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Finding the right lenses is often even harder than finding the perfect camera. What do I have to pay attention to when buying a lens? Which lens is suitable for what? What do the numbers on the lens mean? And which lens is right for me? We will answer these questions in this article.
If you read this article, let’s assume you already have a camera.
If not, we would like to recommend our camera purchase advice. There we answer all questions about camera purchase.
This is all about lenses. Are you looking for a lens for the first time? Perfect, then you will find here all the information you need to know about the lens purchase.
Are you already relatively well known with lenses? Also good. We are sure you will still find new information and tips in our purchase guide.
What do I have to pay attention to when buying lenses?
Before we look at what types of lenses there are and what specific lenses we recommend, let’s first look at the basics.
Before you decide on a lens, you should finally know what to look out for.
There are 6 basic factors to consider when purchasing a lens:
- The right focal length
- The luminous intensity
- The near-adjustment limit if you want to get very close to your subject
- The right lens connection
- The size and weight of the lens
- And, of course, the price
- Focal length of a lens
The focal length of a lens determines whether and how far you can zoom with a lens.
The focal length is measured in mm and the indication is written on each lens.
The larger the focal length of your lens, the greater the zoom.
With a short focal length (e.g. 16 mm) you can capture a very large image cutout on your photo. In even simpler words: You get a lot on your picture! This is handy, for example, if you want to photograph landscapes.
With a long focal length (e.g. 300 mm), however, you can zoom in on very distant subjects and, for example, capture animals far away from your image on a safari for sure deprivation.
So before you buy a lens, you should think about what you want to photograph.
Do you photograph a lot at sporting events or animals in the wild? Then you need a big zoom, so a long focal length.
Do you prefer to photograph landscapes? Then a shorter focal length is important for you, so that you can capture as much of the landscape as possible on your picture.
Do you photograph a lot on your travels and have very different motifs in front of the lens? Landscapes, cities, animals and people? Then a lens with a large focal length range, with which you cover everything, can be a good choice for you.
There are also fixed focal length lenses where you can’t zoom and zoom lenses with a flexible focal length. We will come to the advantages and disadvantages of both variants in a while.
Lens of a lens
If you are busy with the purchase of a lens, you will have already come up with the term light intensity.
The luminous intensity of a lens is nothing more than the maximum aperture of the lens.
If the term aperture doesn’t tell you anything, take a look at our detailed tutorial on this topic:
By the way, the article about the aperture is a trial chapter from our online photo course. If you want to absorb even more photo knowledge, then have a look:
But we want to give you a very short introduction to the aperture here as well:
The further you can open the aperture on your lens, the more light gets onyour camera’s sensor. In low light conditions, you have more room for photography with a large aperture. That’s why we talk about bright lenses.
You can see how large the maximum aperture of a lens is by the number of apertures on each lens.
The aperture number always starts with an f/. The smaller the number of apertures, the more bright a lens is.
A lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 is therefore brighter than a lens with an aperture of f/3.5.
Very bright lenses have an aperture of f/1.8.
There are even lenses that allow a maximum aperture of f/1.4 and more. But for that you have to reach accordingly deep into your pocket.
Close-range adjustment limit
The near-adjustment limit of a lens is always relevant if you want to get very close to your subject.
On the lens shown, you can see that the maximum aperture is specified with f/3.5-5.6. You can often find this information with zoom lenses.
So your maximum aperture count is always between f/3.5-5.6 and changes depending on the focal length you are shooting.
In this particular case, the lens has a focal length of 16 to 300 mm. F/3.5-5.6 means that you can set the aperture to a maximum opening of f/3.5 at a focal length of 16 mm and to f/5.6 at a focal length of 300 mm.
By the way, the aperture not only has something to do with the light, but also influences the depth of field of your images.
Do you want to take pictures with a fuzzy background? Then you also need a lens with a large aperture, i.e. a small number of apertures.
You probably know the following situation: You approach a motif very close to a motif with your camera, for example to a beautiful flower.
But you just don’t get your photo sharp.
Then you have fallen below the near adjustment limit of your lens. The near-adjustment limit is given in cm and you will also find the indication on your lens.
If your lens has a close-range limit of 50 cm, there must be at least half a meter of space between your subject and your camera’s sensor.
Otherwise, your camera won’t sharpen the image. Sometimes, therefore, the near adjustment limit is also referred to as mind-focusing distance.
This is especially relevant for you if you like to take macro photos and get very close to your motives.
