The Lenses


Camera Buyer's Guide


Lesson Info

The Lenses

Our next big section is on the lens, which is one of my favorite sections and the lens is an equal component to the camera. Now we are concentrating on cameras in this class, but lenses are very important when it comes to image quality, when it comes to the versatility of what you can shoot, and so you need to have an appropriate lens for the camera you're buying. If you buy a top-one-the-line camera, you should buy a top-of-the-line lens for them. So let's look at some of the most important factors you need to look at when you get a camera because there's a good chance it's gonna either come with a lens or you're gonna buy a lens along with it and it shouldn't be an afterthought. It should be of equal importance to the camera when you make this purchase. So when it comes to lenses, there are two important factors you need to know about when buying them. First off and most important is the focal length and this is gonna determine your angle of view, what you see through the lens, and t...

his is gonna determine how you shoot the subjects you want to shoot. Next up is the maximum aperture. This is the maximum opening of the lens that it could work with. This is gonna be very important for working under low-lighting conditions. It's gonna be important for subjects that move very very quickly. So let's go ahead and take a look at focal length first 'cause that's the one thing that is most critical on these lenses. Now we can't talk about lenses for very long without talking about sensor size because they are related, as we talked about before. So for instance if we have a lens, light comes through that lens. It is projected onto the image sensor. In this first example, we have a full-frame lens and a full-frame sensor and this is our resulting image. If we are to take that exact same lens and use it on a crop-frame camera, we had someone who had a question about this, can you do it? Yes you can, and what's gonna happen is you're sensor is gonna grab an image from the middle portion of that sensor and the image you get is gonna be perfectly sharp and exposed if everything else goes right, but you're just gonna get a different angle of view. So focal length is not the same thing of angle of view because these are the same focal length lenses, but the angle of view is different because we have different size sensors. Now, as I mentioned before, the industry standard is full-frame sensors, those that are the same as 35-millimeter film. So that's what you'll see represented on the top of your screen here. So if you use a full-frame sensor camera and you use a 50-millimeter lens, this represents the angle of view that you would see looking straight down on your camera, so what you see from side to side, but I do know that the majority of the photographers out there today who are taking classes probably have a cropped-frame camera, 1.5 or 1.6, which I'm just gonna put in the same category. You can pay attention to the bottom side of the screen with the blue numbers. If you wanna get that same normal angle of view, you would need a little bit smaller numbered lens and a 35-millimeter lens in order to get that same angle of view. So this is what you see through your lens from side to side. When you go wider from side to side, you're getting into the world of wide-angle photography. There are different numbers for different amounts of wide angle that you get into. So we have a moderate wide. I think most people are gonna wanna have something that gets down to around 24 millimeters wide angle, as far as the full-frame user goes, and then there are some lenses that go well beyond it into the ultra-wide category, which can be a lot of fun in the right environments. When you go more telephoto, you're having a narrower angle of view. A short telephoto like this is good for portraits and close-ups. Most people I think are gonna want something in the medium telephoto range, something around 200 millimeters. For the crop-frame user, they only need to get up to to get that same angle of view, and if you're into subjects that are smaller and further away, you're gonna need a super-telephoto lens which is generally in the 400 millimeter and up range. So lenses are gonna give you a different angle of view and they're gonna be useful for different types of subjects. So let's just take a look at a few examples with some of my photos of where I'm choosing to use different lenses. There are times where I have what I think of as relatively simple subjects and I like using a simple basic lens which is the 50-millimeter lens. In this case, it is very very realistic in the size and relationship of the subjects that you see in the photograph, and so I'm trying to be really authentic and truthful to my subject as far as the size and shape and I'm not trying to play any optical games. I wanna show you exactly what it looks like. A 50-millimeter lens is a great lens to use for that. I find it fantastic for shooting people shots that are kind of head to toe, full-people size. 50 millimeter, that normal lens works out really well. Once again if you have one of those crop frame Canon Nikon Fuji's and many other brands with the 1.5 crop, you would wanna get a 35-millimeter lens to do that same equivalent angle of view. This, the 35, which is a slightly wide-angle lens, will help mimic, it's hard to totally mimic the way the human eye sees. But because the