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Pho­to: hippopx.com

Some­times, to rad­i­cal­ly improve the qual­i­ty of your images, you just need to buy a bet­ter lens. But if you’re new to pho­tog­ra­phy, it’s easy to get lost in the bewitch­ing vari­ety of mod­els.

In the first part of the arti­cle, we talked about what char­ac­ter­is­tics you need to pay atten­tion to when choos­ing a lens. In the new mate­r­i­al, we will take a clos­er look at pop­u­lar types of lens­es, as well as talk about addi­tion­al fea­tures that are impor­tant to know about.

Lens­es come in fixed (fixed) and vari­able (zoom) focal lengths. This char­ac­ter­is­tic divides all mod­els into two broad cat­e­gories.

Standard zoom

Stan­dard zoom is per­haps the most com­mon and ver­sa­tile type of lens. Most of the kit lens­es that come with the cam­era are stan­dard zooms. Usu­al­ly in the box with your cam­era there will be glass with a small aper­ture and with focal lengths in the region of 18–55mm for APS‑C cam­eras and 24–70mm for full frame, that is, from mod­er­ate wide-angle to ini­tial tele­pho­to (stan­dard zooms include mod­els with slight­ly longer tele­pho­to range — up to 105mm).

Stan­dard zooms are good for start­ing a pho­tog­ra­phy career, every­day shoot­ing and trav­el. Such a lens can be used for almost any genre of pho­tog­ra­phy, but it is not sharp­ened for any of them, which means it will lose to spe­cial­ized options.

The old­er broth­er of the whale lens is a pro­fes­sion­al zoom like the Nikon Nikkor Z 24–70mm f/2.8 S. Pho­to: digitalcameraworld.com

If you want the same ver­sa­tile zoom range but sharp­er optics and aper­ture, there are pro­fes­sion­al stan­dard zooms on the mar­ket with a max­i­mum aper­ture of f/2.8.

Wide-angle zooms

Such lens­es usu­al­ly cap­ture not only wide but also ultra-wide angle, that is, a range from 28mm and wider at full frame or from 18mm on APS‑C cam­eras. These lens­es are usu­al­ly used for shoot­ing land­scapes — nat­ur­al, urban, archi­tec­ture and inte­ri­ors.

If the wide-angle zoom has good aper­ture, it is also a great option for astopho­tog­ra­phy in the style of star­ry land­scapes (land­scape against the back­drop of a star­ry sky). And for por­traits, it is bet­ter not to use such glass­es — they dis­tort the per­spec­tive and pro­por­tions. If the mod­el com­plains that her nose is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent in the pho­to, most like­ly the por­trait was tak­en on a wide angle.

Telephoto zoom

Tele­pho­to zoom is the oppo­site of wide-angle zoom, because its focal length range falls on long focal lengths (from 70–80mm and beyond). Such zooms allow you to “reach” very far objects, and there­fore they are loved by wildlife and sports pho­tog­ra­phers. Since the range includes mod­er­ate­ly long focal lengths, the tele­zoom can be used for por­traits, includ­ing head­shots. Some­times tele­zooms are also used for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy — in cas­es where some small spe­cif­ic (usu­al­ly remote) part of the land­scape is select­ed for pho­tog­ra­phy.

Tele­pho­to zooms are one of the most “large-cal­iber” glass­es on the mar­ket. Pho­to: www.pxhere.com

Usu­al­ly, for a good range of tele­pho­to dis­tances and high light pow­er, you have to pay with the size and weight of the lens. Such glass­es can weigh about a kilo­gram or more.

Anoth­er nuance is that tele­vi­sions “com­press” space, which makes it seem that the back­ground is much clos­er to the sub­ject than it real­ly is. And the longer the focal length, the more this effect increas­es, so super tele­pho­to lens­es (from 200mm) are no longer so good for por­traits and long land­scapes.

Travel Zoom

A trav­el lens, also known as a super­zoom, is the most ver­sa­tile type of lens imag­in­able. It’s essen­tial­ly a stan­dard zoom, but tak­en to the extreme at both ends of the focal lengths. They cap­ture every­thing from wide angle to far tele­pho­to. With such a lens, you can take a pic­ture of the land­scape around, and the birds sit­ting on the dis­tant rocks.

