Yanik's Photo School

8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera

I don’t know about you but not long after playing with my brand new Nikon Coolpix 4500 many years ago, I was already dreaming of owning a DSLR. Then the day came…. my very own Nikon D70! Boy, was I a happy camper! Off course, I took it with the kit lens which was a Nikkor 18-70mm. I didn’t know much about lenses back then. But I had read that this lens was a good (but not great) average lens.  And I was happy with it most of the time. But….

Owning a DSLR means you’ll eventually be getting more lenses so that you can explore and develop your creativity. But which lenses to get? There are so many out there. And if you’re like me, going to a camera store is like bringing a kid into a candy store! You just want everything! You see a guy testing a Nikkor 70-200mm VR and you want it. Another person is buying a Sigma 105mm macro lens and you want that one too! But how to choose?


Here are some of the questions that I asked (and keep asking) myself before purchasing a new lens. These are very important steps so that you don’t go and impulse buy or just buy the wrong lens for your needs.

Step 1 – What do you like to shoot?

To me this is the most important question. Now, if you answered “everything”, try narrowing it down just a bit. 😉 In my case, when I started out, I loved shooting bugs and flowers. I was often at the cottage and always had my D70 with me. But my Nikkor 18-70mm just wasn’t doing it for me. So I asked myself, “what kind of lens do I need to get great bug shots?” And after a bit of research I found out that macro lenses were perfect for my need. So I went out and purchased my second lens ever, the Sigma 105mm macro.

So? I’ll ask again. What do you like to shoot most? Is it birds? Then maybe a Canon 100-400mm IS would be best. Concerts? You’ll need a fast lens for low light situations so a 50mm f1.4 might suit your needs.

remember to ask yourself this question before every lens purchase or you might end up with glass accumulating dust at the bottom of a bag. I know, I have a few. 😉

Step 2 – Do your research

Ok, so you figured out what type of lens is best for what you want to shoot. Great! But there are many to choose from. Which one, which one? Well, you’re probably wondering why I chose the Sigma 105mm over the Nikkor 105mm. The answer is simple. I did my research. I just typed “sigma 105mm review” in Google and then the same for the Nikkor 105mm. In a nutshell, I found out that both lenses had about the same image quality but the Sigma was $300 cheaper. And since I knew this lens wasn’t going to be used to generate income (even if I get their good side, bugs don’t sell well on stock sites ;)), I went with the less expensive one.

You can find some great  lens reviews online. You can also check out DPReview and Lens-Reviews for user feedback.

Step 3 – How picky are you on image quality?

Don’t get too freaked out when you read some of the reviews out there. They tend to be very technical and sometimes, and I do stress sometimes, nitpick on the most minor details. That said, some lenses are just plain horrible. Luckily, in the lens world, most of the time you get what you pay for. Also, you have to ask yourself if this is a hobby or are you planning on making money with your photography? I know people that have bottom off the line lenses and are very happy. So go into the store and check them out. Better yet, do step 4!

Step 4 – Give it a test drive

So you’ve read the reviews and you found the one you want. Super! Before forking over the cash, why not play with it for the weekend? Most cities will have camera stores that will rent out lenses. It’s usually pretty cheap to rent a lens and I personally think it’s a great investment.  You can see the results on your computer and test it out in various situations. Something you can’t do in the store when you only have 2 minutes to play with it. Test it for what you’re actually going to use it for mostly remember step 1?). If you love shooting sports, I wouldn’t recommend shooting flowers in a vase. 😉

Step 5 – What’s your budget?

A very important question indeed. If you’re a pro and you know that your new lens will pay itself off with your next 2 contracts, it’s a no-brainer. But if you’re an amateur, this becomes important. You need to ask yourself how much are you willing to spend for your hobby? Make yourself a yearly photo budget that is within your means. I strongly recommend not getting into debt for a hobby.

But if you really, really, really want that 70-200mm VR and you can’t afford it full price, try getting it used on Ebay. Sometimes, even your local photography store will sell used equipment. You won’t get super deals if the lenses are in good condition because lenses have a high resale value but you can save around 10-20%.

Step 6 – 3rd party lenses

Ok, some of you are purists out there and I respect that. But there are other alternatives from companies like Sigma, Tamron and Tokina. They also make lenses with either a Canon or Nikon mount. We call them 3rd party lenses. They used to be of lower quality but have improved dramatically over the last 5 years. They actually give the big boys a run for their money. I actually own 2 Sigma lenses.  If you’re on a tight hobby budget, 3rd party lenses can be great since they’re usually cheaper (sometimes more than 50%!).

Step 7 – Image Stabilization

Should you get image stabilization in your lenses? Before asking that question, what does it do? Basically, it lets you shoot at a slower speed hand-held without blur. Usually, the average photographer can shoot hand-held as slow as 1/60 sec. without blur. With image stabilization, you could, on average,  shoot as slow as 1/15 sec. without blur due to camera shake. Image stabilization is for camera shake only. It’s there to stabilize your camera not your subjects. 🙂 It’s great for low light situations.

Step 8 – How important is aperture?

I’m finishing off with this step because this might play a major role in your lens selection. As you might already know, the smaller the f-stop number, the wider the opening and the more light comes in which means you can shoot at faster speeds. Sometimes you’ll find lenses that seem the same at first glance but one is cheaper than the other and you wonder why. Check the maximum aperture. For example, you can get a 50mm f1.8 and a 50mm f1.4. The first one is $135.00 and the second is $500.00. Big price difference but if you’re shooting in low light all the time and you’re making money with your images than it might be worth it.

Final thoughts

One thing that I keep suggesting to fellow photographers looking to buy a new lens is to look at lenses like an investment. Camera technology advances at a neck breaking speed so camera bodies change fast and loose value. Lenses, on the other hand, don’t. That’s why lenses retain their resell value. You camera bodies will change over the years but your lenses won’t so get good glass right away. Even if you need to wait an extra few months to save up, you won’t regret it. Working with good equipment makes for a pleasurable experience and therefore better photos! 🙂

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Here are some great books from the YPS bookshelf.
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6 responses on "8 Steps to Choosing Lenses for Your DSLR Camera"

  1. Very nice, Yanik. The only little thing I might add is relative to your part on third party lenses. I have used them on occasion, but I always go back to the factory lenses. IMNSHO the aftermarket lenses just don’t have the long term durability as compared to their factory counterpart. It’s been my experience that you do get what you pay for. I’ve never owned a third party lens that I haven’t worn out or broken with what I believe to be pretty standard usage over time. My factory lenses are still going strong.

  2. wow understood a lot by reading this

  3. Thanks Yanik, really useful and explained nicely..Cheers

  4. Thanks. Great strategy plan. Helped know what to look for when me go to shop.

  5. Thnx Yanik for this article ! resolved a lot of issues for me !

  6. Thanks Yanik, useful and interesting

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