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How to choose the best photographic lens

This article is especially dedicated to enthusiasts who feel the need to change their equipment but do not know how to choose the right photographic lens.

We know how complex it can be to try to understand something in the midst of so many brands, each with incomprehensible acronyms, we all went through at the beginning.

This is why we have compiled this little guide where you will find useful information to clarify which parameters to take into account when choosing a new photographic lens.

Many people think that a good camera is a key to getting quality photographs. But the truth is that the lens really makes the difference: it controls the amount of light that hits the sensor, makes it possible to photograph subjects that would otherwise be too far apart, and has a decisive influence on all the optical characteristics of the image.

Every professional knows that it is better to invest on a quality lens, perhaps compatible with different types of camera, rather than spending large amounts for a camera that will soon be replaced by a new model and will lose its value.

The performance of the photographic lenses remains unchanged over time, provided that the lenses are not damaged irreparably.

Before spending the weekend looking for information on the right and left of what is the best lens for your camera, you have to ask yourself some basic questions: what kind of photographs do you want to shoot? In which kind do you want to specialize? Your decision will depend on these answers. There are many types of photographic lenses on the market, each with precise characteristics that vary depending on the use for which they were designed. To choose the right one you need to know what you need.

The 3 main parameters to consider when choosing the photographic lens

 You will have noticed that on the barrel of each lens there are a series of acronyms composed of letters and numbers, apparently without any sense. In reality, those abbreviations have a meaning, and how. Together they form the nomenclature of optics, which hides some information regarding the objective and its characteristics.

Each manufacturer uses specific criteria to define the properties of optics. You will have to learn to decipher them to understand what they refer to, but above all to avoid mistakes during the purchase. It happens much more often than you might think! For example, Nikon uses the initials VR ( Vibration Reduction ) to indicate that the lens is equipped with an integrated image stabilization system, while Canon uses the abbreviation IS ( Image Stabilizer ) to indicate the same concept.

In the beginning, you will have a hard time distinguishing and memorizing the abbreviations used by different companies, but once you understand the mechanism, you will recognize any objective at first sight.

Well, now enough with the theory. It’s time to move on to practice and, specifically, to see what parameters you’ll need to consider when choosing your next photographic lens.

1 – Focal length

It is indicated in the nomenclature of each objective and is measured in millimeters. From a technical point of view, it is defined as the distance between the optical center of the lens and the plane of focus (typically, the sensor). In other words, it is the ability of the optic to bring or away from the framed subjects. As the focal length increases, the portion of the scene that we can include in the frame decreases.

This means that measurements below 30-50 mm will give you a wider view of the scene, higher than the human eye; higher measures, on the contrary, will allow you to focus on the details of distant subjects. To understand, framing the façade of an 18-mm building will give you the opportunity to see it in full, while a 200-mm frame of the same façade will allow you to zoom in on the third-floor window until you show it as if you were just a few inches away. (Learn the focal length info )

2 – Maximum aperture of the diaphragm

You can write in many different ways, but it generally corresponds to the F value that is indicated in the nomenclature. The aperture refers to the amount of light that enters the camera: in this case, the brightest lenses are those that have a lower value, for example, f / 1.8. They can, therefore, be used to shoot in low light conditions without having to raise the ISO too much, as they allow much more light to enter than lenses with a lower maximum aperture.

The zoom tends to have a variable opening along the different focal lengths, which depends on the focal length and which, for example, is indicated on the barrel in this way: 18-200 mm f /3.5-5.6. It means that the maximum aperture of the 18 mm lens corresponds to f / 3.5 (therefore much brighter) while at 200 mm it is f / 5.6.

3 – Target attack

Do you know what kind of attack your camera has? If the answer is no, run immediately to see. Before buying any lens, you better understand the type of plug on your SLR and verify that it is compatible with the lens you intend to buy.

Do not risk spending a lot of money and then find yourself with an unusable target due to a trivial distraction.

All manufacturers (except Panasonic and Olympus) have a unique and proprietary attack. This means that Nikon lenses only work on cameras of the same brand, the same for Canon and for the major players in the industry.

What are the other characteristics of the lenses you should take a look at?

 If you want to investigate thoroughly to make sure you make the right choice, we recommend that you consider some other parameter that could affect the final decision.


No one likes the blurred photos. In some conditions, however, it is really difficult to have a steady hand: when there is little light and we find ourselves extending the time to get a decent shot, when using telephoto lenses heavy and difficult to handle, when we try to compose an image of the light painting.

In similar cases, the stabilization system integrated into the lens can be crucial for the success of the image. In our opinion it is worth investing in a perspective that has this characteristic: of course, you need to have a larger budget available to buy it, but for sure it will be useful.

The greater the focal length of the lens, the more important it is to have an image stabilizer.

Minimum focusing distance

When you read that a lens has a minimum focusing distance of X cm, it means that, below this threshold, the lens is unable to focus correctly on the subject.

The minimum focusing distance is particularly important for those who often take photos very closely.

If you’re going to specialize in macro photography, you’ll need a lens that has a significantly reduced focusing distance. So pay close attention to this parameter while browsing the catalogs of the most papal photographic objectives.

Autofocus motor

Street photography, wildlife photography, and marriages: what do they have in common? All three require discretion and silence.

