Which Lens Should I buy for my D-SLR?

The beauty of D-SLR is that you can attach a different lens to your camera depending on what and where you’re planning to photograph.

This photo was shot at Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas, with a zoom lens set at 50mm. The image roughly matches what the human eye sees. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some lenses are best suited for landscapes while others are better for birds and animals. There are no hard and fast rules and creative photography is all about breaking them.

Lenses have traditionally been grouped into three basic categories:

  • Normal (or standard)
  • Wide angle
  • Telephoto

Normal or Standard Lens

The 50mm prime lens is called “normal” or “standard” because it produces an image that roughly matches what the human eye sees, and which looks natural to the viewer.

It sits between the telephoto lens and the wide angle lens, which produce unnaturally zoomed-in and zoomed-out images respectively.

Most often in a zoom lens, the range of 35mm to 85mm is considered a normal or standard lens.

A standard lens is really a general purpose lens that works well for landscapes, group photos and other social occasions, portraits, and general use.

Telephoto lenses

This photo of a pair of Royal terns was taken at South Padre Island World Birding Center, Texas with a Canon 100-400 telephoto zoom lens set at 400mm. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Telephoto lenses make distant subjects appear closer; the longer the focal length the greater the magnification.

Telephoto lenses have focal lengths that range from about 85mm (great for portraits) to super-telephoto lenses of 300mm-600mm (lenses in this range are often used by sports and wildlife photographers).

The longer the focal length of a lens, the more difficult that lens will be to handhold.

This is true not only because longer lenses tend to be physically longer and heavier than wide-angle lenses, but also because subtle vibrations and camera shakes are amplified dramatically when using a telephoto lens.

A good rule of thumb is to use a minimum shutter speed equivalent to the focal length—for example, when handholding a 500mm telephoto lens, be sure to set the shutter speed no slower than 1/500th of a second.

Perhaps the most common use for a telephoto lens is to bring otherwise small and distant objects closer, such as wildlife.

Wide-angle lens

The wide-angle lens is the classic landscape lens because the short focal length allows you to capture a very wide angle of the scene in front of you. Wide-angle lenses reach out their wide-open arms to take in a sweeping view.

Think of wide-angle lenses as the opposite of telephoto lenses where you tend to back away from objects. Telephoto lenses tend to flatten depth of field, wide lenses exaggerate it.

This photo was taken “up-close and personal” at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona with a wide angle zoom set at 17mm. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wide-angle scenes can contain many objects at different distances, which helps draws the viewer into the scene.

Contrary to what you might expect, the most important element of your wide-angle landscapes is the foreground. The closer you are to your subject, the more dramatic your images will be. Yes, I mean move right up close and personal.

Include something of interest in the foreground otherwise you will get vast expanses of nothing. This can mean going low to include foreground wildflowers or cacti for example or getting really close to rocks so that you can see the rock grain.

As a result, if your foreground isn’t interesting, your photo won’t be interesting.

When you’re photographing wide, be sure to spend some time looking for the most interesting foreground available to combine with your grand vista.

Wide-angle lenses are good for a range of subjects, including landscapes (especially where you want to elongate spatial relationships), architecture (when you want to create dramatic or slightly distorted shots of exteriors), and in any situation where shooting space is tight.

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

Worth Pondering…

It’s not the size of the lens. It’s how you use it.


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