If you want to get into photography, it̵
A nice camera lens doesn’t turn you into a star photographer. You have yet to learn how to operate your camera to take a good photo. Still, a beautiful lens is a pleasure to use and can inspire you to work harder as a photographer. It also saves you money in the long run and can last for the rest of your life.
The camera lens is everything
Digital cameras are often judged on their bodies. People like to talk about megapixels, ISO and digital displays. While a camera’s body dictates things like resolution, autofocus speed and the overall fidelity of an image, the lens is the real star of the show.
The lens of a camera focuses and forms an image before it reaches the sensor. For this reason, it has a much greater impact on sharpness and style than the camera body. Unfortunately, cheap lenses are made from cheap parts, so they do poorly at producing sharp, well-lit images.
Cheap lenses can also keep you from getting the style of photos you are interested in. Kit lenses usually have an aperture of f / 3.5 to 5.6, which means that they let in a relatively small amount of light and “Images where the subject and background are both in focus. They also tend to have a focal length of 18-55mm, which offers the versatility of a medium range and mid-telephoto lens, but lacks the creative options that come with a good ultra-wide or telephoto lens.
That’s right, a more expensive lens gives you the chance to take stylized photos. If you enjoy outdoor or street photography, you can upgrade to a wide angle lens for great looking photos. You could buy a macro lens for detailed photos of flowers or insects, or an affordable prime lens (single focal length lens – no zoom) for incredible general purpose photography.
You obviously don’t use your beautiful lens for just one genre of photography. Telephoto lenses, which are generally used for sports or wildlife photography, are also incredibly popular for portrait photography. That’s because they produce heavily blurred backgrounds at their longest focal length (maximum zoom) and sharp ‘flat’ backgrounds at their shortest focal length (minimum zoom).
There are, of course, some limitations to cheap or old camera housings. They have smaller sensors, slower autofocus technology and smaller ISOs than newer DSLRs. But these issues, which lead to fewer pixels and poorer low-light performance, are a small trade-off for the quality of a good lens. If anything, you’ll be amazed at your camera’s dated display or lack of wireless features, not lower megapixel count.
Shopping for a camera body
Okay, it’s time to get an affordable camera body so we can blow the rest of our budget on a nice lens. Overall, any professional quality or mid-range body made in the last 10 or 15 years will do the trick, and you can always buy a newer budget body if you need newer features or want to record video.
Before I give you some camera buying tips, let me mention the importance of brands. Each brand uses a unique lens mounting system, so it can be quite expensive to switch to Nikon once you’ve built a collection of Canon lenses (or vice versa). We’ll talk more about lens mounting systems in a moment, but keep in mind that you’ll be stuck with whatever brand you choose for a long time.
Here are some shopping tips for the camera body:
- The old camera: Professional DSLRs are valuable after just a few years, but they are rock hard and have impressive sensors and high ISO settings. Just look at the Nikon D700 or the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. These cameras cost thousands of dollars in 2010, but now sell for less than a DSLR starter kit. Search for things like “best professional DSLR 2010” to find an old camera you like, and see what it’s sold for on Adorama or B&H. You should also check out Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, as you can (usually) trust a professional to take good care of the camera they bought for $ 3,000 a decade ago.
- The Sorta old camera: Cameras that cost $ 700 to $ 1,000 in 2015 are now selling for about $ 300. A DSLR like the Canon EOS 7D or the Pentax K-3 is a nice option for someone who wants a tough camera with a high megapixel CMOS sensor. modern SD card support (older cameras often use compact flash) and decent video support.
- The new camera: Newer DSLRs have features such as Wi-Fi file transfer and high-resolution video recording. If those features are important to you, try to find a newer Nikon D3500 or Canon EOS Rebel T7i body in the $ 300 range (preferably lower). These entry-level camera housings have a modern feel and are easy to find in Adorama, eBay, B&H and pawnshops.
In general, Adorama and B&H are the best online stores for used camera parts. They are reliable and offer a 30 day return policy. If you’re planning to shop on eBay, a pawn shop, or Facebook Marketplace, I recommend learning how to check if a camera is working properly first. I also recommend checking out camera stores in your area for a good deal on old equipment.
