowa 100mm Macro for it's quality and affordability. It's manual focus only - so if you aren't into that - we recommend your lens manufacturers native auto focusing macro. I'll include those below as well.

Good Camera Lens For Food Photography​

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

Food photography (much like any other photography) - can be as complex as you want to make it. Everything from lighting, camera angle, lens choice... all play a role in the final result.

With that being said, we only use one lens for food photography. Yes, one. It's a 50mm. Why do we use a 50mm for food photography? Well, it's been perfect for every look and setting we've been in thus far.

When shooting with a 'longer' or no wide angle lens, you biggest enemy (especially when indoors, is space). The longer your focal length, the more space you're going to need between yourself and the subject.

Since shooting food for various local businesses, we haven't had a single issue with needing more room to photograph their products. If you find yourself needing more room, find it...

Because 50mm is a great focal length for capturing images very close to what they look like to your eye. We don't recommend focal lengths below 50mm (the further away, the more you lose the natural look) - and not many focal lengths above, again, because of space requirements.

We have included both entry and pro level 50mm prime lenses, below.

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens
Photo Title Price Buy
Canon EF 50mm...image Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM $158.96
Sony - FE...image Sony - FE 50mm F1.8
Nikon AF-S FX...image Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens for Nikon DSLR Cameras $249.00
NIKON NIKKOR Z...image NIKON NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S for Nikon Z Mirrorless Cameras $2,099.99
Canon EF 50mm...image Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM $1,760.45
Sony FE 50mm...image Sony FE 50mm F1.2 GM (currently out of stock) $1,998.00

Product Photography/Videography (B-Roll)​

I used to recommend a macro lens for product photography. For the ability to capture all of the details about a product. But honestly, people don't really care to see super close or the small minute textures of a product.

For the last 3+ years we have been using a 24-70mm. This is for the versatility and ability to change focal lengths without having to change the lens - or move the tripod when reframing.

Generally speaking, we stay between 50 and 70mm when shooting all products. Rarely do we go below that (possibly in portrait mode when shooting something tall in a lightbox).

This allows for a smoother and faster workflow and very similar images in terms of quality.

It's also a great focal range for taking shots/B-roll of products in a 'lifestyle' situation. Lifestyle product sessions are more and more common these days (because of social media advertising) - and a 24-70mm is outstanding in this aspect.

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens
Photo Title Price Buy
Canon EF 24-70mm...image Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens $1,899.00
Nikon AF-S FX...image Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED for Nikon DSLR Cameras $1,596.95
Sony SEL2470GM E-Mount...image Sony SEL2470GM E-Mount Camera Lens: FE 24-70 mm F2.8 G Master $1,998.00
Sony 24-70mm f/4...image Sony 24-70mm f/4 Vario-Tessar T FE OSS
NIKON NIKKOR Z...image NIKON NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S for Nikon Z Mirrorless Cameras $996.95

Landscape Photography Lens (Wide Angle Lens)​

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

There are many options when it comes to landscapes and the lens of choice. But, there's one that trumps them all - the 16-35mm.

This is a wide angle lens with a 19mm focal difference from end to end. That's the difference between ultra wide angle lenses and somewhat 'normal'. This is packed in a single lens.

This lens is perfect for landscapes because it offers a wide field of view. Not only can you capture expansive vistas, but also the foreground details that would otherwise be missed with shorter lenses. The downside to this is distortion - straight lines will appear curved when they converge on the horizon line and vice versa. This should not discourage anyone from using this lens as landscape photography gear though!

Related article: 50mm Landscape Photography

Countless (literally) landscape pictures and video have been taken with this focal length. There's a reason behind that. It's pretty simple. It works, and it works really well.

How To Choose A Good Camera Lens

If We Had To Pick One...​

If we had to pick one lens out of everything on the market as a good camera lens... hmmm. It's a little tough.

We would want something that would hit a lot of the common focal ranges needed - with a low aperture and good quality. If we were to choose one...

It would be a 24-70mm f/2.8

Regarded as one of the most versatile lenses on the planet... there's a reason for that. It's a fantastic focal range and it the aperture range is respectable. This is the reason lens manufacturers has made their own versions. They know it's a great focal range and create what the market demands!

Best Camera Lens For Beach Photography

So, Let's Wrap This Up!​

To conclude - choosing a good camera lens comes down to a couple things. These include:

  • What you plan on shooting
  • Your budget

Once you have made a choice on both of those aspects, you can move forward and apply the recommendations that you read above. By the end of it all - you'll have chosen the best camera lens that works for you!

We really hope you have learned a thing or two and know what it take to choose a good camera lens that works for you needs.

If you'd like to follow us - you can! You'll find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

You can also learn a little more about us and what makes us love what we do, so much.

Until next time, be safe, and keep creating!

Sincerely,

JnR

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell the quality of a camera lens?

There are a few ways. You can find reviews online and choose to trust their judgement. You can also find various site owners that upload images taken with that lens, and look at them from there. You can also rent the lenses/gear that you're curious of, and test those out yourself!

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50mm lens means, technically, that the convergence point (where all light meets) within your lens is 50mm away from the sensor itself. It's that simple. This is referred to focal length. Other focal lengths will change the look of your photos.

What lens should I buy as a beginner?

If you bought a camera new - it should have come with a kit lens. Use that for a good bit until you get used to the basics/fundamentals of photography. From there I would recommend a 50mm prime lens. They're inexpensive and offer a much different 'flow' to photography/video. That, and, it's a prime lens!

What are 18 55mm lenses good for?

Getting used to photo/video and practicing. That's it. You can take great video and photos with it... but you shouldn't expect to get 'professional level' photos out of something of its quality.

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