Everyone in photography talks about lenses as the “holy grail” of photographic equipment. Photographers, whether novices or professionals, have always had a fascination with lenses. There’s a good reason for people’s infamous glass obsession, at least on some level. Lenses, rather than lighting equipment, have the greatest influence on the quality of a photograph. In this article, I’ll go over the fundamentals of purchasing a new lens for a beginner.
1. Where To Begin?
The process of choosing a lens is one of the most perplexing for a novice photographer. No one is exempt, not even seasoned professionals. It’s only gotten more difficult to select lenses with the proliferation of comparison Youtube channels and websites. When it comes to lenses, Vkreesphotography doesn’t disappoint, as we’ve done in-depth reviews that include Imatest scores for every one of them.
Instead, I’ll go over some of the more fundamental things that every photographer, especially a newbie, should keep in mind when shopping for a lens.
1.1 – Budget
A 400mm f/2.8 or a 600mm f/4 would be in everyone’s camera bag right away if money were no object. A person’s camera bag contents are almost always dictated by their budget.
The 400mm and 600mm fluorite primes are, without a doubt, the sharpest, fastest, and meanest lenses on the market at the moment. However, how many of us are willing to pay upwards of $12,000 for them? The majority of photographers begin with entry-level equipment and work their way up to more advanced models over time.
1.2 – Crop Body Kit Lenses
Entry level crop bodies (DX) are the choice for most beginners, and such camera bodies almost always come with a kit lens. Beginners frequently opt for a kit with two lenses that has focal lengths ranging from 18mm to 200mm or more, depending on the brand.
Practically, none of us will continue to use the same camera and lens for an extended period of time without upgrading. As our photography improves, we begin to feel as though the equipment we currently own is inadequate. A full frame camera, whether on a DSLR or a mirrorless body, may be the better choice for some photographers in the long run. Crop-sensor lenses will no longer work with the current system once that time comes.
Lenses, as opposed to camera bodies, are more permanent companions for photographers. It’s possible, even probable, that you’ll make the switch to full frame in the near future (assuming you shoot with Nikon, Canon, or Sony which offer full frame cameras). Any upgrade to your kit lenses, then, should be a full-frame lens. This is my recommendation. Certain professional and semi-professional crop lenses are available from all manufacturers. Although these are excellent lenses, new ones will be required when the camera is upgraded to full frame. Instead of replacing your entire kit of lenses when you upgrade to a full frame camera, invest a little more up front and save money in the long run by purchasing full-frame compatible glass.
It’s clear that sharpness is the big deal here. Is it not? Let’s say I go out and buy the world’s sharpest lens. Is it a guarantee that you’ll get the best photos every time? No, that’s not correct. It’ll come down to how much of that acuity I can wring out of myself.
Lenses have long been a source of contention among photographers as to which is the sharpest. A lens that one photographer deems to be razor sharp may be viewed as junk by another photo enthusiast. When photographing the same scene with two different lenses, one would get better results with a Nikon 300mm f/4 PF ED VR and the other with a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 ED VR. This one has better bokeh and autofocus performance, but due to its size and weight, it’s difficult to hold for long periods of time.
NIKON D810 @ 440mm, ISO 3200, 1/125, f/5.6
That’s why it’s important to consider more than just a lens’s specifications when making a purchase. Even if a lens is sharp, that doesn’t mean it’s the best lens for the job. There are other considerations besides just sharpness. Everything from the camera’s build quality to the bokeh, close focusing distance, weight, and filter compatibility is still important. In terms of wildlife photography, I’d take a lens with “average” sharpness over one with lightning-fast autofocus.
1.4 – Autofocus
There are two aspects of autofocus in a lens that one should be aware of: AF accuracy and AF speed.
Let’s look at two lenses with similar pixel counts and see how they compare. There isn’t much difference in image quality between the 200-500mm f/5.6 ED VR and the 500mm PF ED VR lenses. The prime, on the other hand, has a distinct advantage in terms of autofocus speed over the standard. When photographing perched birds, the two lenses may have similar results. For capturing birds in flight, the prime lens has a distinct advantage over the zoom.
