Why are there so many lens choices for your camera? The simple answer is that every photographer sees the world differently requiring the use of different focal length lenses.

Different photographers, different lens choice

For example, landscape photographers typically use wide-angle lenses, in the 10mm to 24mm range. This allows the photographer to create expansive images that are sharp from the foreground to the background.

Wildlife photographers typically shoot with super telephoto lenses, 400mm and longer, as they are unable to get close to their subjects. At times, they also like to shoot very tight.

Portrait photographers are known to use midrange telephoto lens, around 85mm-100mm. Faces look better when shot in that range. Distortions are minimized as well as some of the compression experienced with a longer telephoto lens.

Photographers shooting insects, flowers and food may prefer a macro lens so they can get very close to their subjects, showing minute details. Lenses typically range from 55mm to 180mm.

To take this photograph, I attached a lens adapter to my Fuji X-T2 camera enabling me to use a 55mm Nikon macro lens (equivalent to 83mm).

Night sky photographers recommend wide-angle, “fast” lenses, as the sky is expansive and very dark.

There are even specialty lens such as the Lensbaby lenses, which provide the photographer creative soft focus options. Architectural and food photographers use tilt-shift lenses to better control perspective in an image. Some photographers enjoy going ultrawide, with a fish-eye lens.

Here, I used a Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens

No simple answers

As you may have probably guessed, there are no simple answers. Yes, a portrait photographer may typically use a midrange telephone lens, but a portrait photographer may also prefer a wide-angle lens, capturing an image of a person in the environment. A landscape photographer may decide to shoot a mountain close-up, showing its peak in morning fog. 

No matter what type of photographs a photographer may make, he or she may thus prefer to have available a variety of lens in the camera bag.

This was shot with a wide-angle lens, as I was trying to maintain sharpness in the foreground while focusing on the subject.

Zoom vs. prime

There is also another choice for photographers: zoom vs prime (fixed focal length) lenses. When I bought my first SLR camera I could only afford a 50mm lens. I aspired to own a zoom lens and was thrilled when I could afford to finally buy one.

My zoom lenses made life easy. I carried just one or two lens to get a full range of focal lengths. The problem with zoom lenses, I eventually concluded, is that they can be big, heavy and conspicuous. Image quality was sometimes an issue at either end of the zoom range. I also had to work very hard to get a sharp image if I was hand-holding my camera in low light, using a slow shutter speed. I found I could not rely upon stabilization features within the lens.

A few years ago I sold the last of my zoom lenses and totally converted to fixed-focal length, “prime” lenses. I realized I didn’t need to always have a range of focal lengths available to me. There would always be missed shots, no matter what lens I had on my camera. My goal now is to just shoot the best image I can with whatever lens I choose to put on my camera.

Why do I love my prime lenses? My success rate of high quality, sharp images with my primes exceeds the success rate I experienced with my zoom lens. In addition, my primes travel easy as they are smaller and lighter. They are very fast, producing great images in low light, even without a tripod. The lenses are not intimidating for street or portrait photography. A high quality prime lens is also usually much less expensive than a high quality zoom lens. 

Lenses for fixed focal length cameras

Surprisingly there are lenses for fixed focal length cameras. My Fuji X100F, for example, has a focal length equivalent to 35mm. However, I am able to screw on one of two Fuji conversion lenses to change the focal length. One lens enables me to shoot at the equivalent of 28mm and the other at 50mm.

A wide-angle conversion lens was screwed onto the front of my lens for this shot.

Third-party lenses

Even once a decision is made regarding a lens to buy, there may also be an option of whether or not to buy it from a third-party manufacturer such as Sigma or Tamron. Third party lens may be lesser priced or offer preferable features over a lens made by the manufacturer of your camera. 

What to do?

So you are a new photographer with limited funds. What to do … so many choices? Most importantly evaluate your photographic needs and your budget carefully. What type of lenses would you use the most? Do you want the ease of a zoom lens or the portability, quality and low profile of a prime? What features are important to you? Read the reviews on your lens choices. Ask the sales staff at a camera store, such as B&H Photo. Rent the lens and try it out for a few days. Also, think about buying a used lens with a warranty, from a reputable seller, versus buying new. Maybe you will be able to buy the lens you rented, applying the rental cost to the price of the lens.

And if you buy a lens and later decide you have made a mistake, do not despair. Consider it a lesson learned, sell your lens or trade it in for the lens you wished you had bought.