Lenses and Their Selection

There's been a lot written about lens selection. Not just which lenses you should have in your kit, but what quality of lens should you have. Lenses can be the most expensive part of your photographic collection of stuff. Your camera body could run a pretty penny, too, but even a relatively inexpensive body can do well when coupled with some very fine "glass".


OK. What makes a lens "good" or even "professional"? Generally, a professional photographer is looking for a lens with specific characteristics. These could be such things as:


Focal Length

Maximum Aperture - Speed of the lens

Weather resistance

Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization

Focus Methods - Internal Focus, Auto, Full-Time-Manual

Autofocus Drive - USM, USD, HSM -- Silent and quick

Image Quality (IQ) - Lens flare, vignetting, chromatic aberration, distortion

Macro Capability

Build Quality



These factors may contribute to the selection of a particular lens. For most amateur photographers, the cost is likely to be the driving factor. For example, for a Canon camera, you may want to have a fairly "long" lens ... one with a focal length around 200mm. You have several zoom lens choices:




Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L II IS USM -- $2500

Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS USM -- $2000

Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L USM -- $1450

Canon EF 70-200 f/4L IS USM -- $1350

Canon EF 70-200 f/4L USM -- $700

Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM -- $650

Canon EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 III USM -- $234

Canon EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 III -- $200



And that's just from Canon. There are number of non-Canon providers that offer lenses in this focal length at varying prices and qualities. Most notably from Sigma and Tamron. Nikon is not exempt from this type of pricing nor from the offerings from other companies.


Generally, the better the quality, the higher the cost. Notice that some of the lenses have a single maximum aperture. That means that the max aperture is the same through the range of the zoom. Making the lens such that the maximum aperture does not change involves more involved mechanics as does the inclusion of Image Stabilization (IS). The Ultrasonic Motor (USM) also introduces a higher cost. Additionally, in the Canon line, the "L" designation is the "Luxury" version and has higher quality glass, various types of coatings, and more groups of diffraction elements to maximize the Image Quality (IQ) throughout the zoom range. Hence the higher cost.


Whew! Does that mean you should get a Canon "L" series lens or the Nikon equivalent? You may actually find that the less expensive lenses perform well for your particular application. For example, of the non-"L" lenses noted above, the EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM lens has very good IQ reviews, sports IS in two axes, and has USM. It's not a bad lens for the money. (And just as an example, I have one in my kit.)


The bottom line is really driven by your own bottom line. If you can afford the good glass, get it. You can always upgrade the camera body. If you get cheap glass and you upgrade the camera body, you still have cheap glass. Images look sharp and crisp when taken with good glass ... even on an inexpensive camera body. The reverse is not generally true.


Whatever lens you decide to get, practice with it to see where it performs the best. Not all lenses are "perfect" through their range of focal lengths and apertures (this is also true for the pro lenses). Find that sweet spot and try to keep your image captures within that sweet spot and you'll maximize the IQ and your own enjoyment.

© Copyright 2013, ArJen Images