How To: Get your lens right


So you finally have a brand spanking new DSLR camera and you’ve been wearing it every day as a fashionably chic necklace. But the time has come to actually use it.

You sneak in the camera during a PBA game and take your seat by the bleachers. You zoom in and click away, expecting to capture the action as it happens. Looking at the photos, however, all you see are miniature ants in an otherwise clean and bright floor.

What went wrong?

The most apparent change in jumping from a point-and-shoot camera to a DSLR is the flexibility (or crux) of changing lenses. It’s a hard pill to swallow when you’ve grown accustomed to the built-in superzooms on P&S cameras. That is why if you really don’t see yourself needing or using all the bells and whistles of a DSLR, I’d suggest sticking with a P&S. But if you do decide to dive into the world of DSLRs and interchangeable lenses, the world is your oyster!

It’s in the numbers

The most basic thing to know about camera lenses are the numbers attached to it: 18-35mm 3.5-5.6, 24-70mm 2.8, 50mm 1.8, and 18-200 3.5-5.6. These might sound Greek, but they’re actually quite simple. The first set of numbers represents a lens’ focal length, while the other shows its aperture. The lower the focal length, the wider the field of view the lens offers, and vice versa. Aperture on the other hand, dictates how much light can go in. The larger the aperture or the lower the number (Yes, it’s inverse.), the more light goes in. Zoom lenses have varied focal lengths (18-55mm), while prime lenses are fixed (50mm).

Lens types

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can move on to the different types of lenses, which spell the difference between photographing the perfect poster lay-up and an having an unintelligible, speck of dust in your viewfinder. Wide angle lenses, with focal lengths of 35mm and below, feature an expansive field of view that is perfect for exquisite landscapes, architectures, and of course, large groups of people. Standard lenses, which range from 35 to 70mm, are so-called because the human eye’s approximate filed-of-view is 50mm. This kind of lenses affords the most flexibility in documentary and street photography. (The kit lens that came with your camera falls into this category.) Telephoto lenses, with focal lengths of 100mm and above, have long-range capabilities that make them desirable for wildlife photography and sports. And of course, there are the specialty lenses: super telephotos used for capturing birds in their natural habitat; macro lenses for still-life of small objects like trinkets, flowers, and insects; and tilt-shift lenses, which correct perspective in architecture shots. So, what does this all mean? Different lenses excel at different fields. Your super wide angle lens won’t do anything if you don’t have floor seats at a basketball game, while your telephoto wouldn’t be the best one to use for your annual family reunion photo op. Having said all these, it’s imperative not to be held back by lens lust. It’s important to have in mind that the most important lens in your arsenal is the one you currently have. Keep on shooting! Words Ron Cruz First published in Speed July 2013