On Monday I reminded readers about an article I wrote about how Kit Lenses were underrated. As I said then, the reason for the reprise was I wanted to write an article about how to build a lens collection in a way that makes sense.
The first step is to take photos with what you’ve got.
As you use your camera and lens over an extended period of time you will begin to build up an idea of pictures you would like to take, but can’t because you haven’t the right equipment.
Note: This is completely different to not being happy with the quality of your photos, which is usually a question of technique. In these cases practice, learning your equipment, and practical study (such as at one of our Workshops) are infinitely more effective than new equipment.
So let’s look at the classic limitations we come across when using a standard zoom like a kit lens.
- Not enough zoom range
- Can’t focus close enough to subjects
- Can’t blur backgrounds as desired
- Can’t get high enough shutter speed to avoid blur
Not Enough Zoom Range
A lack of zoom range can be easily identified by taking a look at the information in your photos. If you load your photos into a program like Lightroom, Aperture, or Picassa, you will see lots of information about the photo in what is known as the EXIF data.
Look at the focal lengths you use the most. If they are at the widest setting of the zoom, then you will likely benefit from a wider angle lens. Likewise, if you have a lot of images taken at the longest setting, you will probably benefit from a telephoto lens.
1) I have an 18-55mm lens and find I take most of my photos at 18mm.
I should think about a lens that covers wider focal lengths such as a 10-20mm.
2) I have an 18-55mm lens and find I take most of my photos at 55mm.
I should think about a lens that covers longer focal lengths such as a 70-300mm.
Of course it can be quite easy to spot that we need to get more range without resorting to such methods. If you find that you struggle to get the entire scene into your shot, you may need a wide angle lens. If you find you can’t get near enough your subject, then you likely need more telephoto length.
Can’t Focus Close Enough To Subjects
A separate problem to not being able to get close enough to your subject, is not being able to focus close enough. This is typically a problem with small subjects like flowers.
Imagine you want to take a photo of a small flower. At the closest focusing distance of your lens (say 45cm) the flower is very small in the frame.
The solution to this problem is a lens that can focus closer to the subject, or one that magnifies the subject. These lenses are called Macro Lenses.
True Macro Lenses have a reproduction ratio of 1:1 (meaning that the object appears in the image its actual size). They are usually a single focal length.
For people who are dead keen on close-up photography there’s a whole range of paraphernalia that can be bought, but for more casual users a single Macro Lens with a focal length of somewhere between 80mm and 100mm will do the job well.
Can’t Blur Backgrounds As Desired
A common complaint of Kit Lens users is that they can’t get those blurred backgrounds that you often see in portraits.
Before deciding that you need a new lens for this problem, make sure that you read the Depth Of Field Tutorials on this site. If after reading the articles, and trying out the principles for yourself, you still can’t achieve the look you want, then you need a lens with a large Aperture.
As with Macro Lenses, large Aperture lenses tend to have a single focal length. For general use, a 35mm f/1.8 is a good start on a Consumer DSLR. If you are only interested in portraits, something with a longer focal length (around 85mm) will be better.
Can’t Get High Enough Shutter Speed To Avoid Blur
In order to get sharp photos, we need a shutter speed that is short enough to stop the action. When the action is very fast, or there isn’t much light, we need a lens that can gather lots of light.
The solution is exactly the same as for the previous problem: A large Aperture lens. For sports, longer focal lengths are useful. However, large Aperture telephotos are very expensive.
Sports shooters may be better served by raising the ISO in their cameras to compensate for lack of light.
So you should now be able to identify what lenses you need to help you take a wider range of photos. The next part of this series is going to look at how to prioritise lens purchases when you want to buy them all, now!
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