If you’re just getting into the world of DSLR photography, chances are you’ll be at least a little unsure as to just what you should be looking for. Although DSLR technology has made high-quality photography a lot more accessible than it once was, buying and maintaining a camera and lenses still represents a significant investment, both in terms of time and money. In particular, keeping a collection of different camera lenses can often become an extremely expensive hobby, with different lenses being used for different types of photography and environmental conditions.
Simply put, it’s best to know just what you want to buy before you go shopping: a misguided or impulse lens buy can be a costly error, and it’s one which can be repeated time and time again if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Talk the talk
The photography world, like any technical community, uses a lot of jargon and colloquial language, and if you don’t get what all the terms mean you won’t have much hope of picking the right lens for you - or knowing if you’re getting hoodwinked by a shonky salesperson. The jargon around DSLRs can apply to the types of lenses on offer - what’s the difference, for example, between a zoom lens and a macro? - but also to the specific technical features of lenses. Certain aspects of tech-talk in this industry are particularly peculiar. F-stops, for example, are a numerical value which indicate how much light a given lens will let in, thus determining how well a lens performs under low-light conditions amongst other things. Yet the higher the number is, the less light the lens will let in. This is because the f-stop value is actually a fraction which indicates an exponential change in the amount of light let through. Confused yet?
What to do: Definitions of technical terms can be found on many reputable photography websites, but what’s even more beneficial is talking to a trusted camera seller or photography expert who can clearly explain what terms mean. This also helps because of the many colloquialisms used by photographers: a “tele” is a telephoto lens, “WB” is white-balance and so on. The Internet will help you only so much.
Decide what you want
Once you can understand what all the weird words and numbers mean, it’s time to think about what you want to do with your photography. The sort of shots you want to take should influence your choice of lens: if you want to take thrilling landscape panoramas you’ll want to be using a different lens from someone who specialises in portraits or event photography. There are lots of general-purposes lenses out there (including the lenses which ship with DSLR kits), but if you’re getting into photography for a particular reason you’ll greatly benefit from a more specialised lens.
What to do: Consult photography review sites and forums to find out what lenses are good for what purposes. Don’t forget to also use your own powers of analysis: being able to understand the lingo means that you can take in the specifications of any lens and figure out some of its strengths and weaknesses.
Some lenses are pretty cheap, some a lot less so. In general, you’ll get what you’re paying for, and what’s more important is making sure you buy the lens which caters to your specific needs. Be sure to check on prices both online and in-store, and remember that camera staff should not only know their way around different lenses, but also be willing to discuss price and suggest alternatives (and if they’re not competent, don’t be afraid to go somewhere else). Happy hunting!