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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