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Which lens for what? The lens advice guide with purchase recommendations!
The search for the right lens is often even harder than the search for the perfect camera. What do I have to pay attention to when buying a lens? Which lens is suitable for what? What do the numbers on the lens mean? And which lens is the right one for me? These questions are answered in this article.
If you are reading this article, I assume you already have a camera.
If not, I would like to recommend my camera buying guide. Here I will answer all your questions about buying a camera.
This is all about lenses. Is this the first time you are looking for a lens? Perfect, then you will find all the information you need to know about buying a lens here.
Do you already know a lot about lenses? Also well. I am sure you’ll still find new information and tips in this buying guide.
What do I have to pay attention to when buying a lens?
Before we look at what types of lenses are available and which specific lenses I recommend, let’s first deal with the basics.
After all, before you decide on a lens, you should know what to look for.
There are 6 basic factors you should consider when buying a lens:
- The right focal length
- The light intensity
- The close-up limit, if you want to get very close to your subject
- The right lens mount
- The size and weight of the lens
- And of course the price
At the end you’ll find my recommendations for beginners.
Lens focal length
The focal length of a lens determines if and how far you can zoom with a lens. The focal length is measured in mm and the information is printed on each lens.
The longer the focal length of your lens, the greater the zoom. With a short focal length (e.g. 16 mm), you can capture a very large section of the image in your photo. In even simpler words: You get a lot on your picture! This is useful when you want to take pictures of landscapes, for example.
With a long focal length (e.g. 300 mm), you can zoom in on very distant subjects and capture distant animals at a safe distance in your picture, for example on a safari.
So before buying a lens, think about what you would like to photograph.
Do you shoot a lot at sporting events or wildlife in the wild? Then you need a large zoom, i.e. a long focal length.
Do you prefer to photograph landscapes? Then a shorter focal length is important for you, so you can capture as much of the landscape as possible in your picture.
Do you travel a lot and have a variety of different subjects in front of your lens? Landscapes, cities, animals and people? Then a lens with a wide focal length range that covers everything can be a good choice for you.
There are also lenses with a fixed focal length where you can’t zoom and zoom lenses with a flexible focal length. We’ll come back to the advantages and disadvantages of both later on.
Luminous intensity of a lens
When you are thinking about buying a lens, you have probably heard the term “light intensity”.
The light intensity of a lens is nothing else than the maximum aperture of the lens.
But I want to give you a very short introduction to the aperture here:
The further you can open the aperture on your lens, the more light reaches the sensor of your camera. In low light conditions, a large aperture gives you more freedom when taking pictures. This is why we speak of fast lenses.
The maximum aperture of a lens is indicated by the f‑stop number printed on each lens. Where on the lens you will find information about focal length and aperture. The f‑number always starts with an f/. The smaller the f‑number, the faster the lens is. A lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 is therefore faster than a lens with an aperture of f/3.5.
For example, very fast lenses have an aperture of f/1.8. There are even lenses that allow a maximum aperture of f/1.4 and more. But for this you have to dig deep into your pocket.
By the way, the aperture not only has something to do with the light, but also influences the depth of field of your images. Do you want to take pictures with a blurred background? Then you also need a lens with a large aperture, i.e. a small f‑stop.
The close-up limit of a lens is always relevant when you want to get very close to your subject.
You probably know the following situation: You are approaching a subject very close with your camera, for example a beautiful flower.
But you simply cannot get your photo in focus. Then you have fallen below the close-up limit of your lens. The closest focusing distance is given in centimetres and you will also find this information on your lens.
If your lens has a close-up limit of 50 cm, there must be at least half a meter between your subject and the sensor of your camera. Otherwise your camera will not focus on the picture. Sometimes this is called the minimum focusing distance.
For you, this is especially relevant if you like to take macro photos and get very close to your subjects.
Every camera manufacturer has an individual lens mount. So when you buy a lens, make sure that your lens fits your camera.
The most important lens mounts are as follows:
- Sony A‑Mount (For Sony SLR cameras)
- Sony E‑Mount (For mirrorless system cameras from Sony)
- MicroFourThirds (Panasonic, Olympus)
If you want to buy a lens, you have the choice between a lens from the camera manufacturer itself or a lens from a third party.
