In photography, the camera always hogs the limelight. The lens that sits in front of the camera mostly goes unappreciated or unnoticed. When the fact is that the lens is what should get the majority of attention and not the other way round.
Camera lenses come in many different types. They can be segregated based on their focal length, purpose, stabilization, build quality and of course mount. We have reviewed and compared several lenses based on a number of different parameters. These should help you zero in on the optic that you need.
The best lenses for landscape photography should have a short focal length. That will allow it to capture a larger field of view. Why landscape photographers prefer a wide angle lens for shooting landscape photography? Because a wide angle lens is able to utilize the larger field of view and capture a majestic frame that almost gets the whole scene in front. That’s why you would find mountain ranges, seascapes, waterfalls, and forests mostly captured with wide angle lenses.
The thing about photography is that you can do the exact same thing with different tools. That’s why despite the fact that a wide angle lens is a preferred choice for landscape photography, there are ample examples of great landscape photos shot with a telephoto lens as well. A telephoto lens is normally referred to as a lens that has a focal length of 85mm or longer.
And just to clarify, any lens within the focal length range of 35mm to below 85mm is considered as a standard lens. The two best lenses in the standard prime segment (lenses with a fixed focal length) are the 35mm and the 50mm.
Any lens that has a focal length under 35mm is considered a wide angle lens. Then, of course, there are ultra-wide angle lenses which have a very wide focal length. The Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5 – 5.6 IS STM, for example, is one such lens.
Portrait lenses, on the other hand, are designed to suit a very specific need. And that need is to make sure that the facial features of the subject being photographed are in the right proportions. You cannot shoot great portrait shots with a wide angle lens. On the other hand, the best landscape shots are always captured with a wide angle lens. The best lenses for portrait photography are a minimum of 85mm in focal length or above.
There is an important characteristic of portrait and landscape lenses that you have to know about. Portrait lenses that are medium telephoto lenses tend to compress things a bit. That is what produces more natural facial features. On the other hand landscape lenses, and therefore wide angle lenses, tend to distort things a bit, especially at the center of the frame. This happens because of barrel distortion.
You can check out some of the best portrait lenses for the Canon EOS system cameras here.
Wildlife photography is an extremely challenging genre of photography and one that requires a very good quality camera and exquisite lenses. These lenses have to be fast. That means the lens should open up to a wide aperture.
A wide aperture lens will be able to capture a lot of light. That is a major requirement for the best lenses because in many situations you would be shooting in less than optimum light. Especially, when shooting birds. A wide (fast) aperture will ensure that the lens will produce a good exposure.
Another advantage of a fast aperture lens is that they allow the use of fast shutter speed (thus the name fast aperture). The Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR is a great budget lens to shoot wildlife photography with. Mind you, it will struggle a bit in extremely low light situations.
Sports photography in many ways requires a similar sort of lenses as you would use to shoot wildlife photography with. You need long focal lengths as well as a fast wide aperture. Plus, you also need image stabilization. Image stabilization ensures that you are able to produce excellent blur-free images even when shooting at incredibly long focal lengths like 400mm and beyond.
Plus, image stabilization comes in several modes. So, you have the normal mode, then the panning mode and finally the sports mode. These are referred to by different names but they are actually the same.
There are many special purpose lenses which are designed for special applications. Such as macro lenses, tilt-shift lenses, close up lenses and so on. These lenses are pretty complicated to use but will produce excellent results in the right hands.
Macro lenses are typically one optical lens that ends up being the second sought after lens after the kit lens for a lot of photographers.
Tilt-shift lenses, on the other hand, are extremely complicated to work with. But they are imperative if you wish to shoot architecture photos, or want to practice selective focusing techniques.
Some other aspects that you have to keep in mind: Image Stabilization
Image stabilization sells more lenses than it actually makes sense at times. For the most part, if you shoot at one over the focal length or faster you get a decent blur-free image without the need for image stabilization.
But then there are moments when the lack of image stabilization will simply not do. Sports photography, for example, is one such area. Low light portraits is yet another area. Another instance when image stabilization is necessary is in macro photography. Though in macro photography you can still use a tripod as the subjects are not moving about that much.
Image stabilized lenses will set you back further. Plus, these lenses tend to be heavier than the non-stabilized versions.
A lens mount is a connection between the lens and the camera. It can be mechanical or electronic or both. It basically is comprised of mechanical coupling and a whole lot of electronic sensors and backed by circuitry. The lens mount can be referred to as an interface. Where the lens and the camera interacts and passes inputs back and forth. Thus, it is imperative that you have the right lens for your camera.
Lens format denotes which camera type it is designed for. Say, you have a lens that has been designed for a smaller APS-C camera (cropped sensor) you may (or may not, depending on the camera make) mount the lens on a full-frame body of the same make. However, even if you do, you will not be able to fully utilize the lens’ true potential. This is because the lens will not utilize a large part of the sensor. There will be a loss of both resolution and exposure. Additionally, the effective focal length of the lens will also change and the composition will appear tighter (with all other parameters unchanged).