Lenses | A Little Bit of Background for New Photographers

The first series of posts that will be meant for the aspiring photographer will be about lenses.  I’m hoping to shed some light on various types of lenses and then analyze which types of lenses may be good for wedding photography.  Choosing the best lens for wedding photography is a very debatable topic.  The goal of this series of articles is not to preach the pro’s and con’s of various lenses  but provide my opinion about the Ten·2·Ten Photography approach to choosing a lens and to provide you with facts that you will need to help you decide which lens is best for you.

Let’s start with a little background on lenses.  If you’re a semi-pro or pro photographer, you may want to skim over this quickly and then wait anxiously for the next post!  If, however, you’re just stepping into the world of wedding photography (or photography, in general) it can be quite informative!

The first thing to discuss is aperture size.  The aperture is the size of the opening that the light travels through to hit the film (or digital sensor).  Lenses with a large aperture (f2.8 or larger, such as f2.0, f1.8, f1.4) are ideal for low-light situations because they let a lot of light in. I have shot entire receptions using an aperture value of 2.8, despite the shallow depth of field.  Not all lenses can have a large aperture, though. The standard lenses that come with a basic camera kit will not suffice for low-light situations because the apertures are too small to let in enough light.  Another draw back of kit lenses is that the aperture varies.

Let’s take a look at some nomenclature. A standard kit lens (whether Nikon, Canon, etc.) may have specs that look something like this

18-55mm 3.5/5.6f

This means that your focal length can vary from 18mm to 55mm. However, the part that says 3.5/5.6f means that your aperture can open up to 3.5f when you’re at the 18mm end of the lens, but the aperture can only open to a maximum of 5.6f when you’re at the 55mm end of the lens. Having a lens with a variable aperture size upon zooming is very inconvenient and frequently leads to improperly exposed photos if you are a beginner trying to learn to shoot in manual.

Here’s some nomenclature for a professional series lens. Let’s examine it more closely.

24-70mm 2.8f

This means that your focal length can vary from 24mm to 70mm. However, because it says only 2.8f (and not 2.8/xx f) it means that no matter what end of the lens you use (the 24mm end or up to the 70mm end) your aperture will stay constant. You can zoom in and out with an aperture value of 2.8f and never worry about your camera automatically changing anything!

Another type of nomenclature you might see if for prime lenses. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length – they do not zoom in and out. Whether you are Nikon or Canon, a popular (and affordable) prime lens is the

50mm 1.8f

This means that the focal length is fixed at 50mm. If you want to zoom in, you have to physically walk closer to your subject.  Aperture sizes for prime lenses open even wider than they do for zoom lenses. An aperture value of 1.8f lets in even more light than an aperture value of 2.8f so you get even better photos in low light.

You can’t talk about aperture size without touching on depth of field. You can learn more about depth of field by doing a quick internet search, but to sum it up – the larger your depth of field, the more of your photo is in focus. Have you ever seen a photo where the subject is in sharp focus but the background behind them is very, very blurry? That’s an example of a shallow depth of field. As your aperture opens up wider and wider(5.6 < … < 2.8 < 2.0 < 1.8 < 1.4 ) your depth of field decreases more and more.

So now that you know a little bit more about lenses, you may find yourself asking “So what lens is best for wedding photography?”.  We’ll be discussing that in the next post!

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