The World Of Photography–Chapter Four–Lenses

While the camera is important in photography even the best cameras are usless without a lens. There is an age old question what is more important, a good camera or a good lens? As long as the camera does what you want, why spend more than you need. You can spend $10,000 on a camera and put a plastic kit lens on it. What is the point. I made the same argument with poor quality filters. There is another saying that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link“. I started out using Tamron lenses, and I was never sorry for going that way. I remember wanting to buy their flagship 60 to 300mm zoom lens. It had a very impressive macro setting almost 1:1. At the time there was no internet so I was stuck buying from the camera stores listed in the Shutterbug ads. Unfortunately I was not familar with the good old bait and switch. This is how it works, they advertise one lens only to try and convince you to buy something else with a higher profit margin. Well I fell for it and bought a much more inferior Zykkor lens. It took me several years to replace it with my Tamron SP 60-300mm lens. I am not sure why I eventually got rid of it, I think I did so when I switched to autofocus. The point I am trying to make is that the lens is more important. While the Zykkor lens did work, the images it produced were always soft and not that pleasing.

Ever since my misstep with Zykkor I have strived t buy the best lenses that I could afford. The only time that I did not follow this rule was when I bought a third party rectilinear fish-eye lens. The lens is the Rokinon 8mm f3.5 Fish-Eye CS. I knew that I would harldy use it and it therefore did not make sense spending a huge amount of money on a named brand lens. The pictures I got were satisfactory for my needs and the lens has been sitting gathering dust ever since. So in this case I made the right decision. Even though some lens companies get a reputation for sub par lenses, every once in a while they do knock it out of the park with a few of their line up. This is where research comes in handy and reading a lot of reviews definitely helps. I have purchased a couple of manual focus lenses for my astro-photography interests. These lenses actually have higher ratings than do some of the name brand lenses when you compare their performance for that narrow field. Over all their performance can’t compete, but if you limit their use to just the one thing they were purchsed for, they do an excellent job. The Rokinon 24mm f1.4 ED AS IF UMC lens and the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 ED IF UMC lens are two such lenses.

Third party companies also try to make a name for themselves by producing lenses that the big boys do not want to take a chance on, so if you want the functionality of this lens you have no real choice. In this case only Canon has made a similar lens. Laowa has just come out with 60mm and 100mm 2:1 ultra macro lenses. Since Sony is no longer going to make any new cameras for their Alpha lineup it was quite a surprise to find that this company made a lens that worked on my camera line. Since I am a macro nut and I had to get the 60mm f2.8 lens. Unfortunately they are not making any more lenses that support my alpha lineup. Since I am never one to be totally caught off guard I do have four Sony e-mount lenses. They are all sony 6000’s. You may ask why I need four of the same camera? One is for my wife the other three are for me. I use one camera for my underwater photography, another for infrared photography and the third one for travel. They are cropped sensor cameras and are quite small, but they all take the e-mount lens.

I know eventually I will switch over to the their mirrorless lineup and I will buy a full frame version, well maybe. The problem is that I have a lot of money tied up in the alpha line. I currently have 16 lenses in that line. Plus the money I spent on my custom made tilt-shift adapter. Not to mention that I have the Alpha 850, 900, 99, 99ii and the 77ii (which just replaced the 77). To give you an idea the middle three cameras cost me $3,000 each. They all have battery packs and I have several flashes with their propietary hot shoe mount. So now you see that I am in a bit of a quandary. While it is true that I do have an adapter that will allow me to use my alpha lenses on my e-mount camera, but this is a stop gap option at best. No matter how good the adapters are they always affect the functionality of the lens.

There is one thing the mirrorless cameras just don’t fit my hands that well. I like the feel of the big battery grip on my cameras. When I use the smaller cameras for long periods of time my hands start cramping up. My brother in-law Steve ended up giving in to the point an shoot bug years ago, because he got tired of carrying his heavier cameras and lenses around. Well I am not that easy. There is one good thing about the Sony 6000 camera, it is not considered at least by the unschooled as a professional camera. So I am able to bring it to places where my larger full-frame cameras are restricted. I also bring them to areas where a bifg full frame camera may attract too much attention, like Paris, France. People just don’t take notice of them. Besides they fit in really small bags and even some pockets. The best thing of all is that they are very light.

The Human Eye

The human eye lets us see the world by sending impulses to our nervous system. In many ways, it is very similar to other optical devices, including cameras.

Your eyes and your brain work together to allow you to see. In fact, human eyes and brains have been coevolving for millions of years.
Your eyes are a bit like something else that captures images of the world: a camera. Let’s look at the similarities and differences between an eye and a camera.

