Personally I have owned a Canon camera and lenses for a number years and accordingly will use the Canon lens range as an example but the general principles are true for all manufactures of SLR camera systems. Lenses come in a range of qualities /prices available both from the original equipment manufactures e.g. Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony etc (OEM’s) as well as third party brands e.g. Tamron or Tokina also in a range of prime and zoom lens and a wide array of focal lengths.
Generally the faster a lens, i.e. the wider f-stop available, the more expensive it will be. The “L” designation on a Canon lens basically means for professional use, the quality of glass used is better, manufactured and inspected to tighter tolerances this quality is reflected in the price. In the case of Canon EF lenses will fit all Canon Digital SLR Cameras whereas EF-S lenses are optimised for cropped sensor cameras and whilst they will fit full frame cameras the resulting images may be severely vignetted and/or distorted.
There is generally a premium for buying the OEM version of a lens and similar quality and specification lens can often be purchased from a third party manufacturer more cheaply. There can be some minor disadvantages to this, all OEM lenses will work in the same fashion e.g. focussing /zoom rings turn the same way; on a third party lens this may not be the case and can be a source of irritation and frustration if there is one “odd” lens in your bag.
Bottom line is there are a wide array of lenses available for modern cameras from the major manufacturers. These range from fish-eye (extreme wide angle) to long (800mm) telephoto lenses for wild life and sports photography. In addition there are specialist lenses such as macro lenses for close up work and tilt and shift lenses that allow control of perspective and depth of field in Architectural photography.
The choice of lens for a particular shoot will be generally be limited to what you own, however it should not be forgotten that for specialist jobs hire is available and is often the most cost effective solution for a particular task. Only a full time professional in certain specific niches could justify the cost of owning some of the lenses available which can cost many thousands of pounds. Fixed focal length lens are referred to as “primes” or primary due to their superior and specific optical qualities compared to a zoom lens which necessarily makes design compromises to cover the range of focal lengths.
As an example of the range available Canon offer 3 different 50Mm lenses in f1.8, 1.4 and 1.2 L versions. The 1.8 lens costs around £100 with a plastic body and mount, the 1.4 approx £250 a metal mount, more robust construction and much smoother focussing mechanism and lastly the 1.2L at around a £1000 with professional quality construction and truly excellent optical qualities. As can be seen there is a diminishing improvement in specification against an exponential increase in cost. Further up the range Canon offer 4 70-200 L lenses varying from an F4.0 without image stabilisation (IS) at around £500 to an F2.8 version with IS for around £2,000.
Personally I have adopted a policy of purchasing a series of complementary focal length lenses over a period of years, where possible L series lenses as apart from the optical quality they tend to be more durable and actually hold their value much better should you come to sell them. It is actually the cost of lenses that is prohibitive in changing from one manufacturer to another rather than the cost of the camera body, this is the primary reason most people stay loyal to the brand that they originally purchase.
Equipment currently available, Prime Lenses
EF 14mm F2.8 L
EF 50mm F1.4
EF 100 mm F2.8 (Macro) L
EF 17-40 F4.0 L
EF 24-70 F2.8 L
EF 70-210 F4.0 L
EF 100-400 F4.5-5.6 L
When considering going out for a particular shoot I will try and select the lenses I think will be most useful for the particular scene / object / person to be photographed. There is perceived wisdom about the suitability of certain lenses for certain tasks, some based on the qualities of the lenses and some on accepted good practice but as ever these are only guideline and can be broken, often with great effect, if the subject calls for it. Some examples below.
Generally Landscapes are taken with a wide angle lens, this because you often want to capture as much of the breadth of the scene as possible. However sometimes you want to focus on specific elements and a different choice is appropriate.
The pier scene below was taken with the 24-70 at the wider end of the focal length range in order to capture the entire scene and give an impression of the scale of the pier and beach. The rocks image on the other hand was taken with a 70-200 telephoto lens in order to emphasise the rocks, which were some distance off shore, and foreshorten the series of incoming waves to increase the sense of natures power in the image. (Click on images to enlarge).
For portraits a lens with a focal length of between 85 and 135 mm (based on a full frame or 35mm image area) is generally considered to be optimum. Such a lens will give nicely blurred backgrounds and maintain a reasonable separation between subject and photographer, this can be important when shooting certain subjects e.g. children as you are not potentially intimidating the subject. Wider angle lenses will potentially distort the image and if for example the majority of the image is someone’s face this may not be the most flattering result.
Below is an example of a distorted portrait caused by a combination of the distance between the foreground and background elements of the subject when taken with a relatively wide angle lens. See how much more pleasing the result is when the all of the subject is basically in the same plane.
However the distorted perspective effect can be used to good effect on other subjects. For example in the photograph of the daffodils below, with the flowers large in the frame and the blurred tree and clouds in the background, due to a wide open aperture, results in a different sense of proportion to the scene.
For wildlife photography a long telephoto lens if often the preferred choice because of the difficulty of getting close to genuinely wild subjects e.g. birds in flight. A rule of thumb when shooting hand held is that the shutter speed should be equal to the focal length to obtain a sharp image. e..g shooting at 400mm would mean a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second. This may mean adjusting the ISO speed to achieve such speeds, particularly as long focal length lenses are typically not particularly fast. Very long lenses may typically need to be supported on a tripod due to the sheer weight and bulk of the lenses. Focussing techniques will also vary and often when shooting wildlife its better to pre-focus on a distance and wait for the subject to enter the correct zone.
Example of bird (Eagle) in flight shot at 400mm.
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