humans have two eyes and we look back-and-forth, we do see a little bit more from side to side. So a 35, which is a modestly wide lens, is probably the most practical and useful lens that you can buy out there. This is very close to the lens that most of us have on our phones and other mobile devices. It's just a very very practical lens when you wanna show the environment that you're at. So it's great for street photography, regular documentary work. It's still very much like the 50. It's faithful. It's honest, but just a little bit more wide angle. Then we're getting into the area of true wide-angle, and one of my favorite focal lengths is 24 millimeters. I like this partly because it's different than the standard lens that's out there on everybody's phone. This gives us a great lens for shooting travel and landscape photography which are some of my favorite genres. So when you have a beautiful scene in front of you and you wanna show quite a bit of it, the 24 lens does a great job. For landscape photography, you turn it vertical. You can have subjects in the foreground and in the background, and when you're in a big beautiful environment, this is a great lens to have. Sometimes your back is up against the wall, literally. You are back up against the wall. You're trying to show as much of everything in front of you can and when you're desperate for wide-angle, you go for the ultra-wide lens. Real estate, landscape photographers, architectural photographers find this problem where they're trying to get as much in as possible. So when you do wanna show as much as possible, that's when it's time to reach for these ultra-wide lenses. To be honest, most people don't need these lenses. But once you get into photography, you'll find that there are some amazing places that look great with these ultra-wide lenses. Let's talk about telephoto lenses. The short telephoto lens is very valuable when you're not allowed to get closer to your subject. So sometimes you just are not allowed to get right next to where you wanna be and so you're gonna have to use a telephoto lens to crop out all the extra stuff that you don't want. What these short telephoto lenses are most known for is their portrait-taking capabilities. So if you wanna take portraits of people, there's a good chance that you're gonna wanna do it with a short-telephoto lens. There's a number of different reasons for it. It renders the human face and the human form in a very normal perspective. It's not distorted because you're standing right in front of it with a wide-angle lens. It can throw the background out of focus, which we'll talk more about, that shallow depth of field, and it's a nice comfortable working distance between you and your subject, but you may want something longer than this. This is great for people who have an eye for details. So if you notice little things that you like, but sometimes it's hard to get real close to them, a telephoto lens up to 200 is gonna be something that I think most photographers is gonna find very very useful. If you buy your first camera and you get that first basic zoom lens, this is probably the first thing that you're gonna want after you buy your initial camera purchase is a telephoto-zoom lens. So if you're getting into subjects that you can't get close to, a little bit further way, might be a little bit dangerous to get close to, that's what's gonna be very valuable to use with the telephoto lens. We can extend that out into the world of super telephoto and these are for subjects that are much further away or much smaller in size. So if you are into wildlife or sports photography, these lenses that go up to three, 400, 600 even, and beyond can be very very helpful. Also very helpful for doing compression affect, where you have a number of subjects very far away because of your point of view and your angle of view, it makes subjects look very very close together, and so creatively, it's a very valuable tool to have in the right environment. But for most people if they're kinda wondering what sort of toolkit do I need, how many tools do I need? I believe that most people need something in that 24 to 200-millimeter range if you are using a full-frame sensor. If you're getting into the crop-frame sensor, well the numbers are slightly different, something in the range of 16 to 135 would do a good job. Now I know a lot of the camera companies supply 18 to 55 millimeters on lenses. What about that difference between 16 and 18? It's small enough. It's not that big a deal. I would prefer to have 16, but you know what, 18 is close enough. That' probably fine. But if I had the option, I would prefer to get down to 16. With lenses, there are two distinct categories of lenses. There are prime lenses which do one angle of view, they do not zoom back and forth, and then our zoom lenses. People are often asking, 'Well, should I get a prime lens or a zoom lens?" What do you like? What's better? Well let's look at the main attributes of these. The prime lenses are sharper because you're asking them to do less. They are a specialist in one thing and they are very very good at it. It's faster. It's faster at gathering light, so it's gonna be better under a low-light situation. If you do wedding photography, concert photography, working with fast action under low-light conditions like sports photography, the prime lenses are probably gonna be the better choice once you hone in exactly what you're