5 Tips When Purchasing Your Next Lens

Riveting Riffelsee Reflection in Switzerland

Riveting Riffelsee Reflection in Switzerland

Every photographer has dreamed about his or her next camera gear purchase. The quest to select a new camera lens always begins with eagerness. However, it can quickly become overwhelming as you dive into the details. Whether you buy a new or used camera lens, it is important to spend your hard-earned money on one which complements your current gear. It needs to meet your present needs and set you up for future growth.  Here are five tips to keep in mind when purchasing your next lens.

5 Tips When Buying Your Next Camera Lens

Know Your Camera Lens Needs, Not Your Wants

You may want that beautiful, professional grade lens, but do you need it? Is it worth the expense and the additional weight? Are your current accessories, such as your filters, compatible or will you need new ones? Don’t buy a lens because you think you should own it. Buy a lens because you really need what it offers. Will you be shooting mostly landscape, night, wildlife, or sports photography? Once you know what you are going to photograph, your subject, then you can narrow your lens(es) to the best focal length(s) for the job.

For landscape photography, a wide-angle lens is an essential piece of glass to have in your bag. On the other hand, if your focus is night photography, your priority is a wide-angle lens and a wide aperture. A macro lens moves to the top of your list for insects and flowers. If you are unsure and want to try out different types of photography, it may be advisable to stick with kit lenses until you know your subject.

Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 lens at work in Iceland's Glacier Lagoon

Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 lens at work in Iceland’s Glacier Lagoon

Zoom or Prime Lens

With a focal length selected based on your subject, you may need to decide between a zoom or a prime lens. The advantage of prime lenses is image quality and wider apertures. This allows you to shoot in low light conditions without raising the ISO too high. It also enables super soft backgrounds. For a beginner, it allows you to grow creatively without having to shell out a lot of money on an expensive zoom lens.  However, if you find that you only shoot between f/8 –f/16 with your landscape photography, then a prime lens may not be useful for your purposes.  The clear benefit of zoom lenses is the convenience of having a range of focal lengths to shift from wide-angle to telephoto without having to change lenses.

Brand Name or Third Party Lenses

All the major manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, and Sony make their own lenses. If money is no option, then stick with your respective brand (which means you probably won’t be reading this post anyway). For the rest of us who are budget-minded, sometimes a third-party lens can deliver the same quality at a fraction of the cost. Three of the major third-party brands include Tamron, Sigma, and Tokina. All are well-established and offer a variety of lenses and accessories. Additionally, most third-party brands go the extra mile to make their lenses stand out from the competition. This may result in more variety in the focal lengths or better construction and quality.

Learn the Difference Between APS-C (Crop) and Full-Frame Lenses

Full-Frame vs. APS-C Field of View

Visual comparison between Full-Frame and APS-C’s field of view

Most major manufacturers offer both full-frame and APS-C formats for camera bodies as well as lenses. Be careful when mixing and matching between the two types. Full-frame camera sensors are the standard 35mm format. APS-C stands for Advanced Photos System – Classic, where the camera’s sensor is considerably smaller than the 35mm standard. Think of a full-frame sensor being a large rectangle where this rectangle is the frame of what your camera sees. An APS-C sensor only sees a smaller rectangle within that bigger, full-frame rectangle. The sensor is cropping the standard full-frame image, hence why the APS-C camera sensor is called the “crop sensor.”

In general, full-frame sensors have better image quality, particularly when comparing high ISO performance. The advantage of APS-C lenses, like APS-C cameras, is that they are normally smaller, lighter, and less expensive.  Conversely, full-frame bodies and lenses are normally larger, heavier, and more expensive.

If you want to keep things straightforward and simple, considering purchasing your next lens which matches your camera body type. This eliminates a lot of the confusion. This means selecting an APS-C camera lens to pair with an APS-C camera body and a full-frame lens with a full-frame body.

If your goal is to eventually move to a full-frame camera body, then you have a decision to make. Lenses typically outlast camera bodies. With this in mind, you may want to consider purchasing full frame lenses to use with your APS-C body. In addition, you may not want to invest too much money into APS-C lenses since they may not be compatible with your future full-frame camera body, assuming you remain with the same brand camera. Since camera’s APS-C sensor is smaller, when used with a full-frame lens, the camera is only seeing only a portion of the lens’ image. In other words, you can put a full-frame lens on a APS-C body, but you are only able to take a “cropped” photo. It will look like you zoomed in simply by pairing the APS-C body with a full-frame lens.

Try Before You Buy

Online research is no substitution for testing equipment before you make a purchase. If you want to get the most out of the gear, you need to love it. If your find a lens bulky or too heavy, then you are not going to use it. Renting a lens is the a cost-effective way to test out gear and make an informed decision. If you are between two lenses, renting both to do your own hands-on comparison will help break the tie. If you are brave enough to tally up the total amount spent on all your gear, a weekend lens rental is just a drop in the bucket and worth the satisfaction of knowing that you made the right choice for your situation.

About Author Christina Donadi

I’m a travel, nature and landscape photographer originally from the beautiful Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. After working for several years in the engineering world, I found photography. Now, my life is a constant back and forth between spending time at home with my wonderful husband and Bernese Mountain dog and traveling the globe doing what I love, capturing moments in time that exemplify the beauty of this amazing world.

I believe in continuous improvement and forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone. So I hope that you’ll follow me on my adventures and allow me to share some of the lessons I learn along the way. Safe travels and happy explorations!