All About the Glass: Choosing a Camera Lens

One major advantage of using a DSLR camera is that you can change your lens. Lens choice makes a huge difference in the quality of your final image.
a good lens on a mediocre camera will yield a better photo
than a mediocre lens on a professional camera”


Upgrading the kit lens that comes with your camera is a great investment. But where to begin? Let’s walk through the variables.

There are two types of lenses: Prime and Zoom.

Prime Lenses have one focal length, which describes both the length of the lens and the field of view that lens produces.

Wide angle lenses, like a 24mm, provide a wide swath of view. Medium lenses are more selective and are between 35mm and 70 mm. A Macro lens (100mm or higher) magnifies and brings fine details into focus.

Here is a comparison of focal lengths with the subject and camera at the same distance. This will give you an idea of the different perspective for each lens.

Focal Length Comparison 900px


Lens Speed

With prime lenses, the photographer composes the shot by physically moving toward or away from the subject.

Zoom Lenses have a range of focal lengths. The advantage here is that the photographer can quickly recompose the shot by simply zooming in our out with the lens.

Lenses also have a speed, which ranges from Very Fast (f/1.8), Fast (f/2.8) Slow (f/5.6).

The speed of the lens equates to the lowest possible aperture – the setting which controls maximum Depth of Field. Higher numbers mean less shallow depths of field. Lower numbers equal a wider aperture which means more light hitting the subject.

Depth of Field ComparisonFast lenses are great for low light situations and produce beautiful bokeh, that beautiful, smooth blur and selective focus.

Many zoom lenses, particularly entry level models, are slower lenses, less suitable for low light and less able to produce the blurred background many people are looking for.

Most consumer level lenses begin at f/2.8 which is plenty fast and shallow for most applications. (Learn more about The Exposure Triangle)

Lenses vary widely in terms of cost and value. In general, prime lenses are less expensive for better quality. Good quality, fast zoom lenses can get spendy in a hurry.

For many years, I worked with several prime lenses and added my biggest splurge purchase yet (besides my camera body) – a Canon 24mm-70mm f/2.8. I love this lens ๐Ÿ™‚

Lenses | Cheese Photography 101

The 24-70 is a BEAST to lug around – it’s that tower at the top of the photo. The versatility of going wide and drawing close in an instant along with sharp and quick autofocus make it worth the extra effort if there are photo-worthy opportunities.

This is NOT the lens to take on a hike or even a long day at the zoo or amusement park. Trust me, your back will thank you.

A good lens that is well cared for lasts many years. You can even get converter rings to make Nikon lenses compatible with Canon bodies and vice versa. That 100mm is one of my most used lenses, amazing for detail.

Tilt Shift LensThe Lens Baby on the bottom left is my most recent purchases. It’s a tilt shift lens which means you can change the point of focus based on the way the lens is tilted. It’s great for a real dreamy or surreal effect and to focus the viewers attention right where you want it. I’ve also found it adds a great negative space for text. It’s not for everyone, but there is a very unique perspective to the shots.

The next lens on my list is a Canon 70mm-200mm telephoto lens which I tried recently on the Chester County Cheese trip. It allowed me to stand at a distance and capture incredible animal shots from afar.

I highly recommend trying out a lens – or even a camera – before you invest in it. You can rent lenses and camera bodies and a host of other gear for a few days or weeks. Take it for a test spin or upgrade your kit for a special photo shoot. If you’re renting, don’t be afraid to try less known brands like Sigma and Tokina. You can often find some great value on good glass.

I’ve used Borrow Lenses for years to add extra lenses and gear to my kit when doing photo or video work for clients, starting on the Oregon Cheese Trail Video Series.

Full Disclosure: I’m a Borrow Lenses affiliate and get a small commission through rentals from this link – those commissions help fund these posts ๐Ÿ™‚ I never recommend any product or service I do not use myself. It’s an awesome way to try out new gear.

My Lens recommend is to get the best lens you can afford AND that you’re willing to use. It’s like fine china, if you are going to have it and be afraid to use it, then what’s the point.


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