Top Four Lens Choice Considerations
#1 What perspective do I want?
You can make objects appear smaller with a wide angle lens. Compress the background to single out your subject with a telephoto. Macro lenses can get you close enough to reproduce your object larger than life. The right perspective choice can make or break your image.
#2 Can it be adapted to multiple cameras or film/sensor sizes?
Lenses have two factors that greatly affect how versatile the lens is for your present camera and future cameras.
The first is image circle. Each lens puts out a circle of light that the lens designer intended to cover the film or sensor size on which the lens was intended to be used. Lenses with larger image circles cover Full Frame film or digital cameras and are therefore more versatile on both smaller and larger formats.
The second factor is flange depth which is the distance from the lens mount to the film or sensor plane. The original Leica interchangeable lens cameras had a shutter that was at the film plane and used a rangefinder to find the focus. This removed the need for a mirror to look through the lens and thus the distance from the lens mount to the film plane was very short. SLR Cameras used a mirror to look through the lens which enabled a more accurate framing option as well as additional light meter and focus accuracy. This mirror pushed the distance from the lens to the film/sensor further out. SLRs and their digital spawn made all the old mirrorless camera lenses useless as the lens would have to go inside the camera body to achieve infinity focus.
The advent of mirrorless digital cameras brought all the short flange mirrorless lens designs back into possibility as well as enabling the use of adapters to shorten the flange distance of SLR lenses. This makes nearly every kind of lens adaptable to mirrorless digital cameras.
Cross reference the lens mount to see if it is adaptable to your camera. If the lens mount is different from the camera mount you have then it must have a flange depth at least 10mm more than your camera to be adapted onto your camera. If the lens mount has a flange depth less than your camera then it can’t be used on your camera if you want to achieve infinity focus. If it can’t reach infinity focus then it is very unlikely any manufacturer would have made an adapter for it.
#3 Will the lens fit my shooting style?
An often overlooked factor in lens buying is the fit to your shooting style. If you shoot on the go without a tripod and haven’t been keeping up with the latest body building trends then that 600mm f/4.0 monster may not be the best choice. Similarly, a lot photographers get caught up in romantic images from classic lenses that are manual focus and have short focus rotation. The reality is that if you aren’t used to shooting with manual focus then you can miss a lot of shots. Worse yet, you can end up constantly checking your image playback or get home to find to find soft images. Many manual focus lenses will not couple with your cameras manual focus zooming feature and need extra time to focus.
Carefully consider how much you will shoot a particular type of perspective or lens feature.
#4 Will the lens hold resale value?
Photographers buy and sell gear faster than nearly any other hobby or profession. G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is a real thing and we’ve all had it at some point. Before you buy your next lens, you should consider if you may want to sell it later or if you intend to keep it for a long time. Some lenses from manufacturers such as Leica hold their value very well because the manufacturer doesn’t make a large number to begin. Other lenses hold value because they are very commonly used to the point that everyone ‘must’ own one and therefore easy to sell for near new price such as a Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens.
Esoteric lenses don’t always equal holding value because they are too far off the beaten path of common understanding or so rare that a premium price which can fluctuate with the economy is commanded at all times and can takes years to sell if you want to unload it. Specialty lenses can also present a challenge if they are in large manufacture but not necessarily a staple of common photography. Canon’s ‘DO’ (Diffractive Optics) lenses are a good example of this because they are for special applications to prevent chromatic aberration on telephoto shots and misunderstood. Nikon also makes their ‘DC’ (Defocus Control) lens which is has a variable iris location that is hard to use by photographers who don’t understand the principle or don’t have the patience to use it correctly. All of these types of specialty lenses require a special buyer who may need to be convinced to take a chance on that ‘weird’ lens which means they will pay way less for it in case they don’t like it.
Before buying a lens, consider if you intend to keep it long enough to get good use out of it. You should ask yourself if you intend to switch camera systems soon, if the lens you are considering can be adapted to cameras you may be considering, and if you did buy it would you be ok with keeping it a long time in case it can’t be resold quickly. Also check the new value versus the used value. If the value is more than 30% less for used versus new, then you should consider it a long term purchase or be comfortable with losing at least 30% of the money you pay for the lens.
#5 Am I getting good Value?
Knowing if you are getting a good value on a lens can be tricky. In addition to lens condition, you really need to consider the value of the lens. Value is created when you get something more out of it than you put into it. Value can therefore be more than money. If you rent a similar lens often then it makes sense because you are saving money and thus getting more value. You can also consider the impact the lens will have on your photography. A lens that is a good match to your shooting style will certainly give you good value as it will give you images that have a bigger impact on your artwork more than a money value.
For money value simply check the cost of renting a lens a few times versus buying the same lens. For many this can mean a few rentals will pay for the lens so it’s better buy. On the other hand sometimes renting has its advantages. An online rental company once told a story of a person who rented a $6000 lens several times for more rental cost than the cost to buy the same lens. The person told them that they didn’t want to keep the lens with them as they traveled around for security and convenience reasons so the value was greater to have the company hold in between rentals than to own it outright.
Value can mean a lot of things but it is important to keep it in mind.