UPGRADING YOUR LENS


Today's post is going to be a ~serious~ one for y'alls with DSLRS (if you don't have a DSLR, feel free to skip out on this post), hopefully covering the basics of understanding and choosing a new lens. This post is going to be a lengthy one, so BRACE YOURSELVES.

(Shoutout to Shayne for requesting this topic!)

I recently read an article that stated something along the lines of, "When you're buying a DSLR, you're not just buying a camera—you're buying into a system". This system, comprised of lenses, flashes, batteries, etc. is something to think about when you're choosing between a Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, Olympus, etc. There are obvious strengths and weaknesses between the lenses that each company offers, but of course, that is up to your own personal preferences and what you'll be shooting.

(And no, you can't mount a Canon lens on a Nikon body [and vice versa] unless you get an adapter. This ain't no glass slipper situation)

Anyways, so you've picked up your first DSLR. Congrats!! It's a bit overwhelming understanding shutter speed, ISO, aperture, etc. and what they do, but once you get the hang of these concepts and become familiar with the kit lens (and it's limitations), the idea of a lens upgrade is well, kinda exciting. Choosing a new lens however, is no joke—have you seen the prices???!! INSANE. I'M PAYING FOR GLASS, METAL, PLASTIC AND RUBBER HERE, PEOPLE. (I could buy a brand new oven with the same materials!!!...except ovens aren't portable so idek)
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Also, since I'm not really a professional (#notaprofessional), it won't kill you to do your own research too. This is just the basic knowledge I've amassed as a result of late night lens research; shamelessly testing out my friends' lenses and lenses at my local camera store; and some of my opinions. I've included relevant links wherever possible if you want more in-depth information about a subject/term.
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Reading a lens:

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Important questions to ask yourself include:

1) Does your DSLR have a full frame sensor or crop sensor? 
Full frames are generally over $1500, so if you've got a camera under that price tag, you probably have a crop sensor camera, which means your frame is cropped. The crop factor depends on which camera you have, but if you have a Canon T3i/600D like me, our crop factor is 1.6x—for instance, if you're looking to buy a 50mm, you're not really getting a 50mm focal length, but rather, 80mm. (50 x 1.6 = 80) (Talk about tight, man)

As such, if you have a crop camera, you're never going to get a 'true' 50mm. To compensate, look into other primes/fixed lens, such as the 28 or 35mm.

2) Do you plan on upgrading to a full frame? 
Not all lenses can be used on a full frame. For instance, Canon's EF-S lenses cannot be mounted onto a full frame, only on cropped bodies.

3) What are you shooting?
Equally important is where you are shooting. You've got a huge arsenal of lenses to choose from—fisheyes, ultra wide-angle (UWA), telephoto and macro in the form of prime (fixed focal lens) and zoom lenses.

If you're shooting landscape, you're probably going to want a UWA lens to cram in more of the scene, although some general zoom lenses at the shortest focal length also work well. The kit lens at 18mm is actually pretty decent at capturing landscape!

For closeups of insects/flowers/-whatever else you want to get creepy on-, macro lenses are insane. Keeps the subject insanely super sharp despite close proximity to the camera, and most macros have wide apertures.

For wildlife/sports, telephoto is generally the trend, since you can get into the multiple hundreds in terms of focal length. (So you don't get eaten by a lion when it gets mad at you for invading it's personal space, ya feel?) Of course, there's also different telephotos, such as 'medium' and 'long'.

If you just want a multi-purpose lens, just get a good walkaround lens (a lens with general focal lengths for you to walk around with). This, of course, depends on your own preference in focal length, but the kit lens is also a decent walkaround lens. My current walkaround lens is the Sigma 24-105mm, as it covers a longer range than the kit lens (18-55mm).

4) Zoom or prime?
Prime/fixed focal lenses are lenses that don't zoom (gotta zoom with your feet!), while of course, zoom lenses...zoom.

Sure, prime lenses can't zoom, but an advantage is how low their apertures/f-numbers can get, which means more light is coming in, which makes them perfect for shooting in low-light situations. Also, the lower the number, the shallower the depth-of-field is. (Just make sure to look up if the prime lens you want is 'sharp wide open' aka if it'll be sharp at its widest aperture, because there really is no point in buying a f/1.2 lens if it won't be sharp until f/2)

Zoom lenses are handy as they cover multiple focal lengths, though their apertures are usually at f/3.5 and up, making them a bit trickier to use in low-light situations unless you're willing to slow down your shutter speed to let more light in. (Also, keep in mind that the slower the shutter speed, the blurrier your photo unless you use a tripod)

5) What brand?
In addition to Canon and Nikon lenses, there are third-party companies that construct lenses for Canon and Nikon cameras. Such companies include Sigma, Tamron (affectionately nicknamed 'Tammy'), Tokina, Rokinon and Lensbaby. Sometimes these companies construct 'dupes' (for a lack of a better term) of Canon and Nikon lenses, often at a cheaper price and sometimes these 'dupes' can be better than the Canon/Nikon counterparts.

