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Digital SLR Guide Newsletter - All About Lenses
December 11, 2011

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DSLR News - December 2011

In This Issue
As promised in the last issue, this one is all about lenses.
Once you've spent a lot of money on a great digital SLR, it's important to find the best lens to go with it.
I'll take a bit of your time at the beginning to describe some basic principles of lenses then I'll dive right in and provide you with some links and information about great lenses from the different manufacturers.

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Lenses - an Overview
The lens that you choose is almost more important than the camera that you attach it to.
There are two reasons for this:
  1. The quality of the lens is related to the quality of your images
  2. The lens you use determines your point of view
For every picture you take with your camera, light must pass through your lens first. It's the lens that is responsible for creating a sharp focused image on the camera's sensor.
If the quality of the glass inside the lens is poor your images won't look as sharp and vibrant even if you're using the best digital SLR.
When you're comparing lenses, price may be a deciding factor. But beware of very low-price lenses: the glass in them is cheap, and therefore will not create images that are as sharp.
Now, this doesn't apply 100% of the time. Every so often, you'll compare two lenses with different prices where the cheaper lens has the same optical quality as the more expensive one. Reading customer reviews should help you decide if this is the case.
Just realize going into your lens purchase that often the more expensive the lens, the higher the optical quality.
The second reason lenses are so important is because they determine how your camera will "see" the world.
For example, a very wide-angle lens will not allow you to take closeups of subjects that are far away — for this, you'll need a telephoto.
On the flip side, you may find that your telephoto lens is no good for portraits because you have to stand too far away from your subject.
There are four main types of lenses: wide angle, standard, telephoto and extreme telephoto.
Here's what they're typically used for:

LENS TYPEUSE
Wide AngleBuilding Interiors, Landscapes
StandardPortraits, Landscapes
TelephotoPortraits, Closeups, Wildlife
Extreme TelephotoWildlife, Pro Sports

How can you tell the lens type? The focal length gives it away. Lenses with longer focal lengths have more telephoto range. The focal length of a lens is measured in millimeters and is often expressed as two numbers for lenses that have variable focal lengths.
  • A 10-20mm lens is a wide angle
  • An 18-55mm lens is standard
  • A 70-200mm lens is telephoto
  • A 300-500mm lens is extreme telephoto

Once you know the types of pictures you want to take with your camera, then you can pick the right lens. Want to capture scenic mountain views and waves crashing on the shore? You'll need a wide angle for that.
Those more interested in safaris should consider telephoto or extreme telephoto lenses. Want to take photos from the sidelines of your children's soccer games and still get decent results? Go for a telephoto instead of a standard lens and you'll get MUCH better pictures.

Beginner Digital SLR Lessons
  • Dramatically improve the photos you take
  • Take manual control of aperture, shutters speed and ISO
  • Get exposure right, even in challenging light
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Download lessons as PDF files
  • Ask me questions
Learn More >>

Maximum Aperture
Now that you have a handle on focal length, let's take a quick moment to talk about the maximum aperture of a lens.
The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens that lets light pass through, and apertures are measured in f-stops.
An f-stop of 2.8 represents a very WIDE aperture while an f-stop of 22 is a NARROW aperture.
Now, every lens ever made can use narrow apertures like f/11 or f/16, but not all lenses can open up to the same width (the maximum aperture of the lens).
Some lenses will be able to open up to f/2.8 to let in a lot of light while others will only open to f/4.
You'll be able to tell the maximum aperture of any lens by reading its name - the maximum aperture number is always included. If there are two numbers, this means the max aperture changes as you zoom the lens. If there is only one number, the maximum aperture is always the same regardless of how much you zoom.

LENSMAX APERTURE(S)
18-55mm f/3.5-5.6At 18mm: f/3.5
At 55mm: f/5.6
18-200mm f/3.5-5.6At 18mm: f/3.5
At 200mm: f/5.6
70-300mm f/3.5-6.3At 70mm: f/3.5
At 300mm: f/6.3
28-75mm f/2.8f/2.8, regardless of zoom

The main reason to get a lens with a very wide maximum aperture is if you constantly take pictures of fast-moving subjects in very dim light.
In this case, you need a wide max aperture because this translates into a fast shutter speed - something you'll need if you don't want all your photos to look blurry.
For example, if you want to take lots of pictures of indoor sporting events - basketball, volleyball, etc. - then you'll not only need a telephoto lens (so that you can take closeups even from the stands) you'll also need a lens with a wide max aperture to capture all the action.

Lens Options
Lenses made by camera manufacturers like Canon and Nikon only work 100% on camera bodies that bear the same name.
Modern lenses have electronic contacts that let them communicate with the camera body. This electronic link allows information to pass between camera and lens like the autofocus, aperture value and exposure settings.
In addition to lenses made by the camera manufacturers, you can also purchase lenses from companies that ONLY make lenses that fit a variety of cameras.
These third-party lens manufacturers include Sigma, Tamron and Tokina.
If Tamron makes a lens, they will fabricate several different models that are compatible with the different camera brands. It's essentially the same lens, just with a different size lens mount (the part of the lens that connects to the camera body).
Lenses made by these third party companies are often less expensive than first-party lenses and many have the same - if not better - optical quality than first-party alternatives.
In the sections below where I provide lens recommendations for each camera manufacturer, I'll also list a few high-quality third-party lens options.

