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Choosing a Lens: Which lenses are good for what?
As you build your lens collection, whether photography is a hobby or a small part of you business, it may be tough to decide which lens to buy next depending on what you want to do with this new hobby, make it a career, or just have a good lens collection for creativity. If you want to check out how I store my lens and keep them organized see this post.
What camera lenses are good for what?
This is the most common question asked by new hobbyist photographers relates to understanding lens options and without basic knowledge of photography, it’s pretty tough to answer but this post is going to make it easy for you with photo examples.
In this post I’m going to give you my opinion on what works for me as a professional, what’s in my photography bag, and what works for my style of shooting. This doesn’t mean you should do the same, but I’ll be referencing Canon lenses since that’s what I know, and Nikon has comparable lenses as well and is an excellent brand I will link to them as well. Also if you’re a hobbyist, while these lenses are very pricey, you should understand focal lengths at this point and know there are other alternatives to the lenses, cheaper apertures can be 1.8, 2.0 or 2.8.
I’m going into the archives of old photography shots and it’s giving me so much nostalgia. It’s great to see that my style hasn’t really changed much, I still edit clean and while there are trends in photography (styled and props) I still love these images. So let’s look at the photos you can take using specific lenses!
50mm f/1.2L Review – $1500
Basic go-to lens
This lens was on my “to buy” list when I realized the 50mm was my go-to lens that I shot with for 75% of the time, so upgrading was a MUST DO for me. If you love your 50mm/whatever it is, you’ll love the f/1.2’s excellent glass. This lens is one of my greatest lens investment. Great if…
- You don’t mind being close up to your subjects
- People are your main subjects
- You already have a 50mm and you shoot with it all the time
Less pricey alternatives
35mm f/1.4L Review – $1300
The standard wide angle
I couldn’t live without this lens either. Since I shoot with prime lenses (aside from 70-200mm), a wide angle was a necessity to my lens collection. It gives me crisp images and at times, competes as the favorite with my 50mm/1.2 Great if…
- You find yourself in small spaces (like bridal suites)
- You shoot in gorgeous scenery and need to get the whole picture
- You don’t have enough time to run far away to get the whole shot
Less pricey alternatives:
Wider angle lenses:
85mm f/1.4 review – $900
A beautiful portrait lens
I am obsessed with this lens. I shoot a lot of portraits and there are moments when I don’t want to be the third wheel during an intimate moment. That’s where the 85mm came in. You might wonder why I didn’t go with Canon on this lens, it came highly recommended by other photographer friends they preferred this over Canon. The 85mm lens is great if…
- You shoot a lot of portraits
- You want to give more space with your clients and not be “up in their intimate moment”
- You like compressed backgrounds
- You want to add a different look to your portrait sessions
Less pricey alternative:
100mm f/2.8 macro review – $549
Shooting small objects and details
Not everyone needs a macro lens, that’s for sure. I used to joke the only things you could shoot with it would be things that are tiny, which includes bugs. No thanks. However as I photographed weddings, every one needs a ring shot, and so steps in the macro. Is it worth buying? Only if you shoot enough. For me, it’s a convenience factor of having one and knowing I can resell the lens later if I decide I don’t need it. If you can find it on sale for around $400, I’d say pick it up, it’s a beautiful lens. I use this one. Great if…
- You photograph babies (fingers, toes, ears)
- You photograph weddings often (rings, earrings, details)
- You do find yourself getting pretty close up to things and the 50mm won’t let you focus on it (it means you’re too close)
- You shoot cute, little things
- You can also use this as a portrait lens
70-200 f/2.8 telephoto review – $1200
The ultimate zoom lens
I never thought about shooting portraits with the 70-200 until I realized how much I wanted the focus to be on my subjects and for the background to be sucked in close to the foreground. If your client wants the mountains or a cityscape behind them, a 70-200 will do wonders, just wonders. Wedding photographers tend to just use it for the ceremony and put it away – not me. Great if…
- You want to bring that background closer to the foreground (mountains + cityscape), see images below
- Photos with a sense of intimacy
- You have subjects “walk” often so you can adjust the lens as they move
- You really want to give your subjects some distance at times and you can’t be up close (like at the alter)
Less pricey alternative:
^^ See how the mountains are closer to the subject, it adds character to the background of the image by bringing it closer to the foreground.
Camera lens tips
- Better gear doesn’t make you a better photographer, but –
- Having a good range of lenses can easily change a shot without you having to move, and so you can –
- Think of the look of the image you want to capture first, then decide what lens to use.
- Also at the end of the year, if you need any tax deductions, buying equipment might be a good idea!
When to rent lens and when to buy
- You aren’t sure if you like the lens yet
- You won’t use it enough over a span of time that you consider getting your money’s worth
- You don’t have the cash to buy a lens in full
If you are interested in learning more about photography, please get in touch with me. I can teach via Skype to students across the world! I would love to teach you!
This post was updated and originally published on December 11, 2012.
Blog Post keywords: lens choices, lens recommendations, lenses, canon lenses