Building a D-SLR System

The camera is only part of the equation when it comes to image quality.

The primary advantage of a zoom is that it is easier to achieve a variety of compositions or perspectives since a change of lens is not necessary. Photo above is Southern Okanagan landscape, British Columbia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cameras get all the attention, especially from first time buyers. Your D-SLR is only as good as the lens you mount on it.

Many aspiring photographers spend large amounts of money on the latest camera, only to use the kit lenses that came boxed with the camera.

There can be a big difference between a high-end lens and a kit lens in terms of image quality. In many ways, the glass you place on the front of that super D-SLR is more important than the camera itself.

Most advanced photographers end up spending a lot more on lenses than they do on a camera body. It would be foolish to purchase a $2,000 D-SLR camera and then use a $150 kit zoom lens with it.

Since the best lenses make the best images you need to balance your budget between the camera and lenses you buy.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II (Source:

I strongly advise D-SLR buyers to purchase the best quality lenses that they can afford.

The best camera in the world is only as good as the glass you hang on its front end.

So how do you select the perfect new lens for your D-SLR camera system?

There’s a lot to consider when weighing a lens purchase, not the least of which are those technical specifications. Even more, though, you’ve got to interpret those specs to figure out which ones are most important to you.

Lenses are the eyes through which your camera sees the world. You can change the way your camera sees simply by changing lenses or by changing your zoom setting.

The first consideration is whether the focal length is fixed or variable.

There are two general lens types:

  • Prime lenses
  • Zoom lenses

Prime lenses have a fixed focal length—the focal length is constant. Common primes are 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 80mm, and 105mm, though they can be literally any focal length.

In a zoom lens the variable focal length can be changed within a pre-defined range.

Which is better? A zoom lens will give you more versatility; it is also cheaper than buying many different prime lenses.

Why would one intentionally restrict their options by using a prime lens?

Prime lenses existed long before zoom lenses were available, and still offer many advantages over their more modern counterparts.

Why wouldn’t everyone always want zooms? Because fitting a wide-ranging zoom into a single-lens body is a feat of engineering. This sometimes means compromises must be made to maximum apertures, focusing speed, optical quality, and/or price. That’s not to say they’re not great lenses; there’s just always a trade-off.

Conversely, the trade-off for working with a usually faster prime lens is that you have to own more lenses, at more expense and weight, and take the time to change them while shooting if you want to cover a greater focal range.

The primary advantage of a zoom is that it is easier to achieve a variety of compositions or perspectives since a change of lens is not necessary.

Keep in mind that using a zoom lens does not necessarily mean that you no longer have to change lenses; zooms simply increase flexibility.

Generally speaking, prime lenses are superior to zoom lenses when it comes to clarity and speed, but not necessarily cost.

Zoom telephoto lenses conveniently cover multiple focal lengths and are very cost effective. However, they tend to sacrifice a bit in picture quality.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens is one of five and the most prominent lenses in the Canon’s telephoto zoom lens lineup and is suitable for portrait, travel, outdoor, general wildlife, and sports photography. (Source:

Deciding which lens to purchase becomes a complex trade-off between cost, size, weight, lens speed, and image quality.

The best advice anyone can give is to buy the best lens you can afford, you will change your camera more often than you will change a good lens, and to research the lens in question as thoroughly as possible.

Please Note: This is the ninth in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

I look at life outside of the lens and capture the world through it.

—Thomas Robinson

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