DSLR accessories

DSLR lens uses

Written by Digicamhelp Editor

Guide to DSLR lenses you may need. Some interchangeable lenses are more suitable for certain subjects than others.

DSLR lenses

If you just bought a shiny new digital single reflex camera, you’re probably thinking about the types of lenses you’ll need. Most likely you’ll get one or more that cover a range from around 18-200mm.

The numbers refer to the focal length of the lens. Simply put, the bigger the number, the greater the magnification at a distance.

50mm to 70mm focal lengths are considered normal. Smaller numbers are wide angle lenses. And bigger numbers are telephoto. *

Many photo enthusiasts and pro photographers gravitate to lenses that are fast. Fast lenses have very wide apertures that let more light pass through during a given time span. Photographers may also buy many different single focal length, wide aperture lenses known as primes.

Lens focal lengths and subject matter

Some lenses are better suited for certain subject matter than others. Here is a general guide:

Walk around: 24-70 f-2.8; a good general purpose focal length.

Birds/Wildlife/Sports: 70-200mm f-2.8; 300mm f-2.8; 600mm f-4. A wide aperture allows for faster shutter speeds and can blur out a chain link fence.

Portraits: 135mm f2; little to no distortion; shrinks the nose and blurs the background.

Landscapes/Interiors/Cars: 10-20mm. Tilt the lens up a little to correct for curvilinear distortion or shoot verticals indoors; also good for intentional distortion.

Bugs/Macro: A true macro is always a non-zooming prime lens. Some zooms say macro but they won’t produce a one to one image.

Architecture: Ultra wide lens less than 21mm; a tilt shift lens allows you to correct distortion.

Poparattzi: 18-200mm or 28-300mm. Buy both for when an irate celebrity breaks one.

Weddings: Two of each of the above (except the 300mm, 600mm and the poparattzi ones). Also, at least two camera bodies. Any professional wedding photographer will tell you that something always goes wrong and you need to carry backups for a once in a lifetime event.

One all purpose lens?

Can you photograph all you want with one all purpose lens? The answer is sort of.

Even with just a 50mm 1.8, you would have a lens with a roughly normal field of view and a very wide aperture with little or no distortion. Get really close to the action and it is like a telephoto; step back and it is like a wide angle lens.

Why not use a zoom such as the 18-200mm or the 28-300mm? You could, but to get such a great zoom range they sacrifice some quality and usually have a small widest aperture such as 5.6.  Ok for vacation photos but frustrating if it is your only choice.

macro-af-lensZoom lenses

Sometimes you can’t move so you buy a zoom lens that goes from wide angle to telephoto. If I had to recommend just one it would be either a 17-55mm 2.8 for small sensor cameras, or the 24-70mm 2.8 for full size sensors. They offer a versatile zoom range from wide angle to short telephoto and are still fast.

As you get closer to and further away from your subject the relationship of the sizes of the stuff in the foreground and the background change. The change is controlled by how close you are to the subject and would be the same if using a zoom lens or a prime.

For example, if you are very close to a person with a wide-angle lens then the background is expansive; buildings at a moderate distance are small by comparison. But if you get far away using a prime lens, or zoom in with a telephoto lens, the subject and buildings (trees, fountain, etc.) are about the same size.

So even if you find one zoom you like for everything, you will still have to move yourself sometimes to get the perspectives and spacial relationships you want.

*Important note: some DSLRs have a crop factor, also knows as focal length multiplier, that increases the effective focal length of a lens. For example, a 50mm used on a camera with a FLM of 1.6 has the effect of an 80mm lens (50mm X 1.6).


  • Noobie, wow that’s some challenge you have ahead of you. You need a lot of advice about using a camera professionally, beyond the scope that we offer since this site is geared primarily to beginners. Visit the dpreview forums, where you can get advice from pros and others about using your specific camera, lenses, studio and lighting techniques, etc. All you need to do is register and you’ll have access to all their forums. Good Luck.

  • Thanks for the article… I’m like Newbie01 which “all of a sudden I’m a photographer for my employer”. I need to shoot products & models to be put in my co. catalogue which I’m so stress about. I don’t have studios, budget & help from colleague. I have a camera Olympus E-300 which I’m still trying to improve. The figures you gave really helped me in a lot.
    Just to know if you could give me more advise on my Olympus E-300?

    Thank you

  • Newbie01, your camera is known to do well up to ISO 1600 without a lot of intrusive noise, though always try to use the lowest ISO possible. So for most shots, you can probably keep the camera set to auto ISO, though watch it in low light conditions. At times, you may want to shoot RAW, though doing so involves extra editing and then converting the file to JPEG or other format.

    This review may give you some insights about the 1Ds Mark II, which is a very fine and sophisticated DSLR.

  • Arrgh!  I’m still struggling with what lens to use -when to use it, and what setting to use for each situation.  I am using a Cannon EOS 1-D Mark iii, and all of a sudden I’m a photographer for my employer.  This camera is wonderful, and for the most part, I’ve taken darn good images, however I am still using the “trial and error” method as to what setting to use for each instance.  I mostly struggle with what my ISO should be set to, as well as my shutter speed/aperture.  I’ve not even begun to try to factor in the MODES of M/AV/TV and generally stick with the M setting.
    But, thanks to sites like this, I’ve gained more knowledge than I had yesterday and I am grateful, thank you.  My quest to understand it all continues…sigh.