How we pick our products
The world of photography is a fascinating and creative art in itself. What many beginners don’t know, however, is the importance of lenses for high-quality images. In order to be able to fully express yourself and to get to know all facets of photography, you need a lens.
They come in many different varieties for every kind of photo. Due to the variety of lenses, there are a few things to consider in order to find the right one for you. In our sc_year test, we have compared the most popular lenses with each other. In the end, you can easily decide which is the best lens for you.
The most important facts
- Lenses are more important for the quality of the photos than the actual camera. For this reason, they are often relatively more expensive. For beginners, a cheaper lens is usually enough to get a feel for it.
- The focal length and aperture of a lens have the greatest influence on image quality. They are responsible for the zoom and the amount of light that enters your lens.
- The choice of lenses and their different functions is enormous. Therefore, it is first and foremost important to know what kind of photos you want to take.
The Best Lens: Our Picks
Buying and evaluation criteria
To help you find the right lens for you, we have summarised the most important buying criteria below. These criteria will enable you to keep an overview even if you are a beginner:
You should read the following paragraphs carefully. Here we explain in detail what you should pay attention to in the above-mentioned purchase criteria and which aspects are most important.
The most important question you should ask yourself before buying a lens is for what purpose you need one. There is a particularly suitable lens for every type of photography. Do you have a preference for certain subjects such as architecture, landscapes or portraits?
Maybe you like to photograph animals or even insects? There are also lenses for more unusual and creative photographers, such as the fisheye lens. Since it extremely changes the edges of the motifs, it is not suitable for everyone. Another important point is the professionalism of your photos.
If you are a hobby photographer, you will need a simpler model to start with. This way you can first try it out and get to know it. If your photography skills are already advanced, you should invest a little more money.
To attach the lens to your camera, you need the right mount. There are countless lens mounts and each manufacturer has its own. This makes it almost impossible to attach every lens to every camera. So if you already have a camera, make sure you buy a lens with the right mount. The most common term for lens mount is bayonet. However, many manufacturers also use the term mount, which means to mount.
Since cameras have different sized sensors, you need to know what type of camera you have. Every manufacturer has several types in its portfolio. For example, a full-frame camera has a very large sensor, whereas an APS-C (Advanced Photo System Type C) camera has a smaller sensor. You can often attach a full-frame lens to an APS-C camera but not vice versa. If you try to mount an APS-C lens on a full-frame camera, you will cover the sensor.
These are the most common lens mounts: A-mount, E,mount (Sony); EF, EF-S, EF-M (Canon); F- and Z-bayonet (Nikon); K-bayonet (Pentax)
However, there are also some manufacturers who offer lenses for different mounts. The so-called third-party suppliers sell lenses that can be connected to the most common brands of cameras. The best known third-party suppliers are Sigma, Tamron and Samyang.
The main advantage of these models is the price. However, their quality is not necessarily inferior and they are a good alternative, especially for beginners. Furthermore, there are some adapters for connections.
Weight and size
Before buying a lens, you should think about the weight and size, as they come in many varieties. Whether handy and light or bulky and correspondingly heavy. If you like to take photos on holiday, the lens should be a bit more handy and lighter.
Especially for hobby photographers who like to backpack, every centimetre and every kilo counts. But if you are looking for a lens with a particularly large zoom or high quality, it will probably be much larger and heavier. However, there are bags and cases for these lenses.
The focal length of a lens tells you whether you can zoom in and how far you can zoom out. It is measured in millimetres and is usually written on the body of the lens. Lenses with which you can zoom have a focal length range of 24-70 mm, for example.
This means that you can change the angle of view or image detail directly on the lens. However, there are also lenses that have a fixed focal length and therefore cannot zoom. The lens then only has a focal length number on it, for example 50 mm. Here you have to play with the distance yourself by moving closer or further away from the object.
- Focal lengths under 16 mm: They have an extremely large image area. The fisheye lens and the GoPro are examples of this.
- Focal length 16 – 35 mm: The wide-angle lenses fall into this range. They have a very large image section, but do not curl the edges like the fisheye.
