The lens you use will have a significant impact on the way your photos will turn out. Not only that, but different lenses are better for different types of photos. For example, when thinking about the type of photos you want to shoot, consider the following:
• Will you shoot the majority of your pictures up close?
• Do you plan to photograph weddings?
• Are you a second-shooter at these events?
• Will you need a zoom or a wide angle lens? If you’re photographing a blushing bride’s soft smile beneath her veil from several feet away, a good zoom or telephoto lens is required. On the other hand, say you’re photographing a large wedding party; obviously a wide-angle is your best (only) choice.
Let’s go through a list of different lens types and learn which lens will work best for each scenario. We’ll then explain what the various “numbers” on the lenses mean to ensure your photos turn out as planned.
Macro – Looking to capture those teeny, tiny intricate details such as those found in jewelry, nature or a delectable culinary spread? Go for the macro, baby! A macro lens allows you to take extremely detailed photos of the smallest of subjects with relative ease. We say “relative” because macro lenses are notoriously difficult to keep in focus when shooting by hand (this is due to their shallow focus range). So if you’re shooting with a macro lens, consider using a tripod for best results.
Zoom – Excellent for those times when you “can’t get right up on the action” or change your location fast enough, such as when shooting documentaries, sporting events or weddings. In fact, these three events are prime zoom opportunities!
Wide-angle –Wide angle lenses are primarily used when capturing landscape or travel portraits, but they can be used when you want to see your entire subject (right down to the feet!) and their surroundings. Wide angle lenses can also be used to create distortion, however – this should tactic should only be used when going for humor as all of the subject’s features will stand out. Unflatteringly. (Ahem) Therefore, it is strongly advised to avoid this technique when shooting weddings or any person who feels they’re less than photogenic in the first place.
Telephoto – Thanks to zero wide-angle distortion, a telephoto lens is perfect for taking those oh-so-flattering portraits! The major downside? The dreaded shaking lens factor! Because these lenses are so long, it’s difficult to keep the lens still, even with image stabilization or other vibration reduction mechanisms in place. To combat this one step further, shoot with a shutter speed equal to or greater than the number of focal length you’re currently using. Example – if you’re shooting at 200mm, shoot at a minimum of 1/200 or faster to prevent that “caught in an earthquake” look.
Fixed – A fixed lens means just that; your focal length is “fixed” and does not allow for any “zoom-action” whatsoever. This means you’ll have to physically get up and change your position in order to capture that perfect shot! While this may seem like a disadvantage (especially if you’re feeling particularly sluggish that day), the beauty of a fixed lens is the fact that it provides sharp focus, lower F-stops and are priced significantly lower than a zoom.
Normal – Don’t let the name fool you; normal does not mean ‘boring’. In this case, normal refers to a lens that isn’t too long or too wide and is best for shooting “normal, everyday” things like documentary shots and children, while allowing you to get pretty close while still maintaining a decent wide angle of view.
Fisheye – If you’re going for an extremely wide, spherical view or a more stylish approach, a fisheye lens is the way to go. Their affect is very dramatic and bold, which works really well for weddings and other formal party receptions.
So, What Exactly Do All Those Numbers Mean, Anyway?
The numbers on a lens refers to its focal length. Focal length refers to the distance from the lens to the digital sensor. (Loosely translated? How much your lens will “see”.) Your lens’ focal length range determines how far (the range) your lens will go from wide angle to telephoto. (Example: 24-105mm lens. The 24 mm is the wide angle and the 105 refers to the zoom.)
Here’s a handy reference chart that includes which type of photo works best with each lens:
Lens – Focal Length – Lens Type – Use
21-35 mm – Wide Angle – Landscape
35-70 mm - Normal – Documentary
70-135 mm – Medium – Telephoto – Portraiture
135 – 300mm+ – Telephoto – Wildlife, Sports
Chances are your photos could be greatly enhanced by the use of a quality lens (or two). While a cool new camera with plenty of bells and whistles is always fun to have, a great new lens can really up your portfolio’s “wow factor” in a major way. Just be sure to consider the types of photos you’ll be shooting before slapping down your hard-earned money. A quality lens used for the wrong purpose is just as disastrous as that “perfect shot” taken with the lens cap on!