You’ll need a good camera lens guide for beginners that breaks down the complex and constantly changing world of lenses.
Lenses are very intricate and diverse.
Each type of lens will offer you something different and will produce hugely different results – even when shooting the same scene.
It’s difficult to choose the right lens because while it may be perfect for one scenario, it could be terrible for another.
We take a look into how lenses work (I’ll keep it simple so don’t worry), the best lens for each type of photography and how to choose the best lens.
I want this to be a camera lens guide beginners can use and understand, without having to learn tons of technical jargon and learn impractical information.
By the end of the guide, you’ll feel comfortable choosing which lens to carry around with you and the best combinations to carry.
We’ll also talk about the difference between prime and zoom lenses and the trade-offs you’ll have to make when you choose one over the other.
Remember to take it one step at a time and don’t try to take on too much.
Learning about lenses and developing a ‘feel’ for what will work takes time and experience.
There’s no need to rush anything and good things always take time – you’ll be rewarded in the future if you’re patient.
Let’s get into the camera lens guide!
Table of Contents
Camera Lenses Explained for Dummies – How They Work
I’ll keep this basic so you have just enough information to understand a little about how lenses work.
There’s no real reason to learn the full theory behind lenses when you’re a beginner – you can take it in overtime.
The first camera took around 8 hours to take the first photo, and the image was still blurry.
Just the camera was used to capture the “real image” and the results sparked to journey to create something that can gather all the light and focus it onto the camera’s sensor and get a sharp image.
This is the job of the lens.
When you point your lens at a scene, light is bouncing around in all directions.
The lens captures this light and redirects it all into a single point – the sensor of the camera.
When this is done correctly, and the light is all brought to a single point, the image will be sharp.
You need different types of lenses to capture objects at different lengths.
This is known as the focal length of the lens. For example, a 300mm lens will make a far-away object like a mountain appear closer.
The focal length is the distance between the spot where the light first hits the lens and the point where it reaches the camera sensor.
Shorter focal lengths have a wider viewing angle (18mm) and longer focal lengths zoom in and have a narrow viewing angle (500mm).
The focus of the lens has the job of adjusting the internal glass to make sure that the light is landing on the right point to create a sharp image.
Focus can be automatically or manually controlled.
This is a very oversimplified explanation to get you started.
There’s obviously tons more to learn, but this should do for now.
Just remember how the different focal lengths give you different zooms and viewing angles, and how the focusing works, and you’ll be ready for the rest of the camera lens guide.
Types of Camera Lenses
There are different types and categories of camera lenses. We’ll take some time here to break down and explain them to you as quickly as possible and set you up with a good foundation.
Prime and Zoom Lenses
Lenses can be broken into 2 main categories based on whether or not you can adjust their focal lengths:
- Prime lenses
- Zoom lenses
Prime lenses have a fixed focal length that can’t be adjusted or changed.
They have fewer moving parts inside them (since they don’t zoom) and therefore produce sharper images.
This is because there are fewer chances for light to be lost to any kind of interference.
Zoom lenses can a focal length that can be adjusted.
For example, an 18-85mm zoom lens will let you adjust the focal length anywhere between 18mm and 85mm.
This means that with one lens you could get wide-angle shots and then zoom in to get some cool telephoto shots without the need to change the lens.
Zoom lenses have more moving parts inside (as the glass elements need to be adjusted in order to zoom) and produce less sharp images than a prime lens with the same focal length.
Full Frame and Cropped Lenses
We’re not going to get technical about this topic because we’d need to talk about types of camera sensors and the theory behind it.
Full-frame lenses are compatible with full-frame cameras (they are a lot more expensive).
The full-frame means that the sensor captures the true image according to the focal length.
For example, a 28mm lens that gives you a 75° viewing angle will produce an image with exactly the same frame size.
Both the camera and the lens need to be full-frame.
A cropped lens will crop the frame and give you a more zoomed-in shot. The crop factor will vary depending on the camera and lens.
For example, an 18mm lens that isn’t a full frame will produce the same viewing angle and frame as a 28mm lens.
Crop lenses can be used on full-frame cameras, but they won’t produce a full-frame image.
Full-frame lenses are generally quite a bit more expensive than non-full-frame ones.
To work out the 35mm equivalent (that the crop lens will produce) you should multiply the original focal length by 1.5x.
For example, a 50mm crop lens will give you a real-world focal length of 75mm.
This is called the crop factor and the new 75mm focal length is called the “35mm equivalent”.
What Are the Important Features of a Lens
We aren’t going into depth about each of these features, but give you the basics of what matters most in a lens.
Here they are if you’re scanning through:
- Focal length
- Shutter speeds available
- Focusing modes
- ISO range
- Focus and aperture controls
- Autofocus compatibility
- Full frame/cropped
- Sensor size
- Image stabilization
- Lens weight and size
Of all these, the most important is probably the aperture, focal range, shutter speed, and ISO range.
