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The Lens

Lesson 8 from: Camera Buyer's Guide

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

8. The Lens

Next Lesson: The Viewfinder

Lesson Info

The Lens

Next up, let's talk about the lens. And so, obviously that's very important with any camera, there's a lot of different lens options so let me give you the basics on what's important to look for. First and foremost on any lens, the focal length is gonna describe what that lens is capable of doing. And so, you'll see that listed right on the lens. It might be a zoom lens like an 18 to or it might be a prime or fixed lens like a 50 millimeter lens. Another very important attribute is the maximum aperture and this is describing what is the total amount of light that can be let through the lens, how large of opening does the lens have? And so, it might be a fixed aperture like a 1.4 which is its maximum, it can close down which I'll talk about more in a moment. Or it might be a variable one like the four to 5.6 that you see here. We're gonna start talking about the focal length of the lenses and you can't talk about focal length very much without going back and bringing in sensor size whi...

ch we talked about in an earlier section. Focal length and sensor size are linked together. As light comes through a lens its image is projected onto a sensor and each lens has a projection circle and that's where we capture our image, and that's what our final photograph becomes. If we were to take that exact same lens and project its light onto a smaller size sensor, well, it produces exactly the same size image circle but the image that we capture is different because we are seeing a cropped view inside that image circle. So, the image we get is similar but it's not the same. And so, focal length is the not the same thing as angle of view. So you can look at what's written on a lens but that doesn't really have a lot of meaning until we know what camera we are sticking that lens onto. Now, the standard type of camera that we talk about is the full frame camera. And so, when we talk about a 50 millimeter lens and the angle of view that you see from it, we're generally talking about a full frame camera. And that is the standard we talk about in the industry which is why I have it listed here on this slide, but I do know a lot of people out there are using crop frame cameras. In fact, they are much more popular than full frame cameras if you wanna know the honest truth about popularity. And so, in order to get this angle of view you would use a 35 millimeter lens with crop frame, you would use a 50 millimeter lens with a full frame. If you wanna see more from side to side you are gonna need a wider angle lens. Maybe a 35 which is equivalent to a for that 1.5 crop sensor. You wanna get an ultra wide you can go down to and down to 16. There's lots of different wide angle lenses that you can get. When you wanna get into the world of telephoto we're gonna be getting into numbers like 100 for a short telephoto or 200 for medium telephoto or 400 for a long telephoto or super telephoto lens. Now I think most people shooting with a full frame camera are probably gonna want something that goes down to about 24 millimeters for the wide angle end and up to 200 for general purpose photography. As you get into more specialty categories then you're gonna wanna get those extremes on the ends but 24 to 200 which is roughly equivalent to 16 to 135 down here, that's gonna get you a good tool bag for different types of photography. Let's look at what we can do with these different lenses. The standard lens, the normal, kind of in the middle of the road, the 50 millimeter lens is a great lens when you wanna be faithful and honest about what you're shooting and you really just wanna document things very similar to the way you're seeing with your own eye. And so, this can be good for documentary work or travel work. It's good for people photography in general. It's a very popular good lens to have for a lot of different purposes. Let's explore the world of wide angle. 35 millimeter is a slightly wide angle lens and this might do a better job of mimicking what we see with our human eyes 'cause we have two eyes and we scan back and forth, and we see things a bit more from side to side. And so, this is a photojournalist favorite lens for many people because it's great at documentary work. And so, it's very similar to the 50 in that regards, it's just a little bit wider so I consider it the wide normal. One of my favorite lenses is a good solid wide angle of 24 millimeters. And that's because I love travel photography and a lot of times you're trying to show the larger area that are at, and so, that 24 wide angle will give you a better scene setting ability. It's also great for landscape photography where you wanna show subjects in the foreground and subjects in the background as well. From time to time, your back is against the wall literally and you're trying to shoot as wide as you can. And so, that's where the ultra wide lens can come in handy when there's not much room to stand and there's not much room to back up and you wanna show a lot from side to side, that ultra wide lens can be a lot of fun. It's tricky on where you can pull it out but it can be a lot of fun when you have that kinda down there at the bottom of your camera bag. One of the most valuable lenses that you can have is a short telephoto lens. This is great when you can't get closer to your subject, you wanna get rid of those distracting details and move in a little bit closer, these are known more for their portrait abilities. So they are known as portrait lenses. So if you're in to taking lenses of people you want something about double the standard focal length. Up around 200 is gonna be another popular spot for photographers. I love this for people who have an eye for details 'cause sometimes, yeah, you do wanna show everything but sometimes you wanna get in really close and show something in really close detail. Sometimes subjects are a little bit further away and this will help you reach out and get a little bit closer and crop in and get the subject that you want in the frame. If