A New Camera Lens: How Do I Know If I Need One?

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Do I Really Need a New Camera Lens? Possibly…

Since we are in the month of Valentine's Day, what would be a really sweet gift? I mean, what could be better than chocolates, roses or yes, even diamonds?

A new lens…of course!

It's quite energizing to walk into my local camera store to buy a new lens. There's something about opening the box and seeing that new lens for the first time. Then, gently, taking it out of the box to give it a thorough inspection.

Within the next few moments, that new “baby gem” gets a trial run.

 

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Seriously though, how do you know if you ‘need‘ a new camera lens? Each of us has our own criteria that indicates that it's time to acquire a given lens. Here's a few situations, some a bit tongue in cheek, that may be indicators a new lens is definitely needed.

1. You've Pushed your Current Lens to the Limit

I remember my first two lenses. They came with the camera in a bundle. An 18-55mm and 55-300mm to go along with my cropped sensor camera body. I thought at the time my camera bag was complete.

Little did I know that within a very short time my gear would quickly expand as my interests in different subjects grew.

My initial subjects were birds followed by flowers and insects. The short telephoto provided a lot of flexibility and I was able to get some nice very close-up images.

However, I found that I was always at the edge of what my current lens was able to optimally capture. I recognized that I would be spending quite a bit of time photographing flowers, insects and other smaller objects.

The first non-kit lens purchased was Nikon's 105mm macro f/2.8. (This lens was released in 2010 and still is a workhorse today for many photographers).

2. You Want to Improve your Compositional Eye

Many of us start out with one, maybe two lenses. They may be zooms, prime lenses (fixed focal length) or one of each. Both zooms and primes have their own inherent benefits. Each type of lens encourages you to use your compositional eye differently.

  • With a zoom lens, you zoom in and expand out from your subject exploring which focal length is optimal by rotating the lens. Zooms provide versatility while standing in one location.
  • A prime lens forces zooming in and our with your body movement – leaning in or back, or simply moving your feet. When working with primes, I personally find that I like and keep a greater percentage of my images.
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3. You're a Multi-dimensional Photographer

Wouldn't it be great if there was a lens that was a focal length of 14-500mm f/2.8 and you could carry it in a small camera bag? Now that would make life very, very easy. Hello? Wake up. That dream is officially over.

The good news is that there are versatile lenses that have broad focal ranges. Not quite the 14-500mm of our dreams but broad enough to give us flexibility.

As your interest in photographing different subjects widens, you may find that you want to invest in focal length lenses that are more optimal for your subjects.

For example, you're probably not going to take a long, leading line photograph of a pier stretching into the ocean with a 300mm focal length. If leading lines, architecture, piers, and big landscapes are on your list, consider wide angle zooms or wide angle primes.

For general purpose photography, portraiture, street-scenes and a great walk-around lens, a 50mm may be the perfect choice.

For wildlife, nature, and birds – telephoto primes and zooms are needed to reach those smaller subjects that are not as close.

 

I have to admit, there are times I'm very envious of photographers who work with shorter focal length lenses. Much easier to pack and lighter on the back.

Nature photographers have it a bit more rough in that our gear is heavy, bulky and we are typically carrying our shorter focal length lenses too.

A couple of articles that you may find helpful:
Why These 5 Lenses Can Make a Difference In Your Photography
7 Reasons Why Prime Lenses Are Better Than Zoom Lenses To Improve Your Photography

4. You've Got Some Spare Cash and Just Have to Have It

How I wish I could fall into this category! A new lens hits the streets and bam, it's in my bag. For those that can, having the latest lens technology is pretty cool.

New lenses with improvements in glass and technology can impact image quality. However, it is up to the photographer to make quality images.

5. You Can't Stop Thinking About ‘That Lens'

We all have that one lens that we thought about for a long time. Or, we have that one lens that ‘someday I'm going to get'. When to bite the bullet?

If you know that you'll use it a lot, you'll grow as a photographer and it will complement your photography portfolio – absolutely go for it!

Lenses hold their value very well which provides for better resale where needed.

Summary

Purchasing a new camera lens is fun. The amount of time and costs in researching a given lens adds a bit of pressure and suspense in determining if we made the right decision.

What's my next purchase going to be? The Lensbaby Velvet 56. Why? Because I'm interested in working with the soft, glowing effect this lens offers at brighter apertures.

The other reason is indicated in #5, I can't stop thinking about it! It looks like an amazing art and portraiture lens.

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Further Resources

Further Learning

How are your Photoshop skills coming along? If you're looking to take things to the next level, then you'll be glad to have stumbled across this fantastic Advanced Photoshop Techniques for Nature Photographers. “Super Charge Your Processing” with Joshua Cripps!

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Sheen Watkins is a bird, nature, wildlife photographer and photography writer. You can follow her photography on Facebook, Instagram and her website. A long term birder and nature enthusiast she is Vice President of Saving Birds Thru Habitat, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating others about the importance of protecting our natural habitat for migrating birds. She also has a travel and photography blog.

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