How to choose which Camera Lenses to Purchase

Determining which lenses to purchase can seem like a daunting task in regard to the abundance of options available today. But with a bit of planning and research, the buying process can easily be simplified. I’ve broken down the selection process into five individual categories and questions that’ll help determine the right lenses for you.

What’s the Primary Use?

What’s the primary use going to be for your new lens? Will it be for astro or macro photography or will it be used for capturing sweeping ultra-wide landscape vistas? Whatever the case may be, identifying the exact purpose for your new lens will certainly point you in the right direction as you begin to refine and narrow down your available lens choices.

Wide angle lens example from Southwest US

Wide angle lens example from Southwest US

Focal Length

This might be the single most important decision to make when selecting which lens to purchase. It also goes hand-in-hand with identifying the primary purpose. If the primary use for the new addition is astro photography, then you’ll want to go with a wide or ultra-wide focal length such as a 16-35mm. If you plan on using your new lens to isolate distant subjects and compress elements of your scene, you’ll want to select a much longer focal length such as a 70-200mm or 135-300mm. And, if you’re looking for the flexibility of both, you’ll want to focus your attention on a mid-range zoom lens with a focal length of 24-70mm or something similar.  

Telephoto Lens example

Telephoto Lens example

Prime or Zoom?

Are you looking for the flexibility that comes with having a zoom lens or are you looking for a fixed focal length prime lens? Typically, prime lenses are somewhat less expensive, sharper, and generally weigh less. Zoom lenses, on the other hand, come with a higher cost and usually weigh more but, most importantly, provide you with the flexibility to zoom in and out of your frame to refine your composition. When using prime lenses, you can always “zoom” with your feet by moving a few steps closer or further back from your subject. But in certain situations, you could quite literally be on the edge and not have the flexibility to move any closer to your subject. In this situation, a zoom lens is invaluable.  

Autumn Waterfalls

What about Aperture of your camera lens?

Determining the desired aperture of your new camera lens is a similar process as identifying its main use case. If you don’t plan on shooting in low light conditions than you might not require a “fast” lens (a lens with a super wide aperture, such as f/1.4 or f/1.8). If you’re searching for a longer lens (70-200mm) that you plan on using for daytime landscape photography only, then you might forego the more expensive and heavier f/2.8 version and select the f/4.

Or maybe the primary function of your new lens is for macro photography and you want the ability to create a shallow depth of field. For this you’ll want a lens with as wide an aperture as possible to achieve this look.

Nevertheless, identifying the required aperture range that’ll help you achieve the primary use of your new lens is an all-important step in the purchasing process.  

Macro Lens photo from Maui, Hawaii

Macro Lens photo from Maui, Hawaii

Size, Weight, and Price

When it comes to outdoor and landscape photography, size and weight of your equipment can impact your overall enjoyment while on-location. Rarely do we drive up and park at a location and begin shooting. Typically, there’s a fair amount of hiking involved to get to the locations we have planned. Being cognizant of the amount of gear we’re lugging around is crucial. My advice here is, if you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you don’t require the additional stop of light, then don’t buy it as it always results in a heavier and more expensive camera lens. If you can get away with a 50mm prime lens as opposed to a 24-70mm zoom lens and still achieve your desired results, go with it. It’ll certainly save you room in your pack, pounds on your back, and dollars in your pocket.  

Telephoto Lens in my Camera Bag

Telephoto Lens in my Camera Bag

Purchasing new camera gear can be an exciting time. I personally love the research process associated with determining the best equipment for the job. There isn’t anything cheap when it comes to photography gear. Applying a bit of research to any new gear acquisition can certainly aid in the overall success of your purchase not only from a monetary perspective, but also from an execution and results standpoint as well. 

About Author Mark Denney

Hi there! Mark Denney here - I’m a North Carolina based outdoor and landscape photographer. My affection for travel, photography and the great outdoors is something thats matured over the past six years. I’ve always been fascinated with camera technology, but the art of photography was something that escaped me until 2012. This is when I discovered the calming zen like meditation that is landscape photography. I’m a naturally anxious person and photography provided me with a channel to encourage patience and a means to slow down. I’ll never forget the tranquil feeling I experienced during my initial attempt at landscape photography. I remember arriving early to my location, setting up my composition and waiting for the setting sun - this was the moment I began to realize what my passion was. The transition time between setting up my shot and waiting for the “good light” to arrive is still meaningful to me as it creates a captive audience within myself and provides ample time to reflect and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us all. Outside of the technical and creative aspect of photography, I enjoy teaching the storytelling ability of photographs and encouraging others to not focus solely on the the end result, but to appreciate the overall photographic experience.