Intermediate Digital SLR Lessons
  • Discover the best types of light
  • Learn to see and manipulate natural light
  • Find out what all the settings on your flash mean
  • Improve the quality of light from your flash
  • Blend natural light with flash
  • Use off-camera flash for professional-looking portraits
Learn More >>

Canon Lenses
LENSDESCRIPTIONPRICE (USD)
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSMGet ultra-wide points of view with this lens from Sigma that features their ultra-silent (and fast) autofocus system.$480
Canon 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USMThis standard lens covers a range that lets you capture both landscapes and portraits. The Image Stabilization helps get clear shots with slower shutter speeds.$395
Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USMWant to get close to faraway subjects? This inexpensive telephoto zoom will help you do just that.$550
Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 APO OS HSMIf you spend most of your time photographing sports and wildlife, then consider this one for extra range. If not, just opt for the less expensive 70-300mm.$1,070

Nikon Lenses
LENSDESCRIPTIONPRICE (USD)
Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX ED VRWith autofocus on all Nikon cameras (thanks to AF-S) this wide-angle offering also provides vibration reduction (VR).$575
Nikon 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S DX VRA step up from the kit 18-55mm lens, this provides a bit more range on the telephoto end while maintaining a pretty decent wide-angle setting.$400
Nikon 55-200mm F/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VRThis lens surprises - for its low cost you'd think that image quality would not be great, but Nikon managed to create a cheap lens with exceptional optics and vibration control.$150
Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 APO OS HSMRemember how I said third-party lenses are built with different cameras in mind? That's the case with this super-telephoto Sigma.$1,070

Olympus Lenses
LENSDESCRIPTIONPRICE (USD)
Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6Since Olympus cameras have a 2x crop factor (due to a smaller sensor size), to get wide angle images you need a lens that is REALLY wide angle like this 9-18mm option.$500
Olympus 12-60mm f/2.8-4While this would be considered wide-angle for most other cameras, for Olympus it falls right into the good-for-portraits range, but will also work if you're into landscapes.$830
Olympus 70-300mm f4-5.6A telephoto zoom for a lot less than a standard one? Now that's a beautiful thing. AND it's got great image quality as well. Autofocus is slow, but that's OK if your subjects stay still.$315

Pentax Lenses
LENSDESCRIPTIONPRICE (USD)
Pentax SMCP-DA 16-45mm f/4 ED ALUnlike many other lenses listed above, this Pentax wide angle comes with a fixed max aperture throughout the zoom range.$410
Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD-IFOne of my favorite lenses for Canon is also available for Pentax. This wide fixed aperture lens is exceptional for portrait photos in all kinds of available light.$500
Pentax SMCP-DA 55-300mm f/4-5.8 EDLike other manufacturers, Pentax offers up a low-cost telephoto zoom solution.$350

Sony Lenses
LENSDESCRIPTIONPRICE (USD)
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8This highly-regarded fixed max aperture Tamron lens is available in a Sony ALPHA version.$440
Sony 28-75mm f/2.8This is a great focal length range for portraits and the wide f/2.8 max aperture helps get clear shots in all kinds of available light.$800
Sony 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6If you don't need to capture photos of animals from great distances, then you might be just fine with this low-cost telephoto zoom.$250
Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSMIf telephoto reach is what you desire, then look no further than this lens, nicknamed the "BIGma".$1,660

Photo Links

Photo Contests
Other Photography Sites
  • Mirrorless DSLR Guide - learn about mirrorless cameras from Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus, Samsung and Sony
  • Betterphoto - a wealth of photography learning opportunities
  • Flickr - share your photos with friends and others
  • Photo.net - plenty of learning resources and examples of exceptional photography
  • Borrowlenses - rent lenses to use on your digital SLR before you spend tons of money on one
  • Photojojo - tons of photography do-it-yourself (DIY) projects
  • Viewpoints.com - read product reviews from other consumers like yourself
Great Photo Blogs
  • Digital Photography School - hundreds of photo tips and techniques
  • Strobist - everything you ever wanted to know about lighting with external flash
  • Joe McNally - get the "behind-the-scenes" thought process from a professional photographer

In Conclusion
It's been an interesting year for digital SLR cameras, with less than the typical number of new models introduced.
I suspect that the camera manufacturers are reacting to the economic downturn and slowing down the release of new models accordingly.
In the end, this is good news for consumers who are faced with less options to consider. It's now easier than it was a few years ago to find a great digital SLR camera that can take any type of picture you want.
I hope that everyone reading this newsletter has a happy and safe holiday season, and you'll be hearing from me again next year!

--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide

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