Why You Should Buy Glass Before Bodies

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Image by Sharegrid

If you are starting photography because it’s your passion, you'll eventually start to see all your purchases as investments instead of expenses. For me, it's better to buy glass (i.e. lenses) before bodies. Why? Because bodies are updated far more often than their optics. The camera body is almost a tool for your lenses.

Lenses are crafted to last longer than bodies, for many reasons. The reason why is simple: they require different engineering. It’s true that lenses and bodies are part of photography, but bodies have to do more with electronics, the fruit of research and development.

Lenses, on the other hand, have more to do with a field of physics called Optics. Developments in optics engineering require a longer time to achieve milestones.

In fact, some manufacturers recently stopped manufacturing mechanical lenses (those that move the aperture blades with a lever). Improvements in lenses have more to do with coatings, image stabilization, focusing motors and ergonomics.

Image by Unsplash
Image by Unsplash

Let's Talk About These Characteristics:

    • Coatings Of The Lens:

      Coatings are thin layers of secret materials applied to or deposited on optical elements for different purposes. The most common coatings are anti-reflection coatings, which reduce the reflection of light passing through the lens.
      Other coatings help the light spectrum navigate more efficiently through the lens so as to render colors in a peculiar and almost iconic way.

    • Image Stabilization:

      Often called IS in lenses, this a complex unit that allows the image to be steadier, thanks to floating mechanisms inside the lens. Image Stabilization is often found in telephoto lenses and zoom lenses, because lenses longer than 50mm are harder to keep steady.

      Imagine you have a pencil in your hand, and you hold it still by the tip; it will move a little bit, but not much. Now try the same exercise with a broomstick. You'll see how it’s almost impossible to keep it steady. Of course, this is an extreme example, but you get the idea.

    • Focus Motors or Systems:

      This is the technology related to the speed at which a lens can change focus from one distance to another. Modern lenses (that have taken the photographic evolution at their own pace) tend to have faster and quieter focusing motors.

    • Ergonomics Of Lenses:

      Ergonomics is the discipline that is in charge of designing (among other things) products that are compatible with human anatomy and physiology. That's why some cameras and lenses feel better in our hands than others. I think this could be a big factor in choosing between one brand or another.

Of course, camera bodies are necessary – if not, how else you could you actually capture and preserve an image? But the point is clear: lenses are made to last longer than camera bodies because they belong to different fields of engineering.

Let’s talk about two facts that I think offer the best argument for prioritizing lenses over bodies:

Iconic Lenses

All brands have their flagships, and these lenses are built to last even longer. They’re built like tanks, and they have few improvements if you check their historical record.

You don’t see versions I, II, III, IV, and V and so on of lenses. This is because the gap between generations is longer.

Allef Vinicius
Image by Allef Vinicius

Lenses Have A Longer Lifespan Than Bodies

You can still use old film camera lenses that have been treated with love and care on modern camera bodies and achieve excellent and sharp results.

Some may require adapters because the manufacturers have evolved from the release lever to electronic micro-contacts, but that’s the only reason why some lenses will need a “translator” to connect to new cameras.

Sharpness is not something you can achieve by installing software inside a lens. Truly good lenses are of such great quality that they still deliver extreme sharpness when capturing images.

Lenses tend to be (I don’t know why, really don’t know why) very attractive to fungi. These are not like dust, they really stick to the elements of the lens. You can avoid plague by using silica gel. (You know, those odd little bags that come with electronics and you’re not supposed to eat.)

Image by Jarmoluk
Image by Jarmoluk

Did you know that lenses don’t get old or obsolete? Really, a peculiar lens may have the same sharpness and speed qualities of the modern versions.

If you’re in a situation where you have a very limited budget (and we all have a limited budget), I encourage you to invest in a good piece of glassware (a fancy name for lenses) instead of a great, modern camera with a touchscreen and Wi-Fi connection.

The math behind this is simple. You can achieve great, sharp pictures with a good lens and a crappy body more easily than the other way around. Lenses are the first contact for light, and if the lens is made to meet minimal quality standards, they may (and will) diffract light in an inferior way than a high-standard lens from an iconic brand.

Lenses are the thing that truly command the light. If the lens has a poor aperture speed, there will be no way a camera body will allow more light to bathe the sensor.

In order to achieve great results in your photography, you must have a good understanding of light. That's where this Training Guide can really help you out, to produce incredible photography with the prime knowledge that will improve your skillset, forever.

Image by Unsplash
Image by Unsplash

To Summarize

Camera manufacturers tend to update and upgrade their models more often because, like computers, camera bodies have more to do with electronics. Lenses have more to do with optics. Camera bodies are just a tool that capture the light passing through your precious glass.

The big question is: which lens do you need to buy? This question will be answered with time when you find the niches or branches of photography that you feel most passionate about.

And I don’t want to scare you, but it’s much more possible to experience a failure in a camera body (since electronics are more delicate than optics) than with a camera lens.

In order to achieve great results in your photography, you must have a good understanding of light. That's where this Training Guide can really help you out, to produce incredible photography with the prime knowledge that will improve your skillset, forever.

Further Resources

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

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