SLR Lens Buying Guide

So I recently decided to buy some new equipment for my camera — lenses specifically. It took me almost a full week to go through this, so I'll share my learnings in attempts to make it a little easier on those of you in the same boat. Here is the process I followed when choosing a new lens.

  1. Determine Your Budget. Before you start swaying your judgement, set a limit to the amount of money you're willing to spend. This will help you narrow your search. I set my limit at $1000.
  2. Determine What Type of Lens You Want. The main categories of lenses are: fish-eye, super-wide, wide, standard, telephoto, super-telephoto, and macro (there are other specialty lenses too). Most of those categories can also be split into prime and zoom lenses. You might know exactly what you want, or you might just narrow it down to 2 or 3. I narrowed my search down to super-wide zooms, super-telephoto zooms, and prime macros. My definition of each type is as follows:
    1. Fish-eye: Creates a hemispherical image and is typically less than 16mm in focal length.
    2. Super-Wide: Less than 20mm focal length.
    3. Wide: 20-30mm focal length.
    4. Standard: 30-50mm focal length.
    5. Telephoto: 50-200mm focal length.
    6. Super-Telephoto: Greater than 200mm focal length.
    7. Macro: Capable of creating 1:1 or greater magnification.
    8. Prime: Fixed focal length.
    9. Zoom: Variable focal length.
  3. Make Your Wishlist. Go to B&H Photo, Amazon, or your favorite lens source and create a wishlist for each type of lens you are thinking about. Then go shopping and find ALL the lenses that are offered for your camera that fit into your categories. Filter out your selections by dropping anything over your absolute budget threshold. I found 9 super-wides, 8 super-telephotos, and 4 macros — but I included primes and zooms.
  4. Prioritize Your Options. Start sorting your lenses based on the information at hand, your intuition, and any cost criteria you may have. Typically, the more expensive lenses are also the better quality lenses (aside from price differences of around $100). My advice is to buy the best you can afford and you'll never be disappointed.
  5. Pick Your Flavor. Do it now or do it later, but if you have more than one type of lens you want, you'll have to choose at some point. If you do it now you'll save some time with the research. I decided to leave my options open — I couldn't decide yet.
  6. Do the Research. You want outside opinions and evaluations on each of the lenses you're thinking about, and it's best if you can find those evaluations from the same source — but this isn't always possible. Get multiple reviews too. Here are a list of places to start your research:
    1. PhotoZone
    2. ePHOTOzine
    3. PopPhoto Buying Guide
    4. PopPhoto Lens Tests
    5. Shutterbug Lens Tests
    6. Digital Photography Journal Reviews
  7. Make Your Decision. At this point, you should have a good idea of which lens is the best one for you from any given category. If you had more than one category to decide between, pick one. I had 3 categories to decide between, and after my research I had one lens from each category. Based on my budget, I could either get the super-telephoto OR the macro and the super-wide. I chose to get two lenses instead of one! There's no rule against that!

When you're picking out lenses, there's no right or wrong choice. You have to balance out your wants/needs with your boundaries. Just remember, whatever you get will be a good choice and open up the possibilities for your photographs. So with my new additions, here are my 3 lenses for my Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D:

  1. Konica Minolta AF DT 18-200 F/3.5-6.3 (lens I had already)
  2. Sigma 10-20mm F/4-5.6 EX DC HSM
  3. Sigma MACRO 105mm F/2.8 EX DG

Happy Hunting!