doing. They're also smaller than the zoom lenses in many many cases. So if you wanna small, simple lens, maybe for street photography or maybe you're going out to dinner while you're traveling and you just wanna bring the lightest of equipment, that's a great time to just put a single prime lens on your camera. The zoom lens is versatile because when you go to 18 to 135, you can stop at 19, in 20, and 21, and all those individual stops. It's smaller than a collection of lenses. The 18 to 35 that we have pictured here, if you wanted to go out and buy at 18, and a 35, and a 50, and a 85, and a 100, and 135, that's gonna be a whole bag full. So it's quite a bit smaller and then less lens changing, and this gets to be really important if you're in a dusty environment. Getting dust on the sensor can be a really bad thing. So just having one lens for convenience, safety is really really nice to have. So which one is better? Depends on what you're doing. It depends on what's important to you. What I generally think is that it's probably best to start with a couple of zooms. That's what I started with. I kinda grew out of them in about nine to 12 months, and then I started getting some primes, where I knew more about exactly what I was doing. So you can complement a zoom with a single prime or you could have a couple of zooms for one purpose and one or two primes for something else. As it stands now, myself, just as an example, I have a collection of some zooms and some primes. If I know exactly what I'm doing, "John, you're going to the basketball court "and you're gonna shoot "basketball shots at the other end of the court. "Okay." I know I need a 300-millimeter lens. Or, "John, you're going on vacation. "You're going to Cuba. "You're gonna be walking the streets "and there's gonna be all sorts of things happening, "cars driving down the streets, "people working on little objects in windows." I better bring a zoom lens because I don't know exactly what I need. So the versatility, the zooms is nice, but when you get more precise about what you're doing, then you might work your way more into the primes. So an option that is often thrust upon you because this is the standard that a lot of cameras come with, in fact, some cameras only come supplied with an 18 to 55 zoom lens, and this is generally for the crop-frame user that is using the APSE system. Its a lens that it's both good and bad. It's good in sharpness. It's lightweight. It's not too much money. It's not the best at letting in low light. It doesn't have the best construction and a number of other features that I could go into, but it's a good starter lens. The next lens that you might wanna have is something like a 55 to 200-millimeter lens. This is gonna enable you to go to the zoo and get close up shots of the animals or be at the parade and shoot a picture of your friend who's in the parade that's half a block down, gives you some versatility with subjects that are further away. So this is not a bad starter system. It's a nice little travel system. It's not particularly good at doing any one thing, but generally good at doing a lot of things. What happens is next in some people's minds is they don't like changing lenses and I can understand that to some degree. So there are many manufacturers, this is a Nikon 18 to 300, which allows you to shoot wide-angle and zoom up to a very strong telephoto all in one lens and this is pretty nice system 'cause you don't need to change lenses. The two major downsides to this system that I don't like is that the one lens that you have, the only lens that you ever take anywhere, is kind of a big chunky heavy lens and you can never get anything lightweight. The other thing is is that the aperture, which we have yet to talk about, 3.5 to 5.6 down here, is not letting in a ton of light. So if you do wanna go this route, I think a really good option is to supplement this with one small fast lens, in this case, a 35 1.8. It doesn't do much, but what it does it does really well. It let's in a lot of light. It's nice, small, lightweight. You wanna take a small camera package out to dinner with you or just for a walk that you don't wanna carry a lot of equipment, throw on your prime lens. Granted you're not gonna be shooting seagulls that are way out there because you don't have the telephoto, but you can do a wide variety of things very well with that one other lens. I'll show you one more set up and this is one that I like when I'm trying to cut down, and yes, this is cutting down. This is gonna be a three-lens system. I like ultra wide. I love being able to shoot ultra wide and a 16 to 35 allows me to shoot all my wide angle with one lens. Most of my photography, that was probably with the 70 to 200. I love shooting details and subjects up close just so that you can really see them very very carefully. Now there is a bit of a gap in here between 35 and and also these aren't the fastest lenses out there. So I'll supplement that with one fast normal lens. Now there are some numbers I'm missing. I can't shoot at 40 and I can't shoot at 45, and if I need to, I just put on something that's close, and walk a little bit closer or move a little bit back depending on which lens I choose. So this covers a wide variety of bases to me. What I love about lenses is that you get to choose your own lenses and I have found that once you get a group of photographers around and they have two or three lenses, nobody