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Buying your First Camera Lens Tutorial

What’s up guys, Sagi here and welcome to another Tech Gear Talk. Today I want to cover a super important question that I get all the time, which is, I’m getting “whatever” camera, what lens should I buy? There are a lot of different lenses available even if you’re just looking at one brand, let alone third party options, so today I’m going to teach you a little about lenses, and walk you through the fundamentals of selecting the right first lens. And I think you’ll that my advice is going to be different than what some people recommend and I’m curious to know what you think at the end of this video. Regardless of whether you’re getting a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, and whichever brand you decide to go with, the fundamentals of this video are going to apply. If you’ve already pulled the trigger and ordered a new camera then congratulations. If not, I would suggest that you check out the lens selection that is available for the brand and model you’re considering. I don’t expect a beginner to need 10 lenses, but I think you should look at what is available and also it’s really important to look at the cost of the lenses. A lot of times people ask something like “I want to shoot weddings and this is my budget, should I get camera A or camera B?”. And what I need to know, in order to really help is, is this your budget for just the body or for the body and lenses (not to mention other accessories you need). I’m going to start out by teaching you some fundamentals about lenses so that you understand why I’m recommending specific lenses, rather than following my advice without knowing what’s behind it.

Beyond Camera Lens Basics

Most cameras, both DSLR and mirrorless, and particularly entry-level models, are sold in kits. Meaning that the manufacturer is pairing the body with an entry-level zoom lens. I shoot a lot with Canon so I’ll be using some of my cameras to show you examples but this is true across brands. So something like the Canon SL2 or 200d depending on where you’re from is often sold with the 18-55mm STM IS. Something like the M50 is sold with a 15-45mm. If we wanted to look at one other manufacturer like as an example, the Nikon d3500 or d5600 are also offered with an 18-55mm VR lens. And you’ll find similar 35mm equivalent lenses from Sony, Panasonic, Olympus and Fuji. The number that you see followed by mm describes the focal length range of the lens with smaller numbers corresponding to wide field of view and larger numbers corresponding to zoom. A shorter focal length like 18mm is going to be very wide and capture a lot more of the scene, where as a longer focal length like 200, is going to narrow your field of view and capture a lot less of the scene. A longer focal length also fills more of the frame with the subject and therefore effectively appears to bring the subject closer to the camera.

Here is the same subject on the same camera at 5 feet distance on an 18mm lens.

And here it is again, we haven’t moved the camera or the subject but we’re now using a 55mm lens.

And as a final example here is the same subject at the same distance from the camera using a 200mm lens.

So a zoom lens, like an 18-55mm means that the lens can go from 18mm at the widest to 55mm at its most zoomed setting. Some lenses called Prime lenses like this 50mm Zeiss f/2 will only have one number which means they offer a fixed focal length, rather than a range. So a zoom lens offer a range, like 18-55, 24-70, 70-200, and a prime lens is fixed 50mm, 85mm, 22mm, 100mm. By the way, because there are so many lens options and different subjects and purposes, I created a lens buying guide and I’ll leave a link to it in the description so you can go download it and look at it at your own pace. It free of course, and has more samples and brand-specific recommendations, and I’m also able to update it when new lenses come out which I can’t do in this video.