How are an eye and a camera similar?

An eye and a camera both have lenses and light-sensitive surfaces.

Your iris controls how much light enters your eye. Your lens helps focus the light. The retina is a light-sensitive surface at the back of your eye. It captures an image of what you’re looking at. Then, the retina sends impulses to your brain along the optic nerve. Finally, the brain interprets what you’re seeing.

Cross-section of the human eye 

This is similar to what happens when a camera captures an image. First, light hits the surface of the camera’s lens. The aperture controls how much light enters the camera. Then, the light makes its way to a light-sensitive surface. For a long time, this surface was the camera’s film. In today’s digital cameras, this surface is an imaging sensor chip

Cameras also have photoreceptors. But they only have one type. Cameras respond to red, blue and green light using filters placed on top of their photoreceptors. The photoreceptors in a camera are evenly distributed across the lens. In the human eye, however, the cones are concentrated at the centre of the retina. There are no rods at all at the centre of the retina. 

How else are your eyes different from a camera? 

Because a camera has photoreceptors all over its lens, it always sees a “full” picture. Your eyes, on the other hand, have a blind spot. That’s the point where the optic nerve connects to the retina. It has no photoreceptors at all. 
Most of the time, you don’t notice your blind spot. This is because when light hits this area of one eye, your brain uses information from your other eye to fill in the gap. 

Finally, your eyes actually stop seeing clearly whenever you spin or turn quickly. It’s why dancers learn the technique of spotting. They focus on one spot and turn their head quickly to refocus on that spot with each turn. This helps maintain their balance and orientation. It can also keep them from getting dizzy. Now a camera can’t do that!  

The Relationship of Eye and Camera in Perspective Context

With regard to the field of vision of any living thing, it is difficult to provide a single and universal answer; because within each living population there is a wide variation, and thus those ranges from person to individual can differ significantly. However, with the results of certain experiments, it could be possible to draw up a general structure. The human eye is oval-shaped. Its angles are horizontally at 178o – vertically at 135o. 60 degrees upwards and 75 degrees downwards are the vertical viewing angle. When looking straight ahead, each eye of a human has a 95-degree field of view from the nose to the outside.

The human eye is a superb “device” Our eyes easily adjust to make clear images when the objects are too far or too near in dark or bright conditions. The right adjustments must be made in the camera to take amazing pictures. Between the human eye, which produces pictures, and the camera, there are several similarities.

The light from the object must be focused on a light-detecting surface in order to create a clear picture of an object. In the human eye, the cornea and oculus perform this role. The lens works the same in the cameras. The distance in the human eye between the lens and the retina is constant. For this purpose, the lens changes shape thanks to the muscles as the distance of an object changes, in order to produce a clear picture. When the muscles are relaxed, the lens is flatter, and its sphericity increases when it contracts. Thus, the degree of refraction of light varies.

In cameras, the lens can collect at its focal point the image of a particular area of the subject. The angle that shows the part of this region created by the lens that falls on the plane or sensor of the film is called the angle of view of the lens. The higher the focal length, the smaller the viewing angle. The cameras create a frame at a certain angle according to the lenses they use. The field that each lens sees from the same distance when looking at the same object varies with the focal length.

Perspective is the transfer of the object’s appearance and space on paper using certain methods to give a two-dimensional surface a three-dimensional visual effect. Objects and space can create various forms of appearance from different perspectives. In the simplest terms, their appearance becomes smaller and different from their genuine appearance as the objects move away. This differentiation can be expressed both with perspective science and drawing as optics and mathematics.

Since the human eye is in the form of a sphere, the image is collected on the retina, not in a plane, on a sphere. It sees a 2-degree segment with a flat, distorted perspective roughly in the centre.

Memorization of the Image Perspective

Memory can belong to both a person and a society. Memory is the sum of valuable and memorable things in terms of meaning. All of the pasts cannot be remembered, and some things are forgotten. (Al, 2015, s. 27).

If human beings forget, the image is worthless. Since it is difficult to see how much and how much the picture exposes the truth. At this point, man and his memory are of primary importance. The memory, though, retains what it treats as important and forgets other people, namely, what they deem to be unimportant. However, the photo draws it to the unforgettable hand and adds value to or without exception to everything. So, it is almost unforgettable all you show.

Human memory comes into play here. Memory tries to memorize the image. The advantage of the artists here; learning how to use their memorization. The angle at which the camera captures the image, the distance, light intensity, etc. such things are remembered in enough detail to come to life in the eyes of the artist.

