Creating a lens upgrade plan

A major part of upgrading your SLR equipment is buying new lenses.   When I bought my first SLR and digital SLRs, I opted for “kits” – basically, the digital SLR body, and a “kit” lens.    The kit lens is usually a general purpose lens.  By this I mean, a medium zoom lens with variable minimum aperture – this is probably what the majority of amateur consumers need.  Something with maybe 3-5x zoom.

But after a while, you may get the urge of “How can I take better photos?”.   Of course there’s things that one can learn and improve on like technique, composition, style, etc, but there’s also the equipment.    Different lenses gives the photographer different options for capturing the moment.    When I started out, I was first overwhelmed by the number of lenses!   How do I know which one to get?  They all seemed so similar!  Some seemed so expensive! 

The first thing I did was to start doing a lots of reading up on apertures and lenses.  Understanding aperture and how it can affect your photos, its relationship with shutter speed and depth of field, is important so that you can determine what lens will suit your particular shooting needs.  There are many photography sites on the net with more info on this.  Here’s one site to get started – http://thepioneerwoman.com/photography/category/basic-photography/what-the-heck/

Then I sat down and tried to determine what type of photos I took the most and how I wanted to improve these.   By looking through my photos and thinking of the times when I usually take out the camera, I discovered lots were of the kids, photos of them doing things but also semi-posed portraits.   I basically wanted to take better shots of the kids at home and at parties and family outings.   From looking at other people’s photos and portrait photos, I know I wanted to blur out the background and capture their face sharply.   I knew I could get close to the kids and they’d be mostly stationary – so a fixed short focal length lens would do.   To blur the background, a large aperture is required (which means a low aperture number, eg. 1.4, 1.8 or 2.8).   So, out of this analysis, I bought the 50mm 1.8 lens.   The great thing about this lens is that it’s pretty cheap too!   And the photos of friends and kids that this lens can take are amazing – definitely a step up from the kit lens.   

When looking at the type of shots I found also found a lot of other types of shots that I take, for example:

  • Landscape/scenery type shots, usually on outings or when travelling
  • Shots of the kids at concerts where it can be quite dark and I’m seated quite far from them
  • Holiday shots where I go out on a trip so I want to travel light, but there’s a mixture of portraits and scenery shots

Unfortunately, there really isn’t a single lens that specialises in all these different scenes.  For example,

  • Landscape shots would benefit from a wide angle lens.  And since I want all of a landscape to be in focus and not blurred, a large aperture (ie small aperture number) is not really required.  
  • Concert shots are usually in low light.  To capture low light shots with a reasonable shutter speed, this means a large aperture as possible (ie small aperture number).   The focal length should be long like 200mm so I can get my kids faces, but a zoom may be useful to take shots of the whole stage since I can’t exactly move from my seat during a performance.  
  • Nice holiday shots would benefit from a medium zoom lens, maybe with a large aperture too for dark churches and building interiors.  

In the end, I wrote up a lens buying plan – which ones I wanted, in which order of priority.  Mine went something like:

  1. Large aperture for kids’ portraits, fixed short focal length
  2. Wide angle lens for scenery, landscapes, architecture
  3. Large aperture zoom for kids’ low light concerts and events
  4. Travel lens that can take inside churches, buildings, landscape, portraits
  5. Large aperture mid zoom, for events, travel 
  6. Macro lens

Of course, this is a plan that has to be refined later based on lens model and cost.

For family and friends that ask me about how to start upgrading up from their kit lenses, I usually recommend that they think about what type of shots they want to improve on.   And ask questions like, “Will they subject move a lot?”, “Will it be quite dark?”, etc.   Once the general lens focal length and aperture requirements are determined, the fun begins!   It’s time to choose the lens model and lens manufacturer within your budget!

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