you're into sports or wildlife photography that's when you're gonna need that super telephoto, around 400 millimeters. And so, this is kind of the absolute necessary lens because some things are very skittish and do not want to come near you. And so, you need a little bit of distance between you and them and that 400 millimeter lens can help out. It's also very good for other reasons as well, compression. It can compress subjects that are different distances from you making a pattern into a, of the sand dunes that can only be seen from that particular lens and point of view. So as I said before, I think most people are gonna want something that has a bit of wide angle down to around a 24 millimeter lens and up to 200. Of course, that is referring to terms for a full frame user for the very popular crop frame systems that is something in the range of 16 to 135. Now when you look at lenses there are two major categories of lenses and that is primes and zooms, and they both have their own benefits that you can work with. The prime lenses tend to be a little bit sharper, they're a little bit faster and they're a little bit smaller in size. They're also very specific about what you're doing. And so, if you know exactly what you're doing then the prime lens is good to have. The zooms are obviously very versatile and they're smaller than a collection, and there's less lens changing so they can be very quick in using. And when I say primes are better for people who know what they're doing that has nothing to do with about how advance you are in photography, that's just how much do you know about what you are planning to shoot. If you said, "Well, I'm gonna shoot "a portrait of my daughter." Well, then you know exactly what you are trying to do and that's where a prime lens would come in. I think for most new photographers, it's probably good to start with a couple of zoom lenses and see where photography takes you, it gives you kind of a good general tool bag to start with. And so, those zoom lenses that you'll often start with at least for the crop frame APS-C sensor would be an 18 to 55 lens which gets you a bit of wide angle and a little bit of telephoto, not very much. And so, most people end up getting that second companion telephoto lens that will reach out much further. And while these are very simple basic lenses that not a lot of pros are gonna have in their camera bag, it's a great beginner place to figure out who you are as a photographer and what your interest is at. This is what I started with and yeah, they weren't great lenses but you know what, great lenses would not have done me any good at that point in time. I had to learn a little bit in photography and those lenses helped me through that learning cycle. One option that some people think about is that they don't like changing lenses and I can understand that, it takes a little bit of time, you got to have two lenses, you got to careful about how you mount them and stuff. It's not that difficult but it can be irritating at times. And so, there are these lenses like an 18 to that'll have wide angle and a lot of telephoto all built in there. One of the problems with these lenses is that they are slow and slow in a few different ways. One is focusing, two is in letting in light. And so, it's not very good under low light conditions. So if you do wanna go this route, one of the things I would encourage is a second lens that is really good at low light like a 35 millimeter 1.8. Now you might be complaining going well, no I don't want two lenses, I don't wanna switch back and forth all the time. Well, you don't switch back and forth all the time with something like this. You switch back every once in a while when you need a smaller, lighter lens and a lens that lets in more light. You're going out to dinner, you wanna take one light, light lens that's good in the restaurant, that would be the 35 1.8. And so, I would see somebody using the 18 to 300 probably about 80% of the time depending on what they're doing but maybe for travel photography. The next aspect of a lens that's very important is the maximum aperture. How much light can the lens let in? Now there is an aperture in all of these modern lenses that allow you to open and close down so that you can restrict the amount of light. It never completely locks off, it's always allowing in some amount of light and you can adjust it back and forth. But one of the key factors is what's the maximum opening? Because the bigger that maximum opening is the more light it lets in, that means the more reversible your camera is in a variety of lighting situations. So you're gonna find a lot of different lenses with different maximum apertures. A very common one specially on the entry level is the 3.5 to 5.6. This means it varies a little bit depending on where you are on the zoom setting of it. And it's not great when it comes to light gathering ability but it's acceptable for day to day regular photography. Now some super zooms will only open up to f/6.3 which is not very wide open but it's a limitation, it's the compromise of making a lens that has a super zoom. So if you're gonna be shooting something like that, it's not going to be really good in low light situations. One of my favorite compromise lenses are the lenses that have a maximum aperture of f/4. This is a little bit of speed but the lenses don't get over-bloated in size, in weight and price. And so, I think this is a good middle ground for a lot of people. For professional photographers who are photographing people and action, that faster 2.8 aperture is very valuable and is some of the most popular lenses out there for those professionals. And so, the 2.8 zoom lenses are just kind of a standard of most serious pro photographers out there and they're very good for a lot of different reasons. To get faster than that you're gonna typically have to go with a prime lens. So a fixed lens and I think having at least one of these with you in most cases is a very good idea. A good fast lens will allow you to shoot with shallow depth of field, under low light conditions and a lower ISO. There's a lot of benefits to having at least one fast lens. There are other lenses that