This ver­sa­til­i­ty is why they are called “trav­el zooms” and not because they are light and com­pact and easy to car­ry around. Quite the con­trary, usu­al­ly these are large and weighty glass­es.

Trav­el lens­es are infe­ri­or to spe­cial­ized ones and in terms of optics they are less sharp com­pared to spe­cial­ized lens­es, and in terms of aper­ture ratio — such a lens is not suit­able for night shoot­ing. Blur­ring the back­ground in com­par­i­son with por­trait lens­es is also lame.

macro lenses

Macro lens­es focus on sub­jects very close to the lens and repro­duce them at life size. All this makes macro lens­es the most con­ve­nient tool for shoot­ing minia­ture objects — insects and flow­ers, tex­tures and prod­uct pho­tog­ra­phy.

Typ­i­cal­ly, macro lens­es are primes with a mag­ni­fi­ca­tion ratio of 1:1 or high­er. Some­times the name “macro” can also be found on zooms, but more often than not, it just means that such a lens can focus a lit­tle clos­er than most oth­er mod­els.

Some macro lens­es can look weird, like this tube lens from Venus Optics. Pho­to: borrowlenses.com

The longer your macro lens, the far­ther away you can be from your sub­ject, which is use­ful for shoot­ing insects, for exam­ple. Some­times a macro lens is used as a por­trait and land­scape tool. We have put togeth­er a detailed guide on how to choose and what to use a macro lens for.

Universal fixes

Fix­es boast a more com­pact size, a sharp­er pic­ture and a larg­er aper­ture. Fix­es with a max­i­mum aper­ture of f / 1.8 and lighter are con­sid­ered fast aper­tures. These primes are good for shoot­ing in low light, they can cre­ate beau­ti­ful bokeh.

Fix­es can have a vari­ety of focal lengths — from wide-angle to tele­pho­to. But prob­a­bly the most ver­sa­tile focal length would be 35mm (23mm on an APS‑C cam­era): they give nei­ther too wide nor too nar­row an angle of view. The 35mm prime is a great every­day lens for street pho­tog­ra­phy, envi­ron­men­tal por­traits and most non-spe­cif­ic sit­u­a­tions.

If you’re look­ing for a longer focal length, but still ver­sa­tile prime that’s more handy for peo­ple shots, con­sid­er lens­es with a “nor­mal” focal length of 50mm full frame (30–35mm on APS‑C).

Telephoto and wide-angle fixes

The range of use for tele­pho­to and wide angle primes is sim­i­lar to tele­pho­to and wide angle zooms, except that you are lim­it­ed to a sin­gle focal length, but you get all the ben­e­fits of primes. A spe­cial case of tele­pho­to fix­es are por­trait lens­es with a fixed focal length.

Fixes for portraits

Fast primes with a mod­er­ate tele­pho­to dis­tance (85–135mm at full frame) are con­sid­ered the best por­trait lens­es. They cre­ate beau­ti­ful bokeh, do not dis­tort facial fea­tures and allow you to work at an accept­able dis­tance from the mod­el — not too far and not too close.

Long throw por­trait cam­eras like the Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM are not uni­ver­sal, but they are very good at cap­tur­ing peo­ple and events.

additional characteristics

In the first part, we talked about the main char­ac­ter­is­tics of lens­es — focal length, for­mat, mount and aper­ture. Let’s now look at addi­tion­al char­ac­ter­is­tics that may be impor­tant in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions.

autofocus

Most mod­ern lens­es use an aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem, but the dif­fer­ence in speed, accu­ra­cy and vol­ume of aut­o­fo­cus between dif­fer­ent mod­els can be huge. High-qual­i­ty aut­o­fo­cus is the key to suc­cess in many gen­res of pho­tog­ra­phy (from street pho­tog­ra­phy to sports).

The aut­o­fo­cus per­for­mance of a lens pri­mar­i­ly depends on the type of aut­o­fo­cus motor (dri­ve). Now step­per and ultra­son­ic dri­ves are more com­mon. How­ev­er, it is impos­si­ble to draw any gen­er­al con­clu­sions about which type of motor is bet­ter: usu­al­ly smooth, but rel­a­tive­ly slow step­ping motors on some mir­ror­less lens­es work very quick­ly (for exam­ple, in the new Nikon Z 14–24mm f / 2.8 S), and ultra­son­ic Dri­ves that per­form well on DSLRs tend to be less com­pat­i­ble with mir­ror­less sys­tems. There­fore, it is bet­ter to read reviews about the aut­o­fo­cus of the lens that you liked before buy­ing.