That’s why we advise you to investigate the various types of autofocus on the market and to choose the one that causes less noise during the shootings. The ultrasonic motor, for example, is an excellent candidate because the focus is smooth, silent and fast.

In addition to the “noise” issue, other key aspects to keep in mind are always the speed and accuracy of the autofocus system, especially when taking photographs of moving subjects. So look for this type of information in the reviews of the goals that interest you.

The difference between fixed focal and zoom lenses

The photographic objectives can be distinguished in two large families:

Zoom, or lenses with a variable focal length

Fixed, or with a single focal length

But why prefer a fixed focal lens when you have the chance to buy a more versatile one?

It is easy to say: the quality of fixed optics is, for the same price, far superior to that of variable focal lenses. They have a wider aperture, which the zoom is not able to reach, and mount specific lenses dedicated to a single function.

The zoom, on the contrary, has a more complex structure and, precisely for this reason, they are not able to give the image the same quality and clarity. They are also heavier and bulky.

However, they are more versatile than fixed focal lengths, and can, therefore, be used in a greater variety of situations.

Normally we start to photograph with the zoom because they are more versatile, and it is not rare that you buy a camera sold in combination with a zoom (the classic kit or bundle body camera + lens).

Types of photographic lenses

photographic lense

In addition to the fixed zoom / focal division, another typical way of dividing the lenses is that relative to their focal length:

Wide-angle lenses

Standard Objectives

Tele objectives


They have a very short focal length, less than 35 mm. They are the ideal tool for those who want to dedicate themselves to landscape photography and to immortalize breathtaking views.

Keep in mind that the risk of distortion with these objectives is much higher because the lines and curves are exaggerated (sometimes overdue, as in the case of ” fisheye” ).

It is not said that this is a defect, you could even decide to exploit this feature of the wide-angle and creatively create unique images of their kind.

Standard objectives

They have a focal length of around 50 mm (you can consider “standard”, in a broad sense, all focal lengths between 35 and 70) and are called standard or normal because they give an image that resembles that perceived in a natural way by the human eye ( while the wide-angle lenses decrease and the canvases enlarge).

Precisely for this reason they have no or very small optical distortions and are widely used in all photographic genres, with a preference for portraiture and street photography.


Their focal length ranges from 70 mm to 300 and even more (with a significant increase in price). They manage to enlarge even the most distant subjects and, for this reason, they are preferred by naturalist or sports photographers.

Trying to capture a lion snoozing in the Savannah (or a shot for a basketball game) is not an easy task, especially if you are several meters away. Thanks to the telephoto lens, everything is possible.

As the focal length increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain adequate brightness and to do so the costs increase. Furthermore, the presence of the image stabilizer becomes increasingly important.

In short, what goal to buy?

 Do you still have confused ideas? So let’s see what are the most suitable objectives according to the situation:

Travel Objectives

You need something light, handy, robust and versatile: in short, a lens to be assembled at the beginning of your trip and to be removed only once back home, possibly without it being broken.

Carrying pounds and kilos of equipment behind you will only add weight to your luggage, risking making travel difficult.

So we advise you to orient yourself to zoom all-rounders, that goes from the wide-angle to the canvases. Possibly tropicalized and with image stabilizer.

You’ll spend enough, but you’ll have a goal that does a bit of everything

Goals from Street Photography

In this case, you need a lens that is as small, discreet and bright as possible, so you do not get noticed while shooting in the crowd.

It may be worthwhile to buy a standard fixed focal length, then a 50 mm (or a 35 if you use a camera with APS-C sensor). You’ll have to move a lot to get closer or move away from the subjects according to your needs, but this is the essence of street photography.

If possible, take it tropicalized.

Landscape Objectives

There is little to discuss when it comes to landscape photography: the ideal choice is definitely a wide-angle lens.

Try to choose a fixed focal length, in such a way as to have the maximum optical quality at a lower price.

And of course, get tropicalized: when you go out to take pictures of the landscape the risk of being in the middle of dust/rain/ humidity without having a place to shelter is really high.

Portrait Objectives

As for the street, the ideal is a standard 50 mm lens. You can even climb up to 70-80 without problems, and indeed, you will manage to get the bokeh effect a little ‘more easily (find out why the bokeh depends on other things from the focal length).

Above 80 mm the perspective of the photo will start to flatten out a little too much, which in general is not recommended in the portrait.

Objectives for Sports Photos

Get ready to spend a lot of money and carry around a lot of weight!

Ideally, in fact, you’ll have to buy a telephoto zoom lens (say, for starters, a 70-300), stabilized, bright even at longer focal lengths, and tropicalized if you take pictures of outdoor sports.

Of all the photographic genres, the sports photo is among the most beloved but also definitely the most expensive.

summing up

We have come to the end of this micro-guide on how to choose the ideal lens for your camera, but we want to give you one last piece of advice.

The photographic optics are very expensive, each new purchase is a real investment on their equipment. If you want to save some money, try taking a look at the offers in second-hand markets, where you will find still-working targets at very attractive prices.

In fact, unlike the cameras, a good photographic lens remains a good goal even after many years.

Be careful about the cheats though! When you buy a used lens it is essential that you give the opportunity to try it, both to test any optical defects occurred and to verify the coupling with the electronics of your machine.

Many times, in fact, when mounting an old lens on a new machine, in theory, the coupling should work, but then in practice no (in particular, very often it is the autofocus not to work).


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