Each camera manufacturer has an individual lens connection. So when you buy a lens, you’ll need to make sure your lens fits your camera.
The main lens connections are the following:
- Sony A-Mount (For Sony SLR Cameras)
- Sony E-Mount (For Mirrorless System Cameras from Sony)
- MicroFourThirds (Panasonic, Olympus)
If you want to buy a lens, you can choose between a lens from the camera manufacturer itself or a lens from a third party.
Third-party providers are lens manufacturers that offer lenses for different connectors. The most famous are Tamron, Sigma and Samyang. You can buy lenses from these manufacturers without hesitation. They are by no means worse than lenses of the camera manufacturers themselves.
Size and weight
Size and weight are important decision criteria not only when choosing the camera, but also when choosing the right lens. So if the weight is important to you, you should pay attention when buying.
Of course, the dear money also plays a role in the purchase of a lens. The price range for lenses is almost limitless. Very simple lenses are already for around 100 euros. Professional telephoto lenses, on the other hand, can also have the equivalent of a small car.
Essentially, in the case of lenses, one can say that the price of a lens certainly reflects its quality. So you can assume that a more expensive lens is also a better lens.
Of course, there are exceptions, but by and large this rule of thumb applies to lenses.
Our tip: Basically, we recommend that you invest a little more money in lenses than in buying a new camera.
For example, you have a camera that cost 600 euros and now have 1,000 euros available for new equipment. You consider whether you buy a new camera for 1,000 euros or a new lens for 1,000 euros.
In this case, we always advise you to purchase a lens. The difference between the 600 and 1000 euro cameras is probably relatively small. But if you screw a great lens to your 600 Euro camera for 1,000 euros, you will probably notice a much bigger difference.
Zoom vs. Fixed Focal Length
We have already mentioned it above. When purchasing a lens, you have the choice between zoom lenses and fixed focal lengths.
With a zoom lens, you can zoom in on motifs, as the name suggests. This is not possible with a fixed focal length.
Here you are always limited to a fixed image section and can only get your subject closer if you get closer.
At first glance, of course, the advantages of a zoom lens outweigh the advantages, because you are much more flexible.
However, fixed focal lengths also have a lot of advantages. A fixed focal length is often more luminous. Zoom lenses never go beyond an aperture of f/2.8. W
If you want to have a lens with an aperture of f/1.8 or even f/1.4, then you need to reach for a fixed focal length.
Even if you care about size and weight, a fixed focal length can be a good choice. Of course, there are also large and heavy fixed focal lengths, but often they are much smaller and lighter than zoom lenses.
The third big advantage is the better imaging performance. The image quality is often better for fixed focal lengths than for zoom lenses. There are, of course, exceptions and, as is so often the case, the price is important here, but in principle that is true.
Our recommendation: We always have a zoom lens and a fixed focal length in our photo bags. This is the optimal combination for us that we have been on the road with for many years.
You can find more information about the advantages of a fixed focal length in our article:
6 reasons why you absolutely need a fixed focal length
Which lens for what?
We regularly receive emails with questions such as, “Which lens is right for me?”
Good question, we have to admit.
The answer is not easy, of course, because everyone has different requirements for a lens.
Often the requirements are so extensive that it is actually not possible to recommend a suitable lens.
For example, “I want to take portrait photos, take pictures of landscapes, and use the lens for my next safari. The lens should take very good photos, especially in the dark, and cost no more than 300 euros.”
Unfortunately, there is no such thing. Really not. We would also like to have such a lens, but nothing can be done about it.
Basically, choosing the right lens becomes easier if you have one or two uses for it. If you are looking for a good lens for portraits, then such a lens cannot be perfect for landscape photography at the same time.
Of course, there are also good all-round lenses. But you have to be aware that you always have to make a few compromises with an all-round lens. You’ll always get better results with a special portrait lens than with an all-rounder.
But that sounds more dramatic now than it is. For most hobby photographers this is not bad at all and an all-round lens is quite a good choice.
Which lens is right for me?
Here you will find a small overview of which lens is the right choice for which purpose:
- Beginner: Normal lens / Allround lens
- Travel Photography: All-Round Lens / Travel Zoom
- Landscape Photography: Wide Angle Lens
- Architectural photography: wide-angle lens
- Animal Photography: Telephoto Lens
- Sports Photography: Telephoto Lens
- Portrait photography: Portrait lens (fixed focal length in the telearea)
- Macro photography: Macro lens (fixed focal length with 1:1 scale)
In the following sections, we’ll show you what to look out for when purchasing such a lens for the different lens categories. We also suggest specific lenses for different camera connections.
