Friday, February 13, 2015

Photography Basics Part IV: What Lens is Good for What?

Hello hello! Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of...TwoFeetPhoto. Today, we will be talking about camera equipment - namely, lenses. Which camera lenses do you need? What are they for? Eager to find out? Read on!

You may want to click here for links to my other Photography Basics articles.

First: a disclaimer about focal length. Most digital cameras, including the one I shoot with, are half sensor cameras. Because the image is recorded on a sensor that is half the size, there is an extra magnification factor. Thus, on half sensor cameras, the actual focal length of a lens is 1.5X what it says on the box. As a result, it can be difficult to get wide angle views on half sensor cameras because the effective focal length of a lens (unless it is designed specifically for a half sensor camera) is increased by half.

15mm - 100mm

Lenses in this range are best for landscape, architecture, and (human or pet) portraiture. Lenses at the low end of this range can produce wide angle "fisheye" effects, which may or may not be desirable.

Lenses like these are best for subjects that are large or not very far away; they have shorter focal lengths. These types of lenses do not suffer as much from motion blur because they do not have the magnification power of longer lenses.

100 - 200mm

This in-between lens length is generally best for large mammal photography, but can also be used for sports, travel, and landscape photography.

These lenses will not have enough magnification power to capture smaller or more flighty animals, such as birds. This is also the focal length at which you need to start worrying about motion blur, as the higher magnification power of the lens will also magnify unwanted movements of the camera. Remember, you should aim for your shutter speed to be greater than the focal length of your lens, or (better) use a tripod.

300mm - 600mm

This is animal photography range, including birds. Larger and less shy birds should be easy to photograph from 300, but if you are photographing animals that are very small or very far away, you will want to invest in the 600mm glass. Oh yeah, and you will need a tripod.

Lenses in the 300-400mm range make capturing portraits of larger birds and animals that are not timid reasonably easy.

These lenses have the magnification power to allow you to stand back and not frighten or disturb your subjects while still achieving pleasing images.

This image of baby egrets was captured with a 2x teleconverter stacked on top of a 300mm lens. Teleconverters come in different strengths and will increase the magnification power of your main lens, although they decrease the light available to the camera and can also degrade image quality. For smaller subjects like these, you will want a lens of at least 500mm.

Macro Lenses

There are different types of "special effect" lens available, of which I find the macro lens to be the best investment, particularly for the nature photographer. I have an entire post dedicated to macro photography, so you can head over here to read it if you're interested.

In short, macro lenses produce true close-up images, making them indispensable for those of us interested in small.

I hope this has demystified the many lens choices available for the photography consumer, and that it has helped you identify which lenses you actually need.

So, what is your favorite lens? Let me know in the comments below!
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