For a while now, I’ve wanted to write a blog post dedicated to lenses and focal lengths. I think it’s very important to understand just how much impact the right (or wrong) lens can have on an image. This is a precursor to my next blog post on lenses, which will discuss the ones I use + recommend. So stay tuned for that!
When I was first starting out, I made the mistake of taking other peoples’ word for it and investing in lenses I thought I needed. After a few purchases I ended up regretting, I realized that it doesn’t matter what lenses other photographers shoot with. I needed to find the lenses that worked best for me. I started renting lenses and trying them out for myself before making the commitment. That was a really smart decision.
Currently, I own two zoom lenses that cover the focal length range of 28mm to 200mm. These come in handy for uncooperative and/or shy pets, as well as wedding ceremonies and dances during the reception. I also own three fast prime lenses that I love and that have really helped me define my style. These primes range from 24mm to 50mm, and I’m hoping to add at least two more primes to my list in the next year or so to help get me some further reach. **UPDATE – I have added the 85mm f/1.8 and 100mm f/2.8 Macro to my lineup since this post was originally written; however they will not be discussed in this post**
Each lens that I own gives me a different look and feel to the image and to illustrate that point, I decided to go to a local park and photography this fountain with every lens that I currently own without moving my feet. I stood in one place and switched out my lenses, so you can see just how different the image can look simply by swapping out your lens.
I started with my widest lens – my Canon 24mm f/1.4L II prime lens (above). I love using this lens for pet photography because I can stay super close to my subject and still have plenty of space to fill the frame with their image. I love using this when I’m shooting at a location with a gorgeous background. It really allows the environment around the subject to become the focus of the image.
The next image (below) was taken with my Canon 35mm f/1.4L prime lens. This is one of my new favorites because it is still a wide-angle lens but doesn’t show as much distortion as the 24mm can, especially when photographing pets up close. Sometimes distortion can be really fun and funky, but sometimes it’s not. That’s where this lens comes in. I love it for that reason, plus the fact that it’s fast and sharp.
The image below was taken with my Canon 50mm f/1.4 prime lens. Notice a trend? I like my lenses to be as fast as possible, especially because I photograph pets and weddings where low-light and motion are part of the deal. Therefore, I prefer my prime lenses to have large apertures of at least f/1.8 (larger apertures mean smaller f-stop numbers). The 50mm lens is considered a “normal” or standard lens, whereas the 24mm and 35mm are considered wide-angle lenses. The 50mm renders an image as closely to the way a human eye sees it as possible. I absolutely love my 50mm lens because it was my first prime lens and really helped me define my style. It’s really sharp and I love the color this lens produces.
So those are the prime lenses in a nut shell. They each give me something and unique when shooting and I have to use them together to capture different versions of the same shot. I love that I can get away without moving feet at all and by simply switching out my lenses, the image can take on a totally different feeling.
Next up are my zoom lenses. I try my best not to rely too heavily on these suckers, but you can’t deny that they are versatile and important lenses to own, especially when I’m working with distracted pets or during a fast paced wedding ceremony where every second counts. These lenses allow me to cover a range of focal lengths without having to take the time to switch out lenses. This is especially important for my business during certain points of each session, and this is the reason why I haven’t gone the all prime lens route.
First up is my Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 lens. When I decided to invest in good prime lenses, I had to make a decision about my zoom lenses. At the time, I wanted the 24mm f/1.4L II lens so bad. I had rented it and fell instantly in love, but I couldn’t afford it without making some sacrifices. I had the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L lens at the time but hardly ever used it, so I decided to sell it to help fund the purchase of my 24mm prime. I knew I still needed to have a standard zoom in my kit, so after some extensive research and talking with some other photographers who used this lens, I decided to buy this lens to replace my Canon 24-70mm.
The next two images show the Tamron lens at it’s widest point (28mm) and it’s longest point (75mm). This range is great for pets and weddings, and at f/2.8 it’s still fast and allows me to shoot in low-light situations as needed. It’s sharp and fast too, which is a bonus. The more I use this lens, the more I love it. It’s really versatile and allows me to cover a good range without having to zoom back and forth with my feet. And at a fraction of the cost of the Canon 24-70, I couldn’t be happier.
The last two images (below) were shot with my Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS lens at it’s widest (70mm) and longest (200mm) lengths. I picked this lens up last spring, knowing that I needed a telephoto zoom for action shots during pet sessions. I also had an inkling that I wanted to do wedding photography someday and this lens is considered a must-have for ceremonies. This is my longest lens and allows me to reach farther than my other lenses. While I rarely use this lens for pet photography sessions, I use this lens a lot during weddings. It’s fast and sharp and at f/2.8, I can shoot in really low-light situations if needed. The IS (image stabilization) feature allows me to hand-hold this lens at really slow shutter speeds without hand shake. I definitely need that feature since this lens is so heavy!
So I hope this gives you a good visual of focal lengths and how drastically a lens can impact an image. Every photographer invests in lenses that help compliment and strengthen their style, so the choice of lenses is different for everyone. My advice is to rent lenses before you invest in them, because good lenses don’t come cheap. Take it from me – you want to be 100% sure that the lens you’re purchasing is the right one for you. What works for me definitely might not work for you. Plus it’s fun to rent gear and play around! I hope this was helpful and feel free to leave a comment telling me what your favorite lens is and why. I’d love to know!