Third party manufacturers are lens manufacturers that offer lenses for different mounts. The best known are Tamron, Sigma and Samyang. You can buy lenses from these manufacturers without hesitation. They are in no way inferior to lenses from the camera manufacturers themselves.
Size and weight
Size and weight are not only important criteria in the choice of camera, but also in the choice of the right lens. So if weight is important to you, you should pay attention to it when buying.
Of course, the dear money also plays a role when buying a lens. The price range for lenses is almost unlimited. You can get very simple lenses for about 100 Euros. Professional telephoto lenses, on the other hand, can have the equivalent value of a small car.
Basically, one can say that the price of a lens reflects its quality. So you can assume that a more expensive lens is also a better lens.
Of course, there are exceptions, but by and large, this rule of thumb applies to lenses.
◊ My tip: In general, I recommend that you rather invest a little more money in lenses than in buying a new camera.
An example: You have a camera that cost 600 Euros and now you have 1,000 Euros available for new equipment. You are thinking about buying a new camera for 1.000 Euro or a new lens for 1.000 Euro.
In this case I always advise you to buy a lens. The difference between the 600 and 1000 Euro camera is probably relatively small. But if you screw a great lens for 1,000 euros on your 600 euro camera, you will probably notice a much bigger difference.
Zoom vs. fixed focal length
I have already mentioned it above. When buying lenses you have the choice between zoom lenses and fixed focal lengths.
With a zoom lens you can, as the name already suggests, zoom in on motifs. This is not possible with a fixed focal length.
Here you are always restricted to a fixed image section and can only get closer to your subject if you get closer.
At first glance, the advantages of a zoom lens outweigh the disadvantages, because you are much more flexible.
But fixed focal lengths also have a lot of advantages. A fixed focal length is often faster. Zoom lenses actually never go beyond an aperture of f/2.8. W
If you want to have a lens with an aperture of f/1.8 or even f/1.4, you have to use a fixed focal length.
Even if you are concerned about size and weight, a fixed focal length can be a good choice. Of course there are large and heavy fixed focal lengths, but often they are much smaller and lighter than zoom lenses.
The third big advantage is the better imaging performance. The image quality is often better with fixed focal lengths than with zoom lenses. There are of course exceptions and as so often it depends on the price, but basically it is true.
◊ My recommendation: I always carry a zoom lens and a fixed focal length in my photo bag. This is the optimal combination for me, with which I have been travelling.
Which lens for what?
The answer is of course not easy, because everyone has different requirements for a lens. Often the requirements are so extensive that it is actually impossible to recommend a suitable lens.
An example: “I want to take portrait photos, photograph landscapes and use the lens for my next safari. The lens should make very good photos especially in the dark and should not cost more than 300 Euros”.
There’s no such thing. There isn’t. I’d like to have the same kind of lens, but there’s nothing I can do.
Basically, it’s like this: If you have one or two uses for it, choosing the right lens becomes easier. If you are looking for a good lens for portraits, then such a lens can’t be perfect for landscape photography at the same time.
Of course, there are also good all-round lenses. But you have to be aware that with an all-round lens you always have to make some concessions. You will always get better results in portrait photography with a special portrait lens than with an all-round lens.
That sounds more dramatic than it is. For most amateur photographers, this is not a bad thing at all and an all-round lens is a good choice.
Which lens is the right one for me?
Here you will find a small overview of which lens is the right choice for which purpose:
- Beginners: normal lens / allround lens
- Travel photography: all-round lens / travel zoom
- Landscape photography: wide-angle lens
- Architectural photography: wide angle lens
- Animal photography: telephoto lens
- Sports photography: Telephoto lens
- Portrait photography: portrait lens (fixed focal length in the telephoto range)
- Macro photography: Macro lens (fixed focal length with 1:1 reproduction scale)
In the following sections we will show you for the different lens categories what to look out for when buying such a lens, depending on its intended use. We also suggest specific lenses for different camera mounts.
