Free Photography Class #5: All About Camera Lenses

camera lens options
understanding camera lenses- What camera lens do I need?

Free Photography Class #5: All About Camera Lenses

You are really moving along in understanding your camera lenses!  Now you have a general idea of the fields in photography, specialties and niches, lens focal length and aperture. But before we figure out what lenses we need, we want to cover some of the other important camera lens options to consider. Now we are still talking lenses, so these aren’t camera features. That’s something else altogether. This will explain what camera lens you need for different genres.

Camrea Lens Options: Image Stabilization

DISCLAIMER: Although each lens manufacturer uses different terms and engineering to get this effect, I will just use Image Stabilization (IS) in this blog since I am a Canon guy. Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction (VR), Optical Stabilization (OS) by Sigma, Shake Reduction (SR) by Pentax, SteadyShot by Sony, and Vibration Compensation (VC) by Tamron. You may even have a camera body that has it built in; maybe you can save some money on your lenses. Or even get this included in your lens features and really stabilize your shots! In the world of camera lens options, this is one you can live without if you don’t have it.

Image Stabilization

Image Stabilization (IS), reduces the likelihood of blurring your picture caused by shaking when handholding.  Many photographers will just leave there IS on most of the time.  If you notice shutter delays when using IS, then turn it off unless you notice your pictures are blurring while taking pictures handheld.

IS really comes in handy when using your camera to do videos. I rarely use this lens features, especially when taking pictures with a high shutter speed. But it really doesn’t hurt to turn it on. If you are a little shaky when handholding, it might be something to genuinely consider when choosing a lens.  When you have it, you can always leave it off. But at least you have the option especially on long focal length lenses where a little shake can really make a lot of blurring.

understanding camera lenses- What camera lens do I need?

Camera Lens Options: Lens Motors

I bet you didn’t think you would be talking motors when trying to decide on a lens huh?  Well, they are all designed differently, so we are going to just barely touch on this so you have a little awareness and can go do your own research or drop me a comment below and I can answer questions individually!  I will only speak to Canon and only discuss two primary motors in a majority of all their lenses.  When buying a Canon lens, you will see one of two abbreviations most of the time, one is STM and the other is USM.  I won’t even complicate it by giving you the whole difference or what those initials even stand for, what I will do is tell you that both are fantastic motors.

STM

Your STM motors are going to be in your lower cost lenses for Canon, but don’t let that deceive you.  The STM motor was designed for video taking, so it can be a bit slower to focus but is much quieter and A LOT more inexpensive.  They are priced lower because they are not totally geared toward photography and therefore, you may notice the autofocus trying to search, focusing in and out quite often where the USM is noisy but very responsive and accurate.  Don’t overlook STM lenses just because of that, if you are starting out and doing mostly portraits, etc. consider this cheaper alternative. 

usm

USM is worth the money you spend, but you spend a lot of money.  Most lenses will show what type of motor they are using in the description, just go into google and check reviews.  I have found that most motors for large manufacturers are more than adequate for beginners and when you purchase a little cheaper, you can figure out what you like and don’t like, trade it in and get what you always dreamed of.  But if you just have money to drop, you will never go wrong with a USM when primarily doing photography.

When buying some random branded lens, this is going to be one of the places that you see a big difference. Don’t purchase lenses from random 3rd party companies just because they are priced hundreds of dollars cheaper. They are also made of plastic, have poor glass, bad quality assurance processes and the motors will be hunting for days. So, just because it has all the camera lens options, doesn’t make it the best buy.

understanding camera lenses- What camera lens do I need?

Lens Features: Weather Sealing

Some lenses have extra seals to protect from dust and dirt and even water; however, this also comes with some extra cost.  With Canon, if the lens has the letter “L,” that stands for their luxury line and will include weather sealing. Other manufacturers should put it in the description since it typically justifies a little higher cost.  So, if you plan to take your lens backpacking across Europe or going to use it regularly in hot moist climates where it may rain at any moment, you really want to consider a weather sealed lens to protect your investment. 

If you are doing all your photography in an air-conditioned studio and your lenses will rarely see daylight, then it’s just a bonus option if you get it.  But either way, never assume anything is impervious to the elements, even with weather sealing make sure you take good care of your lens… it’s a safety precaution but not a guarantee. Another one of those camera lens options you may be able to live without.

understanding camera lenses- What camera lens do I need?

