Today’s post on picking the right camera lens and photography accessories is a part of my series of photography tips. Thus far I have covered a number of topics, including depth of field and composition techniques, to name but a few.
Whilst every article can be read on its own, I’d recommend you give the others a look through to have a more complete understanding of various photography topics, so you can start taking better photos.
Today I’m going to cover the subject of photography accessories that you should consider investing in, as well as tips on advice on picking the right camera lens for your photography, which is where we’re going to start.
How to Pick a Camera Lens
1. Lens Terminology
Before you can pick a camera lens, you are going to need to understand a few bits of lens terminology. These can seem a bit confusing, but worry not, we’ll try and make them obvious.
There are two main features of a lens, it’s focal length, and it’s aperture.
Focal length is a number measured in mm, and essentially describes the magnification the lens offers. The bigger the number, the more the magnification. As a rule of thumb, around 35mm – 50mm is normal human vision. Anything more than that will make things seem closer, and anything smaller than that will make them seem further away.
Some lenses have a variable focal length, which means you can zoom in and out. For example. a 24-70mm lens will let you adjust its focal length from 24mm (wide angle) to 70mm (zoomed in).
The aperture of the lens is the physical hole in the lens that lets the light in. This is a hole that can be made larger or smaller, to let more or less light in.
The maximum size of this hole is an important number, because a lens that lets more light in tends to be more desirably. As such, lenses are sold with the maximum aperture clearly marked.
Aperture is denoted as an “f” number, and the smaller the “f” number, the wider the aperture. For example, an f/1.8 lens will let more light in than an f/5.6 lens.
Aperture is an important tool for composition, and allows us to control depth of field. You can read all about controlling depth of field here.
2. Which Camera Lens do you Need?
If you have a point and shoot camera, your lens choice is probably not much greater than that which came with your camera. If, on the other hand, you have a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, then your options suddenly become very expansive indeed.
What I would suggest is that you consider the sort of photography you are likely to be doing, your budget, how you use your camera and what you are willing to carry.
The beach at Francois Peron National Park. Landscape photography often needs a wider angle lens to get everything in shot.
If you do a lot of landscape photography, then a dedicated wide angle lens would certainly be a wise investment. A wide angle lens is anything wide than 35mm, and these generally range from 10mm to 35mm.
Conversely, for a lot of portrait photography, a prime lens with an aperture that will open up nice and wide will let you have great control over your depth of field. A prime lens is one with no zoom, i.e. the focal length is fixed.
You would want a prime lens with an aperture bewteen f/1.2 and f/2.8 for the best portrait shots, and for portrait work, the general focal length should be between 70mm and 120mm.
Nature photographers would probably want something that provides them with a long focal length for far away shots – something from 100mm to 400mm would usually be the range to look at.
So decide what you are likely to be shooting, and get a lens appropriate for that. Remember that it is likely to be a long term investment, so don’t skimp too much if you can afford it. The kit lens that comes with your camera is probably a great place to start from, and if you find that it is hampering your style, start to think about upgrading.
A bird on a branch near Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula. If I had a proper telephoto lens at the time of taking the shot I would have been able to get a much clearer shot of this little chap, instead of the slightly noisy crop of a much larger shot that I am showing here.
And here are some boobies shot at 210mm on a proper telephoto lens, no cropping required.
Whilst on the subject of lenses: I’d always recommend you get a filter for the end. Even if it’s just a clear filter, it will protect the expensive glass on your lens from minor scratches and is a lot cheaper to replace than a whole lens if damaged.
When buying, you just need to check the size of your lens, and buy an appropriate filter to match. Lenses come in all sorts of widths, so be prepared to have to buy filters to match each lens you have.
A final thought on lenses. More expensive kit does not necessarily lead to better images. Composition and practice are more likely to result in images that you are happier with than an expensive bit of glass – to start with the lens that comes with your camera (most come with a kit lens) will more than likely tide you over for a while.
However, once you have mastered the basics, and you feel that the equipment is really holding you back from shooting how you want to, or isn’t letting you get close up or wide enough for your favourite type of shots, then do your research, set yourself a budget, and go for it.
1. Spare battery and memory
I would advise that at least one spare battery and spare memory card are essential accessories. Running out of battery life half way through a trip is a hassle that can be easily avoided, much the same with memory card.
2. A camera bag
A decent bag is also a good investment. It will protect your camera from knocks and scrapes, and give you room to carry around all your lenses and other gear that you may accumulate. When buying, work out what you are likely to be carrying in terms of gear, and buy something that will fit everything in cosily.
A tripod is another invaluable accessory for photography (read why here). Sometimes there just won’t be enough light to take photos with, or a convenient rock to balance the camera on.
Even when there is plenty of light to work with, a tripod will still reduce any blur resulting from hand shake, and deliver crisper, sharper images. Plus it will let you take the same scene multiple times, perhaps for composing an HDR shot, or achieving interesting effects in post processing.
4. Remote switch
One other accessory I find useful for certain shots is a remote switch for the camera. This lets me take pictures without having to depress the shutter, which is useful for two reasons.
First, the action of depressing the shutter release button can cause movement, even when mounted on a tripod. This is especially the case for longer exposures.
Second, taking shots that require exposures longer than 30 seconds, the BULB setting on my particular camera, are not possible without a remote. So those long exposure night time shots wouldn’t work quite so well.
5. The Manual
I know. Manuals aren’t amazing fireside reads. They are often weighty tomes filled with obscure technical information. The thing is, modern digital cameras can be pretty complex beasts. Sure, you can stick them on automatic and let them do everything for you, but it won’t be long before you want to get underneath the skin and start editing settings to see if you can’t improve your shots.
The manual is the place where you will find out what all those dials and buttons and settings actually mean, and how you can use them to improve what you are doing. So find a moment, and take a bit of time to get acquainted with the kit you have bought.
Wrecked ship on the beach of Fraser Island. This shot was deliberately over exposed to wash out the sea and sand, leaving just ship. Most cameras can over and underexpose – and the manual will tell you how.