Shop for a nice lens
Shopping for a lens can be a bit intimidating. Not only because you need to find a nice lens that fits your budget, but also because you need to make sure it is compatible with your camera body. You will have to do some research on your own, but we can give you some important information and suggest some popular lenses to help you start your search.
Here are four things I suggest looking for when shopping for a lens:
- Compatibility: Each brand of camera uses a unique lens mounting system, so an F-mount lens will not work on an EF-mount body. So don’t try to shop at the brand – find your camera’s lens mounting system now.
- Sensor types: Nikon’s full-frame (FX) and cropped sensor (DX) cameras use the same F-style mounting system, meaning their lenses are interchangeable. Canon full-frame (EF) lenses fit the cropped sensor (EF-S) cameras, but you can’t use the smaller lenses with full-frame canons.
- Lens type: Again, the type of lens you buy can determine the style of the photos you can take. Please take a moment to check out the different lens types on our sister site How-To Geek.
- Flickr groups: If you want to get an idea of what your photos will look like with a particular lens, find the lens name on Flickr. There are Flickr groups dedicated to popular lenses with contributions from all kinds of photographers. You can also rent a lens from a photo store or look it up on YouTube to get a feel for how it works.
Pretty simple right? Once you know your camera’s mounting system and the type of lens you want to buy, it’s a matter of finding one that suits your needs and your budget. You can perform a filtered search for your lens type on Adorama and B&H for exactly the type of lens you are looking for. You can also visit a local photography store to ask for help from someone knowledgeable.
It’s time to start shopping for a lens. Need an easy place to start? Here are a few popular lenses for the most common camera bodies:
- Nikon AF-S DX 16-80mm f / 2.8-4E ED VR: With a comfortable zoom range and large wide-angle coverage, this small and light lens is perfect for general photography and distortion-free zoom lenses.
- Nikon AF-P 70-300 mm f / 4.5-5.6E ED VR: An extreme telephoto lens with a large focal range. The fast autofocus system and vibration reduction make this a perfect telephoto lens for sports or wildlife.
- Tamron SP 90mm f / 2.8 Di VC USD Macro: A wonderful macro lens with a hybrid image stabilizer for super sharp close-ups.
- Nikon 50mm f / 1.8G AF-S: A beautiful affordable portrait lens with ring-shaped ultrasonic autofocus, full-time manual adjustment (so you can adjust the autofocus parameters manually) and a nice focal length that allows subjects to emerge from their surroundings.
- Canon (these are compatible with both EF and EF-S cameras)
- Canon EF 50mm f / 1.8 STM: An affordable prime lens for Canon cameras. Its large aperture and lightweight design make it a stunning general purpose lens, although the trade-off is a lack of zoom functionality.
- Canon EF 70-300mm f / 4-5.6 IS II USM: With a comfortable telephoto range, this lens is perfect for sports and wildlife photography. It’s also well stabilized and a popular choice for portraits.
- Canon EF 85mm f / 1.8 USM: An impressive portrait lens with a short zoom lens. It’s great for crisp, clean photos with shallow depth of field. It also works well in low light.
Unlike camera bodies, lenses retain their value over time. Don’t be afraid to buy a very expensive lens if you think you’ll be using it. Even worse, you can probably sell it for a little less than what you bought it for.
Speaking of used equipment, you can always buy a used lens from Adorama or B&H. These websites write good descriptions for used products and respect a 30-day return policy. You can also buy used equipment from local camera stores, eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace. Still, you may want to know how to check that a used lens is working properly before making an expensive mistake.
If you’ve already bought a camera with a kit lens, don’t worry. You can resell the kit lens for $ 50 to $ 100 and move on to something nicer. You can also hold your kit lens. It never hurts to hold a lens you know, even if it’s not the most expensive lens in the world. But if you haven’t made it this far, we recommend skipping the kit and putting everything together yourself. In this way you start at a much higher level.