Small excursus: full format vs. APS‑C vs. MFT
This subject is somewhat technical. You’re welcome to skip it if you don’t feel like it. I will not be mad at you about this. However, an article about lenses simply includes the topic of sensor sizes and crop factor, which is why I have this section.
So, let’s go: I already wrote something about focal length above and if I recommend specific lenses you’ll encounter focal length even more often. For example, I will tell you that a wide-angle lens has a focal length of up to 40 mm. And that’s where it gets complicated, because that’s not true for every camera. That’s where the crop factor comes in. Don’t worry, it actually sounds more complicated than it is. So, don’t give up and keep reading!
Usually the focal lengths are given in the so-called 35mm format. This dates back to the times of analog photography and describes the size of the film. 35 mm corresponds to 35 mm, this is exactly the width of the individual photos on the film roll in former times. Maybe you still remember it.
This size is still used today in digital cameras with a full format sensor. These sensors are 36 x 24 mm, which is about the same size as the photos on the film roll in the past.
But now there are different sensor sizes in the digital area. As modern cameras are oftenly very small, the sensors also have to be smaller.
In total, three different sensor sizes have established themselves on the market:
- No. 1: Full format sensors are the largest sensors. They are mainly used in professional cameras, which often cost far more than 1,000 euros.
- No. 2: APS‑C is now the most widely used sensor size. It is used in most cameras from Nikon, Canon and Sony that are not professional models. Nikon still offers an extra sensor size with the DX-format, but it is very similar to APS‑C. An APS‑C sensor is 1.5 times smaller than a full format sensor.
- No. 3: Micro-Four-Thirds is the sensor size used in Olympus and Panasonic cameras. These sensors are the smallest on the market. They are half the size of a full format sensor.
What does this mean for the focal length? Good question. This is where the crop factor comes in. In my example above, I wrote that a wide-angle lens goes up to a focal length of 40 mm.
But this specification applies to full format sensors.
With an APS‑C sensor you have to divide this focal length by 1.5, with Micro Four Thirds even by 2. That’s where the famous crop factor comes in.
So if you want to buy a wide-angle lens for a camera with an APS‑C sensor, the focal length should not be greater than about 26 mm (40 divided by 1.5), and with a Micro Four Thirds sensor, it should not be greater than 20 mm (40 divided by 2).
All right? Very good! With my lens recommendations, which are coming up right now, I have of course, taken all this into account. So you do not have to bother with the conversion.
Lenses for beginners
If you are looking for your very first lens, I definitely recommend a zoom lens. It is always the best choice for your first steps in photography. It gives you the most flexibility and allows you to try out all areas of photography. If, over time, you find that you enjoy a particular type of photography, you can always buy a special camera lens later, for example for portraits or landscape photography.
My lens recommendations for beginners
In the following table I recommend an all-round lens for beginners in photography for each lens mount.
|Nikon||Sigma 17–70 mm f/2.8–4.0|
|Canon||Sigma 17–70 mm f/2.8–4.0|
|Sony A‑Mount||Sigma 17–70 mm f/2.8–4.0|
|Sony E‑Mount||Sony 18–55 mm f/3.5–5.6|
|Panasonic/Olympus||Panasonic 12–60 mm/3.5–5.6|
|Pentax||Sigma 17–70 mm f/2.8–4.0|
Kit lenses: Yes or no?
When you buy a new camera, you will surely find various combination offers of the manufacturers where you can get a lens directly with your camera.
These lenses are called kit lenses and do not always have the best reputation and especially advanced photographers will probably advise you against a kit lens.
My opinion about kit lenses: If you’re buying your first camera and have a limited budget, buy a camera with a cheap kit lens!
I started out using kit lenses myselves and took great pictures with them, and I still love them today.
Not the technology makes the pictures, but the photographer. Before you spend endless amounts of money on equipment, first invest in a photography course or other further education.
By the way, there are also not only cheap kit lenses. Especially with cameras for advanced photographers there are always kit offers with really good lenses where you can save a few hundred euros compared to buying them separately.
So it is worthwhile to explore the market a little and not to categorically exclude a kit from the beginning.
