Focusing on lenses

by Connie E Posted on January 22, 2010

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A camera is only as good as the glass that you mount on it. Many aspiring photographers spend exorbitant amounts of money on the latest techno-wonder camera kit, only to get kit lenses that barely qualify as paperweights. The glass you hang on the front of that super DSLR is at least as important an investment as the camera itself!

I take a lot of Nature shots and recently made a Shutterfly Nature Photo book. Some of you have asked what lens I use. In my book I primarily use two different lenses. The Sony 100mm f2.8 1:1 and a Sony 75-300 f4.5-f5.6.

The following is not a set of hard and fast rules. The technology is now so good that some of the old film ‘rules’ simply don’t apply. That being said, here are a few things I’ve learned that might be of some use to a new photographer:

  • You don’t always get what you pay for. Some very expensive lenses are really quite poor optically. Research, research, research! There is no shortage of information out there. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. I got a great deal on a lens off the Internet only to discover MOLD growing in it! Some camera retailers allow you take a lens out for a “test drive” before buying. Make sure you are well versed in their return policy if the lens is not satisfactory.
  • When you buy a lens ALWAYS, ALWAYS protect your investment with matching skylight or ultraviolet (UV) lens filter. It doesn’t have to be expensive as they start around $17.00 and up depending on diameter. A filter will save you from scratching your lens and or damaging it in another way. It’s cheaper to buy a new filter rather then a new lens!
  • For low light photography it is good to have at least one ‘fast’ lens (a lens with a low maximum aperture). The lower the f-stop the more light the lens will let in. (An f/1.7 is very fast, a f/2.8 is fast and a f5.6 is slow) The trade off is the limited depth of field with the wider aperture; your focus needs to be perfect. Keep in mind fast lenses are typically much heavier and much more expensive than their slower counter parts.
  • Prime vs. Zoom lenses: a prime or fixed lens has a single focal length. Generally speaking they are superior to zoom lenses when it comes to clarity and speed, but not necessarily cost. Zoom telephoto lenses conveniently cover multiple focal lengths and are very cost effective. However, they tend to sacrifice a bit in picture quality. Zoom lenses let you ‘reach out and touch’ your subject. I use both an 18-55mm and a 75-300mm f4.5-5.6 Zoom telephoto for most of my general photography. On a less-expensive zoom lens you might see it slow as you move to a longer focal length. Example of this is 75-300 f/4.5-5.6 lens. You can set a large aperture at f/4.5 for 75mm, but at 300mm the widest you can set is f/5.6.

  • Macro/micro lenses are indispensible for close up shooting. My 100mm f2.8 has 1:1 magnification, close enough to count the hairs on a bumblebee’s leg, while having enough focal length to allow some moderate telephoto shooting, and a wide enough aperture for relatively low light photography.

  • Wide Angle lenses (<35mm focal length) are great for landscapes and group portraits where you need a wider reach in a tight space. They have great depth of field, but are prone to distortion especially with close subjects. The human nose is not flattered by the wide angle lens.

Be creative, think outside the box, experiment with different settings, move in close, shoot from odd angles, but shoot and shoot and shoot.  Don’t have a macro? Try using your zoom telephoto. Don’t have a flash? Reflect the sun with a compact mirror. Most of all… HAVE FUN CREATING MEMORIES! I can’t wait to see your Photobooks in the Shutterfly Gallery!

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  1. AnnAbbott Says:

    Great job Connie…. I am slowing learning all of this stuff and it seems you have found a great combo of lens to do what you want. I have 3 lens now. A zoom, the standard kit and a new fast prime 50mm 1.8. I have been able to get killer shots will all three.

    Your right…you just have to jump in an take those photos….no matter what….got for it!

  2. AnnAbbott Says:

    oopss…that is slowly learning…..

  3. conniee4 Says:

    Thanks for your comments Ann! I want the 50mm prime! That will be my next purchase!

  4. Joey Says:

    Great information Connie. A little is over my head. I just need to read my manual and do some research. Since I don’t have an extra lens this is all kind of new to me but very helpful and very well explained.
    Your photos always amaze me, you get better all the time. You have to have that enthusiasum (sp?) and drive to shoot shoot shoot which you do. And of course it has to be fun.
    Super article!!

  5. BarbaraJ Says:

    Connie, I love this article. I’m so happy to see you share your knowledge with others. As I read this I can hear your voice as you would tell me each step on my settings for a great photo. Thank you for being my shutterfly friend and all the fun shots we have made with our Sony cameras.

  6. lemaire26 Says:

    E.X.E.L.L.E.N.T article Connie. Thanks for sharing your research and learnings with us in such an informative way. While you profess to not being an ‘expert’, I appreciate the clear and consise manner you laid out the points in this writing. VERY WELL DONE! Lots of great info in this article!!!!

  7. Earl J Says:

    I read all the Shutterfly blogs, Connie, and I pick yours as the best of the bunch. Great honesty in your evaluation of kit lenses. My Sony is an antique (DSC F717) made in ’03, but I love the lens, a Carl Zeiss f2. I do a lot of landscapes, so added a Sony wide angle converter, heavy and expensive, but it does the job and gets me to about 24mm. Thanks again for such an intelligent blog.

  8. ElleSnaps Says:

    Love the article Connie. I’ve become to understand the lens issue after talking with you many times before :):) I love my new lens 50mm 1.4 but now I want the 24-70-2.8. I believe that after I get that lens I will be happy, no need for more ;) Wonderful article!!

  9. conniee4 Says:

    Lisa, I just got the Minolta 28-75mm 2.8 (Minolta AF lens work with the Sony body) anyway, it is perfect! Its perfect for inside shots of Alyssa and Mason! I think you will love it!

  10. BarbaraJ Says:

    Ok Girls, now you make me want the 28-75mm lens. Tell me more!

  11. conniee4 Says:

    LOVE my 28-75 2.8 I got it for Christmas from Santa. I used it in the last wedding I shot! It was PERFECT! Very fast and lets a lot of light in.

more about Connie E

I am in love with life, my family and photography. In 2007 while working as a Detective on the Indpls Metro Police Dept., I injured my right shoulder and had to retire. I do believe this was God's way of letting me be a stay home Mommy. It was also at this time I began my passion for photography. I love creating memories and smiles with my photos. I love the challenge of making each photo beautiful. I am a big fan of a narrow depth of field in my photos. On a technical level this is called "Bokeh". I have been a member of Shutterfly since 2006 and a Shutterfly Gallery Guru since 2009. I am also ADDICTED to digital scrapbooking. (YOU MUST TRY) haha. Please stop by my shutterfly share site and take a look around! http://etterscreations1.shutterfly.com/

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