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9 Questions to Ask When Buying a New Lens

Caleb Ward

Thinking about buying a new lens? Here are 9 things to consider.

As my fellow sufferers of Equipment Acquisition Syndrome know, it’s always exciting to add a new lens to the arsenal. Before you do, ask yourself these nine questions.

1. Do I really need a new lens?

LensesImage courtesy of Shutterstock

Fact: Getting a new lens will not make you a better photographer or videographer. If you don’t have the basics down (composition, value, color theory, lighting, etc.) you likely aren’t getting the most out of your current lens.

Until you can take good photos with the lens you have, there’s no good reason to drop $1000+ on a new one.

2. Does this lens fill in any focal length gaps?

Can you shoot an extremely wide shot of a small room? Can you capture a bride’s face from across a chapel? Do you have the right lens for the job? If you’re going to invest in a new lens, make sure you’re working toward having all of your focal lengths covered.

Get a good standard prime and multi-purpose zoom lens to start. From there you can begin to get more specialty lenses like fish-eye, hyper-telephoto, and macro lenses.

3. What is the F-stop?

ApertureImage courtesy of Bigstock

An F-stop is a mathematical formula that figures out approximately how much light a lens will let to the sensor. Practically speaking, a lens with a lower F-stop number allows more light through the lens, capturing a more out-of-focus background.

It’s a good rule of thumb to get a lower F-Stop lens if you can afford it, but F-stop isn’t everything. You also need to consider the T-stop…

4. What is the T-stop?

Whereas an F-stop is a mathematical formula, a T-stop is an actual reading of the amount of light that a lens sends to the camera. A T-stop is typically used by cinematographers more than photographers, but the information is none-the-less important.

You can go more in-depth on all things F-stop and T-stop here.

5. What kind of stabilization does it have?

For those unfamiliar, stabilization on a lens is typically described in terms of stops. This means a lens with 2 stops of stabilization will allow you to shoot with a shutter speed that is twice as slow, allowing twice as much light to hit the sensor.

Stabilization is one of the most underrated features on a lens; a little stabilization can go a long way to make your images and video higher in quality. Speaking of quality…

6. How is the image quality?

Sharp LensImage courtesy of Shutterstock

Specs are one thing, but the actual quality of the final images/video is another. Before you buy a lens, you should examine the image quality. Websites like DP Review and Photo Zone give detailed reviews of virtually every lens on the market. Just because a lens is fast doesn’t mean it’s necessarily sharp, so do your research!

7. Is the autofocus fast and accurate?

If you primarily shoot video, you likely won’t use autofocus very often. However, photographers will want to invest in a lens with great autofocus. Keep in mind, cheaper camera lenses like Tamron and Sigma tend to feature slower autofocus abilities than their “name-brand” counterparts.

This isn’t an issue when shooting a stationary subject, but when you start shooting moving subjects at events like weddings, autofocus becomes a very important issue.

8. What is the minimum focus distance?

Leaf Macro ImageImage courtesy of Shutterstock

Cheaper lenses tend to have minimum focus distances that are extremely far, which can be aggravating if your subject is close. For example, a 50mm lens with good macro capabilities can get better close-up images than a 200mm lens with bad macro capabilities. When you’re searching for your new lens, take the time to look at the minimum focus distance.

9. Why am I buying a new lens?

A brand new lens is almost always going to work perfectly right out of the box. However, buying a new lens is a lot like buying a new car: As soon as you put it on your camera, it will lose 30% of it’s value.

Buying a used lens from a credible dealer might be a better option. Many dealers offer a 30-day return policy on their lenses, and even if you have a lens for more than 30 days, you can likely unload it on eBay for close to what you paid for it.

If you have any additional lens buying wisdom to share, we’d love to hear it in the comments below.

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