Small Excursion: Full Format vs. APS-C vs. MFT
This issue is somewhat technical. You can skip it if you don’t feel like it. We are not angry with you at all.
However, an article about lenses simply includes sensor sizes and crop factor, which is why this section exists.
So, let’s go: Above we have already written something about the focal length and if we recommend you concrete lenses, the focal length will meet you even more often.
For example, we will tell you that a wide-angle lens has a focal length of up to 40 mm.
And that’s where it gets complicated, because that’s not true for every camera. That’s where the crop factor comes in. Don’t worry, that actually sounds more complicated than it is. So, don’t give up and read on!
Usually the focal lengths are specified in the so-called 35th scale format. This dates back to the days of analog photography and denotes the size of the film. 35 mm is equivalent to 35 mm, just as wide were the individual photos on the film roll in the past. Maybe you remember that.
This size is still used today in digital cameras with a full-frame sensor. These sensors are 36 x 24 mm in size, which is similar to the photos on the film roll in the past.
Now, however, there are different sensor sizes in the digital area. Since modern cameras are often very small, the sensors must also be smaller.
In total, three different sensor sizes have established themselves on the market:
No. 1: Full-format sensors are the largest sensors. They are mainly installed in professional cameras, which often cost far beyond the 1,000 euros.
No. 2: APS-C is now the most widely used sensor size. It is used in most nikon, Canon and Sony cameras, which are not professional models. Nikon has an extra sensor size with the DX format, but it is very similar to APS-C. An APS-C sensor is 1.5 times smaller than a full-frame sensor.
No. 3: Micro-Four-Thirds is the sensor size used in Olympus and Panasonic cameras. These sensors are the smallest on the market. They are half the size of a full-frame sensor.
What does this mean for the focal length now? Good question. This is where the crop factor comes in. In our example above, we wrote that a wide-angle lens goes up to a focal length of 40 mm.
However, this information applies to full-format sensors.
With an APS-C sensor, you have to divide this focal length by 1.5, with Micro Four Thirds even by 2. That’s the famous crop factor.
So if you want to buy a wide-angle lens for a camera with AN APS-C sensor, the focal length should not be larger than about 26 mm (40 divided by 1.5), with a Micro Four Thirds sensor no larger than 20 mm (40 divided by 2).
All right? Very good! Of course, we have taken all this into account in our lens recommendations, which are now coming into account. So you don’t have to deal with the conversion.
Lenses for beginners
If you are looking for your very first lens, we definitely recommend a zoom lens. For the first steps in photography, this is always the best choice.
This makes you the most flexible and can be tried out in all areas of photography.
If you notice over time that you enjoy a certain type of photography, you can still buy a special lens later, e.B. for portraits or landscape shots.
Our lens recommendations for beginners
In the following table, we recommend an all-round lens for beginners for each lens connection.
|Nikon||Sigma 17-70 mm f/2.8-4.0|
|Canon||Sigma 17-70 mm f/2.8-4.0|
|Sony A-Mount||Sigma 17-50 mm f/2.8|
|Sony E-Mount||Sony 18-135 mm f/3.5-5.6|
|Panasonic / Olympus||Panasonic 12-60 mm|
|Pentax||Sigma 17-70 mm f/2.8-4.0|
Kit lenses: Yes or no?
When you buy a new camera, you will surely come across various combination offers from the manufacturers, where you get a lens directly to your camera.
These lenses are called kit lenses and don’t always have the best reputation and especially advanced photographers will probably advise you against a kit lens.
Our opinion on kit lenses:
If you buy your first camera and have a limited budget, buy a camera with a cheap kit lens!
We took pictures ourselves with kit lenses and took great pictures, which we still like very much today.
It is not technology that takes the pictures, but the photographer. Before you spend endless money on equipment, invest first in a photo course or other training. By the way, we have an online photo course, but pssst.
By the way, there are not only cheap kit lenses. Especially with cameras for advanced photographers, there are always kit offers with really good lenses, where you can save a few hundred euros compared to the individual purchase.
So it’s worth exploring the market a bit and not categorically ruling out a kit from the start.
When travelling, the space and weight of the luggage is often limited. It is not always possible to take a large selection of lenses with you to be prepared for all motifs.
