Yes I’m happy to admit I’m a lens junky. Currently I have 12 in my kit, for just 2 camera bodies. I have 2 more on the ‘must have’ list and a further 2 on the ‘one day would be nice’ list (or is it 3 or maybe 4 ). Buying a lens is an investment and should not be rushed into. When you find yourself constantly saying I wish I had ………….(wider, faster, longer, etc) then it’s time to start looking. This is the process I take.
Before I start there are a few questions that I ask myself.
- Do I buy a full frame (FF) lens or one designed for a cropped sensor. Even though I had a Nikon D7000 (cropped sensor) I had always dreamt that I would one day buy a full frame camera. It might have been a distant dream a year ago, but now I already have my FF camera a Nikon D90. Most of my lenses were FF lenses and so it was no problem to switch. The FF lenses worked just fine with the cropped sensor (not so if you own a cannon). The Cropped sensor lenses however cause serious vignetting and loss of image on the FF camera. I am glad I hadn’t kitted up with DX lenses (for the cropped sensor) or now I would be replacing all my lenses.
- Prime or Zoom? A prime lens has only one focal length, say 50mm, whereas a zoom has a range of focal lengths, say 35—100mm. Some say that the prime lens will give a sharper clearer image. If you have never used a prime, try taping a zoom lens to a set focal length like 35 or 50mm and see if you can work to that restriction. I prefer to have the flexibility of the zoom—even if it is just a little bit. It helps with composing the shot. Anyway I have never seen a huge difference in clarity.
- What focal length and F stop am I after? A standard lens is around 50mm, a portrait lens around 100mm, telephoto 200mm, bird lens 300—600mm, wide angle 28-35mm, extra wide 10-18 and fish eye 8-10mm. The larger the aperture (smaller F number) the more light the lens will accept and thus greater the flexibility in low light. A standard zoom lens may vary from F 2.8—5.6. A good low light lens may be F1.6. The good telephoto lenses will be around F2.8, but these may cost several thousand dollars.
Now that you have the basics time to start the research.
- Which Brand? The term “On camera lens” refers to a lens made by the same company as the camera body. These lenses are often superior to the alternatives, but are costly. For example a Nikkor Lens is made by Nikon. There are a plethora of alternative brand lenses (“Off camera lens”) that have mounts designed for each of the main camera bodies. For instance a Tamron lens may have a Nikon, Cannon or Pentax mount, It is worth visiting the web site and see what is available. Also read the reviews. You can find reviews on the various camera blogs that will compare one lens to another. Flickr often has groups for a particular lens. On the Flikr group you can see pictures taken with that lens and ask questions in the forums, or of those posting pictures. You can also ask at camera club or visit your local camera store. It is always good to build a bit of rapport as there are some great minds to pick. Unfortunately some will act like salesmen, telling you anything to make a sale. My favourite question to ask these guys is “what would you buy”.
- Price. Once you have settled on the lens, now it’s time to shop for a price. I look for at least 4 local stores. I look at both new and second hand lenses. I go online or look at ebay stores and ebay second hand. Second hand is always a bit of a risk. The camera stores will offer a short warranty. On ebay look for high ratings and read the description. If it is a camera buff you can usually tell. It is always best to buy local, however with high end lenses you can save anything up to $500 by buying from overseas on line. Again look for high ratings and if at all possible an Australian warranty. Most lenses will come with a worldwide warranty. I have bought from all of the above. Except for one hick up, all of the sales were quite satisfactory.
- Waiting. Now armed with prices I still don’t rush out and buy. If you’re prepared to wait you can save some money. The lens you have chosen will often come on sale or be offered at discount in a promotion or a good second hand one will appear. If you are ready to buy now you will know the best deal or what is a fair price.
A Few Tips
Not all lenses retain their resale value. A second hand “on camera” lens will generally hold its price (unless superseded). A second hand “off camera” lens, even in excellent condition, may only bring half of it’s original purchase price.
Always buy the best you can afford, even if it is step above what you currently think you need. It may save you money in the long run. It is silly to buy low just to have to sell and buy again later as you outgrow that lens.
Don’t get disappointed if you don’t get the instant results you’re after. A better lens may be less forgiving than say a kit lens and can show little flaws in your technique. However give it time, experiment and talk to colleagues. As with everything it often just takes a bit more practice.
Just to make it harder, the various features of the lens that I have described are encoded with acronyms. It can take a while to work out what they all mean. And each lens manufacturer has a different convention. For instance the Nikon cropped sensor lens is designated DX, while the sigma lens is designated DC and Tamron DI 11. I have included a list of the main acronyms which hopefully will make it easier to find what you want.
Deciphering all those lens letters
- DX Crop Sensor
- FX Full Frame
- AF Auto Focus
- AF-S Auto Focus with Silent Wave motor
- ED Extra-low Dispersion glass
- VR Vibration Reduction
- IF Internal Focusing
- RF Rear Focusing
- AS Aspherical lens elements
- SWM Silent Wave Motor
- N Nano Crystal Coat
- SIC Super Integrated Coating
- G The G-type NIKKOR has no aperture ring
- D D-type NIKKOR, (relays distance information to AF bodies) – Has an aperture ring
- CRC Close-Range Correction system
- DC Defocus-image Control
- RD Rounded Diaphragm
- ML Meniscus Protective Lens
- DG Full Frame
- DC Crop Sensor
- HSM Hyper-Sonic Motor
- OS Optical Stabilizer Function
- EX superior build and optical quality
- ASP Aspherical
- IF Internal Focus
- RF Rear Focus
- APO Apochromatic (low-dispersion (SLD) glass)
- CONV APO Teleconverter EX
- DI Full Frame
- DI ll Crop Sensor
- SP Super Performance series
- VC Vibration Compensation
- XR Extra Refractive Index
- LD Low Dispersion Glass
- IF Internal Focusing
- ASL Aspherical
- BBAR Broad-Band Anti-Reflection multi-layer coatings
- ZL Zoom-lock mechanism
- L L-series lens—”luxury” quality lens
- USM Ultrasonic Motor
- IS Image Stabilisation
- FD Original mount for autofocus lenses
- EF EF (Electro focus) mount found on EOS film and digital cameras (1987)
- EF-S Cropped sensor—for APS-C sensors (2003)
- EF-M for mirror less interchangeable-lens cameras
- DO Diffractive Optics
- FTM Full time manual focussing (allows MF when in autofocus mode)
- TS and TS-E Tilt shift and Tilt shift with electronic focus