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Video: How to Choose a Lens

Zak, a Crutchfield writer and photo enthusiast, shows us the different lenses you can use on a digital SLR camera or interchangeable lens hybrid camera. He also shows us how to get the pictures you want when you photograph sports, wildlife, portraits, and low-light situations.

Read video transcript

Zak: Different lenses can help you achieve different effects with your photos. When you buy a digital SLR or a hybrid interchangeable lens camera like this one, it will come with a kit lens to get you started, which is a good thing to have at first, but eventually you might find yourself wanting something more. So let's take a look at the different types of lenses available. A quick reminder before we get started — there are several different lens mounts so be sure to check your manual to make sure you're getting a lens that will fit on your camera.

All-in-one lenses like this one cover a wide range of focal lengths making it a perfect one lens solution for your camera. For instance, they're awesome for travel because you can pack one lens and that's it. Or, say you're at a soccer game — you can shoot a team photo on the wide end and zoom right in on the action on the other end. They're great. If you don't want to change lenses a lot this is the perfect lens for you.

Now in contrast to your all-in-one lens solution is a prime lens, which features one fixed focal length rather than a wide variety of them. The reason you want one is, number one, they offer the best image quality of any lens available. Number two, they have a wide maximum aperture, meaning they let in a lot more light and that will let you shoot in low light situations — like indoors without a flash. Now I know for a lot of parents, this type of lens is the second lens they usually buy because they realize pretty quick that they can't shoot indoors with their zoom lens because it doesn't let in enough light. And it'll also let you blur backgrounds for creative effect, making your portraits better than ever. Prime lenses are available in all kinds of different focal lengths for different effects. You can get them from wide angle all the way up to pretty long telephoto lenses.

Long telephoto lenses help you get right in tight on the action when you can't be close. So say you're at the sideline of a soccer game or you're on safari or even at an air show, this will help you get right in on the action when you can't move from your seat. In contrast to most zoom lenses, this fast telephoto is kind of a specialty lens. It features a wide maximum aperture compared to other zooms that stays constant across the zoom range. Wedding shooters really like them because they're inside a church or someplace like that and they need to let in all the light they can and they need to get close — and these are good lenses for that as well. The trade-off here is that as you can see this is a pretty bulky lens. It even has a tripod collar on it for putting it on a tripod or a monopod when you're shooting, but the image quality is fantastic.

Ultra-wide lenses like this one help you achieve some really cool effects. For one, they are extremely, extremely wide so you can get in a huge scene that you're standing literally right in front of. They're not so good for portraits because they kind of distort a little bit, especially on the edges so they're not really good for a group photo so much, but they're really cool for exaggerating distances between near and far and achieving some effects that you can only get with a lens like this. And they're a lot of fun. You'll get really neat pictures with them.

A macro lens is another type of prime lens, meaning fixed focal length. You can achieve big life-size photos of small things like insects, flowers. They're great for shooting product shots on eBay. They're good for portraits. And they're image quality is just fantastic. They're among the sharpest lenses in anybody's line. Now something that's a little confusing is you might see macro listed on the side of a zoom lens. That's not the same thing. A real macro lens is a fixed focal length lens like this one.

If you have any questions about the lenses we've talked about here, or any others, just give us a call.

  • Michael Hudor from Fort Myers

    Posted on 8/6/2020

    I own a Canon Power Shot G6 (pc1089) Digital camera. I have many quality lenses from a Minolta X-700, SLR, 35mm camera. Is there any adaptor that I can install on my Canon to use those lenses? Thank you in advance,

  • Jenny from Dallas

    Posted on 3/20/2017

    Great info!

  • Commenter image

    Zak Billmeier from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/11/2015

    Hi, Rich, it's been a while since we made this video, but by the looks of it those pics were most likely taken with a 50mm or 85mm lens. When you get close to your subject with one of those lenses, you'll see the backgrounds get nice and blurry like the photos you see here.

  • Rich from Valencia

    Posted on 8/5/2015

    Which lens prime did you use fr those baby and dog photos?

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