When you travel, the space and weight of your luggage is often limited. So it is not always possible to take a large selection of lenses with you to be prepared for all motives. Travel zooms that have a very large focal length range are a remedy. Even travel zooms don’t have the best reputation, which in my opinion is complete nonsense.
Of course, a camera lens with a focal length range of 16 to 300 mm is not as good as an expensive telephoto lens or a special wide-angle lens, especially at the limits. But therefore, in case of a travel zoom, one gets three lenses in one for a price of 300 to 800 euros: a wide angle, a normal lens and a tele lens.
My recommendations for travel zoom lenses
In this table I recommend a travel zoom for each lens mount.
Travel Zoom Lenses
|Nikon||Tamron 16–300 f/3.5–6.3|
|Canon||Tamron 16–300 f/3.5–6.3|
|Sony A‑Mount||Tamron 16–300 f/3.5–6.3|
|Sony E‑Mount||Tamron 18–200 f/3.5–6.3|
|Panasonic/Olympus||Tamron 14–150 mm f/3.5–5.8|
|Pentax||Sigma 18–300 f/3.5–6.3|
Wide angle lenses
If you like to photograph landscapes, then a wide angle lens is the right choice for you. The light intensity tends to be less relevant to you, since landscape shots are rarely taken with an open aperture and the photos are often taken on a tripod anyway. (If you need any recommendations on a tripod, check out this tripod guide)
As mentioned above, wide-angle lenses can be used up to a focal length of 40 mm. Especially for landscapes, however, a super wide angle is very helpful, with which you can capture an even larger section of your picture. Super wide angles have a focal length of less than 24 mm.
My recommendations for wide angle lenses
I picked out three lenses for each of the most important lens mounts, which I would buy myselves.
For each connection I show you a cheap lens, a lens in the medium price range and a premium lens.
Nikon wide angle lenses
- Good and cheap → Nikon 10–20 mm f/4.5–5.6
- Better → Tamron 10–24 f/3.5–4.5
- Premium → Sigma species 12–24mm f/4,0
Canon wide angle lenses
- Good and cheap → Canon 10–18mm f/4.5–5.6
- Better → Sigma 10–20mm f/3.5
- Premium → Sigma species 12–24mm f/4,0
Sony A‑Mount wide angle lenses
- Good and cheap → Sigma 10–20mm f/4.0–5.6
- Better → Sigma 10–20 mm f/3.5
- Premium → Tamron 15–30mm f/2.8
Sony E‑Mount wide angle lenses
MFT wide-angle lenses for Panasonic and Olympus
Micro Four Thirds:
- Good and cheap → Olympus 9–18mm f/4–5.6
- Better → Panasonic 7–14mm f/4.0
- Premium → Olympus 7–14mm f/2.8
Telephoto lenses are the kings of lenses. Have you ever seen the photographers at a soccer game with their giant zooms on the edge of the field? Such lenses can cost up to 20,000 euros. No kidding!
Of course you can do it cheaper, but with telephoto lenses you have to pay more for good quality than with other types of lenses.
Of course, the focal length is important for the purchase decision. The longer the focal length, the closer you can zoom in on your subject. Cheap telephoto lenses often offer focal lengths of up to 300 mm in APS‑C format, i.e. up to 450 mm on full format.
You can do quite a bit with that. If you need even more zoom, however, it usually becomes much more expensive.
My recommendations for telephoto lenses
As for the telephoto lenses, I have also selected a cheap lens, a lens in the medium price range and a very good, but also expensive lens for you.
When it comes to telephoto lenses, you shouldn’t expect too much, especially with the very cheap lenses. They are perfectly ok to get first experiences with telephoto lenses.
However, very high-quality and extremely sharp pictures are difficult to take, but this is perhaps not so bad for private use.
