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Choosing the right lens


Will Cheung

Professional Photographer
Will Cheung is a professional photographer who specialises in scenic, travel and people photography. Will is now editor of Advanced Photographer having formerly been editor of both Practical Photography and Photography Monthly magazines. He is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and a lecturer at the Jessops Training Academy. To find out more about the Jessops Training Academy, please visit

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Choosing the right lens

The biggest attraction of having and using a digital SLR camera is being able to change lenses, so you can fit whichever lens you want to suit your vision or the subject you are photographing.

Lenses are also available from most camera brands such as Canon, Nikon and Sony and these are known as marque lenses. Lenses are also from independent manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron these often give a money saving compared with marque brands.

The most popular lenses are zooms which incorporate a range of focal lengths. Thus, an 18-55mm lens can be set at 18mm, 55mm or at any focal length in between to suit the picture's composition. Zoom lenses rate very highly in terms of value for money, compositional freedom and shooting convenience.

Lenses that have a fixed or one focal length are called prime lenses and these make up a small but important sector of the market because they are generally used by more experienced camera users and professional photographers. Lenses such as the Canon 60mm f/2.8 macro and Nikon 85mm f/1.8 are prime lenses.

Although you will find some cameras are sold as 'body only' most come supplied with a kit lens. For experienced photographers and those with an existing lens it makes sense to buy body only.

The kit lens will usually be a modest wide-angle at one end of the zoom range and slightly telephoto at the other. Such lenses are known as standard zooms, because they cover the most frequently used focal lengths and many camera users will need nothing more. However, those camera owners bitten by the Choosing the right lens photography bug will soon want to expand their creative horizons by investing in an extra lens or two.

Deciding which lenses to buy ultimately depends on what sort of subjects you wish to photograph as well as your creative vision. Give two photographers the same scene and one will fit a wide angle lens and get in closer, while the other will take a few steps back and fit a telephoto. Lens use is a subjective thing.

The first extra lens most people tend to buy first is a telephoto, something like a 55-200mm, 70-200mm or even a 70-300mm. Such zooms are handy for general use but also for specialist subjects like action and nature, but they need careful use to get the best results. They give less depth-of-field (front-to-back sharpness) which means focusing has to be very critical and with the extra magnification there is the increased risk of camera shake.

The camera shake concern is why some lens makers have lenses with built-in technology to minimize this - Canon has Image Stabilisation (IS), Nikon has Vibration Reduction (VR) and Sigma has Optical Stabiliser (OS). Other brands have anti-shake systems built into the camera bodies rather than into the lenses. Anti-shake technology is not on every lens and models that have it are usually a little more expensive.

Finally, remember that your lenses are the camera's 'eyes' and, just like your own, should be looked after if you want the best from them. That means keeping them clean, especially the front end, and using a lens hood to avoid flare and ghosting.

Expert Tips

It is easy to be dependent on a zoom lens but you often get better pictures just by moving a little closer or taking a step or two back. Auto focus systems are excellent and generally very accurate but it still pays to double check that the subject in the viewfinder is sharp before taking the picture.

Practice holding the camera with the left hand supporting the lens for maximum stability.

Essential Accessories

The front element of your lenses is very sensitive to physical damage so it makes sense to protect it with a skylight or ultra-violet (UV) filter. Replacing a scratched filter is cheaper than buying a new lens. Such filters are virtually clear so do not absorb any light and there is a very, very slight change in colour with the skylight-type filter. Buy one that is digital compatible and multi-coated to minimize any negative impact to image quality.

Cleaning materials
Lenses and filters do get dirty from airborne dust, fingerprints and the like, and will harm image quality. That said, lenses and filters do not need cleaning every day, but it is sensible to have the right gear handy in your camera bag when you need it. Jessops stock suitable cleaning fluids, blower brushes and micro fibre cloths for effective and safe lens cleaning. Just follow the instructions for the best results.

Lens hood
It is important to use a lens hood as stray light can cause flare and image contrast to suffer resulting in your pictures will looking disappointing. They often come supplied with the lens but if not, Jessops has a range on offer. Lens hoods, as well as helping avoid flare, also offer physical protection to the front of the lens.

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