NIKON D810 @ 500mm, ISO 800, 1/4000, f/8.0
Of course, the camera’s AF performance is also camera-dependent. A professional lens attached to a consumer camera, or the other way around, will not produce the desired results. However, no matter what camera you use, you’ll find that some lenses focus faster than others, so this is something to keep in mind when shopping for lenses.
1.5 – Prime Or Zoom ?
Prime lenses – those with only a single focal length and no zoom – are the clear choice when it comes to overall performance. However, zoom lenses are preferable to prime lenses for many photographers for the reasons listed below.
+ The time it takes for a budding photographer to notice, let alone capture, differences in real-world images is independent of how things appear on paper. Pixel peeping is a skill that develops with practice in photography.
+ In order to get the desired composition with primes, you have to “zoom with your feet”. This implies that you’ll have to keep moving closer to or further away from your subject to get the best results. As a result of this additional factor with prime lenses, even beginners who are already focused on finding the right settings may end up with worse pictures than they otherwise would. While holding a zoom lens, it’s much easier to simply twist the lens to experiment with different compositions and perspectives.
+ Lens development has advanced dramatically in the last few years. The disparity between primes and zooms was exaggerated just a few decades ago. However, that chasm has been filled to a large extent.
1.6 – Weight
Take a look at the image of a Himalayan blue sheep below. The picture was shot at an altitude of over 14,000 ft after a strenuous hike of about 10 miles. It was shot with a D810 and a 200-500 f/5.6 pair. I certainly am not going to be able to carry a D5 with a 500 or a 600mm f/4 all the way. Not to mention the weight of a suitable tripod the above combo demands. In fact, I wish I had a Nikon Z6 and the 500mm f/5.6 PF ED VR instead !
Shot with Nikon D810+Nikon 200-500 f/5.6
As a photographer’s skill level increases, so does the importance of losing weight. The stress of lugging around gear all day grows more and more as the day goes on.
Even before thinking about purchasing new lenses, one must have a firm grasp on what they intend to photograph. Getting better images won’t be accomplished with the best lens currently available. The one that works best for us is the one that gets the job done.
1.7 – Weather Sealing
Landscape, wildlife, and street photographers, as well as other types of photographers who work primarily in the outdoors, are particularly vulnerable to the elements. For this type of music, weather sealing is crucial. When photographing waterfalls, for example, weather sealing is almost a must. In these conditions, it’s nearly impossible to keep your equipment dry. The humidity is nearing 100%, not to mention the minuscule droplets that are constantly drenching the equipment.
Captured with NIKON D810 @ 200mm Focal Length, ISO 100, Shutter Speed: 3/1, Aperture: f/8.0
Vibration reduction is now standard on the majority of modern lenses. When moisture or humidity collects in the VR components, cleaning them later becomes nearly impossible. Extended exposure to moisture can cause excessive condensation, which can damage electronics. While barrel lenses retract in while zooming or focusing, most weather-sealed lenses have internal focusing, making them more expensive.
2. Example Lens Recommendations For Nikon
Let’s take a look at some of my suggestions for someone who is just getting started based on the above criteria. So I’ll use Nikon as an example of how to put what we’ve learned into practice, since that’s what I know best. Other brands like Canon, Sony, Fuji, Olympus, Pentax and Panasonic will give you similar results if you do the same research on their cameras.
2.1 – Best Value Lenses For A $1000 Budget
+ Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR
This lens, which costs $500 at the time of writing, is a great option for those looking for a good all-around performer on a tight budget. The Nikon 24-85 is a sharp lens if you don’t care about fast autofocus or low light performance. With the lens stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8 in well-lit conditions, you’ll have to pixel-peep to see any difference in sharpness between it and a professional lens like the Nikon 24-120 f/4 or the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8. I’ve grown fond of this lens’s saturation and color rendition over time.
