How to Buy Lenses for Your Digital Camera

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How to Buy Lenses for Your Digital Camera

There are a range of lenses available for digital cameras with interchangeable lenses. Additional lenses give the flexibility to produce superb-quality shots not possible otherwise.

About Lenses for Digital Cameras

Not all digital cameras have interchangeable lenses. Digital single lens reflex cameras (digital SLRs or DSLRs) do, and there are many different types of lenses that can be bought separately to enhance their performance. Buying new lenses for a digital camera opens up new possibilities for producing exciting images. From broad sweeping landscapes to sharp images of tiny insects, objects of all sizes can be clearly photographed. Additional lenses also provide the opportunity to introduce special effects for unique and interesting shots.

Choosing Lenses for a Digital Camera

Choosing which lens or lenses to purchase for a digital camera involves consideration of the type and style of photography frequently used. The lenses will need to be appropriate for the purpose. Focal length gives a good indication here. Lenses will also need to be compatible with the camera. It’s not always necessary to buy the same brand of lens as camera, and buying a different brand can work out cheaper, but always check the lens is compatible with the particular camera model. If not, it could end up breaking the camera and any warranty would be invalidated. Refer to the camera manufacturer’s manual if in doubt.

Features of Lenses

Lenses have various features, including focal length, aperture and image stabilisation, that contribute to their performance.

Focal length

Focal length refers to the viewing angle that the lens can cover. Zoom lenses give two numbers which is the range the lens can cover, whereas fixed lenses have one number. The smaller the number, the wider the angle. Wide angle zooms, therefore, have smaller numbers than telephoto zooms.



Aperture refers to the amount of light that the lens can capture. Smaller numbers indicate larger apertures, and larger apertures can capture more light. This is an important feature if shooting in low-light conditions.


Image stabilisation

Image stabilisation is the mechanism by which cameras and lenses reduce the effects of camera shake, which can lead to blurry pictures. This is especially important for telephoto zooms. Image stabilisation is also known as optical image stabilisation, vibration reduction, vibration control and other similar terms.


Types of Lens

Popular additional lenses include standard zoom, telephoto zoom, superzoom, wide angle zoom, macro, fast prime and pancake lenses. Most additional lenses are zoom lenses. They have variable focal lengths so objects at different distances can be brought into focus. This is extremely convenient as one lens can cover a large focal range. This applies especially to standard zooms and superzooms. When it comes to specialising in a certain type of photography, however, dedicated zoom lenses that cover a smaller focal range, such as telephoto zooms and wide angle zooms, can offer superior picture quality. The focal length range on zoom lenses is given as two numbers, for example, 30 mm to 70 mm.

Prime lenses, by contrast, have a fixed focal length. This is indicated with one number, for example, 50 mm. There are various focal lengths available. Prime lenses typically have less complex optics than zoom lenses and larger apertures.

Standard zoom lens

General purpose zoom lens that gives excellent versatility. Can handle focal lengths from wide angle to short telephoto (around 28 mm to 70 mm), but typically not at the same quality as a dedicated lens. Basic standard zooms are usually provided with a digital SLR. More advanced standard zoom lenses offer features such as better range, higher-quality optics, speedier focusing and image stabilisation. Recommended for general use. Short telephoto is a good focal length for portraits.


Telephoto zoom lens

Magnifies distant subjects and compresses space, narrowing depth of field, to make them appear closer. The background can be blurred for effect. Focal range is around 70 mm to 300 mm. Telephoto lenses also amplify camera shake, which can result in fuzzy images. Image stabilisation is helpful here, but a tripod or other support may be needed. Recommended for photographing wildlife, sports, shows and similar events.


Superzoom lens

General purpose lens with a large focal range from wide angle to telephoto (around 28 mm to 300 mm). This gives more versatility than standard zooms and arguably negates the need for a dedicated telephoto lens. Image quality may not be as high as with dedicated lenses, especially at the ends of the range. Recommended for travel.


Wide angle zoom lens

Deepens space, increasing depth of field, to make objects appear further away. Focal range is 35 mm and under, with the shortest about 8 mm. Useful for squeezing a wide subject area into the frame. Recommended for broad landscapes and architecture shots.


Fisheye lens

Ultra-wide angle lens used to create wide panoramic shots with a distinctive rounded, distorted effect. Superb for creating unique and interesting shots. Recommended for landscapes, cityscapes, architecture and interiors.


Macro lens

Lens used for extreme close ups. Magnifies the subject greater than actual size. Focal length differs, with longer focal lengths indicating shots can be taken at a greater distance from the subject. Recommended for small objects such as flowers, insects and other small animals.


Fast prime lens

Lens that can capture more light, for taking photographs in low-light conditions without the need for flash. This results in more natural looking shots. Focal lengths range from wide angle to telephoto. Recommended for photographing people and other subjects indoors and in other low-light conditions.


Soft focus lens

Lens that softens the image without blurring it. This can introduce a dreamlike quality to the image. It can also remove imperfections. Recommended for portrait and flower photography.


Pancake lenses

Slim lenses offering a good balance between compact size and high-quality images. Recommended for travel and other occasions where portability is a key factor.



Digital SLRs have interchangeable lenses, so additional lenses can be bought and added to the camera to create a variety of exciting shots not otherwise possible. These range from broad landscapes to pictures of minute objects, and from ultra-sharp pictures to softened, dreamlike images. Deciding which lens or lenses to purchase comes down to deciding upon which style of photography is most frequently used. If budget allows of course, many different lenses can be bought to enhance various styles of photography. Always remember to purchase lenses that are compatible with the particular camera model, as using the wrong lens could break the camera and invalidate its warranty. The features of lenses that are important to consider include focal length, aperture and image stabilisation. Focal length can determine the type of lens, with wide angle zoom lenses having very short focal lengths and telephoto zoom lenses very long focal lengths. This in turn determines how much is brought into focus and squeezed into the shot, with wide angle lenses suitable for landscapes and telephoto zooms for magnifying distant objects. Standard and superzoom lenses cover wide focal lengths, especially superzooms which cover long telephoto ranges. Other lenses include macros for extreme close ups, fast prime lenses for low-light conditions and soft focus lenses for softening images.

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