Updated: Dec 8, 2020
If you don't know very much about lenses, here is a QUICK little 3-step crash course into what you may want to know before buying a lens for yourself -- or a loved one!
1. Is the camera a full-frame or a crop sensor camera?
This is HUGE! Here at The Shutterbug, one of the first things we ask when people are shopping for lenses, is whether the camera they are shopping for is a crop or a full frame camera. Crop and full-frame, is a reference to the sensor size. If you don't know, make sure to look up the camera model on google. Ex: "Canon T7i sensor size"
Full Frame Lenses
As a rule of thumb, you want to only purchase full frame lenses for a full frame camera. Full frame lenses will work on both sensor sizes, and you'll find that you may want to purchase a full frame lens for your crop sensor camera. If you upgrade your camera to a full frame, you can continue to use lenses you purchased. Full frame lenses are typically spendier than crop sensor lenses.
What to look for if a camera is a full frame lens:
Nikon - On the lens/lens description, it doesn't say "DX", look for "FX"
Sony - On the lens/lens description, it says "FE" (Full Frame E-Mount)
Canon - On the lens/lens description, it says "EF"
Note: We are not mentioning "crop factor" here. This is a quick crash course and we will link this article to that article once it is written.
Crop sensor Lenses AKA APS-C
Crop Sensor lenses should only be on crop sensor bodies. Why? These lenses are suited for a smaller sensor size than a full frame camera, so if you use a crop sensor lens on a full frame body, not only are you going to see black edges around your images -- you are losing half the resolution that you paid for when purchasing a full frame lens. EX: Your full frame camera is 24MP, you put a crop sensor lens on the image, now the camera is only utilizing 12MP of the 24MP. Not good!
Crop sensor lenses work perfectly fine on crop sensor bodies.
What to look for if a lens is crop sensor:
Nikon - On the lens/lens description, it says "DX"
Sony - On the lens/lens description, it says "E"
Canon - On the lens/lens description, it says "EF-S"
2. What Focal Length is 'Right'?
100mm? 28mm? 50mm? What are these numbers? Which one to choose? These numbers relate to the focal length of the lens as well as what your camera sees, aka the field of view.
Here is a visual for Focal Length vs Field of View
Based off of the chart above, you may have an easier time determining what kind of lens may suit your needs.
Need to fill the screen with a woodpecker off in the distance? Try a lens between the 300-600mm range. Want to capture more of what's around you, try getting a wide angle lens like a 28mm and below. Want a lens that will flatter people in portraits and won't be a hassle to bring around? Maybe try a 50mm - 105mm! The options are endless.
Below is a sample of different lenses and how they can 'shape' a person's face.
For this crash course, we will not delve too much into this element, as this guide is for anyone, with or without photography experience to check out.
If you know that the person who wants this lens, would like a blurry background (bokeh/shallow depth of field) or enjoys shooting in low light (at night, at sunset, in forests), try to get a lens with a large aperture.
Here's a simple chart that displays why you may want a larger aperture.
Lenses that open up to wider apertures tend to be sharper.
Many 50mm prime lenses are under $300. For a full list of lenses under $300, check out our next article on Budget Friendly Lenses of 2020-2021.
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The Shutterbug is a Oregon Family Owned & Operated Camera Store, with four locations in Oregon. We have been in the industry of helping photographers like you since 1971.