Which Camera Lens for what?

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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:

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.

 

Close-up limit

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.

 

Lens mount

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:

  • Nikon
  • Canon
  • Sony A‑Mount (For Sony SLR cameras)
  • Sony E‑Mount (For mir­ror­less sys­tem cam­eras from Sony)
  • Micro­FourThirds (Pana­son­ic, Olympus)
  • Fuji­film
  • Pen­tax

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.

 

Price

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.

Begin­ner’s lenses

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.

 

Travel Zooms

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
Nikon:

Canon wide angle lenses
Canon:

Sony A‑Mount wide angle lenses
Sony A‑Mount:

Sony E‑Mount wide angle lenses
Sony E‑Mount:

MFT wide-angle lens­es for Pana­son­ic and Olympus
Micro Four Thirds:

 

Telephoto Lenses

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

Canon tele­pho­to lenses

Sony A‑Mount tele­pho­to lenses

Sony E‑Mount tele­pho­to lenses

MFT tele­pho­to lens­es for Pana­son­ic and Olympus

Pen­tax tele­pho­to lenses

 

Portrait Lenses

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

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.

 

Macro lenses

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.


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