The image always contains the possibility to be seen or seen. Thus “to be visible is to be there: not to be there, to be invisible.” (John, 2008, s. 223) Consider this interpretation of Berger, if we touch upon the way of seeing the photograph and video artists; it turns out how strong or how well educated visual memory should be. For example, a cameraman travels and explores the area where he will be shooting before he starts shooting. It visualizes which angles to use. This requires the full use of visual memory. Because the cameraman is trained and experienced enough to understand which lens to use during exploration and how this lens will look on the camera sensor.

The relationship between the camera and the perspective of the human eye emerges right here. It should not be limited to just video. The same experiences and training are required in drawing, photography, and even graphic designs. The ‘to see’ statement of the artists actually arises here.

To sum up, the relationship between the camera and the human eye, which we examine in the context of perspective, is superficially composed of the above.

According to the perspective context, artists who are interested in visual arts develop their memory with visuals again. In this way, they perform the act of ‘to see’ their perspective angles or in their own words by using their visual memories they have developed.

The preview with the camera, drawing, or photo appears as the ‘to see’ action occurs. In fact, it is necessary to mention visual memory. However, the relationship in this context is only summarized in the report content.

It is a topic that will be talked about for hours and pages of articles on. If it is necessary, to sum up, the report prepared on this subject; looking is often insufficient, the important thing is to see. But if there is no experience, memorization, or content from the visible things, there is no point in seeing.

Different types of camera lenses and when to use them

What are the main types of camera lens?

It can be quite overwhelming in the early stages of getting into photography when you find out just how many types of camera lens there are. Fortunately, camera lenses can be broken down into two types, zoom lenses and prime lenses. We’ll explain what the definition of these two camera lenses are below.

What is a zoom lens?

Zoom lenses are one of the most common types of lens that you’ll need in your photography armoury, offering you a great range for photographing anything from people in the streets to wildlife in the African Savanna.

Zoom lenses are incredibly versatile, with the most popular being the 70-200 mm lens that you’ll see being used by wedding photographers. Zoom lenses have variable focal lengths, so with a 70-200mm lens for example, you can zoom from 70mm all the way up to 200mm.

R. Landry Gallery

If you’re travelling light, though, you can find zoom lenses with much more range, such as an 18 – 270 mm, allowing you to photograph both close up and in the distance.

For budding photographers or anyone needing to photograph in a diverse range of scenarios or conditions, there’s nothing that can really beat a good zoom range for quality and adaptability. It’s the all-round lens that everyone needs!

Zoom lenses are a versatile choice of lens. 

What is a prime lens?

A prime lens is a classic style that has been around as long as cameras have. Prime lenses have a fixed focal range, which means that you can’t zoom in or out.

The main advantage of prime lenses is that they specialise in just one focal length. In other words, they are finely tuned to deliver on one specific type of photography, unlike a zoom lens which can be used in a multitude of cases.

R. Landry Gallery

Because of this, prime lenses produce much higher quality images than a zoom lens in general, but you will need to know in which situation you can use them. For example, the 50mm prime lens, otherwise known as the Nifty Fifty, is perfect for portraits, as the focal length is seen to be as close to the human eye as possible.

A 35 mm prime lens, on the other hand, is usually best employed by landscape photographers.

The ‘Nifty Fifty’ is a popular choice among photographers.

Telephoto Lens

If a standard zoom lens isn’t quite strong enough for your needs, then the next step up is a telephoto lens. These big lenses are found within a range of 100mm up to 600mm, sometimes even more.

Telephoto lenses are bulky and may require a tripod to support them, making them nowhere near as practical as a standard zoom lens.

R. Landry Gallery

If you are a professional wildlife photographer, sports photographer, or if you photograph the night sky and the stars, then a telephoto lens can be invaluable. For amateurs though, it’s perhaps not within your budget.

Telephoto lenses are specialist bits of kit, especially for wildlife photographers. 

Wide-angle lenses

Wide-angle lenses are a must-have if you’re a landscape photographer and looking to step up your game. Wide angles have a wider focal field, allowing you to essentially capture more of the scene in front of you than say a zoom lens.

R. Landry Gallery

For this reason, wide angles are perfect for photographing landscapes, as you can capture more of the scenery and create a much more vivid picture. They are also great for photographing architecture, as you’ll be able to capture the whole building in front of you.

Wide-angle lenses generally have a focal length between 16 and 35mm.

Fisheye Lens

If you need to capture an even wider field of view, then you’ll need to invest in a fisheye lens. These create the unusual ‘fisheye’ effect, similar to a GoPro image.

A fisheye lens is basically an ultra-wide-angle lens, offering an enormous field of view. These are more specialist lenses and aren’t generally needed by most photographers. They are useful if you are photographing indoors or using your camera for design work. An ultra-wide-angle lens can have a focal length as low as 8mm.

