Overview of Lenses


When I first got into photography I had no idea which lenses to buy.  The numbers confused the hell out of me and the prices left me speechless.  Here's a quick rundown on what a beginning shooter should know about lenses.  


These are one of the few consumer items that actually retain their value over time.  Most photographers will say that it’s much more important to pick a good lens than a camera.  I agree.  You’ll likely switch cameras every 3-5 years, but a decent lens can last a lifetime.

Focal Lengths: Zoom VS Prime

A prime lens can only shoot at one focal length.  The positive side is that these are significantly cheaper.  Zoom lenses allow for more flexibility and range, but not without a price.  The focal length of a lens also makes it suitable for certain types of shots.



A 50mm lens is what best mimics the human eye.  This is a good training lens, and it’s fairly decent for portraits of people’s faces, or even close-ups of architecture.


Wide-angle: 35mm and Lower  


Beautiful horizons are usually shot with a wide-angle lens.  The iPhone has a 35mm lens.  It’s a fairly decent compromise for shooting both people and scenery.  The lower the focal length, the more that can fit into a scene, but this also increases the likelihood of distortion (notice the stretching of the sand in the corners of the pic above).    


Long-Range: 85mm and Above


A portrait photographer would likely operate anywhere in the range of 85mm to 300mm.  The higher the focal length, the more isolated a subject becomes.  Sports and wildlife photographers will go upwards to 500mm for obvious reasons.  


Macro Lenses


These are good for photographing small or even microscopic objects.  Medical professionals often use macro lenses to photograph teeth or skin conditions.  Anybody interested in insects would likely need a macro lens too.

Final Note

Lots of photographers spend their lives obsessing over lenses and dumping all their money into the best ones.  As an amateur, I suggest getting one prime lens that fits the type of photography you’d like to do and stick with it until you actually start making money in photography.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking what you have isn’t good enough.  


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