“Ah, this new Sony a1!.. Oh, this new Nikon Z7!.. What beautiful photos, what a sharp picture and amazing colors! But where to get two hundred thousand for a new camera?..” The answer is simple — nowhere, because you don’t need a new camera. You need a new lens!
It’s all about the lens
Many aspiring photographers suddenly find that their shots are missing something in terms of image quality. And it’s tempting to think that buying the latest full-frame mirrorless would be the key to unleashing that potential. But the reality is usually quite different. If you want to take your shots from ‘pass’ to ‘wow’, there are two things you need to focus on right now: composition and better optics.
In this article, we’ll discuss the part of the camera that light passes through, the lens. A quality (which doesn’t always mean “expensive”) lens is a sure way to instantly improve image quality. And not a new camera at all (we talked about when you should upgrade the camera in the last article).
In the days of film photography, the “matrix” was the film itself, so the lens, not the camera, was primarily responsible for image quality. Despite the fact that the style of the picture and the features of different types of film differed, it was the lens that was the main factor in image quality in its, so to speak, physical aspect. Of course, the contribution of the photographer himself was also extremely important: technique and composition played an important role. Of course, the technologies that were used in the camera itself (autofocus, motors, electronic exposure metering, etc.) also influenced the image. But in the end, nothing could replace the lens as the most important physical component of picture quality. However, the digital era has come: we have a new variable that affects image quality — the matrix. All of a sudden, photographers of all skill levels and backgrounds began to prefer it over the lens.
This attention to the sensor is justified if you are an experienced photographer with a collection of premium lenses that are compatible with digital cameras. For everyone else, it doesn’t make sense. Even if you have the most advanced camera and use it with a cheap kit lens, you won’t get the perfect picture.
The kit lens is the one that comes with the camera, usually 18–55mm and/or 55–200mm. While these “glasses” can take great pictures, there’s no doubt that there are better lenses out there.
Todd Vorenkamp, who teaches photography at Dakota College Bottino, says that many of the students in his class take great pictures with old cameras and it’s the quality of the lens that makes the biggest difference in their photographs. A student shooting with an old camera with a premium lens takes better quality photos than a student with the same qualifications using a new camera and a standard kit lens.
Therefore, if you are still shooting with a kit lens and you are not satisfied with the picture quality, upgrade the lens first.
What to update
A premium lens won’t automatically make you a photogenius, but it will instantly improve the image quality of your shots. And no other accessory can do this (and we would put a tripod in second place on the shopping list). The difference will be especially noticeable if you have previously shot with an entry-level kit lens.
There are two main types of advanced lenses:
- Professional zoom lens, usually with a maximum aperture (f/2.8 or faster), such as 24–70mm f/2.8 or 70–200mm f/2.8.
- Almost any prime is a lens with a fixed focal length.
Does this mean you have to pay a lot of money to get a “professional” lens for your aging digital camera? Not necessary. First recommendation: get a relatively inexpensive fifty-fifty (a 50mm lens) or, if you’re shooting with a crop sensor camera, choose a 50mm-equivalent focal length lens.
This, perhaps, will simultaneously become the most profitable optics in terms of price-quality ratio and the fastest way to improve picture quality. It is quite possible to find a good “fifty dollars” up to ten thousand rubles.
Zooms and primes — other lens options
In addition to the “fifty dollars” there are other lenses that will not cost you too much.
Do a little research: look at the metadata of your photos (you can do this in any photo editor) that you like the most. What focal lengths do you most often use with your kit zoom lens? Are you shooting wide or long focal length? How wide? How long? After answering these questions, you will most likely be able to find a relatively inexpensive prime lens with a focal length around the focal length that you prefer (often unconsciously).
- For portraits There is a whole family of 85mm f/1.8 lenses that are very similar to their 50mm f/1.8 cousins, capable of producing fantastic image quality at an affordable price.
- For street photography and everyday shots, choose between 35 and 50mm at f/2.
- If you zoom fanatic and not impressed with the idea of constantly running up to the right distance with your fix, the next step after the whale “glass” will be a universal zoom with a maximum aperture of about f / 4: 24–120mm f / 4 or 24–105mm f / 4 (or their equivalents for crop cameras).
At f/4, you can find really beautiful telephoto lenses around 200mm and 300mm, again showing exceptional optical quality at a reasonable price.
So, if you want to instantly improve the image quality of your photos, the first thing to change is the lens. Before that, did you shoot with a kit (complete) lens or with some cheap zoom? Then you will be amazed how much better your image will change — sharper, more beautiful bokeh, etc.
Of course, modern kit lenses are very functional and reliable, and you can also take fantastic pictures with them. However, if you are truly passionate about photography and want to improve your shots or, for example, specialize in a certain genre, buying a good prime lens or a quality zoom can be the solution that will take you as a photographer to a whole new level.
* In preparing the article, materials from the resource bhphotovideo.com (author Todd Vorenkamp) were used