R. Landry Gallery

In conclusion, there are different types of camera lens for almost any situation you could find yourself in as a photographer. Knowing which lens is best for what scenario, will set you on your way to becoming a much-improved photographer.

Macro Lens

A macro lens is for extremely close focusing distances and are capable of taking highly detailed images of tiny microscopic sized subjects like flowers, insects, products, jewellery, coins, and wildlife.

Macro lenses allow you to focus extremely close to your subject so it appears large in the viewfinder and image.

R. Landry Gallery

Another use for macro lenses is portraits (especially headshots and studio portraits). It is hard to beat the stunning sharpness of a macro lens.

R. Landry Gallery

Perspective Control and Tilt-Shift Lenses

Recent years, perspective manipulation has seen a surge in popularity throughout the photography community. Whether it is the eccentricity of miniature-faking, or the dreamy elegance of selective blur, tilt-shift lenses have undoubtedly solidified their place on many contemporary photographers’ to-buy lists. While they’re certainly familiar tools to serious architectural and landscape photographers, they have become increasingly favorable for artistic endeavors in portraiture, still-life, and even filmmaking.

Their steady presence among cinematographers has seen them go as far as the big screen. In 2010, David Fincher’s The Social Network included a beautifully shot scene of the Henley Royal Regatta, its bystanders and spectators blurred by selective defocus. It created an emotive, visually compelling result that testifies to the creative strengths of this type of photography. However you intend to use it, having a basic understanding of tilt-shift prior to making it your next big purchase is the first step to capturing these compelling, striking images.

Tilt-shift offers a hands-on approach to optical manipulation and perspective control. Tilt determines the plane of focus by allowing you to point a lens at an angle other than perpendicular to the image plane. As a normal lens can only focus on a singular plane, the areas of sharpness in a photo will be the same distance from the camera. With tilt, the focal plane becomes pliable.

R. Landry Gallery

Because of the Scheimpflug principle, it becomes possible to capture an image entirely in focus (background and foreground), as well as narrow the focal plane down to a small sliver of clarity, surrounded by soft blur. It is through tilt manipulation that miniature-faking is possible, creating the illusion of super-shallow depth of field, as if looking into a diorama. Often times, this leads to the tilt-shift lens being unfairly labeled as a one-trick- pony by those less familiar with it.

Shift, on the other hand, is the parallel upward or downward displacement of the lens to the image plane. This results in the photographer being able to adjust a subject’s place in a composition without needing to move the camera itself. It also keeps everything squared, eliminating the convergence of vertical lines, a phenomenon known as “keystoning” that occurs when photographing tall buildings, for example.

For professional architectural photography, these qualities are essential for keeping buildings squared and in focus. The creative possibilities of tilt also attract photographers looking to add dynamism to portraiture, weddings, still-life, and for isolating details. Nikon manufactures three variations of a tilt-shift lens, designated with a “PC-E” to signify “Perspective Control.” They include the wide-angle PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED, the standard length PC-E Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED, and the medium telephoto PC-E Nikkor 85mm f/2.8D. Canon has four tilt-shifts (TS-E) on the market, two of which (the TS-E 17mm f/4L and TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II) bear the prestigious red stripe of the L series. The remaining two choices are the TS-E 45mm f/2.8 and the TS-E 90mm f/2.8.

Those looking to invest a bit more into a tilt-shift lens can consider Schneider Optics, whose lineup of professional glass is compatible with Canon, Nikon, Sony Alpha, Pentax, and Mamiya/Phase One cameras. These lenses are available as a 28mm f/2.850mm f/2.8, and 90mm f/4.5 for DSLRs as well as a 120 mm f/5.6 for medium format Mamiya/Phase One cameras. Budget-friendly 24mm wide-angle tilt-shift lenses are also available from BowerSamyang, and Rokinon. These lenses are designed for compatibility with Canon, Nikon, and Sony Alpha cameras. Photographers who are new to tilt-shift should have their tripods ready and expect a learning curve, as all these lenses are manual focus and require a bit of finesse.

Long before the digital age, tilt and shift adjustments were achieved with traditional view cameras by manipulating the flexible bellows between the two standards. The front standard, which houses the lens, can be moved upward or downward on a parallel plane for shift, or tipped on a skewed axis for tilt. These large format cameras are still used today by serious and professional architectural photographers, and have even been optimized for digital functionality. Cameras such as the Linhof Techno Digital Field Camera are designed specifically with commercial architectural photography in mind, and come equipped with flexible bellows that extend for focusing up to 240mm.