Numbers Can Be Confusing

Something that often trips people up is trying to compare lenses between different sensor sizes, and specifically, understanding how the angle of view is impacted by the size of the sensor. In order to be able to compare and understand how a certain lens or focal length is going to look on one sensor size versus another, we need some kind of standard. And the industry agreed-upon standard is to use 35mm equivalent or full frame equivalent. If you’re wondering why, it has to do with the days where most people shot on 35mm film. This meant that most cameras, I’m not talking about medium and large-format, were using the same size recording medium. So this created a situation where people very quickly came to know what 50mm field of view looked like, what 85mm looked like, what 24mm looked like, it was always the same across different cameras, because they were using the same film size. And this is still the case if we’re talking about full-frame sensor cameras. So something like the the 5DMKIII, or the Sony a7iii if I put a 50mm prime on it, would have essentially the same field of view as a 35mm film camera with a 50mm lens. But now with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, we have more sensor sizes to choose from, and for today I’ll include APS-C and Micro Four Thirds because they are 2 of the most popular formats. Most APS-C sensors have a 1.5x crop factor (except for Canon where it’s 1.6x, but to keep the math simple we’ll use 1.5x). Micro Four Thirds sensors like Panasonic and Olympus have a 2x crop factor. This means that if we take a 50mm lens and put it on an APS-C sensor camera, it will give us a 50×1.5 or 75mm equivalent field of view. Meaning, that it would be more zoomed in than a 50mm on a full frame sensor camera. If we took a 50mm lens and put it on a MFT sensor camera, it would give us a 50×2 or 100mm angle of view, which would be the same as putting a 100mm lens on a full frame sensor camera. This is why when you look at MFT lenses you’ll see that they come in much lower focal lengths than lenses designed to be used on APS-C or full-frame sensors. And this is mostly important when you’re comparing lenses before you select a body. If you’re looking at a lens like an Olympus 25mm f/1.8 which costs around $250 and you compare it to a Nikon 24mm f/1.8 which costs $750, you might think that the Nikon lens is 3 times the price. But when you consider that the Olympus lens is being used with a MFT sensor and there is a 2x crop factor, that means that the Olympus lens is really a 50mm equivalent f/1.8, and by comparison, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 is $217 which is actually cheaper.

With Eyes Wide Open

We haven’t really discussed Aperture much but when you start looking at lenses, you’re going to start seeing quite a range when it comes to pricing even at the same focal length. So looking at a Canon 50mm, you’ll see an f/1.8 for $125, an f/1.4 for $349, and an f/1.2 for $1,349. You’ll also see a Canon 24-70 f/4 that costs $899 and a 24-70 2.8 that costs $1,699, a super significant price difference. In addition to build and quality-related factors, you’ll notice that the lower f-value lenses are more expensive than their higher f-value counterparts. Lower f values open up more, allow more light in and they let us shoot in low light situations. They also create a shallower depth of field which separates the subject from the background and gives that “blurry background” effect. More expensive zoom lenses like the 24-70mm f/2.8 can open up to f/2.8 throughout the entire focal range from 24 to 70mm. Inexpensive kit lenses on the other hand, often have a minimum aperture range, rather than a constant value. This means that an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 can open to f/3.5 if you’re shooting at 18mm. But when you zoom in to 55mm they can only open up to f/5.6, that’s a big difference. It lets a lot less light get to the sensor and also has a deeper depth of field, so the background is not as blurry.

Which Lens Should I Buy?

Now that we understand the basics, let’s talk about which lens you should buy first. This is where I think my opinion is different than many others’. A lot of people are going to tell you that you should go out and spend money on a nifty fifty, or some other prime. Most of the time the reasons are that they are sharper, open up wider, so they they allow shooting in low light and create that awesome shallow depth of field. And I 100% agree with all of those reasons, I just don’t think those things are the most important things when you’re starting out. I actually recommend that you start out with an inexpensive entry-level zoom kit lens. Something like an 18-55mm, 15-45mm, 16-50mm are excellent choices and here is why. Even before you take your first picture, or shoot your first video, you already know that a prime lens could give you sharper images, you already know that they will let more light in, you know that you’ll get a shallower depth of field, what you don’t know is which focal lengths will work for your particular situation and style of shooting.

Here are some practical examples, and I’m going to cover both photography and video.

Some photographers like to do portrait sessions with a 50mm, some like to use an 85mm, some like to shoot with a 24-70, and some even use a 70-200 because they love the lens compression they get. Which do you like? How far away from your subject do you like to be? And how do the different focal lengths impact the way the photo looks? If you haven’t tried, then you don’t know for yourself. If I’m doing portraits, I like to start out being closer to my subject. This lets me very quickly break the ice, interact with them, and start getting very candid and natural reactions.

If I start out with an 85mm or a 70-200 I’m going to be really far away and that’s not going to lend itself to the type of connection I want to create. If you’re getting into landscape or architecture photography you might already know that you’ll need a wide angle lens. But how wide? Let’s pretend you’re lucky enough to get one of my favorite cameras of all time, the Fuji X-T3 and you’re going to get a wide angle prime lens. Should you get a 35mm? A 24mm? A 16mm? You’re not going to know until you see what those focal lengths look like. So if you bought the 35mm and realized it’s not wide enough for you, you just wasted money. If you bought the 16mm and it’s too wide, you wasted money. Instead, you can get the kit with the 18-55mm, get a lot of versatility and then, after you learn how to use your camera and your lens at the various focal length, make an educated choice about expanding your lens selection. You’ll now be making an informed investment rather than buying a single prime lens, that while giving you slightly sharper images at a single focal length, is super limiting in terms of versatility.