Understanding Lenses: Filters

Buying filters definitely isn’t a requirement, but they can help grab that perfect picture you are looking for without scratching your head with camera settings. So, we will cover the three basic types that most kits come with, but from there, just know there are filters for all kinds of effects and would be impossible to touch them all!  Buying a filter for your camera is pretty simple just by reading the rim of the lens for a number with this symbol… ø Sometimes it will be located on the lens body (typically on the bottom for macro lenses, but it will always be something like ø55 or ø82. 

The larger the number, the bigger the diameter and will require a larger filter size. Typically, these filters just screw on the front of your lens and those are the type we will discuss today since this is more for beginners.  There are kits, especially for wide angle lenses that hook a filter in front of the lens, but that is getting a little fancier, something to look into later and not worry about right away.

Ultraviolet (UV) Filter

Most current day cameras already recognize and adjust for Ultraviolet rays, so these have pretty much become obsolete. Except, I keep mine on almost exclusively. Why Jon, why?  It protects those $2000 lenses from getting scratched!  It’s almost like having a clear lens cap that I don’t have to take on and off constantly when I am doing a really active shoot.  Quality filters are worth their money, but in my opinion only, this is one place you can go cheap. 

So, unless you are noticing some distortion in your picture quality, I would leave it on and still use your lens cap when you aren’t shooting of course.  But if you are just carrying your camera around for some street photography or really anything outdoors, throw a UV filter on there just in case.  It won’t hurt your picture quality and will save a lens scratch… If you scratch the filter, just throw it away and replace it for $5 instead of having a scratched lens!  If you are indoors or doing studio shoots, I wouldn’t be concerned too much with having one on, but if it doesn’t hurt your pictures, why not just in case!

Polarized (CPL) filter

Will be one of the most useful filters in your bag.  Think of a pair of polarized sunglasses.  You can see through the glare on the water, all that crazy glare at high noon just disappears, and you are left with clean, crisp details.  The more money you spend on these, typically the better quality you get.  I love mine because of the rubber grips, blue tinting to the outer part of the filter, use it all the time for lakes, waterfalls, high outdoor light, and even some sports photography.  They can darken your images so be aware you might have to adjust some settings or brighten up your image in post processing (e.g., Lightroom, Photoshop, etc.).

Neutral Density (ND) Filters

These filters will normally come in a kit and around the rim of each filter reads something like… ND+1, ND+2, etc. Neutral Density filters are for taking pictures in light that is so bright, that it really is easier to throw on a filter than to try to adjust the settings on your camera.  Think of bright sunlight and these are your sunglasses.  You still see all the beautiful colors, but it really keeps the sun from blowing out your picture (all the highlights in your image are almost white and have little to no detail. 

Each level (ND+1, ND+2, etc.) is getting darker as you increase.  These lenses are super helpful if you want to catch a waterfall, but the sun is just a little too bright.  You don’t want the light reflecting off the water and you can’t get any detail, right?  Or if you are trying to create an effect called “shutter drag” where you are leaving the shutter open longer so it makes the water look smooth and almost flowing, you would have to have an ND filter, otherwise the sun is so bright that the water would just come off white without any details. 

Definitely keep a set in your bag and experiment with moving water when the sun is up or even darkening the sun for some sun flare (star looking pattern).  You will see what I mean!

understanding camera lenses- What camera lens do I need?

Understanding Camera Lenses: Lens Hoods

Another one of those things you can buy so many different versions.  These hook or screw onto the end of your lens to keep light from glaring directly off the lens glass.  Kind of like holding your hand up to block the sun from your eyes.  There are hard plastic ones, one’s that have gaps (called tulip hoods) that block the sun from one direction but still leave space to gather light and not appear in your picture, and there are even collapsible ones that you can push in and out, made of soft rubber.  It is a personal preference, but most lenses come with one, just use that and maybe experiment with a few others, they aren’t too expensive and really only serve one purpose. So, for camera lens options, this may be a freebie.

Understanding Camera Lenses: Lens Mounting Systems

Ahhhh, the most important part of all! Why? Because you want your lens to actually fit your camera!  When purchasing a lens, you have to make sure that the thing will fit right!  Now most camera manufacturers make an adapter that can convert one lens type to fit different camera body mount.  As an example, I own a Canon RP canon body; it’s a mirrorless camera so when I am purchasing lenses, the only lens type that will fit directly is an “RF” lens.  This abbreviation just tells you what lenses will fit directly to your body.  However, I purchased a converter for my camera body because I already had a ton of lenses for a different camera that accepted “EF” lenses. 

Converter?

