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Do you want to know how to choose a camera lens?
Don’t worry. Because while choosing the right lens is not an easy task, I’m going to show you a quick way to determine the perfect lens for your needs.
I even created an interactive Lens Finder for you.
I recommend reading the article where you will learn my approach to selecting the right lens.
Next, run the Lens Finder to discover the right lens based on the camera you use and the type of photography you do.
How to Choose a Camera Lens: 4 Step Approach
The method works by process of elimination – where you figure out the lenses that you cannot buy and are left with the ones that are great for your purposes.
Let’s get started.
1. Lens Mount
When it comes to choosing a lens, the first thing you should consider is the lens mount.
This is the area of the lens that attaches to the camera. And because each lens manufacturer generally makes their own lens mount, most lenses can only be mounted on one type of camera.
So before you choose a lens, you should know exactly what mount your cameras will accept.
It’s also worth mentioning that you can technically buy adapters that will let you mount one lens on an incompatible camera body. But these adapters can have problems, so I recommend using fully compatible lenses whenever possible.
Note that you don’t always have to buy a brand lens for your brand camera. Manufacturers do always make lenses for their own camera bodies, but there are plenty of third-party lens manufacturers; these companies produce lenses for various branded mounts, such as Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E, and more.
For example, if you are looking for a lens for your Canon camera, you not only can buy models from Canon but also from Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, and others. But, you have to make sure the lens mount matches your camera mount.
In fact, third-party lenses are often excellent choices, because they often have low price tags but amazing optical quality.
2. Camera Sensor Size
Whenever you choose a lens, you should consider the sensor size on your camera.
You see, different cameras feature different sensors. The main two sensor types are full-frame and APS-C (crop) sensors, where APS-C sensors are notably smaller. This results in a “crop” effect, where the field of view on APS-C cameras is narrowed.
For an in-depth look, see my previous article on the topic: Full Frame vs APS-C Cameras
When it comes to choosing lenses, the main consequence is in terms of image quality: Full frame lenses do not perform as well on APS-C cameras as on full frame cameras.
Take a look at the diagram below:
Note how sharpness and overall performance of one of the best Canon lenses (24mm f/1.4) are much lower on the 7D Mark II compared to its full-frame 5D Mark IV counterpart.
That’s why I recommend using lenses made specifically for APS-C cameras in these situations; APS-C lenses are generally far cheaper than their full-frame counterparts, yet they still offer great image quality.
And if you have a full frame camera, make sure you accompany it with the full frame lens.
3. Prime vs Zoom Lens
When choosing a lens, you’re going to need to decide between two broad categories:
Prime lenses vs zoom lenses.
For an in-depth look, see my previous article on the topic: Prime vs Zoom Lens
Otherwise, just know that prime lenses tend to be cheaper yet offer great optical quality. They’re also smaller and lighter.
Zoom lenses, however, are very convenient. You won’t have to carry three different lenses in your camera bag if you have a good zoom.
Of course, this comes with a tradeoff: If you want zooms with stellar image quality, you’ll pay for it. So for photographers who favor convenience over price, go with a zoom. But if you’re looking for the best image quality with the lowest price tag, pick a prime.
4. The Type of Photography You Are Planning to Do
Your final consideration when choosing a lens is the genre of photography you like the most. In many ways, this is the most important thing to think about.
Let’s take a look at some photography genres and the type of lens they require:
Portrait photography lenses need to offer a wide maximum aperture, in order to create a nice separation between the subject and the background. They also tend to be either in the standard (50mm) focal length range.
- For instance, full frame shooters will appreciate a prime lens in the 50-100mm range, with an f/1.2-f/1.8 maximum aperture.
- APS-C shooters will like a prime lens in the 35-70mm range, with an f/1.2-f/1.8 maximum aperture.
Wide angle lenses are the cornerstone of landscape photography. Pretty much every professional landscape photographer carries a wide angle lens in their bag, and so it’s what I recommend you start with.
Landscape photographers generally shoot using a tripod, so there’s no need for wide maximum apertures. And while you can get away with using a prime lens, zooms are much better for landscape photography.
- Full-frame landscape shooters will like a zoom lens in the 15-36mm focal length range, with a maximum aperture of f/4.
- APS-C landscape shooters will like a zoom lens in the 10-24mm focal length range, again with an f/4 maximum aperture.
When doing street photography, you’re going to want to keep your gear nice and compact. That way, you won’t attract attention while out shooting. You’ll also want a lens with a wide maximum aperture so you can deal with many different lighting scenarios.
- If you shoot on a full-frame body, you might go for a prime lens in the 35-50mm focal length range with an f/1.2-f/1.8 maximum aperture.
- If you shoot on an APS-C body, you might go for a prime lens in the 23-35mm focal length range with an f/1.2-f/1.8 maximum aperture.
General Family Photography
If you want to be able to shoot indoors without flash, then you’ll need a lens with a wide maximum aperture. You’ll also want to get something with a relatively wide focal length so you can shoot in tight spaces.
- I recommend a prime lens in the 24-35mm focal length range for full-frame shooters, with a f/1.2-f/1.8 maximum aperture.
- And I recommend a prime lens in the 16-23mm focal length range for APS-C photographers, with the same f/1.2-f/1.8 maximum aperture.
If you’re a travel photographer, you’re going to want one lens that you can use all the time–one that’s relatively compact, and with a zoom range that’s useful for many types of photos (e.g., landscapes, street, even portraits). You’ll also probably appreciate a lens with weather sealing, because the skies don’t always cooperate!
Here’s what I recommend:
- For full-frame photographers: A zoom lens in the 24-120mm range, with an f/4 maximum aperture.
- For APS-C photographers: A zoom lens in the 16-80mm range, also with an f/4 maximum aperture.
Sport and Wildlife Photography
If you’re a sports or a wildlife photographer, then you’re going to be prepared to spend a lot, because these lenses don’t come cheap. The best sports and wildlife lenses have lightning-fast autofocus, a long focal length, and a wide enough maximum aperture to shoot at dusk, indoors, or in shade.
If you’re an APS-C or full-frame sports shooter, a fast 70-200mm zoom will do the trick. Wildlife photographers, on the other hand, will appreciate something longer: 300mm at the widest, with 400mm, 500mm, or even 600mm offering better reach.
Now that you’ve finished this article, you should have a better sense of the perfect lens for your needs. Hopefully, the process of elimination approach has helped you determine the best possible lens!