has the same system. Everybody has chosen a unique collection of lenses that fit their needs. So for you, the best thing you can do is not ask me what you should buy. You should not look at what I have or your best friend and say, "I'll get the same thing," you should look at your own needs, figure out what they are and what lenses do the best for those needs. The other important factor with lenses beyond focal length is the maximum aperture. This is the most amount of light that will let in at any given time and it's important and it's easy to see why it's important, but it's costly to solve sometimes because this is something that is gonna come down to money in some cases. So these are the different aperture openings that lenses have. These are the common f-stop settings that we refer to. Having a lens that opens up wider is a great benefit to a photographer 'cause then we can shoot under lower light conditions. We can shoot at lower ISOs and get better image quality. So let's take a look at some of the options for lenses out there. Here is a basic all-purpose zoom lens, the 18 to 135. This one's by Canon, but there's plenty of others out there of aperture of 3.5 to 5.6, which means the maximum aperture at 18 millimeters is the first number, f/3.5. The maximum aperture at the second number, 135, is the second number in the f setting down here, which is f/5.6. So it lets in less light at 135 then it does at 18. So it changes and that's what we call a variable-aperture zoom lens. Now recently I have seen more and more lenses coming out that have an extended range where the aperture drops down below 5.6 to 6.3. These lenses tend not to be very good at focusing very quickly and the reason is is because there's not that much light coming in because you're asking it to do something else really well. Generally, if it does one thing really well, it may not do the other thing well, and that's what's happening with these extended zooms. They do fit a number of photographer's needs very well. I prefer to try to stay away from 'em because of the slow aperture and they tend not to be quite as sharp as the other lenses. One of my favorite category of lenses are these new lenses that had been coming out from Canon and Nikon and other manufacturers that have a maximum aperture of f/4, and that means it's f/4 at 24, it's f/4 at 120. Now if you need to stop down to 5.6, 8, 11, 16, all those, you can do that, but it's got a good maximum aperture of f/ and I think this is a good maximum aperture for most general purpose hobbyist photographers that are doing this for the fun of it, but also doing it professionally, by chance. They're also really good for travel. Next up are the professional zoom lens, the 2.8 lenses. So this is what you wanna have if you are a professional shooting in a wide variety of lighting conditions. Your standard wedding photographer is gonna have a 24 to 72a and a 70 to 202. and they're just really versatile for doing all sorts of things. If you wanna get faster than 2.8, in almost every case, you need to go to a prime lens. So a 35-millimeter 1.8 lens is gonna be a really nice small simple lens that does very good under low-light conditions. There are some lenses that go down to 1.4 and even down to 1.2, and there's a few extreme cases, where they'll even go beyond that. But lenses down at 1. are gonna let in the maximum amount of light in any situation and be very good under those low-light conditions, but they're highly specialized and they're kind of overkill for general photography. So it's easy. You wanna get the lowest number possible you can on a lens, but it comes at a cost. So let's talk about what that cost is. For instance, an 18 to 55-millimeter lens on its own might sell for around $200. If you said, "Ah, I want something a little bit faster." Well, in this case, Canon, you can step up to the 17 to 55, which does give you one more millimeter of wide-angle, but has a maximum aperture of 2.8 and no longer varies, but it jumps up in price from 200 to almost $900. It is a significant price increase to get that. Let's take a look on the telephoto side with Nikon. Nikon makes a beautiful 70 to 200 f/ that I think is a fantastic general-purpose lens. You wanna make it one stop faster? Well you're just gonna double the amount of money that you spend, almost. The 2.8 is also a fantastic lens and it's a big difference. The big difference between these two is the amount of light that it gathers between these two. If you find that you are constantly shooting at f/5.6 and f/8, the f/2.8 is not doing you really any good there. It might be a few small benefits to it in some categories, but the f/4 would probably be a better choice if you're always shooting at those smaller apertures. So when it comes to these apertures, the wide aperture, 1.4, will allow you to shoot with shallow depth of field. The smaller numbers which pretty much all the lenses can do allow you to stop the lens down so that you can get maximum depth of field. Landscape photographers do not put a lot of money into fast lenses. People who do portrait photography who want that background behind them out of focus, they are willing to spend a lot of money for a lens that shoots very shallow depth of field. In some cases, they're spending more money on the lens than they do on their camera. So when it comes to choosing a lens, one of the important factors is the ecosystem that you are getting yourself