“EF” mounting lenses have been used forever, where RF lenses are relatively new to the game.  So, my converter hooks to my camera body because one side is made to attach to an RF.  The other side of the converter accepts EF lenses.  So now, with this converter between my body and lens, I can use any EF lenses I want or take off the converter and pop an RF lens directly to the body of my camera.  Kinda handy huh?  Buy a quality one and you will see absolutely no different in autofocus speed, etc… Just makes your lens stick out from the body an inch further or so, which isn’t all that noticeable.

So, before you purchase a lens, make sure it is either made to fit your camera body or that there is a converter you can buy.  If you remember from the prior discussion regarding sensors, remember that makes a difference too.  A lens that is made for an APS-C might work with a converter on a full frame camera, but you probably won’t like the black corners.

Full frame and aps-c lenses

EF lenses are made for full frame cameras and work just fine on APS-C cameras.  If you can’t figure out what kind of lens to buy or just confused on all of this, shoot me a comment below and I will do some digging for you! But the rule for Canon is that an EF lens will provide excellent pictures on any full frame or APS-C camera and there are a ton of those lenses on the market. EF-S and EF-M lenses are for APS-C, so I really wouldn’t even bother trying to put them on a full frame camera. Get the idea now? Great!

understanding camera lenses- What camera lens do I need?

Purchasing and Caring for your Lens

Okay! Time to drop some hard-earned cash on a new lens that will be the next love of our life right!  So we are taking into consideration what kind of photography we want to shoot and looking at the focal length we need, the aperture we need, the kind of mount that will fit our camera, if we need auto-focus (say yes), image stabilization, weather sealing… well now you can really narrow down the field and look at brands, do some research, watch some YouTube videos, maybe even find a friend who owns one and ask to play around with it. 

Buying used

Do you buy new or used?  If you are going new, then your options are endless.  You could walk into a camera store and actually touch and feel the lens or maybe just get it from a retailer that has a great return policy.  If you are thinking of saving some money, why not consider used?  I have used two companies in the past that buy, sell and trade used lenses and had great success so far (I am genuinely recommending I get no kickbacks… but I wish I did!).  KEH.com is my #1 go to, only because they are out of Atlanta, GA and I get my lens in a day or two. 

The other is MPB.com which were fantastic for a trade I made, and if you live in the northeastern US, they might be your best bet too.  Either way, you can find a ton of stock and some great lenses for a good bit less.  But look at the condition, I never buy a lens that may have blurs or blemishes/scratches on the lens.  Many times, these will not affect your image quality, but why take that chance.  I am willing to pay a little more for peace of mind, but if you do buy a bargain lens and have success, drop me a comment or email and let me know how it went!

lens care

As far as lens care, there isn’t a whole lot you have to do if you treat a lens right in the first place.  Never use anything but lens cloth to wipe the glass, these are made to be super soft and even tissue or paper towels can put micro scratches on a lens.  Also, your shirt is not a good option, you will know what I mean when you wipe your lens and realize you had some grains of sand you couldn’t see on your clothes.  Also, allow your lens to adjust to big changes in temperature. 

Don’t be surprised if they fog up the minute you go outside, just give them a second to warm up or cool down and you can wipe any fog off with your lens cloth and be on your way.  Other than that, don’t store them in direct sunlight or in really moist areas of your home.  Also, don’t use a pressure air canister, it can force dust into your lens. Wipe it or use one of those little specialty brushes they make just for lenses.  Moisture is the big enemy though, so always protect your lens from the rain and keep it dry. 

At the beach, never lay it down on the sand (duh) but if sand ever gets on your lens, try not to wipe it off at that point, use something like a camera lens brush to gently remove it.  Or, even better, leave that UV filter on and keep that sand off your lens entirely!

That’s a wrap!

Now you are set and ready for lens purchasing! You know what to buy, what to look for, and what you need.  So next, we will have a short discussion on camera bodies and then get into the meat and potatoes of taking beautiful pictures that you can post on Facebook and amaze all your friends and family of your newfound photography skills!

*Also check out Landscape settings

Photography and writing by Jon Frederick with Seven11

understanding camera lenses- What camera lens do I need?

Jon Frederick

I am an internationally exhibited fine arts photographer, blog contributor, and published Christian author. Along with my wife, Kathleen, we are the founders of Seven11 Photography and co-authors of “Immersion: An Inspirational Christian Photography Collection”. “Immersion” is the first devotional of its kind to combine “faith-inspired” photography with individual messages of Christian encouragement, creating a more immersive study you can read, see, and spiritually feel. Our goal is to help fellow Christians deepen their relationship with God by creating studies that go beyond written words. If a picture says a thousand words, our unique approach reaches deep into your thoughts, memories, and emotions, through visual engagement, to deepen your study and actively strengthen your relationship with Jesus Christ.