It’s not the camera, it’s the lens… but not just any old lens – the right kind of lens.
I’ve only owned two digital SLR’s: a Canon 400D and the Canon 50D, which I currently use.
Neither of these cameras contributed to the quality of my photos much at all, although it is nice to be able to boost the ISO a little higher in a newer camera. I bought my Canon 50D second hand two years ago for £600 and it’s not needed replacing yet.
That’s because it’s not about the megapixels, it’s about the lens that you use.
It’s time to stop investing in the wrong photography gear.
Lenses are an investment.
If you buy the right ones, they’re a much more sensible purchase than a new camera, which you more than likely don’t need. Purely from an investment point of view, lenses do three main things for you.
- They keep their value long after you’ve bought them.
- They rarely go out of date (will continue to fit on new cameras).
- They will still fit more expensive cameras if you do decide it’s time to upgrade your body (if you choose the right ones… we’ll get to that).
Without a doubt, the best thing you can do to increase the visual quality of your photos is to invest in good lenses. Ideally, you’ll want the best camera lenses that make sense for your budget. That means replacing your kit lens and never looking back.
Sure, better quality noise at a high ISO on your camera will help too but good lenses allow you to take photos under less light anyway. Also, more megapixels are nice if you want to print a lot of your photos but, to be honest, they’re largely unimportant.
I can’t even remember how many my cameras each have.
If you choose the right quality lenses, such as Canon L lenses, it’s going to get very expensive very quickly but you will see a drastic increase in quality. When you compare them to the kit lenses that came with your camera, particularly Canon’s one which is notoriously bad, you will be blown away by the quality.
This isn’t without a downside though. As I mentioned before, it’s the price.
I’ve bought three Canon L lenses in the past year and they’ve cost me £2600 collectively. Not cheap at all, no, but they will last me for as long as I look after them. There’s no reason for these lenses to stop working or go out of date, which can’t be said for camera bodies.
If it’s not the technology that puts them out of date, it’s the lifespan on the shutter that will.
It seems as though every month, there’s a new digital SLR on the market which claims to boast new features that your camera can’t do. Every one of these releases pushes down the value of your camera.
No matter when you buy a new camera, it’s always going to go out of date very quickly; it makes sense to upgrade every 3-4 years and invest your money in lenses in the meantime. You’ll find that, although these new cameras claim to do more, when it comes down to it, they all do exactly the same thing.
Choosing the Right Lens
I’ve actually written a lens buying guide in the past which you can view here but it doesn’t quite cover choosing the right lens in terms of investment.
I’m going to tell you something here that you won’t want to hear but it has to be said: that amazing 18-250mm Sigma is rubbish.
You may own it or have been considered buying it (even I have in the past) but I’m about to make you regret your decision. It’s good if you don’t want to carry around lots of lenses or want to go travelling but I’m afraid that, if you want quality and versatility, carrying lenses is exactly what you’re going to have to do.
Let me explain.
My go-to lens is a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L which I shoot on a crop sensor body. This means that all of my photos are slightly more zoomed, so they’re more like 38-112mm. I’ll get to crop sensor lenses further down the page.
Because I’m shooting on a more limited zoom range, this allows the lens manufacturers to improve other aspects of the lens; there are less moving parts getting in the way.
My lens maintains an aperture of f/2.8 across the entire zoom range which allows a lot more light in than the f/3.5-6.3 of the Sigma. It allows nearly twice as much light in than when the Sigma is zoomed out and over four times as much light as when the Sigma is zoomed in.
This all has to do with the aperture which you can read more about here.
It’s not just about the amount of light that the lens will let in that ultimately improves the performance of the lens, but the quality of the glass as well.
The quality of glass that is used in the best camera lenses is by far superior to the cheap all-in-one lenses that you can buy; it produces much better results.
If you want to see this for yourself without having to invest just yet, I would suggest renting a high-end lens or buying an old film SLR with an excellent, cheap prime lens.
When you do eventually come to upgrade, you will still be able to fit these professional quality lenses onto your new camera if you do decide to go for a full frame.
Have a look at the diagram below which demonstrates the difference in sensor sizes.
The black circle is a lens projection from a full frame lens which covers both sensor sizes. If you choose certain other lenses, such as the Sigma mentioned above, or a Canon EF-S lens, or Nikon DX lens, this projection is only going to cover the red square.
This means that all the money you thought you were saving by buying a cheaper lens is now wasted; you can’t use them on your new camera.
To counteract the problem of the crop sensor, I’ve simply purchased a 17-40mm lens which allows me to reach the wider angles, whilst maintaining excellent quality photos.
It doesn’t do it all in one lens but I use them at different times and, so long as you think about what you’re going to be taking photos of in advance, it’s not a problem.
This all sounds a little too expensive…
So, buying the best camera lenses won’t ever be cheap, that’s true, but there are some sensible options out there for you.
For example, I’m sure you’ve heard me rave in the past about the 50mm f/1.8 which can be picked up for only $100-200. This is the best lens to get learning about your aperture and start taking better quality photos with.
It’s not amazing quality but it will make a huge difference to what you’re currently using.
Not looking to upgrade to a full frame camera in the next 10 years? That’s not a problem either.
Check out these lenses, both boasting an aperture of f/2.8 across the zoom range and excellent quality glass.
[ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here. —Ed.]
Both fall around the $1000 range but at least you’re getting the quality, aperture, and zoom range. There’s nothing wrong with not upgrading to a full sensor SLR.
Thinking about upgrading your camera in the foreseeable future and want the best lenses to go with it?
These are three that I own.
Invest in the right lens now and you won’t regret it. Ok, you might regret getting addicted to buying amazing quality lenses and spending all of your money but there are worse things that could happen.
When it comes to buying a lens, you should be reassured by how expensive it is, how wide the aperture is and how limited the zoom range is. If you want to know more about choosing the right lens for you, check out this lens buying guide.
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