Travel photographers will appreciate its small size and low weight, as it only weighs about 500 grams. Landscape photographers will appreciate its wide focal range. Despite the slower autofocus compared to professional-grade lenses like the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8, it is still quite accurate in well-lit situations. This is my go-to lens for landscape photography. Portrait and street photographers will appreciate the wide focal range as well.
With a name like “pro-sumer,” one would expect some drawbacks. The slow autofocus speed was the first issue I had with this lens. The lens hunts for focus interminably when used in low light. Second, because it’s not weather-sealed, it’s more susceptible to dust and moisture, both of which promote the growth of the dreaded black mold. As a result, I’ve had to send this lens in for cleaning multiple times. Third, because it is made of plastic, it is less long-lasting than other professional lenses.
Shot with NIKON 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G VR @ 62mm, ISO 100, 1/400, f/5.6
+ Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E VR AF-P
The Nikon 70-300 is the best value for money lens (costing $600) to get you to 300mm after spending $500 on 24-85mm lenses. In the past, amateurs and enthusiasts preferred the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G VR, so you might want to look into purchasing that model secondhand to save some money.
To put it another way, the Nikon 70-300mm VR is a very sharp lens. Extreme corners can be a little soft on a full-frame camera; on DX cameras like the Nikon D500, however, the sharpness reduction is almost non-existent when using this lens.
NIKON D7000 & Nikon 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 G VR @ 300mm, ISO 1000, 1/400, f/5.6
Because of its small size and low weight, this is an excellent lens for travel photography. For those who want to travel light, the 70-300mm and 24-85mm make an excellent two-lens kit. This is a popular choice for wildlife photographers on a budget who want a high-quality lens.
Snow Partridge | NIKON D7000+Nikon 70-300 VR @ 300mm, ISO 800, 1/4000, f/5.6
It’s not a perfect lens, of course. The 70-300mm’s first shortcoming is its sluggish autofocus. Also, at 300mm, this lens may not be able to capture close-up shots of distant small birds.
However, it’s an excellent option for someone just getting started with wildlife photography. Landscape photographers will appreciate the 70-300mm lens when it’s attached to an FX body.
NIKON D7000+Nikon 70-300mm @ 70mm, ISO 100, 1/200, f/8.0
Nikon has a number of 70-300mm lenses, as should be noted. What I’m referring to is the full-frame VR lens, not the DX lenses, which I do not recommend for the reasons discussed earlier in this article regarding future-proofing.
+ Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens
With a budget of $1000, the Nikon 28-300mm zoom lens is probably the best option for those who only want to carry one lens around with them. Landscapes, portraits, wildlife, and everything in between are no problem with this lens’ incredible 10.7x zoom range. When used with a DX body, this lens provides a 42mm-450mm effective field of view.
This is the go-to lens for photographers who prioritize portability and weight over anything else. However, despite its limitations, such as a loss of sharpness at the corners and at focal lengths greater than 200mm, this is a popular lens among professionals. Stopping the lens down to f/8 mitigates the sharpness loss, and the image quality improves significantly as a result. When “getting the shot” is your top priority, the 28-300mm lens is an excellent option.
2.2 – Best value lenses for a budget of $2500
+ Nikon 24-120mm f/4G VR
Some of you wondered why I didn’t recommend the 24-120mm f/4 instead of the Nikon 24-85mm when I recommended it. The only factor was a lack of funds. Even if you don’t want to photograph wildlife (at 200mm), the Nikon 24-120mm will be an excellent choice if you only have $1000 to spend on a lens. So, if you’re looking for an ultra-compact, lightweight lens for your travel photography, look no further.
As a result, the 24-120 has a 5x zoom ratio, while the 24-85 only has a 3.5x one. Apart from that, the 24-120 is sharper than the 24-85 between 24mm and about 55mm, and has a fixed maximum aperture of 4, whereas the 24-85 has a variable maximum aperture of 3.5-4.5.
+ Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E VR
Wildlife photographers are familiar with the Nikon 200-500mm. If you want to become a professional wildlife photographer on a budget, but still want to take stunning photos, this is the lens for you.
With a price tag of around $1400 at the time of writing, this lens is on par with other professional-grade lenses in terms of sharpness. This lens’s zoom range allows it to capture everything from large cats to tiny birds. This lens can capture birds in flight with ease thanks to the silent wave motor and a fast AF. The icing on the cake is the lens’s constant maximum aperture of 5.6. Affordability has been a major selling point for this lens since it was introduced in 2015.
Shot with Nikon 200-500 f/5.6
The autofocus (AF) works flawlessly with any full-frame camera, including the D500. It’s a match made in heaven when the Nikon 200-500 is used with the Nikon D500, giving you 750mm of focal length.
NIKON D750+Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 @ 500mm, ISO 1000, 1/1600, f/5.6
Despite the fact that this lens is capable of taking a teleconverter, I do not recommend it due to the fact that the maximum aperture available will be f/8. Because the maximum aperture on the D500 is only f/8, you’ll have to shoot in brighter conditions and may have difficulty focusing due to the small opening.
When coupled with a 1.4x teleconverter, this lens weighs more than the 500mm f/5.6 PF or the 300mm f/4 PF, which are comparable prime lenses in their weight. If you’re going on long hikes or going to be photographing wildlife with your camera in your hands all day, a lighter lens may be a better choice.
While zooming in and out, I’ve noticed that this particular lens attracts dust like a magnet. A rain cover is almost always required when traveling in the rain.
+ Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
Maybe the 80mm difference between 24-120 and 200-500 has puzzled some of you. There’s a big gap there, but it’s not as significant as you might think. The Tamron 70-200 f/2.8, on the other hand, is a good choice if you’re more concerned with the focal lengths between 100mm and 200mm. If you’re just starting out as a portrait photographer on a budget, this is the lens for you.
Although this lens is more expensive at $1200, it offers f/2.8 performance throughout its entire focal range, making it a viable alternative for those who are unwilling to spend an additional $1100 on the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 FL ED VR. There isn’t much of a difference between the Tamron and Nikon f/2.8 lenses unless you pixel peep or print large. Only in the most extreme corners could a loss of sharpness be seen with a 100 percent crop view.
The Tamron is unquestionably a professional-grade lens thanks to its six low dispersion elements, including one extra. It has Tamron’s equivalent of Nikon’s Nano crystal coating, the BBAR and eBAND coatings, which help reduce flare and ghosting. When it comes to Vibration Control, Tamron says it has a five-stop advantage over the competition. Using the Ultrasonic silent wave motor for focus tracking results in excellent results. Even in low light, the f/2.8 doesn’t have a problem focusing. The Tamron is a weather-sealed IF (Internal Focusing) lens. It has a dust-repelling fluorine coating on the front to keep it from smearing.
+ Lenses of Different Types
I’m sure I could come up with a similar list for Nikon’s other lenses, and the possibilities are virtually endless when you factor in all the other manufacturers. To give you an idea of what to look for when shopping for a lens, I’ve listed six examples above, but there are a lot more out there. There’s a good reason Nikon offers dozens, if not hundreds, of lenses, not to mention all the third-party options. Don’t look back, and then choose an option that works for you.
Below are some other related posts you might enjoy:
The most important features to look for when upgrading from kit lenses are discussed in this article, along with some examples of lenses that exhibit these characteristics. The “trinity” and f/1.4 prime lenses from Nikon are excellent, but I wanted to demonstrate that lower-cost lenses can still be used successfully for photography, despite their higher quality counterparts.
Is there a lens that Nikon or other brand photographers should use that you would recommend? Particularly low-cost but high-quality lenses. If you have any, please share them in the comments section so that our readers can take advantage of them.