Nikon Telephoto Lenses
- Good and cheap → Tamron 70–300 f/4–5.6
- Better → Tamron 150–600 f/5–6.3
- Premium → Nikon 200–500mm f/5.6
Canon telephoto lenses
- Good and cheap → Canon 70–300 f/4–5.6
- Better → Tamron 150–600 f/5–6.3
- Premium → Canon 70–200mm f/2.8
Sony A‑Mount telephoto lenses
- Good and inexpensive → Tamron 70–300 f/4–5.6
- Better → Tamron 150–600 f/5–6.3
- Premium → Sony 70–400 mm f/4–5.6
Sony E‑Mount telephoto lenses
- Good and cheap → Sony 55–210mm f/4.5–6.3
- Better → Sony 70–300mm f/4.5–5.6
- Premium → Sony 70–200mm f/2.8
MFT telephoto lenses for Panasonic and Olympus
- Good and cheap → Panasonic 45–150 f/4–5.6
- Better → Olympus 75–300mm f/4.8–6.7
- Premium → Olympus 300mm f/4.0
Pentax telephoto lenses
- Good and cheap → Tamron 70–300 f/4–5.6
- Better → Tamron 70–200mm f/2.8
- Premium → Pentax 50–135mm f/2.8
If you like to take portraits, you usually have very special requirements for your lens. A popular stylistic device for portrait photos is a nice bokeh, i.e. a blurred background. To achieve this, you need a lens with a very large open aperture.
Since zoom lenses cannot achieve this, I always recommend a fixed focal length for portrait photography.
It is also important that the focal length is not too short. If you take a picture of a person with a 30 mm lens, for example, this often leads to unsightly distortions and large noses on the model’s face.
If you have a camera with an APS‑C sensor, I recommend a focal length between 50 and 85 mm. For full format, this is 75 to 130 mm, for Micro Four Thirds it is about 40 to 60 mm.
My recommendations for portrait lenses
If you want to try your hand at portrait photography first, I have good news for you: Simple portrait lenses are available for very little money. Some of the entry-level models cost less than 200 Euros, but the quality of these lenses is definitely not bad. Of course, portrait lenses are also more expensive and better, that’s why we also present lenses in different price ranges.
Nikon Portrait Lenses
Canon Portrait Lenses
Sony A‑Mount Portrait Lenses
Sony E‑Mount portrait lenses
MFT portrait lenses for Panasonic and Olympus
Macro lenses are special lenses with which you can take very detailed photos of subjects from a very short distance. With a macro lens, for example, you can get very close to a beautiful flower and see the structure of the flower clearly in your photo at the end.
This is not possible with a normal lens, because you can’t focus with these lenses if you get too close to your subject. The reason is the close-up limit, which we have already described above.
Attention: Macro lens is not the same as macro lens. Lens manufacturers also use the term for lenses that are actually not really macro lenses at all. Thus, not everywhere where it says macro, there is also macro in it.
When buying a macro camera lens, make sure that the magnification is as close as possible to 1:1. This is actually always included in the product description.
There are also lenses with an image scale of 1:2 or 1:4 that are sold as macro lenses. But the optimum is always 1:1.
My recommendations for macro lenses
Macro lenses are usually fixed focal lengths with a focal length between 40 and 105 mm. Since macro lenses are very complex in construction, they are usually also correspondingly expensive. So you will not find really cheap macro lenses on the market.
I will introduce you to a macro lens for each lens mount, which I would buy for the respective camera.
|Nikon||Tamron 90mm f/2.8 1:1|
|Canon||Tamron 90mm f/2.8 1:1|
|Sony A‑Mount||Tamron 90mm f/2.8 1:1|
|Sony E‑Mount||Sony 50mm f/2.8 1:1|
|Micro Four Thirds||Olympus 60mm f/2.8 1:1|
|Pentax||Pentax 35mm f/2.8 1:1|
I hope I was able to shed some light on the camera lens jungle with my lens buying guide.
Note: I receive questions about which lens is best for your personal use. Please understand that I am not able to answer them. As a 1‑woman company I simply cannot cope with the time. Thanks for your understanding.
If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below the article and I will try to help you as soon as possible. Deal? Do you have a lens that you think is really great? Then why don’t you write that in your comments? That way we can all profit from your experience!
And now I wish you a stress-free lens purchase and above all a lot of fun when unpacking and trying out your new lens.