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Types of Camera Lenses

Aspiring Shutterbug? Here Are the Camera Lenses You Should Know About

From Beginner to Advanced

Most entry-level and some intermediate DSLR cameras are sold with “kit” lenses. These are typically beginner lenses intended for an introduction into the capabilities of modern DSLR cameras. They are budget lenses intended for hobbyist use. Their sharpness and other capabilities are usually lacking for any serious professional work. Most are variable telephoto lenses (zoom lenses) that are decent for snapshots but lack sharpness and low-light effectiveness. As photography enthusiasts gain more experience, they typically want to expand their repertoire of available lenses.

Professional photography can be very specialized, but the typical genres enthusiasts enjoy are landscape, portrait, nature, wildlife and sport photography. People are likely to be an element used across almost all types of photography but if formal portrait shots are desired, portrait lenses should be used. A portrait lens permits blurring of the background and beautiful bokeh (the look of the areas in images that are out of focus). The number of aperture blades affects the bokeh quality. Better lenses have more blades. Portrait lenses should be capable of producing ultra-sharp images too. It is easy to soften the look in post-edit, but it is impossible to increase clarity.

Standard lenses are also useful. They are typically prime lenses. A prime lens is at a fixed focal plane. Zooms are variable. The tried-and-true 50mm prime lens is a good lens to have. The photographer’s feet are the zoom. Prime lenses usually are faster, which work better in subdued light. The lack of moving parts needed to make a lens zoomable also goes a long way in increasing sharpness as well as reducing color and other aberrations inherent in many lenses.

A few thousand presses of the shutter button begins to reveal a photographer’s favored subject matter. Often, the chosen subject benefits by adding advanced lenses to the gear bag. Photographers who enjoy shooting architecture often use a tilt-shift lens to straighten out converging lines in images of tall buildings or photographs of long and narrow city streets. Macro lenses are great for capturing images of insects, flowers and other small things. Fish-eye lenses give a brand new look to everything from landscapes to taking overhead pictures of groups of people. Extreme variable telephoto lenses (600mm and beyond) are needed to capture wildlife from a distance.

There is a huge variability in the quality of lenses that are available. When deciding on adding a lens to a gear bag, consider renting it first. In fact, rent a budget and pro lens of the same type to see the difference. The difference in cost between an amateur and pro lens can be several thousand dollars. Not all budget lenses are clunkers, and not all pro lenses are gems. Renting lenses lets photographers try before they buy.