Every aspiring photographer is anxious to get out into the world and start snapping shots. But, only after purchasing a DSLR does the inevitable question of “Which lens should I use?” come to many beginners mind. Sure, most cameras come with a standard kit lens, usually a zoom lens with a range along the lines of 15-85mm. While this is sufficient to learn the basics with, the limitations of a kit lens quickly become apparent when comparing the aperture and overall image sharpness capable of being attained by cameras equipped with higher quality glass

Navigating through the wide array of lenses available on the market can be intimidating, especially for an individual that may not fully understand the differences between varying lenses. Here are just a few guidelines to help you determine which lens is right for you:

A single top of the line Zeiss lens can run for thousands of dollars

What is your budget?

Unfortunately, photography is not an inexpensive medium. Lenses are no exception to that rule, and can be a major investment. The fact of the matter is; the range in lens prices is dramatic. Top of the line lenses can easily cost thousands of dollars, while standard models often sell for as low as $100. Before setting your heart on a specific make or model, decide how much you are willing to spend on a lens. Do some research to find out what the lenses that you would like to add to your repertoire would cost and compare prices between similar models made by different manufacturers. If you find that your heart’s desire doesn’t necessarily match up with the balance of your bank account, consider options such as renting a lens temporarily or buying a lightly used lens at a reduced price.

Photographer’s that rely on prime lenses must switch between lenses to change focal lengths

Prime or Zoom?

There are two types of lenses available to photographers – zoom lenses and prime lenses. Each has their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Most DSLR cameras are equipped with a basic zoom lens, capable of reaching different focal lengths depending on the desire of the photographer. Zoom lenses can have incredible range and are helpful in the field in that they can both close in on distant details and pan out to show expansive environments. However, well-made zoom lenses often run at more expensive prices than their prime counterparts. A prime lens often can attain low apertures unobtainable on zooms lenses, and often times they are able to process images a bit faster. The main problem that arises with a prime lens is the fact that its focal length is fixed – meaning that for any sort of change in perspective, it becomes necessary to switch out to a different lens.

Not every lens can attain such a low depth of field

Which lens is best suited to your needs?

One of the things that make choosing a lens most difficult is the fact that each has a different function. There is no definitive “best” lens on the market. What might be the perfect lens for a photographer focused on portraiture may be an awful choice for a photographer fixated on recording fast action, and vice versa. This does not make one lens better than the other overall – it’s just that each model has a different function better suited to some tasks over others. Consider your interests as a photographer and your goals as an artist. Take into consideration how factors such as angle of view and focal length versatility may or may not help or hinder your image making process. If you’re not sure about the mechanics of a lens and how they might affect your images, read reviews online and ask for advice from peers within the photo community. Prioritize your needs and choose a lens that would most benefit your photographic pursuits – which might not be the flashiest choice on the shelf.

Telephoto lenses compress and exaggerate far off details.

Look into the details

With the technology behind photography increasing at an incredibly fast rate, it’s important to look into the bells and whistles of a lens. For a photographer constantly on the move, the built in image stabilization included in many standard lenses is a necessity. However, for a studio photographer in a controlled environment, it might be a feature worth sacrificing. Some camera details may seem insignificant – for instance, a lens with a minimum aperture of f1.4 as opposed to a camera that can only reach f1.8. For many photographers, the extra ⅔’s of a stop is not appealing enough to justify the difference in cost between the two. However, for a photographer that frequently works in low lighting situations, it might be a detail that makes an incredible difference in their work.

Photography, like any form of art, is open ended. There are millions of possibilities for a mind equipped with a camera, regardless of the lens that may be attached to the other side. While choosing the perfect lens can be a purchase involving careful thought and research, in the end what matters most is making a decision that feels right to you.