- Focal length 35-70 mm: This focal length corresponds to the normal range, which can be compared to the field of view of the human eye. Standard lenses are within this focal length range
- Focal length over 70 mm: All lenses that go above the value of 70 mm have an extreme zoom. But the higher the value, the bigger and heavier the telephoto lenses become.
Lenses with a low focal length therefore produce large and wide-angle images. You get more image or landscape in your photo. To get distant objects close, focal lengths with high numbers are needed. For example, you can get a goat high up on a mountain very close.
The light intensity is controlled by the mechanics of the aperture. You can open or close the aperture by turning the lens. In this way, you manually change how much light enters your lens. The aperture takes over the function of the pupil of the human eye, so to speak.
You will find the light intensity rating on the outside of the lens (e.g. F1.4) and it describes the maximum power. This figure shows how much light can pass through when the aperture is completely open. The smaller this value, the more light can pass through the lens. The larger the aperture is open (low number), the blurrier the background.
This also means that less natural or artificial light is needed to take photographs. However, if you want to photograph a large area that should be as sharp as possible, you need a small aperture (high number). Small apertures, in turn, require more natural or artificial light so that the picture does not become too dark.
The image stabiliser stabilises the image and compensates for blurring caused by unsteady hands. This means that the photo remains sharp and does not appear blurred. However, not all lenses have an image stabiliser and it is not always necessary. In the previous section you learned that the light intensity of the lens also has an influence on the sharpness of the photo. For this reason, there are four different types of lenses:
- low speed and without stabiliser
- low speed and with stabiliser
- high speed and without stabiliser
- high speed and with stabiliser
Lenses that can zoom in very close to distant subjects, such as telephoto lenses, blur more quickly. Here, it is important to have a very steady hand or an image stabiliser. For lenses without an image stabiliser, it is also possible to use a tripod. Note, however, that a tripod is quite bulky and inflexible.
If you are photographing a landscape or a building, a tripod is advantageous. However, if you want to photograph animals that are constantly moving, you need to remain flexible. In this case, it is worthwhile to have an image stabiliser in the lens.
Don’t be confused by the different names, because they mean one and the same thing. This only serves the manufacturers to differentiate themselves from each other in order to do better marketing.
The different brands also have different names and abbreviations for the image stabiliser. Canon uses the abbreviation IS, which means Image Stabilization. Nikon, on the other hand, uses a completely different term. Here it is called Vibration Reduction, which means Vibration Reduction in English and is abbreviated as VR. The Sigma company calls it optical stabilisation (OS).
Lenses: Frequently asked questions and answers
In the following, we answer the most frequently asked questions about lenses. This way you can check again whether you have thought about the most important points before or after the purchase.
What is a lens?
For this reason, good lenses are much more expensive than the cameras themselves. So if you’re not completely satisfied with your current camera, you can improve it tremendously with the help of a good lens.
What types of lenses are there?
|Standard lens||Everyday, travel, nature||Fast, for beginners, versatile||No wide angle, no extreme zoom|
|Wide-angle lens||Landscape, architecture||Wide angle of view, fast||Distortion at close distance|
|Telephoto lens||Sports, landscape, animals||Extreme zoom, shallow depth of field||Size, low light|
|Fixed focal length||Portraits, art, everyday life||Fast, high resolution||No zoom|
|Macro lens||nature, insects||ultra close-up, precise resolution||vibration sensitive, one-sided use|
|Fisheye lens||panorama, 360 degrees||special effect, extreme wide angle||one-sided use|
Based on the pros and cons, you can easily decide which lens suits you and your needs best. If the budget is right, you can buy more later.
How much does a lens cost?
|Beginners and advanced||100 – 1,000 pounds|
|Professionals||1,000 pounds and up|
However, there is one rule of thumb that almost always applies to lenses. The more expensive the product, the higher the quality. Of course, there are exceptions here too, but as a rule you can rely on it.
