WHICH LENS Should I Choose?
Professional photographer, Karen Alsop, tells us how to choose the best lenses for shooting everything from landscapes to portraits while travelling.
Last edition, I explored the best cameras for the amateur travel photographer. Once you’ve decided on your camera, it’s time to choose which lenses to add to your kit. There are hundreds of different lens configurations out there and it can be quite overwhelming when you first start researching. This article will simplify the process and help you understand the purpose of each type of lens.
STANDARD ZOOM LENS
Zoom lenses come in an assortment of ranges. A standard zoom lens may range from 24mm – 70mm while others may have a range over 100mm. If your camera is “full frame”, then a 35mm setting means that “what you see is what you get”. There’ll be no distortion. However, if you set the zoom to a smaller number, the lens will take in a wider view and, consequently, distort the image a little. A higher setting, on the other hand, means the zoom lens will bring the image closer.Length isn’t the only consideration when choosing a zoom lens, however. Many people think that lenses with a bigger zoom range are automatically better than those with a smaller range. But lens build and glass components generally degrade in quality with a zoom that covers more distance. Also, due to technical limitations,
zooms such as a 24 – 105mm won’t allow for a very wide aperture opening. This means that less light can make it into the lens, which can cause blurry images in low light situations. A zoom lens that opens to 2.8 (the smaller the number, the wider the opening) will produce better quality results and will be more flexible in low light situations. You will also get better looking “bokeh” (the blurry part of the image that you deliberately throw out of focus).
TELEPHOTO ZOOM LENS
Telephoto zoom lenses allow you to get up close and personal with your subject. A common telephoto range is 70 – 200mm. Telephotos are an essential part of your kit if you can’t get physically close to your subject. A wildlife safari is a prime example of a situation in which a telephoto lens is essential to ensure those beautiful animals are more than mere specks in the distance.
In terms of aperture and build quality the same principles apply. Looking for a lens that allows a 2.8 opening (the widest you can get on a telephoto) will
ensure that you are positioned to capture images in a variety of situations.
WIDE ANGLE ZOOM
Wide Angle lenses, or even Fish Eye Lenses allow you a wider area of view. Perfect for grand interior shots of classic churches and buildings, wide angles are a wonderful addition to your kit, especially if you love architecture or landscape. Wide Angle lenses will distort though and the edges of your images will be stretched, so remember to keep people away from the outer edge to avoid them looking ‘wider’ than reality.
Prime lenses are fixed at one focal length. You need to do a lot more moving with them, as you can not zoom closer to your subject. The benefit of a prime lens however is that they are generally better quality than zooms, and produce sharper, more detailed results. You may also be able to pick up a prime lens at a fraction of the cost of a quality zoom lens. A good all rounder prime lens is a 50mm. Many manufacturers have produced a 1.8 aperture version of the 50mm lens that costs as little as $100. This will let in more light than a quality zoom (which will open as wide as 2.8) and enable you to blur out your background beautifully. A great little lens for portrait photography which is also nice and light.
When choosing the first lens to add to your kit, consider the type of photography you will be mostly concentrating on in your travels. If it’s landscape and architecture, a wide angle lens may be your first choice. If it’s wildlife a telephoto zoom. If it’s a bit of everything you can go past the flexibility of a 24 – 70mm lens (this would have to be my most used lens).
As with everything, lens build and quality is variable, so do your research before buying. I highly recommend reading through unbiased lens reviews online and lens comparisons to help you choose the best lens for you.