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  • Writer's pictureIan Miller

How important is the lens you use to make pictures.

One of the most common questions that photographers ask is how important is the lens that you use on your camera. The answer is not simple, because different lenses have different advantages and disadvantages depending on the type of photography you do, the style you prefer, and the budget you have. However, some general principles can help you understand the role of lenses in photography and how to choose the best one for your needs.

The lens is the part of the camera that gathers and focuses light onto the sensor or film. It determines how much of the scene you can capture, how sharp and detailed your images are, and how blurry or smooth the background is. The lens also affects the colour, contrast, and distortion of your images. Therefore, the lens is a crucial factor in shaping your creative vision and expressing your artistic intent.


Some of the main characteristics of lenses that you need to consider are:


- Focal length: This is the distance between the lens and the sensor or film when the lens is focused at infinity. It is measured in millimetres (mm) and determines how much of the scene you can fit in your frame (angle of view) and how large your subject appears (magnification). A shorter focal length (wide-angle lens) gives you a wider angle of view and a smaller magnification, while a longer focal length (telephoto lens) gives you a narrower angle of view and a larger magnification. For example, a 24mm lens can capture a wide landscape, while a 600mm lens can isolate a distant bird.

- Aperture: This is the opening in the lens that controls how much light passes through it. It is measured in f-stops (f-numbers) and determines how bright or dark your images are (exposure) and how much of your scene is in focus (depth of field). A larger aperture (smaller f-number) lets more light in and gives you a shallower depth of field, while a smaller aperture (larger f-number) lets less light in and gives you a deeper depth of field. For example, an f/1.8 lens can create a blurred background, while an f/16 lens can keep everything sharp from near to far.

- Image quality: This is the overall performance of the lens in terms of sharpness, contrast, colour, distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberration, flare, and other optical phenomena. It depends on the design, construction, and coating of the lens elements and varies across different lenses, brands, and price ranges. A higher-quality lens usually delivers sharper, clearer, and more accurate images with fewer unwanted effects, while a lower-quality lens may produce softer, duller, and more distorted images with more artifacts. For example, a prime lens (a lens with a fixed focal length) typically has better image quality than a zoom lens (a lens with a variable focal length), because it has fewer moving parts and less optical compromises.


The importance of the lens that you use on your camera depends on your personal preferences, goals, and expectations as a photographer. Some photographers may prioritize image quality over versatility and invest in high-end prime lenses that suit their specific genres or styles. Others may prefer flexibility over perfection and opt for cheaper zoom lenses that cover a wide range of focal lengths and situations. There is no right or wrong answer, as long as you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each lens and how to use it effectively to achieve your desired results.

If you are passionate about photography, you might wonder how much the lenses and the camera affect the quality of your images. Well, the answer is not so simple, because both factors play a role in creating stunning photos. However, some experts argue that the lenses are more important than the camera, and here are some reasons why.


First of all, the lenses determine the sharpness, contrast, colour, and distortion of your photos. A good lens can capture more details, produce richer colours, and minimize aberrations that can ruin your shots. A bad lens can make your photos look blurry, dull, or distorted, even if you have a high-end camera.


Secondly, the lenses allow you to control the depth of field, which is the amount of your scene that is in focus. A shallow depth of field can create a beautiful bokeh effect, where the background is blurred and the subject stands out. A deep depth of field can show everything in sharp focus, which is ideal for landscapes or architecture. The depth of field depends on the aperture of your lens, which is the opening that lets light in. A larger aperture (lower f-number) creates a shallower depth of field, while a smaller aperture (higher f-number) creates a deeper depth of field.


Thirdly, the lenses affect the perspective and composition of your photos. Different types of lenses have different focal lengths, which are measured in millimetres. A wide-angle lens has a short focal length (less than 35mm), which means it can capture a wider view of your scene. A telephoto lens has a long focal length (more than 70mm), which means it can zoom in on distant objects. A normal lens has a medium focal length (around 50mm), which means it can mimic how the human eye sees the world. Depending on your creative vision, you can choose the lens that best suits your subject and style.

Of course, this does not mean that the camera is irrelevant. The camera also affects the resolution, dynamic range, noise, and speed of your photos. A good camera can capture more pixels, handle different lighting conditions, reduce graininess, and shoot faster. However, if you have to choose between investing in a better lens or a better camera, you might want to consider the lens first. After all, a good lens can last for decades, while a camera can become obsolete in a few years.


So, to sum up, the lenses are very important for your photography, because they affect how you capture light, focus, and frame your shots. The camera is also important, but it might not make as much difference as you think. The best way to improve your photography is to experiment with different lenses and cameras and find out what works best for you. And remember, the most important factor is not the gear, but the person behind it!

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