A Guide To The Perfect Lens

Did you know that in 2017 it is anticipated that approximately 1.2 trillion photographs will be taken worldwide? Subsequently, with photography vastly becoming a daily occurrence for most, more and more technology is being introduced to ensure you get the best picture possible.

One potentially daunting, yet arguably the most vital, piece of kit is of course… The Lens. The majority of interchangeable lens cameras (known to you and I as DSLR and Mirrorless) come with a kit lens. Whilst kit lenses are a great all rounder, for those wanted to push their photography to the next level, maybe even specialise in a certain type of photography such as Landscape, Wildlife, Family or Macro, there are lenses out there that can help you do just that!

But what do all the abbreviations and digits which are used to define different types of lenses really mean? Hopefully once you've finished reading this, you should be able to answer that question and understand what lenses you need to suit you.

The Focal Length…

So let's start from the beginning! Lenses are named based on their focal length, for example a 50mm lens. To put it very simply, the lower the number the wider the shot, the higher the number the bigger the zoom. The 50mm lens is what's called a 'Prime Lens' - essentially what this means is that the lens doesn't have the capability to zoom as it only has one focal range. If the focal range has 2 numbers, for example 18-55mm to zoom in closer to your subject, the amount of zoom is relative to the number, bigger the number the more zoom you will have available.

The Aperture…

Why do lenses tend to be named with a F followed by a series of numbers? Unless you know, this is often overlooked when making your purchase. This relates to the maximum, widest aperture. Aperture refers to the opening of the lens which lets light pass through. Bizarrely, the lower the aperture f value, the more light it will allow in. The standard scale for aperture is 1.4 (the widest opening) to 32(the smallest opening). It can be seen in a variety of ways depending on the manufacturer, but whether its F1.4 or f/1.4, it all means the same. These numbers are generally referred to as f/stops. When there is more than two numbers, this means your lens has the ability to zoom and the aperture is variable. At the widest focal length you will have the maximum aperture and the further you zoom, the smaller it becomes. Simple! Some lenses have the ability to retain a wide aperture throughout their zoom range, these are often pricier but mean that as a photographer you will be able to let a load of light in throughout the full lens zoom range.

What else should I look for when buying my next lens?


This is a feature that counteracts the effects of your hands and or camera shaking, which can be ideal for long exposure, low light or long focal length shots. This is abbreviated in many ways depending on manufacturer such as IS, OIS, VR, OSS, OS & VC. The system normally works by counteracting any movement the lens makes in the optics and will result in sharper shots. A number of premium lenses have multiple stabilisation options - these may be used for techniques such as panning and actually disable or optimise parts of the system to ensure the sharpest shot possible.

Lens Mount

Each manufacturer uses its own style lens mount meaning that you can't use their lenses on other cameras. There are some exceptions to this rule but please investigate when buying a lens to ensure you have the right one. Third party manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron make lenses with a number of different fits - the main thing you need to do is make sure the lens you choose is fully compatible with the camera you own - if you're unsure please pop into your local store to find out more.

Focusing System

Most modern lenses now feature Autofocus systems but not all do so make sure you check - there are very few nowadays without but it will make a big difference! Even within the autofocus systems though there are differences - mainly within the motor that drives the lens to focus. Different motors deliver different speeds, precision and level of mechanical noise so have uses and advantages at different times. Often manufacturers will use acronyms to identify a faster, quieter more precise focus system, other manufacturers won't identify the focussing system used at all. In most cases giving the lens a test drive will highlight the noise and speed to you.

So what should I look for to get the best out of my lens for my needs?

I'm just going to focus on 4 types of popular photography for this but if these aren't what you're interested in hopefully it will still give you a better idea of what you need…

Family Photography or Portrait Photography

You should look for a focal range anywhere between 50 - 105mm. In essence, the higher the focal range, the more flattering it will be for your subject! When shooting small families or portraits, it is best to set a wide aperture, making the backdrop slightly blurred, to ensure your subject stands out better. I would suggest anywhere between F1.8 - 4. If photographing larger groups, a slightly higher aperture will avoid losing focus.

Macro Photography

There are specific Macro lenses out there in the market. These range from about 50-200mm but most people will prefer the lenses sitting in the focal lengths of 90-105mm. Using a Macro lens can be challenging, allowing enough depth of field is all linked with controlling your aperture. If you're not sure why not join us on Academy photography workshop!

Wildlife Photography

When it comes to photographing wildlife, the higher the zoom the better, this enable you to get up close to your animal without startling it. Ideally something between 300 - 600mm will help you take a beautiful shot. The aperture will really depend on the sorts of images you want to take and the distance in which your taking it. Most superzoom lenses are generally around F5-6 on the far end of the focal length, generally this is enough for everyday conditions but you may need to be a little careful in low light.

Landscape Photography

It is understood that the human eye sees a field of view equivalent to a 50mm lens, so anything lower than that is often classed as a 'wide angle'. The lower the focal point, the more of the scene you will capture. There is no right or wrong for this and again, it depends on the image you want to take. However to get the entire scene in sharp focus, I'd recommend F22.

Sign up for our latest news and offers

Receive the best offers right to your inbox by signing up to our newsletter

Thank You