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DSLR Lens Selection

NOTE: The contents of this article has been superceeded by the more complete DSLR Lens Buying Guide.

A quick look at available lenses shows that there are far more lenses to chose from than DSLR cameras, yet there is a lot less information about them. Most people know by now that kit lenses only get you so far, if anywhere at all. Here we discuss how to create a personalized set of lens. Remember, those are not the only possibilities, so feel free to adapt those to your needs.

Remember that photographs are taken by a whole camera system, including the photographer. A weak link negatively affects the end-result. A poor camera, a poor lens or poor photography skills all result in disappointing pictures. The most frequent mistake of first-time DSLR buyers is to spend most of their budget on a camera body and then buy the only lens that still fits the budget - or worst, the kit lens. The first rule for choosing lenses is to allocate enough money. As it goes for choosing a digital camera, the two most important things to consider are your subjects and your medium.

Lets start with the practical. How frequently are you willing to change lenses? Are willing to do it in the field? The less you are willing to change lenses on location, the more generic your chosen lens will have to be. This often results in some compromise on image quality or versatility. One who does not want to change lenses, should not get more than one. Having too many lenses results in many of them left behind.

Are weight and size important? Too heavy lenses often end-up left behind too. The second rule is to think of how many lenses are you willing to have. Even without a single heavy lens, choosing too many results in higher total weight in the field. Bulk may be equally important for certain environments. Watch out, based on your needs, you may have to exceed the number of lenses you want to have.

Pentax 16-45 F4

Next comes the needs. Needs vary in terms of angle of view, maximum aperture and other features like stabilization, tilt-shift, magnification and focus distance projection. Angle-of-view requirements translate into different focal lengths due to different sensor sizes. Examples here are quoted for the most common crop factors of 1.5 or 1.6. The equivalent need for full-frame DSLR cameras is noted as a tool-tip.

Think about the widest and narrowest angle desired angle of view. This is a personal choice. Some people always want a wider angle-of-view and some people always want to zoom further. If you already have a DSLR and lens, think about how often you are at the widest setting and wished to go wider because you cannot back up further. How about at the long end, how often do you feel the need to get closer? With a 1.5 crop, wide-angle requires 19 mmRoughly equivalent to 28 mm in 35 mm terms or less. Lenses starting from between 24 and 28 mmEquivalent to between 36 and 42 are mostly satisfactory. Ideally, portrait are taken with an 60 to 80 mm lensFrom 90 to 120 in 35 mm equivalence. Distant subjects and wildlife are easier to photograph with 200+ lenses.

Lenses also vary according to maximum aperture. A wider aperture means less depth-of-fieldConsequently a more blurry background and more light gatheringConsequently faster shutter-speeds. Remember that lenses are generally sharpest 2-stops down from their widest. An F4 lens is normally sharpest around F8, while a F2.8 lens around F5.6. An important feature is optical stabilization. It is an available on some lenses. Digital SLRs with built-in stabilization like the Sony Alpha and most Pentax K-series are advantaged since they obtain stabilization on all lenses at no additional cost. Most importantly, image quality varies tremendously between lenses. More expensive lenses are generally of higher quality than cheaper ones of similar specifications.

Pentax 18-55 F3.5-5.6 50-200 F4.5-5.6
A set of one lens can be very light and fast to use since lens changes are not required. On the other hand, single lenses with long-zoom ranges are of limited quality and have narrow maximum apertures. Here are various single lens kits:

Stabilized wide-to-medium
Canon 17-85 F4-5.6 IS USM
Stabilized open wide-to-medium
Canon 17-55 F2.8 IS USM
Buy From Amazon
Stabilized normal-to-medium
Canon 24-105 F4 IS USM
Buy From Amazon
Open normal-to-medium
Canon 24-70 F2.8 USM
Buy From Amazon
Stabilized normal-to-medium
Canon 28-135 F3.5-5.6 IS USM
Buy From Amazon
Stabilized wide-to-tele
Canon 18-200 F3.5-5.6 IS
Buy From Amazon
Normal-to-tele
Canon 28-200 F3.5-5.6
Buy From Amazon
Stabilized normal-to-tele
Canon 28-300 F3.5-5.6 IS
Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-medium
Pentax 16-45 F4

Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-medium
Pentax 17-70 F4 SDM

Buy From Amazon

Open wide-to-medium
Pentax 16-50 F2.8 SDM
Weatherproof

Buy From Amazon

Open normal-to-medium
Sigma 24-70 F2.8
Macro

Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-tele
Pentax 18-250 F3.5-6.3

Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-medium
Sony 16-80mm F3.5-4.5 Carl Zeiss

Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-telephoto
Sony 16-105mm F3.5-5.6

Buy From Amazon

Open normal-to-medium
Sony 24-70mm F2.8

Buy From Amazon

Normal-to-telephoto
Sony 24-105mm F3.5-4.5

Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-telephoto
Sony 18-250mm F3.5-6.3

Buy From Amazon

Stabilized wide-to-medium
Nikon 16-85mm F3.5-5.6 VR

Buy From Amazon

Open wide-to-medium
Nikon 17-55 F2.8

Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-telephoto
Nikon 18-135 F3.5-5.6

Buy From Amazon

Open normal-to-medium
Nikon 24-85 F2.8-4

Stabilized normal-to-telephoto
Nikon 24-120mm F3.5-5.6 VR

Buy From Amazon

Open normal-to-medium
Nikon 28-70mm F2.8

Buy From Amazon

Stabilized wide-to-telephoto
Nikon 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 VR

Buy From Amazon

With two lenses instead of one, it is easier to cover a wider-range of focal lengths or to cover a similar range with higher quality optics. Of course, the hassle is carrying both lenses and having to swap them. Swapping lenses in the field can be minimized by matching each lens to a different subject. This reduces the risk of getting dust on the camera sensor.

Several wide lenses exist to complement medium lenses. One can be chosen either to complement a quality medium lens or a regular medium-to-tele lens. A lens ending with a medium focal length can be paired with a telephoto lens for extending your reach without compromising quality at medium focal lengths. Here are some good lens pairs:


Open wide-to-medium

Canon 16-35 F2.8
Buy From AmazonCanon 24-70 F2.8
Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-medium

Canon 17-40 F4
Buy From AmazonCanon 24-105 F4 IS
Buy From Amazon

Stabilized wide-to-tele

Canon 17-85 F4-5.6 IS
Buy From AmazonCanon 70-300 F4.5-5.6 IS
Buy From Amazon

Open medium-to-tele

Canon 24-70 F2.8
Buy From AmazonCanon 70-200 F2.8
Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-telephoto

Pentax 17-70 F4 SDM
Buy From Amazon
Pentax 55-300 F4-5.6
Buy From Amazon

Open wide-to-tele
Weatherproof

Pentax 16-50 F2.8 SDM
Buy From Amazon
Pentax 50-135 F2.8 SDM
Buy From Amazon

Open normal-to-tele

Sigma 24-70 F2.8
Buy From Amazon
Sigma 70-200 F2.8
Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-telephoto

Sony 16-105 F3.5-5.6
Buy From Amazon
Sony 75-300 F4.5-5.6
Buy From Amazon

Normal-to-telephoto

Sony 24-105 F3.5-4.5
Buy From Amazon
Sigma 100-400 F4
Buy From Amazon

Open normal-to-tele

Sony 24-70 F2.8 Carl Zeiss
Buy From Amazon
Sony 70-200 F2.8 SSM
Buy From Amazon

Open wide-to-medium

Nikon 17-35 F2.8
Buy From AmazonNikon 28-70 F2.8
Buy From Amazon

Wide-to-tele

Nikon 18-55 F3.5-5.6
Buy From AmazonNikon 55-200 F4-5.6
Buy From Amazon

Open normal-to-tele

Nikon 24-70 F2.8
Buy From Amazon
Nikon 70-200 F2.8 VR
Buy From Amazon
By on 2008/11/01

Ultra-Wide Angle Lenses

While many general purpose digital lenses start at wide-angles, none are truly ultra-wide lenses. An ultra-wide lens adds an unusual perspective to images, one that does not approach human vision. Note that no ultra-wide lens is stabilized. Thus, stabilizing an ultra-wide lens requires a camera with built-in stabilization. The widest ultra-wide lenses for 1.5X or 1.6X crop sensors start at 10mm, although 12mm is more common start. For full-frame sensors, Sigma has a 12-24mm which gives the widest field-of-view. The next widest field of view come from the Nikkor 14-24 F2.8 full-frame lens and the Zuiko 7-14 F4 Four-Thirds lens.

Neocamera Blog is a medium for expressing ideas related to digital cameras and photography. Read about digital cameras in the context of technology, media, art and the world. Latest posts links:

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