are faster that'll go down to 1.4 or 1. or maybe even faster. They do tend to get bigger and heavier in size and more particular about what they are a specialty at. You'll find that some of these lenses are good for a very narrow range of uses. And so, you do wanna have as wide of aperture as possible on any given lens but it does come at a price, a physical price and a price in weight and size. So for instance, with those standard kit lens, that 18-55, 3.5 to 4.5, it's worth about $250 on the market today. If you said, I wanna step up in speed you could get a 17 to 55 f/2.8 lens which more than triples the cost of the lens and that is what happens in lenses. If you wanna let in more light, it's gonna increase the cost of the lens by quite a bit. Looking on the telephoto end, Nikon makes a great 70 to 200 f/ but they also make a legendary f2.8 model which is exactly double in price to let in double the amount of light. And so, you have to really think hard and careful about how big a product you want and what your needs are with that aperture. On the apertures themselves you can use shallow depth of field to isolate your subject, you can use minimum or maximum depth of field to get everything in focus around you. So being aware of what system you are buying into is very important. Let's look at the DSLR systems. So, Canon and Nikon have the most number of lenses. Now, depends exactly on the number here, it's a little, you kinda have to play with the numbers here because there's some compatibility issues. And so, they are by far and away head and shoulders above every other manufacturer in the number of options, the size of the ecosystem that you're getting in. Sony is still making cameras and lenses in this DSLR category, they have a slightly different term that we're not gonna get into right now. Fourth in this category is Pentax, they have very few full frame options out there. They do have some, they make very nice equipment, it's just not as plentiful. And when we talk about these ecosystems the analogy that I think of in my mind is what size of city do you want to live in? And if you have what you need you can live in a small city and if you have everything you want right there it's perfectly fine. But being part of a larger ecosystem just allows you more options of doing different things. If you wanna rent a lens there's gonna be a lot more lens rentals available for something like Canon or Nikon than there is gonna be with the Sony and Pentax when it comes to the DSLR lenses. When we look at the mirrorless lens system, the micro four thirds system because it's sponsored and operated by both Panasonic and Olympus and they both make compatible lenses that fit on the same cameras, they have the largest ecosystem when it comes to mirrorless systems right now, and they've also been at it for about 10 years. Sony is rapidly catching up, they are adding more and more lenses all the time. It's pretty much a dead heat between Sony and Fuji as far as the size of the systems and the options of lenses that are being offered from them. It's very, very good collection I think from any one of these, any of these three manufacturers for mirrorless systems. Now, the new entries into at least full frame mirrorless is Canon and Nikon and right now Canon and Nikon have a terrible ecosystem when it comes to native lenses for their full frame cameras. This is going to change relatively rapidly. Nikon has put out a roadmap showing I believe over the next three years 20 different lenses that they are gonna be bringing in that's gonna be filling in all the nooks and crannies with this. Nikon and Canon have also introduced adapters. And so, let me show you one of those real quickly here and let's see, where did I put this? Take this. And so, Canon's new mirrorless camera has their own mirrorless lens mount on it. And they have I think two lenses available right now, there's a third one gonna be available pretty soon and a fourth one pretty soon. And if you wanna use any of the other lenses you have to use this adapter from them and they have three different adapters which is pretty cool. This one's kinda nice 'cause it has a click control ring just like the lens has a click control ring that you can program to do your aperture, ISO or some other feature on the camera. So you can use this Canon camera with all the Canon autofocus lenses, I think there was like 70 of them that they've been producing for the last 30 years or so. And so, you can do it. The camera works extremely well, not quite as well as using the native lenses on it and Nikon is the same way. They have an adapter so that you can use all of their traditional autofocus lenses with their new mirrorless camera. But having used cameras with native lenses and adapters, it's nice to be able to use an adapter but ideally you wanna be using a native lens that is directly connected up to the camera and dedicated for working on that camera. That's where you're gonna get the best performance especially in terms of autofocus. There are aftermarket lens as well. The name brands of the camera manufacturers they make their own dedicated lenses which are of course very good. There are a lot of third party manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma and Zeiss and Tokina and others that make lenses that are sometimes better value, sometimes they're better quality. Sometimes they offer something unique that the original manufacturer doesn't. Generally speaking, I prefer to stand with the name brand manufacturer lens in most cases. For most basic lenses, your standard zoom lenses or most things I would wanna stick with that but occasionally there's something special made by those third party manufacturers that just isn't addressed. And it's perfectly fine as long as those lenses are designed for whatever camera that you have. And so, the nice thing is having that 100% compatibility but I have that little asterisk by there because you have to be careful. For instance, Nikon has been evolving their lens mount over the years and there is some incompatibility if you go back far enough in time. And so, do a little bit of checking out to make sure that your lenses and cameras are compatible.

