A new lens can really push your photography in a new direction. It can help you get a different perspective on a subject and throw it into a more interesting light. But new lenses are expensive, and you can still push your creative limits without spending any more money than you need to. How can you tell it’s time to get a new lens? Ask yourself these three questions first.
Can I get the shot without a new lens?
Some shots just aren’t possible without a different lens. If you’re shooting surfers from far away, you’ll need a super long telephoto lens. If you want to get up close and personal for some stunning macro images, you need a macro lens. When you’ve done everything you can with your current setup, and you know that the shot you want is just out of reach, then it’s time to consider purchasing a new lens.
It’s important to be specific with yourself about each shot you want to capture. Write down three things about the shot that you want to get out of it. Let’s say you’re taking pictures of some flowers growing in the garden, and you have an idea in mind.
- How much magnification do I want?
- Can I get enough magnification with my current setup?
- Do I want most of the background to be in focus or out of focus?
If you want more magnification, and you want to achieve some more advanced effects like a background blur out, you’ll need to get a new lens. Most higher end macro lenses (and lenses in general) tend to have wider apertures that take in more light. These bigger apertures allow you to take better pictures in low light while creating cool effects like blurring out the background.
Do I need more versatility?
Some people always have their camera on hand. If you’re one of these people, you might want a lens that captures the entire focal length range from 18mm to 200mm. With a lens like this, you could spend all day with your camera and barely ever have to change lenses. The increase in versatility will keep you shooting as long as you want with no annoying pauses in between.
The best zoom lenses combine versatility with professional grade quality. You get the same standard zoom ranges (like 18mm to 55mm and 55mm to 200mm), but you have a bigger overall aperture (f2.8 for example). Now, instead of carrying a bunch of single focal length lenses for your more professional grade shots, you only carry one or two lenses in your bag. For pro photographers on the go, that $1500 price tag pays for itself after a few big shoots.
Do I need better image quality?
Lenses at the lower end of the price range just aren’t constructed as well as higher end ones. They are prone to problems like chromatic aberration and barrel distortion (see my related article on lenses from last week). These problems aren’t the end of the world for most photographers, but they do have an effect on the final product. Professional photographers purchase higher end lenses to minimize these slight distortions and improve image quality.
If you want to improve your image quality without buying a super expensive, high-end zoom, you can start by purchasing fixed focal length lenses for the extreme ends of your zoom lens. Because they’re less complicated, fixed focal length lenses tend to have less problems with distortion. They’re a good place to start when you want better image quality without paying a lot of money.
Here’s a good buying strategy. If you have a 55mm to 200mm zoom lens, purchase two fixed focal length lenses. One of them should be a 55mm lens and another should be a 200mm lens. Here’s why. Distortions tend to be their worst at the extreme ends of a zoom lens. In the middle, there’s almost no distortion, so you don’t need to purchase a fixed focal length lens for that “region” in the zoom range.
As always, don’t buy lenses because the money is burning a hole in your pocket. If you don’t feel like you’re being creative enough in your photography, a nice flash or a high quality tripod is a better investment. Both of these will give you more control over your images than any lens ever could. Get these purchases out of the way first.
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