26th Nov 2013
If you are looking to get serious about photography, then it's time to invest in some lenses to help you add more dimensions to your photography. After all, for being a good photographer, along with good shot composition and best usage of light, good equipment will do you a world of good. Here are a few lens and filter recommendations that you can add to your list.
What are USM, STM, SWM, HSM, and USD, and how does that affect your lens?
Those of you who want a lens that supports autofocus (AF) would require any of the above mentioned kind of lens brands. USM is canon's Ultrasonic Motor lens (Stepping Motor for new-gen lenses), SWM is Nikon's Silent Wave Motor lens (also known as Auto Focus - Silent Wave or AF-S), HSM is Sigma's Hyper-Sonic Motor, and USD is Tamaron's Ultrasonic Silent Drive (PZD – Piezo Drive for non-ring type ultrasonic motors). So basically if your lens has any of the acronyms, depending on its brand obviously, you know that it supports autofocus.
Understanding the importance of IS, VR, OS, and VM Lenses
If you don't have very steady hands, it is advisable that you opt for lenses with built in optical image stabilisation. Nikon's Vibration Reduction (VR), Tamron’s Vibration Compensation (VC), Canon's Image Stabilisation (IS), and Sigma's Optical Stabilisation (OS) systems, promise to offer sharper images. This effectively means slight physical shakes are controlled and corrected within the lens itself. While adding such technology to the lens does make it expensive, you will find a noticeable difference when using high-zoom tele-lenses, or when taking low-light shots. On the other hand, it does make you a steady photographer and improves your breathing control, if you avoid picking one with stabilisation functions.
The F-stop value refers to the width of the aperture opening for a lens. While most lenses offer a minimum opening of f/22; the maximum value depends on the size, optics, and lens assembly. Wide-angle lenses such as 18-55 mm, 18-105 mm, or 18-135 mm offer maximum aperture opening of f/3.5 (at 18 mm), fixed focal lenses such as 50 mm ones can offer as low as f/1.4. So when a lens reads 1:3.5-5.6, it means that at 18 mm the maximum aperture opening will be f/3.5, which drops to f/4 at 24 mm, and falls to f/5.6 at 55 mm. In fixed focal length lenses, you'd face no such issues, simply because you can't manipulate the range.
Most DSLRs these days come with the 18-55 mm standard kit lens that packs in image stabilisation and autofocus motors, you'd often face lens correction issues such as vignette (softening or blurring along the edges of the image), barrel distortion (curving of image along the edges), and chromatic aberration (colour fringing). While the new lenses deal well with vignette, you'd still see heavy barrel distortion at wider focal distances (18 mm), especially when you are shooting flat-ish objects (such as buildings). Also, you will find chromatic aberration or colour fringing when there is too much ambient light. That said, most new-gen DSLRs try to fix chromatic aberration via the processing engine. But nothing can be done about barrel distortion. That is where you can opt for better focal lengths on kit lenses. Instead of the standard kit lens, check out the 18-135 mm, 18-105 mm, 18-200 mm lenses instead. All of them work on the standard APS-C (Canon) and DX format (Nikon) sensors, and give you a wider shooting range. Check out the table below for prices.
These are good for wildlife photographers or daredevils who want to be close to the action, while maintaining safe distance. For this, you would need good amount of in-lens image stabilisation, that will inflate its asking price. The 55-250 mm lens comes as a kit lens with some cameras, and its build quality and options aren’t too impressive; in fact they aren’t even close to the 18-55 mm kit lens. Other affordable options include the 70-300 mm and the 75-300 mm ones. Check their prices below.
These are fixed focal length lenses, which means you can't change its focal range (and please stop your friends before they manhandle the auto focus ring, if you have turned on the AF mode). While the 50 mm version is popularly referred to as a prime lens or portrait lens, it is probably the best lens to add to your collection, after the kit lens. That said, a lens with lower f-stop value will cost you a considerable amount of money, because it sports a wider aperture opening and better optics. Another interesting lens is the 100 mm 1:1 macro lens, which is perfect for those who like photographing insects and other small objects in its true ratio. However, that kind of technology will need you to blow off some serious dough. So if you're not too much into exploring your artistic side, give this one a miss.
For those who wish to experiment with different kinds of lights, but don’t want to spend a lot on lenses, can try their hand at filters instead. While there are different kinds of filters, three types are quite popular — UV, CPL, and ND. Before buying a filter, check out the inscription on your lens. For instance, an 18-55 mm says 58 mm, so you need to pick a filter that size. A 50 mm lens reads 52 mm, so that is the filter size that will fit the said lens.
UV stands for Ultra Violet filter and is more of a protective filter that saves the lens tip from dust, moisture, and scratches.
CPL stands for Circular Polariser filter. It is similar to wearing glares, as this filter reduces reflection from non-metallic surfaces such as glass and water, to offer better saturation and details with better contrast. This filter is best used outdoors to make the skies appear more vibrant.
ND stands for Neutral Density filter. This one cuts the amount of light that hits the lens at wide aperture shots. These filters can cut EV points from 1 to 13, depending on its make. These come handy when you want to capture a smoky effect for waterfalls, reduce depth of field in brightly lit scenes, or capture long exposure shots. While you can pick up filters from Riyo, Hoya, or Osaka, Hoya filters, despite being expensive offer the best quality.
Guide: Choosing DSLR Lenses & Filters
Here's a guide to upgrade your camera kit with lenses and camera filters.
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