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Ratings and Reviews

Denise Watson

Another outstanding class by John Greengo, my favorite Creative Live instructor. John's delivery is entertaining and his info clear and very easy to understand. If you need more explanation, well, don't worry - he's got a slide or PDF for that! I'm a working photographer and I learn something new with each of John's classes. Don't hesitate to buy any of his classes - you won't regret it.

David Reichel

Yes - there is such a thing as a free lunch - this class is it! I enjoy landscape, seascape, architecture, portrait and travel photography. I've been a Canon user for decades (film and then digital full frame with the 5D Mark II then 5D Mark IV). Recently I got a Fujifilm mirrorless medium format GFX 50R and discovered some Fujifilm features (e.g., film simulation, menu system) that resonate with me. I now have over-kill on full frame format and because I like the Fujifilm so much, I've been thinking about moving from my Canon 5D Mark IV to a Fujifilm X-T3 as my walk-around camera. This class helped me better understand the trade-offs and alleviated my concerns about a crop format sensor in the X-T3. On top of that, this is a great refresher course on camera fundamentals.

Sherry Throughmyeyes Prater

There a thousands of reviews/guides/ floating around the internet, but this one is by far the best by far. I usually watch a portion and then move on because I simply lose interest, but I watched every single lesson. John gives a very unbiased explanation of cameras, functions for every type of shooter. Not only would I recommend it, but I am going to recommend. I am a member of multiple photography groups on FB and one of the most asked questions is camera buying advice. This is excellent!

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