How do I Choose the Best Digital SLR Lens?

Dan Cavallari

Digital SLR cameras have opened up a world of opportunities for photographers and hobbyists, and many such consumers have come to the realization that a SLR camera is only as good as the digital SLR lens you attach to it. In order to choose the best digital SLR lens for your camera, you must first look into the brand of camera body you have. Almost all companies manufacturing camera bodies use certain lenses that only work with their brand, so you need to be sure the lens you are thinking of buying will work with your camera. So step one in choosing the right digital SLR lens is ensuring it will work with your equipment.

Rear view of a digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera.
Rear view of a digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera.

Once you have determined that, it's time to decide what type of shots you want to take. A wide angle lens is great for landscape shots because it will take in more of your surroundings than other types of lenses. You can determine if a digital SLR lens is a wide angle lens by looking at its focal length, which is the measurement that determines the magnification and field of view of your lens. It is measured in millimeters and is generally written on the lens. A lower number will indicate a wider angle, indicating that the distance between the camera's sensor and the optical center of the lens.

Using a wide-angle lens allows a photographer to take pictures in small areas or to include vast scenes in sprawling landscapes, though perspective can become distorted.
Using a wide-angle lens allows a photographer to take pictures in small areas or to include vast scenes in sprawling landscapes, though perspective can become distorted.

A zoom digital SLR lens is a versatile choice if you are looking to take different types of shots with one lens. A zoom lens can come in a variety of focal lengths, and it can adjust between focal lengths, allowing you to zoom in on a subject. For example, a 28-105mm lens will allow you to shoot at a wider angle for landscapes--the 28mm setting--or zoom in on a subject close up by shooting at the 105mm setting.

Many versions of the digital SLR lens now come with an autofocus option, which relieves the user of the task of having to focus on an object. The lens will do this job for you, but if you find yourself in a situation in which you want to manually focus on an object, a simple flick of a switch will allow you to focus manually.

Perhaps the most important consideration in choosing a digital SLR lens is determining how fast of a lens you need. The lower the f-stop your lens will allow you to shoot at, the faster that lens will be. A faster lens will produce sharper images, but the cost for faster lenses goes up considerably. If you are shooting sports photography, you will generally want the fastest lens you can find. Many professional portrait photographers prefer a fast lens as well. For everyday hobby shooting, however, it probably isn't necessary to buy such a lens. A mid-range zoom lens with an adjustable focal length will suit just fine for such purposes.

Telephoto lenses allow photographers to zoom in on far-away objects.
Telephoto lenses allow photographers to zoom in on far-away objects.

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