When you buy a professional standard digital camera it’s often a good idea to think about purchasing an extra lens to add to your equipment and give you a wider variety of choice. But with so many different lenses out there it can be hard to know which one is right for your needs. Take a look at our guide to buying lenses for digital cameras to ensure you pick the perfect lens.
What to look for
When you first start looking for lenses you may find that manufacturer websites tend to be full of jargon and long lists of numbers and letters that look impressive but don’t really mean a lot to you. As a novice photographer it’s advisable to concentrate on the following instead:
Lens mount – this tells you whether your camera will fit the lens
Format – tells you which size of sensor the lens will work with
Image stabilisation – tells you if the lens has stabilising units to lessen the effects of shaky hands
Aperture – tells you how much light can get into the lens - also affects depth of field
Focal length – tells what angle the lens allows for
Every camera maker uses its own lens mount so that different lenses can’t be used with different cameras. The only exceptions to this are Panasonic and Olympus. There are also several third party manufacturers who make lenses available with several different mounts that can be used on multiple cameras. In some cases, adaptor rings can be found to adapt other lenses onto your mount, but bear in mind it is by far preferable to simply buy a lens that suits your camera body.
The majority of camera manufacturers now make APS-C optimised lenses for their cameras, which basically means that they are roughly the same size as an old 35mm camera. Different manufacturers have different labels for their APS-C lenses:
This type of lens is ideal for wide angle zooms or general purpose. Full frame lenses will also work with APS-C cameras but APS-C lenses don’t work with full frame cameras which is an important consideration if you’re planning an upgrade.
Image stabilisation technology has come a long way in the past few years and it’s now easier than ever to take blur free photographs. Some manufacturers incorporate stabilisation into the camera body whilst others include it in the lens. It’s particularly effective when using a telephoto lens.
Different lens manufacturers all have different names for the image stabilisation included in their lenses, as illustrated below:
Tamron – vibration control (VC)
Sigma – optical stabilisation (OS)
Sony (Nex system) – Optical steady shot (OSS)
Samsung and Panasonic – Optical image stabilisation (OIS)
Nikon – Vibration reduction (VR)
Canon – Image stabilisation (IS)
You can find out how much light is able to gather in a lens by the size of the aperture. There are many different ways of expressing the aperture size but as a rule of thumb a smaller number indicates that a lens is able to gather more light. For example a lens graded F2.8 will collect double the amount of light of a lens graded F4. If you want to shoot in low light then a larger aperture is necessary. This can allow you to, for example, to take pictures inside with no need for a flash. Large apertures also allow for the depth of field to be decreased which is an essential part of creative photography for it renders the background more blurry, which helps to highlight the main item/person in your shot. This can be tremendously useful when the background lacks aesthetics: indeed, you can make it so blurry that no one will even notice it.
Different lenses come with different focal lengths which can vary the field of view when a photograph is taken. Often, lenses are compared to their 35mm focal length so that the field of view given by each type of lens can be more easily understood. This is demonstrated by the following table:
35 mm ‘full frame’
80mm and longer
55 mm and longer
42 mm and longer
24 mm and wider
16mm and wider
12mm and wider
Types of zoom lens
Zoom lenses are more popular than ever but different types of lens work best for different purposes. Take a look at the following guide to decide which zoom lens is best for you:
This lens is general purpose covering a variety of focus lengths from moderate telephoto to wide angle. The majority of cameras come with a lens designed for this purpose but you can upgrade to something with improved optical quality, a fast maximum aperture or more range.
This lens allows you to get up close and personal with your subject and is ideal for capturing wildlife, sports, or action such as children playing.
These all in one lenses cover a variety of focal lengths including moderate wideangle and telephoto. They combine the quality of a shorter focus with a telephoto zoom making them the ideal choice for travel lenses.
Extending the viewing angle to give photographs a different perspective, a wideangle lens is dieal for capturing large landscapes and architecture.
This type of lens will allow you to take extreme close up pictures to capture things like flowers, plants and insects.
Pancake lenses are designed to be compact so they’re easy to carry around and you can have more choice as to the lens you use for different photographs.
Our most popular camera lenses
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