This is remedied by travel zooms that have a very large focal length area. Even travel zooms don’t have the very best reputation, which in our opinion is complete nonsense.
Of course, a lens with a focal length range of 16 to 300 mm is not as good in the boundary ranges as an expensive telephoto lens or a special wide-angle lens.
For this, with a travel zoom for a price of 300 to 800 euros, you get three lenses in one: a wide angle, a normal lens and a telephoto lens.
Our recommendations for travel zoom lenses
In this table, we recommend a travel zoom for each lens connection.
Travel zoom lenses
|Nikon||Tamron 16-300 f/3.5-6.3|
|Canon||Tamron 16-300 f/3.5-6.3|
|Sony E-Mount||Tamron 18-200 f/3.5-6.3|
|Panasonic / Olympus||Tamron 14-150 mm f/3.5-5.8|
|Pentax||Pentax 18-270 f/3.5-6.3|
If you like to photograph landscapes, then a wide angle lens is just the right choice for you.
The light intensity tends to be less relevant for you, as landscape shots are rarely taken with an open aperture and the photos are often taken on a tripod anyway.
As mentioned above, wide-angle lenses reach up to a focal length of 40 mm.
Especially for landscapes, however, a super wide angle is very helpful, with which you can capture an even larger cutout on your picture. Super wide angles have a focal length of less than 24 mm.
Our recommendations for wide-angle lenses
We have selected three lenses for the most important lens connections, which we would buy ourselves.
For each connection we show a cheap lens, a lens in the middle price range and a premium lens.
Nikon wide-angle lenses
|Nikon||Good and cheap||Nikon 10-20 mm f/4.5-5.6|
|Better||Tamron 10-24 f/3.5-4.5|
|Premium||Sigma Art 12-24mm f/4.0|
|Canon wide-angle lenses|
|Canon||Good and cheap||Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6|
|Better||Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5|
|Premium||Sigma Art 12-24mm f/4.0|
|Sony A-Mount Wide Angle Lenses|
|Sony A-Mount||Good and cheap||Sigma 10-20mm f/4.0-5.6|
|Better||Sony 11-18 mm, f4.5-5.6|
|Premium||Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8|
|Sony E-Mount Wide Angle Lenses|
|Sony E-Mount||Good and cheap||Sony 16mm f/2.8|
|Better||Sony 10-18mm f/4|
|Premium||Sony 12-24mm f/4|
|MFT wide angle lenses for Panasonic and Olympus|
|Micro Four Thirds||Good and cheap||Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6|
|Better||Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0|
|Premium||Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8|
Telephoto lenses are the kings of the lenses. Have you ever seen the photographers at the edge of the field with their giant zooms at a football match? Such lenses can cost up to 20,000 euros. No joke!
Of course, this is also cheaper, but it tends to be the case with telephoto lenses that you have to put significantly more money on the table here for good quality than with other lens types.
Of course, the focal length is important when making a purchase decision. The larger the focal length, the closer you can zoom in on your subject. Cheap telephoto lenses often offer focal lengths of up to 300 mm in APS-C format, i.e. up to 450 mm in full format.
There is a lot to be done with this. If you need even more zoom, however, it usually becomes much more expensive.
Our recommendations for telephoto lenses
Also with the telephoto lenses we have selected a cheap lens, a medium-priced lens and a very good, but also expensive lens.
With telephoto lenses, you shouldn’t expect too much, especially with the very cheap lenses. They are perfectly fine to gain first experiences with telephoto lenses.
Very high-quality and extremely sharp shots are difficult, but this is perhaps not so bad for private use.
Nikon Telephoto Lenses
|Nikon||Good and cheap||Tamron 70-210 f/4|
|Canon Telephoto Lenses|
|Canon||Good and cheap||Canon 75-300 f/4-5.6|
|Better||Tamron 150-600 f/5-6.3|
|Premium||Canon 70-200mm f/2.8|
|Sony A-Mount Telephoto Lenses|
|Sony A-Mount||Good and Cheap||Tamron 70-300 f/4-5.6|
|Better||Sony 55-300 mm, f4.5-5.6|
|Premium||Sony 70-400 mm f/4-5.6|
|Sony E-Mount Telephoto Lenses|
|Sony E-Mount||Good and cheap||Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3|
|Better||Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6|
|Premium||Sony 200-6000mm f/5.6-6.3|
|MFT telephoto lenses for Panasonic and Olympus|
|Micro Four Thirds||Good and cheap||Panasonic 45-150 f/4-5.6|
|Premium||Olympus 300mm f/4.0|
|Pentax Telephoto Lenses|
|Pentax||Good and cheap||Pentax 55-300mm f/4.5-6.3|
|Premium||Pentax 50-135mm f/2.8|
If you like to take portraits, you usually have very special requirements for your lens.
