So you've purchased (or are considering the purchase of) a digital SLR camera. You may have noticed that some cameras come bundled with a lens or two, but you're just not sure which bundle to purchase and you're wondering why there are so many lenses to choose from! When should you use a telephoto lens? Why do some lenses zoom while others don't? Ready to wave the white flag? I won't let you! But, before I discuss where and when to use a particular lens, it's important to learn a little bit about lens terminology. So here we go! (Don't worry, I keep it simple!)
Zoom Lenses vs Prime Lenses
A zoom lens gives you the ability to zoom in and out, while a prime lens has absolutely no zoom capability. Zoom lenses are convenient and allow you to completely change the composition of your photo with a simple turn of the zoom ring. For example, a 24mm-70mm zoom lens gives you the a nice wide composition at 24mm (when you want to get more people or an entire scene into the photo) or a close up composition at 70mm (when you want to focus more on the subject and not so much the landscape or environment). The higher the millimeter value (mm), the more zoomed-in you'll be. Zoom lenses are handy in environments where things change quickly, while prime lenses are perfect when staging photos in a controlled environment. Photographing children on a playground is much easier with a zoom lens since your subjects are more likely to move around (towards or away from you). So instead of walking (or running) toward or away from your subject, you can simply use the zoom on the lens to frame the perfect photograph.
You cannot zoom with a prime lens, so to "zoom-in" on your subject, you have to physically move closer or further away from it. If you are staging a family photo or shooting portraits, a prime lens is perfect since the environment is controlled and fairly predictable.
So why purchase a prime lens if zoom lenses are more convenient? It's all about the Benjamins! Cost is the main reason that photographers purchase prime lenses. A zoom lens contains many different elements (optic glass and other do-dads) which significantly increase the production cost, which increases retail prices. Prime lenses usually contain less elements and are therefore less expensive.
In a nutshell, zoom lenses zoom and prime lenses don't!
Aperture and Focal Length sound complex and mind-boggling so I won't bore you with scientific descriptions, but it's important to understand these terms and how they relate to the quality and ultimately the cost of a lens.
What happens to your pupils when you turn off the lights? They get bigger! Why do they get bigger? To let in more light so you can see! Much like the human eye, your lens has a iris (aperture ring) and the aperture ring can be adjusted to let in more or less light (make the pupil larger or smaller). This is especially important when taking photos in conditions with low light. More often than not, the wider you can open the aperture, the more expensive the lens. Having a wide open aperture can come in handy when shooting outdoor High School football games at night, concert photos (when flash is not allowed) or any situation where natural light is barely or non existent and the flash won't reach your subject from where you are shooting.
Professional photographers prefer these lenses because they not only function better under low light conditions, but they are often built better and contain additional perks (special anti-glare coating etc.) to help capture superior photographs. Oh yeah, and lenses with large apertures are ideal for capturing photos with beautifully blurred out backgrounds, also known as Bokeh. Check out my article on Aperture and Bokeh for more information: http://svgcuts.com/blog/2012/05/22/photography-tips-for-paper-crafters-aperture-and-bokeh/
The aperture of a lens is expressed in the following format f/x.x. Common aperture values include but are not limited to f/2.8, f/4, f/1.4 etc. The LOWER the number, the wider (more open) the aperture, the more light the lens allows to pass through. Watch the video below to see aperture in action!
Affordable Lenses That I Recommend
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8D - Available on Amazon, Click Here
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8G - Available on Amazon, Click Here
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 - Available on Amazon, Click Here