involved in. A lot of times when I talk about buying cameras, the analogy I sometimes use is it's kinda like moving to a whole new city when you get to a new camera system. You want there to be lots of options and things for you to do there. So the biggest system on the market right now is the Canon EOS system. They have about 67 full-frame lenses and about 22 that are dedicated to the APS cameras. Now remember, if you have an APS camera, you can also use their full frames. So there is close to 100 lenses that you can use with about half the different Canon cameras out there. Very close to Canon in the number offered is Nikon. Now they have 97, but I put a little asterisk by it because they have a number of older manual focus lenses that are not compatible with all their cameras. Their lens mount system has gone through an evolutionary change, and generally you're totally fine buying cameras or lenses 10 years newer or older than the other. But once you start reaching back 20 and 30 years, not everything is fully compatible, so there's some issues on compatibility if you get to some old stuff, but they are in direct competition with Cannon. They offer a very similar collection of lenses between them. Next up in the category is Sony. It is a rapidly growing company as far as their photography offerings. For those of you in the old-school mindset, they acquired the assets of Minolta and Minolta Konica have taken that lens now and taken it forward. So there are actually older Minolta lenses that'll work on some of the newer Sony cameras, and their numbers are increasing probably faster than just about anyone else. Pentax is a small but very dedicated company that makes some very nice cameras. It's just that they're not as popular and so they don't get talked about and they don't make quite as big a splash in the market when it comes to lenses and cameras, but they are definitely good quality, just a smaller system to work from. Looking more to the mirrorless side of the coin, the largest collection of lenses is definitely the micro 4/ because you have the benefit of two major companies, both making compatible lenses, that'll work and so there's about different lenses that you can get just from Olympus and Panasonic, that is not to say all the other manufacturers that also make lenses. So there is a ton of lenses for these different cameras. Now Sony also has a mirrorless system along with their older SLR system and they have a full frame and a crop frame and this is the one little beef I kinda have about Sony is that they got too many pots on the stove and they're cooking too many things right now 'cause they got four different systems going and some of their systems are not getting a lot of love. Their crop frame mirrorless system has not seen many new camera lenses introduced in the last couple years because they're working on building up their other systems which are growing in popularity. So you have to be very aware of which particular system you're involved in. We haven't talked much about Leica. Leica is a manufacturer from Germany that makes very high-end premium products and they've been around for a very long time and their lenses have maintained a very very good compatibility with newer and older systems out there, but they are kind of specialized. By no means last on the list, but it is the last I'm talking about is Fuji. They have created a new system and they're very dedicated company that has come out with just some of the best lenses that are the best compromise for the size and weight and everything that they do and I really think that what they're doing is just absolutely wonderful. It's a system that, as you will see as we get into my recommendations, is something I recommend quite a bit because while they don't have the sheer number of lenses as everyone else, they are making lenses that the enthusiast of photography is very much appreciating and all of their stuff is very very new and so it is designed with all the newer cameras and the new technology in mind. As you look for lenses, there are two different types of lenses that you can get. One is the name brand lens from the same company that makes your camera and that's usually the safest route to go because generally if it's designed for that camera, everything is gonna work perfectly well on it, but there are third-party lenses that come into fit niche markets and price ranges that may not be offered by the name brand manufacturer. In general, it's kinda nice to stay with the name brand manufacturer. But having said that, I have owned and own either Tamron, Sigma, Tokina and I've worked with some of these other ones and they make some very nice offerings. So generally the name brand, the big benefit there is that we're gonna have 100% compatibility and I do have to throw a little asterisk by it because there are companies like Nikon that do have some lenses that go way back in time that may not work with their newest cameras. You do have to still check on a few things. I found the third-party lenses to be of very good value. They do tend to lose more value in the used market. It's just kinda the price you pay, but I still do not have a problem buying one of these third-party lenses if they are doing something better than the name brand. It gives some competition and they're forcing the name brand manufacturers to do a better job of what they're doing. All right. So some just kinda final tidbits for you. Full