6) Filter thread size?
Another factor to consider is the filter thread size, as if you want to save money on filters and lens hoods, you're going to want to keep the filter thread size among your lenses the same so you don't have to go out and get a different sized lens hood.

(For instance, Canon is an a$$hole and doesn't include lens hoods with its lenses unless you buy from their L line [aka 'luxury' line]...and the L-series lenses start at $900. But thankfully, some (or all??) of the third party companies provides lens hoods with its lenses)

7) Other things to think about:
Fast autofocus? Image stabilization (IS)(not all lenses come with IS)? How silent do you want the motor to be during autofocusing? Do you want a fixed aperture? Are photos taken by the lens sharp just at the center, or is it sharp throughout the frame? How severe is the vignetting? How well does the lens control chromatic aberration/colour fringinglens flare and distortion? How heavy do you want your lens to be? The list goes on and on—if this isn't a lens pageantry, I don't know what is.

8) Budget? 
First of all, you're going to need to get used to the price of lenses... -cue delirious laughter-

The price of lenses range from $100 to the multiple thousands. 

It's hilarious when you realise a lot of the lenses offered are more expensive than the camera bodies themselves, and indeed, you're definitely going to feel like you've just picked up a new camera when you pick up a new lens. Definitely shop around. As previously mentioned, third party companies usually sell lenses cheaper than Canon/Nikon counterparts. A lot of camera specialty stores will often let you test out lenses in-store or via rental, so you can get a feel for the lens. However, at the same time, shooting indoors is vastly different from shooting ourdoors/shooting in a store is different than where you normally shoot.

Also keep a lookout for sales, as some of the major camera stores may have sales events, where you can save the big $$$$. You can buy lenses second-hand, because even though they aren't built as tanks, they are built to sustain accidents not-of-the-breaking-glass-kind. Just be sure you know how to properly check a lens.
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Alright, I feel like I've just force fed y'all with information that might fly over your head, BUT, now you'll get to see what lenses I've amassed in my collection!


Above left to right, my love children include: Canon 40mm f/2.8, Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6, Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5, Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3, and Sigma 24-105mm f/4.


I generally shoot blog/still life photos with the 40mm (nicknamed 'pancake') because of its sharpness, quick autofocus, and it's low f-number means I can shoot in low light (aka when I accidentally leave shooting blog photos until the evening). The bokeh is also gorgeous on this one.

My general walkaround lens is the Sigma one (I shot the Essie Button post with that one) because it makes me look like a legit photographer of it's focal lengths, image stabilization, fixed aperture, and because of the fact that it came with a lens hood. I also might have bought it because it's just so darn sexy. (Regarding the zoom and focusing rings, I legit said, "THIS FEELS JUST LIKE NARS PACKAGING!!!!!") The nine aperture blades also doesn't hurt (the more blades, the smoother the bokeh/out of focus areas).
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I recommend:

1) Deeply immersing yourself in looking up lens reviews. Forums, discussions on Flickr pools, Amazon reviews, Youtube (DIGITALREV!!), i.e. anywhere and everywhere. People are full of opinions, wanted or unwanted. Take it with a grain of salt if you have to, or, when in doubt, go test the lens in-store instead.

2) Flickr pools are a great way to see the lenses in action. A quick Google search with the word "Flickr" added to the end of the lens name will lead you to the photo pool, where people have taken photos with that lens. 

3) Looking at people's gear list. You'll get great recommendations on what equipment other people use, and these are my favourites: A Beautiful Mess, The Dainty Squid, and Kirbie's Cravings.

For beauty bloggers, I know Jaye also shoots with Canon's 40mm, and Steph generally shoots with Canon's 85mm. Go check out those lenses in action on their blogs!

4) If you're unsure about which lenses will be compatible with your camera body, Lens Hero will help, as well as giving you lens recommendations based on what you're looking to shoot.

5) For Canon shooters, the 50mm f/1.8 (aka 'Plastic Fantastic', 'Nifty-Fifty'...I kid you not) is generally the first lens most people pick up, but it's not really my favourite. It's decently priced at $100-ish with a nice f/1.8 (which is really fun to play with), but it's insanely noisy with slow autofocus. If you have the extra money, I'd say get the 40mm f/2.8, which is the second cheapest Canon lens.

6) Having an expensive lens doesn't equate to taking better pictures. Don't be that asshole.

7) Ideally, I would say you would need at least two other lenses to supplement your kit lens—a prime and a general walkaround lens with a longer focal length than your kit lens. Having three lenses means at least one of them makes up for what the others lack.
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Hopefully this post has covered the basics, you're still with me re:everything, and you've learned some technical jargon. This sht is hardcore and we're only at the tip of the iceberg. If you're still feeling lost, here's a better lens guide here.

What lens(es) are you lusting after?

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