You need to get a lens with features that match the style of photography you plan to use it for.
That may sound difficult but it’s not. Most lenses are designed to get the best quality at their focal range.
If you know nothing about aperture, exposure, focusing, and shutter speeds then you need to acquaint yourself with them quite soon.
They’re important if you plan on taking good photos and developing your skills in the future.
What’s the Best Lens for the Different Situations
Here we’ll break down the best lens or focal range for each different type of photography.
We aren’t recommending specific lenses – just the type of lens that would be best.
Wide Angle Lenses
These are lenses that have a focal length of less than 35mm.
They’re great at capturing wide shots as they have a wide viewing angle.
Wide-angle prime lenses are likely to offer you the best quality shots but you can also get zoom lenses within this range if you need the extra versatility.
Fisheye lenses are also an option that gives you a 180° field of view but with quite a bit of distortion to vertical lines.
Wide-angle lenses are best for shooting:
- Fisheye lenses are great for special effects and creative shots, extreme sports too
35mm Prime Lens – The Everyday Carry
These lenses are super versatile despite being fixed-focal-length lenses.
They generally have very wide apertures of f/1.4 or f/1.8. This lets more light in and lets you freeze fast-moving objects without too much motion blur.
They are really compact lenses – meaning they don’t take up much space and are easy to carry around all day.
They are the perfect lenses to bridge the gap between wide-angle lenses and 50mm lenses. You’ll shoot shots that are a little wider and zoomed out than your eyes can usually see.
35mm lenses are excellent at shooting:
- Low light and evening shots
- Landscape shots with a prominent subject that stands out
- Street photography (it’s fast)
- Everyday photography needs (e.g. a breakfast out, or a road trip – they’re very versatile)
Standard 50mm Lens
This lens is widely called the standard lens because it most closely matches our eyes’ view.
The shots it takes look very natural and similar to what we’d see with our own eyes.
They’re generally very good at shooting portraits and getting smooth bokeh and depth-of-field shots.
With a 50mm lens you’ll get great quality:
- Portraits (full body and half portraits)
- Weddings and other events
- Low light shots with very smooth bokeh
- Actions shots – the aperture is fast and can capture motion well
- Indoor and food photography
- Super sharp shots at all stops
- Fantastic travel lens and is good for point-and-shoot photography
This is a broad term and refers to any lens with a focal length of 85mm and upwards.
Telephoto lenses can reach huge ranges and even be used to photograph the details on the moon.
Image stabilization and sufficient exposure are the main hurdles with these lenses.
You need to have a good tripod so that you can get longer exposures and sharp shots.
Telephoto lenses come both in zoom and prime format, so you’ll have plenty of options.
Keep in mind that the prime telephoto lenses are going to give you sharper and higher quality images than the zoom lenses (though zoom lenses can be extremely versatile).
Telephoto lenses are often used to shoot:
- Far off landscapes
- Event Photography
- Wildlife and some scenery
- Marine photography
Telephoto lenses will be used differently as the term covers anything from around 85mm up into the thousands.
The All-In-One Zoom Lens
This is a lens that does it all.
They generally range from wide-angle to telephoto lengths.
In order to achieve this versatility they often have to sacrifice some image sharpness and speed.
Some of them have a constant aperture across their entire focal length (this is good) while others change the aperture depending on where you are along with the focal range.
These lenses are often very large and quite heavy, so they aren’t super practical to keep lugging around all day.
They can be used to shoot pretty much every scene you’ll come across.
You’ll have to pay a handsome price for a good quality all-in-one zoom lens, but depending on your goals as a photographer, it’ll be worth it.
What is the Best Lens for Beginners?
This will depend on your goals and the photography niche you’re into.
If you’re into traveling and you want a lens to help capture your journeys, then you’ll want something fast, compact and versatile – a 35mm or a standard 50mm is best for you.
If you’re looking to build up your skills as a photographer then you should go for a prime lens.
Due to the fact that you can’t zoom, you have to do the legwork and move around physically to reframe your shots.
This develops your eye for composing your photos.
You have to first clearly define your goals and what you want from your photography.
Maybe you just want to get some interesting shots once in a while but don’t want to become a pro –maybe you do want that.
Take some time to lay out everything you want, you’ll find it much easier to choose the best lens for you.
Our Final Thoughts
That’s it for our DSLR lens guide.
Here’s one piece of advice to make your learning stage faster and easier; focus on one lens at a time.
Don’t fragment your time and attention between learning and mastering multiple lenses.
Learn everything you can with your lens, experiment with it, and try new things.
The experience will be the best guide and you’ll develop a unique style.
You’ll also start to get high-quality results faster this way – it’s very rewarding.
The most important thing for you to do now is to take action.
Take what you’ve learned here in our camera lens guide for beginners, get yourself a good lens and get some real-world experience – you’ll be snapping professional-quality shots in no time. Keep learning and stay consistent!