frame, the basis on 35-millimeter film, is the industry standard. It is not what most people use. It will seem like that's what everyone talks about. If you read a blog or you see someone talking about a 85-millimeter lens, they're probably talking about full frame 'cause that's just the standard lingo that we use. 50 millimeter is a normal or standard lens. A fixed or prime lens has one focal length. For example, a 100 millimeter is a prime lens. Zoom lenses are anything that change in focal length and so a zoom lens would be like a 24 to 70 or 70 to 200 zoom lens. Anything less than 50, once again, talking about full-frame sensors here, is gonna be a wide-angle lens. Anything more than 50 is gonna be a telephoto lens and my recommendation for most people is to have something in the range of 24 to 200. That's gonna give you a wide versatility of choice between wide-angle and good telephoto. You can go beyond it, but I think that's a good toolbox to have for any photographer. So Kenna, let's see if we have questions on lenses, which I have a feeling it brings up a whole new set of questions. Doesn't it always, John, the lens conversation. All right, well, I just have a couple for you. One is about the 100 macro lens and if you're looking at what's the difference between a lens that is called macro lens versus another kind of 100-millimeter lens? Right. So this just simply brings to mind, I hate this section. I mean I love lenses, but we only have like 10 or 15 minutes here and, okay, small plug for myself. I can do that. This is free. I'm allowed to do that. I have a lens class here at CreativeLive. I spent five hours just geeking out. Wait, is it five hours? No, it's like 10 hours, geeking out on lenses where I can go into this. The quick answer on it is that there's a number of lenses that will saying macro on it and it means that it's good at close-up work. How good? It kinda depends. It's good at close-up work. True macro lenses are one-to-one macro which means you can shoot something and it would be the same size on film. It would be the same size on your sensor. In any case, it's really close. So if you do like to do close-up work, there are some lenses that are very good at macro photography. Some are kinda good and some are really good. So that's something I discuss more in my lens class when we have time to get in the full specifics of all those lenses. And just those classes are phenomenal, both the Canon and the Nikon lens classes, amazing classes. Okay one more and this is from our friend Wendy Koonin who is asking what you feel about the Canons 85, the new 1. versus the older 1.2. Oh, okay. Hey Wendy, how's it goin'? Wendy's been a big fan of mine and been on some of my tours. So I do have the 1. which is a beast of a lens and you can just see the size of that, oh, can you see, is it open? Oh it's got the aperture closed 'cause I don't have it on the camera. But it's got a huge opening on here and so this was kind of a go-to standard for a lot of photographers who wanted super-shallow depth of field. Now Canon has come out with an 85 1.4, so it's not as shallow, but it's got image stabilization, so this is the balance between the two. So the 85 1.2, it's a little overkill (chuckles). It's more than most people need and the 85 1. is probably gonna be a more practical lens for most people. Now the image stabilization, it's not the most useful thing in the world because you need a faster shutter speed to stop your subject's motion because most of the time you're shooting people. So I don't think it's gonna be a huge part about that lens the way most people use it. Nevertheless, I do like stabilization on whatever system I'm shooting just because it makes composing the image a little bit more precise. So I think for most people, the 85 1.4 is gonna be the way to go and I think there's only gonna be a few people who are gonna want these 85 1.2s. This is mine, and I'm hoping that it goes up in value so I can sell it. Get the 85 1.4, maybe (chuckles).

Class Description

Buyer's guide will be your guide to figuring out the best digital camera for your needs.

Gear expert John Greengo dives into the major brands and lenses that are currently on the market.

John breaks down some of the more confusing aspects of mirrorless and DSLR's from focusing systems to sensor size; you'll get a better understanding of what the gear does so you can make an informed decision.

At the end of the class, John gives his recommendations for different types of photographers from the aspiring student to the filmmaker and everyone in between.


Samantha Locadia

John is a great teacher, and I've learned allot in this lesson. I already had an idea what camera I want to buy next but happy to know it was also what he recommended (for my field). Really love his free classes by the way where he talks with other photographers and discusses photos of viewers. Awesome!

Michael And Dawn

John has a very good way of explaining things to make them both simple and complete. His makes great use of visual graphics in his explanations. I highly recommend any of his courses, the material presented is well thought out and flows very well.

Kevin Li

Amazing course. So much education provided in these free classes. I will definately be taking more. I am so glad I watched these before jumping in and buying a camera. This is a much watch for all people who are new to photography and are looking to buy a camera.