What alternatives are there to lenses?
|Digital cameras without lenses||They can be a possible alternative for lenses. The similar functions such as zoom or different focus settings are one reason for this. Another criterion can be the price, because most cameras are much cheaper than high quality lenses|
|GoPro||The well-known sports and travel camera GoPro, can be a cheap alternative to the fisheye lens. It has the same extreme wide-angle effect and rounds off the edges.|
However, the functions of these alternatives do not really come close to those of the lenses in terms of quality. Thus, the photos and videos of the respective products are hardly comparable for trained eyes.
What do the numbers on the lens mean?
- The camera type: The letters at the beginning show you which camera type you can use. They are the abbreviations of the connections, for example E or A (Sony), EF-M (Canon), DX or F (Nikon). These are the designations for APS-C cameras, i.e. mostly SLR cameras. Lenses with the abbreviations EF (Canon), DG (Sigma) or Di (Tamron) are also suitable for fully automatic cameras.
- The focus: The manufacturers Nikon and Tamron also use the abbreviations AF or AF-S on their lenses. If you have such a model, you know directly that your lens has an autofocus. This is responsible for automatically focusing your pictures.
- The focal length: The focal length is always marked with numbers and millimetres. With fixed focal lengths there is only one number, for example 50 mm, because it is not variable. For all other models with a focal length range, it says 28-70 mm, for example. The focal length is one of the most important specifications and tells you how far you can zoom.
- The aperture: It regulates the light intensity and determines how much light falls into your lens. You can recognise it on the lens by numbers (1:3.5-6.5 or 1:1.4) and sometimes the letter F (f/1.4). If there is only one indication on the lens (1:1.4), this always indicates the maximum aperture. If there is a from-to indication, it describes the complete opening and closing range.
- The image stabiliser: If your lens has a letter such as IS (Canon), VC (Tamron), OS (Sigma) or VR (Nikon), then it has a built-in image stabiliser. This prevents your pictures from shaking and compensates for shaky hands when taking photos.
- The motor: Many lenses are equipped with a standard micro-motor. However, if you want a more powerful and quieter motor, you will find an extra shortcut on the lens. Again, there are different designations depending on the manufacturer. Nikon uses SWM (Silent Wave Motor) and Canon uses USM (Ultrasonic Motor) or STM (Stepper Motor). Sigma, on the other hand, uses the abbreviation HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) and at Tamron it is called USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive).
There are a few more abbreviations that differ between manufacturers. Special professional lenses, for example, are designated with L (Canon) or an EX (Sigma). The Roman numerals indicate the generation of the model.
What accessories do I need for a lens?
If your lens does not come with a cap, you should definitely get one. Especially if it is lost or damaged, it is advisable to buy a new one as soon as possible. It effectively protects the lens from scratches and other damage. For large and expensive lenses, it is definitely worth buying a bag or backpack. This protects all your equipment and makes it easier to transport. There are also many different filters for lenses. They have functions such as eliminating reflections from mirrored water or enhancing colours (polarising filters). Whether you need a filter or not is a matter of taste.
How do I clean my lens?
In the first step, you should carefully remove the coarse dirt with the bellows. This will remove any dust, lint or similar coarse dirt from the lens glass. It is very important that you do this step first. In this way, you prevent small scratches on the glass by rubbing it with a brush or microfibre cloth.
In the second step, you can apply the cleaning fluid to the microfibre cloth or pen. One or two drops are usually enough. Do not apply the liquid directly to the lens, otherwise it could run into the mechanics. You can now clean the glass of the lens with gentle movements.
Cleaning at a photo retailer usually costs between 50 and 60 pounds. Some clean your lens directly on site and some send it in first. You can decide for yourself which of the two options you prefer.
With the help of a lens, you can give free rein to your creativity when it comes to photography. These devices have an incredible added value for your pictures. Beginners in particular can immerse themselves in the art of photography with an all-rounder standard lens.
After you have gained enough experience, you can put together a good set with the diverse models. This way you are prepared for any kind of photography. Now it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice and start taking pictures.
Image source: Luchschen / 123rf