Everything you wanted to know about choosing the right camera lens for the job in an easy to read guide. We take you from macro to zoom and bust a few bits of jargon on the way.


Before we begin talking about lenses, we must mention sensors. The size of a sensor on your DSLR will determine the result you will get from a lens. Higher spec DSLRs have a full-frame sensor, whereas entry-level cameras have a smaller sensor purely because they are easier and cheaper to manufacture. When a lens is used with a smaller sensor, it effectively crops and magnifies the middle of the image rather than capturing the wider view. So if you want to make the most of a lens, make sure you choose a camera with a full-frame sensor.

Now on to the lenses!

What you need to know:

  • The focal length of a lens is measured in millimetres

  • Wide angle lenses have shorter focal lengths and fit lots into a picture

  • Telephoto lenses have a longer focal length and magnify a small area

Zoom Lenses

These lenses are ultra convenient as you can easily change the focal length just by twisting the barrel. Zoom lenses are ready for any shot on any occasion. Typical focal lengths are 14-24mm, 18-55mm and 70-200mm. Disadvantages? Price. The complicated nature of manufacturing a zoom lens makes them a pricey piece of kit for your camera bag.

Prime Lenses

These are of a fixed focal length, and are considered excellent for portraits and low light situations because they usually have a large aperture such as a f2.8, f1.8, f1.4 or even an f1.2 – which makes them a ‘fast’ lens. The disadvantage of a prime lens is that you can’t make adjustments to the focal length, you’d have to change lenses instead. However, the advantages outweigh this inconvenience as prime lenses produce a high quality image, and they are less complicated to manufacture – therefore cheaper than a zoom lens. Common focal lengths are 50mm, 85mm, 35mm and 300mm.

The Famed 50mm lens
Also known as a standard lens, the 50mm is the closest you get to capturing what your eyes see, and for that reason they are suited to a wide range of subjects and used for both landscape and portrait shots. A 50mm f1.8 lens is considered an affordable fixed focal length fast lens that should be in everyone’s camera bag!

Wide Angle Lenses

There is a definite clue in the name here. A wide angle lens can ‘fit a lot in’ to a picture. To be a wide angle lens, the focal length needs to be 28mm or less. Wide angle lenses are particularly good for interiors, landscapes and for taking pictures of large groups of people. Disadvantages? They are prone to distortion. This could be at the edges, or if you are using it for a portrait a subject in the middle will appear stretched – but this might be an effect you are after, and not a disadvantage at all! A fisheye lens is an example of an ultra-wide angle lens.

Telephoto Lenses

If you want to get some great details of something that is far away, you need a telephoto lens, which is a lens with a focal range of anything from 35mm to 300mm and above. These capture a small area and magnify it, essentially bringing the subject closer to fill the frame – great for surreptitious portraits of people far away, animals in the distance and close-up action of a sporting event. Disadvantages? The resulting image can appear to be a little ‘flat’. This is because the lens compresses the image, making it difficult to determine distance between things in the photograph.

Macro Lenses

A dedicated macro lens has a focal length of anywhere between 50mm to 105mm, and is used to capture extreme close ups. These lenses allow the photographer to get up close to the subject and keep it in focus. Most dedicated macro lenses allow for life-size magnification, also known as 1:1, this means that the image is magnified to fill the shot, it is not the same as zooming in.

Now we want to know what your favourite lens is and why! Share your shots with us in the comments below!

February 6th, 2014
Nice post!
I don't own lenses... I'm a poor bridge camera kid :(
February 6th, 2014
thanks! thats really interesting and helpful! I bought a 50mm 1.8 prime lens several months ago and i really like it. (would have gone for 1.4 - but on a budget and with a mortgage - the 1.8 meant that i could mostly have the best of both worlds - and given that this is just a hobby (? obsession!!) rather than being a pro.. it works pretty well for me.

I also have my lens kit - and a 70-200 - (that my niece is using at the mo') - but i would like another (of course!)
February 6th, 2014
I want a wide angle lens and trying to justify it by the fact that I'm going to Arizona this spring. They are pricey though.
February 7th, 2014
I found the Tokina 11-16 f2.8 lens to be a fine and affordable wide angle lens for my Nikon D90. The 24-70 f2.8 is an amazing and versatile lens that stays on my camera most of the time. I am currently lusting after the 105 f2.8 macro lens for Nikon, and that should pretty much round things up along with my 70-300 zoom lens.
February 7th, 2014
Very cool information. Thanks for taking the time!
February 7th, 2014
This may come as no surprise to the 365ers following me but it is my Canon 100mm macro lens. Not just for macro, it is so versatile and is rarely off my camera!
February 7th, 2014
It has to be my Canon 100mm macro lens like @kporte it is rarely off my camera. I've recently discovered the Samyang 14mm which is great too :)
February 7th, 2014
@aponi have a look at the Samyang 14mm :)
February 8th, 2014
@pixiemac @kporte I have a macro 100mm lens for my canon camera.. I really only use it for macro though... What other photos do you take... Do i need to do anything special to use it for other things???

February 8th, 2014
Thank you so much for this article! I'm going to refer to it when I buy my new camera and lenses to go with it. Still saving . . . :)
February 8th, 2014
This is helpful, thanks. I'm going to buy my camera soon but I'm still trying to settle on lenses (and the specific camera. .. sigh). I can take all the pointers I can get!
February 9th, 2014
@mrsbaldy great for portraits, street photography, grabbing candids and so on. Super sharp
February 9th, 2014
@pixiemac thanks
February 10th, 2014
I love my lensbaby composer pro. I have a wide angle attachment and some macro filters. It is great and has really changed my approach. I would recommend it to anybody.
February 10th, 2014
I currently use my 55-200mm most, but I am dying for that prime lens that everyone should have...the 50mm f/1.8. My zoom is nice but not tack sharp like the 50.
February 11th, 2014
Just recently bought a Nikkor 50 mm F1.8 for $100. They can be bought cheaper used.
February 11th, 2014
Im just experimenting with my (hubby's) lenses. He has quite a few, but not the 100 mm macro, so of course that's the one I'm dying to play with, although I have heard they can be tricky to focus handheld??
February 16th, 2014
My favorite lens is My macro lens. I enjoy taking picture out in nature of flowers and bugs. This lens is my best tool for that.
February 26th, 2014
I've more than one fave lens. My go to "street" lens is my 24-105L that came as "kit" on my Canon 6D. *That* started a love affair with L-quality glass. I've added the 70-200L to my collection. There's still room for my 70-300mm and I'm currently playing a great deal with my 40mm pancake and loving it. Oh! Wait! This was supposed to be simple! oops! :-/
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