A popular stylistic medium in portrait photos is a beautiful bokeh, so a blurred background. To achieve this, you need a lens with a very large open panel.
Since zoom lenses cannot do this, we always recommend a fixed focal length for portrait photography.
It is also important that the focal length is not too short. If you photograph a person.B with a 30 mm lens, this often leads to unsightly distortions and large noses on the model’s face.
If you have a camera with AN APS-C sensor, we recommend a focal length between 50 and 85 mm. For full format, this is correspondingly 75 to 130 mm, with Micro Four Thirds about 40 to 60 mm.
Our recommendations for portrait lenses
If you want to try your hand at portrait photography, we have good news for you: Simple portrait lenses are available for very small money.
In some cases, the entry-level models cost less than 200 euros, but these lenses are definitely not bad in terms of quality.
Of course, it is also more expensive and better in the area of portrait lenses, which is why we introduce you to lenses of different price ranges.
Read also our article about portrait photography, in which we give you a lot of tips on the subject:
Portrait Photography: Tips for Beginners
|Nikon Portrait Lenses|
|Nikon||Good and cheap||Nikon 50mm f/1.8|
|Better||Nikon 85mm f/1.8|
|Premium||Tamron 85mm f/1.8|
|Canon Portrait Lenses|
|Canon||Good and cheap||Canon 50mm f/1.8|
|Better||Canon 85mm f/1.8|
|Premium||Tamron 85mm f/1.8|
|Sony A-Mount Portrait Lenses|
|Sony A-Mount||Good and cheap||Sony 50mm f/1.8|
|Better||Sony 50mm f/1.4|
|Premium||Tamron 85mm f/1.8|
|Sony E-Mount Portrait Lenses|
Good and cheap
|Sony 50mm f/1.8|
|Premium||Zeiss 85mm f/1.8|
|MFT Portrait Lenses for Panasonic and Olympus|
|Panasonic and Olympus||Good and cheap||Olympus 45mm f/1.8|
|Premium||Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2|
Macro lenses are special lenses that allow you to take very detailed photos of subjects from a very small distance.
With a macro lens, for example, you can approach a beautiful flower very close and see the structures of the flower clearly in your photo at the end.
With a normal lens, this is not possible, as you can no longer focus with these lenses if you get too close to your subject. The reason is the near adjustment limit, which we have already described above.
Caution Our lens advice: Macro lens is not the same as macro lens. Lens manufacturers also use the term for lenses that are not actually real macro lenses. So macro is not everywhere where macro is written on it.
When purchasing a macro lens, make sure that the imaging scale is as high as 1:1. This is always included in the product description.
There are also lenses with an imaging scale of 1:2 or 1:4 that are sold as macro lenses. But the optimum is always 1:1.
Our recommendations for macro lenses
Macro lenses are usually fixed focal lengths with a focal length between 40 and 105 mm.
Since macro lenses are very complex in construction, they are usually also correspondingly expensive. So you won’t find really cheap macro lenses on the market.
We introduce you to a macro lens for each lens connection, which we would buy for the respective camera.
|Nikon||Tamron 90mm f/2.8 1:1|
|Canon||Tamron 90mm f/2.8 1:1|
|Sony A-Mount||Sony 30mm f/2.8 1:1|
|Sony E-Mount||Sony 50mm f/2.8 1:1|
|Micro Four Thirds||Olympus 60mm f/2.8 1:1|
|Pentax||Pentax 35mm f/2.8 1:1|
We hope we were able to bring a little light into the lens jungle with our lens purchase advice.
Note: We receive numerous e-mails every day with questions about which lens is best for personal use. Please understand that we cannot answer them. As a one-woman-1-man company, we simply cannot cope with this in time. Thank you for your understanding.
If you have any questions, please leave us a comment under the article and we will try to help you as soon as possible. Deal? Do you have a lens that you really like? Then write it to us in the comments. So we can all benefit from your experiences!
And now we wish you a hassle-free lens purchase and above all a lot of fun unpacking and trying out your new lens from this list of our lens advice.