Manual focus

Although mod­ern aut­o­fo­cus sys­tems make life eas­i­er for pho­tog­ra­phers, there are still many lens­es on the mar­ket with only man­u­al focus. This includes lens­es sharp­ened for video shoot­ing (for exam­ple, the Canon CN-E135mm T2.2 LF cine lens), and vin­tage lens­es with a tra­di­tion­al design (Zenith and Helios), and spe­cial­ized lens­es with an unusu­al opti­cal design (for exam­ple, Canon TS ‑E 17mm f/4L) in which the aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem can­not be used.

Most aut­o­fo­cus lens­es sup­port the abil­i­ty to switch to man­u­al focus mode.

Electronic manual focus and focus correction

In most mod­ern lens­es, focus­ing occurs not with the help of mechan­i­cal ele­ments, as in tra­di­tion­al optics, but with the help of elec­tron­ics. That is, the con­nec­tion between the focus ring and how the lens will focus is not direct, but elec­tron­i­cal­ly medi­at­ed (the so-called “focus by wire”). Such elec­tron­ic man­u­al focus­ing can be imple­ment­ed in var­i­ous ways.

In some sys­tems, turn­ing the focus ring more quick­ly results in a larg­er “jump” in focus, allow­ing you to quick­ly move to the desired focus range. But this imple­men­ta­tion of focus­ing can be incon­ve­nient when work­ing with video.

In oth­er sys­tems, the response from turn­ing the ring is lin­ear — the focus changes with­out jumps, accord­ing to how you turn the ring on the lens. It’s more like tra­di­tion­al mechan­i­cal man­u­al focus mech­a­nisms.

A num­ber of lens­es have a man­u­al focus over­ride fea­ture (full-time man­u­al focus) — you can inter­fere with the aut­o­fo­cus process by turn­ing the man­u­al focus ring to fine-tune focus.

Weather protection

If you often pho­to­graph out­doors and espe­cial­ly when trav­el­ing, it is good if your lens is pro­tect­ed from dust and mois­ture. The lev­el of pro­tec­tion for all man­u­fac­tur­ers and mod­els is dif­fer­ent — from a sin­gle gas­ket around the mount to the pro­tec­tion of all nodes.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, man­u­fac­tur­ers usu­al­ly do not write what lev­el of pro­tec­tion is used in the lens. You can focus on the rule — the more expen­sive the lens, the more advanced its pro­tec­tion.

The more expen­sive the lens, the more pro­tec­tion points it usu­al­ly has. This image shows where the rub­ber pads are locat­ed on the Canon RF 28–70 mm f/2 L USM. Pho­to: canon-europe.com

The same applies to the qual­i­ty of the mate­ri­als from which the lens bar­rel is made. More expen­sive lens­es are made of mag­ne­sium alloy, cheap­er lens­es are made of plas­tic.

Results

To under­stand which lens you need, deter­mine the pri­or­i­ty zones for your­self:

  • main goal — what are you plan­ning to shoot? If your soul lies in shoot­ing the micro­cosm, take a macro lens, for wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy — a tele­pho­to lens, for street pho­tog­ra­phy — a uni­ver­sal zoom or prime with a dis­tance of 35mm for a full frame;
  • zoom or fixed? The first is more ver­sa­tile, the sec­ond gives a bet­ter image;
  • what else is impor­tant? Maybe you need fast aut­o­fo­cus for sports pho­tog­ra­phy, or silent focus for video, or bad weath­er pro­tec­tion for trav­el and shoot­ing in extreme con­di­tions, or high ISO.

The qual­i­ty of the image, the com­pact­ness of the entire kit, etc. depend on the lens. Also, lens­es usu­al­ly last much longer than cam­eras, so con­sid­er buy­ing each new glass as a long-term invest­ment.

* when prepar­ing the arti­cle, mate­ri­als from the resource dpreview.com were used



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