Let’s move on to video and say that you want to shoot video for YouTube or shoot interviews for a client. You want that shallow depth of field, so you start out with a 50mm f/1.8 which is a great lens. When you get it, you realize that because you’re using a camera with an APS-C sensor, your 50mm is in reality a 75mm equivalent and you don’t actually have enough room to move the camera back far enough to get the framing you want. So even though it can open to 1.8, your subject has to be so close to the background in order for you to see more than just their head, and you’re actually not getting great separation from the background. Or maybe you bought a lens that was too wide, and you need to have it so close to the subject that it creates a very unflattering look. But now you’re boxed in because of the fixed focal length. I just wanted to give you a few real-life situations so that you understand what is behind my recommendation.

As I mentioned before, I created a much more in-depth free lens selection guide and I’ll link to it in the description. It will give you a lot of options at different price points for different brands and sensor sizes. I also includes third-party options which can save you a ton of money and provide better price to performance ratio. In the past this wasn’t really something I considered, but over the past few years, companies like Sigma, Tamron and Tokina, to name a few, have come out with some amazing lenses at great prices.

Conclusion

Now I want to know what you think. Did this discussion make sense? Was it userful? And are there other aspects you want me to cover or more specific questions that I didn’t include. I really hope this article about selecting your first lens was helpful, if it was, please let me know by leaving a comment, sharing it and if you haven’t yet, join the community by hitting the subscribe and notification buttons on my YouTube.

For more tips, tutorials and reviews you can always find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at TechGearTalk.

And you know what I always say, buy it nice or buy it twice.

Good luck and see you soon.

Best Beginner Lenses for Canon:

Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens https://geni.us/Ez1X
Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/2.5-5.6 IS STM Lens: https://geni.us/CTH3

Canon Beginner Camera Kits:

Canon SL2 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens: https://geni.us/tgtcanonsl218-55
Canon SL3 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens: https://geni.us/NGYRlw
Canon M50 with 15-45mm f/2.5-5.6 IS STM Len: https://geni.us/tgtcanonm50kitused

Best Beginner Lenses for Sony:

Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens: https://geni.us/Qn4S02
Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens: https://geni.us/8IDBfQ

Sony Beginner Camera Kits:

Sony Alpha a6400 with 16-50mm Lens: https://geni.us/OQ23O
Sony Alpha a7 III with FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens: https://geni.us/sony-a7iii-28-70

Best Beginner Lens for Nikon:

Nikon AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR Lens: https://geni.us/GmjNQ8

Nikon Beginner Camera Kits:

Nikon D3500 DSLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens: https://geni.us/Rig1
Nikon D5600 DSLR Camera with 18-55mm Lens: https://geni.us/RwK9qc

Best Beginner Lenses for Fuji:

FUJIFILM XC 15-45mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS PZ Lens: https://geni.us/E9r5

Fuji Beginner Camera Kit:

FUJIFILM X-T100 with 15-45mm Lens: https://geni.us/4b20pEs

Best Beginner Lenses for Panasonic:

Panasonic Lumix G Vario 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. POWER O.I.S. Lens: https://geni.us/mJvdk3

Panasonic Beginner Camera Kit:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G85 with 12-60mm Lens: https://geni.us/sCfQF

Comments

  1. Sagi, I watched your Sony A6400 and this lens one. Thank you very much. Very helpful. Few questions
    1 – you mentioned custom setting for A6400. Could not locate it.

    2- I am looking for lens to take on Safari. I am planing to buy a6500 with 18-135 Sony lens. Was looking at 200mm lens. What would you suggest

    • Hi. I have not finished that video, so check out the a7iii video for now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_iz3d9Qth8 the settings are almost identical (with the exception of 2 custom buttons).

      As far as the lens, it really depends on your budget. There are 2 70-200mm (f/2.8 and f/4). Both are great options so just decide how much light you have and how shallow a depth of field you’re looking for. Hope this helps.

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