Many photographers who enjoy the playful, creative leeway of tilt don’t necessarily require the corrective control over shift. In these cases, the price tag on a proper tilt-shift lens can seem extravagant and unnecessary. Fortunately, Lensbaby’s series of lenses and optics delivers just the right dose of affordable perspective tweaking to add something extra to portrait, environmental, and still-life photography. Most notably, the Composer Pro lens with Edge 80 Optic (currently available for Nikon and Canon cameras) allows shooters to tilt their plane of focus and create areas of selective blur. When manipulated accordingly, this can result in a whimsical miniature effect or can simply add a dreamy finish to portraiture, scenery, and more.

As a last resort, it’s also worth noting that in its most recent edition, Adobe Lightroom 6 has a Development section for corrective perspective control. Under the Lens Corrections panel, users may click the Basic tab to toggle through a series of Upright modes (Auto, Level, Vertical, and Full) that correct for minor keystoning and distortion. While not as apt in extreme situations, it is an effective tool for those looking to square up the vertical lines in photos of buildings and landscapes shot with a regular lens.

Mirror Lenses: Lightweight Super-Telephotos

When it comes to travel, landscape, and seascape photography, I always try to keep at least one long focal length lens in my bag for photographing subjects to which I either cannot get closer or—in the case of a Siberian tiger guarding her cubs—to which I have no business getting closer.

The definition of a long telephoto lens depends on whom you ask, not to mention what format camera they are using. For some, a 105mm lens is long. For others, it’s anything beyond 200mm or 300mm. For me, 300mm has always been the gateway lens for serious telephotos, and unless you choose a lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or f/6.3, telephotos can start getting pricey—especially the ones with maximum apertures of f/2.8 or wider.

Are there longer lens options available that won’t require you to go from three meals a day down to two for the next six months? The answer is yes, and they’re called mirror lenses.

What Is a Mirror Lens?

In a nutshell, a mirror lens is a compact telescope. Conventional, or refractive, camera lenses use formulated clusters of glass elements to gather light and transmit the focused image to the camera sensor (or film surface). Mirror lenses contain a series of angled circular mirrors that gather the light and, rather than transmit a focused image directly to the camera sensor (or film plane), reflect the incoming light back and forth, each time reflecting a narrower portion of the image until a highly magnified portion of the original image reaches the camera’s imaging sensor.

Scrapyards for old ships can be amazing places to take pictures but are difficult to access. The solution? A 500mm lens and a step stool to peer over the fence.

Also known as catadioptric lenses, or “cats,” some mirror lenses contain glass elements clustered together with no air between the elements. These are called “solid cats” and are shorter though notably heavier than their mirrored counterparts. The advantage of solid cats is that, unlike mirror optical systems, in which the mirrors can sometimes be jarred out of alignment, the glass elements in solid cats are cemented together into a single solid unit, making them far more resistant to misalignment due to impact or heavy vibrations.

All of the accompanying photographs were taken with Nikon F3s, Nikon FM2s, and a 500mm f/5 Reflex-NIKKOR on Kodachrome 64 slide film. The resulting images were scanned using my Franken-Scanner outfitted with a Sony a7R III and a 55mm f/2.8 Micro-NIKKOR Ai-S macro lens.

Fall colors surround a lone fisherman out on a lake.

The Pros of Mirror Lenses

Let’s keep it simple—they are lightweight, they are small, and they are affordable. The most expensive telephoto lens currently sold at B&H (the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS) costs $12,995. The most expensive mirror lens sold at B&H (the Rokinon Reflex 300mm f/6.3 ED UMC CS) costs $299. The 600mm Sony is 17.68″ long and weighs 6.7 lb. The 300mm Rokinon is 2.9″ long and weighs 11.2 ounces. The 500mm mirror lenses aren’t much larger (about 4.7″ or less) and they typically weigh less than 1.5 lb.

Part of the reason mirror lenses are less costly is that glass lens elements require far more production time and expensive equipment to produce, compared to cutting circles into flat sheets of mirrored glass. A big advantage of mirror lenses is that, due to their design, image files produced by mirror lenses are free from chromatic and off-axis aberrations, which are common with traditional refractive telephoto lenses.

A traditional 600mm lens and a 500mm mirror lens side-by-side. Need I say more?

The Cons of Mirror Lenses

When it comes to mirror lenses, the cons come with a one-two punch. The first punch is that they have a single fixed aperture. The sucker-punch is that mirror lenses are slow. How slow? Well, f/6.3 is considered fast, and most are f/8. Nikon made a super-fast 500mm f/5 Reflex-NIKKOR back in the early ’70s, and if you can find a clean used one—bully for you—snag it before I do! Nikon also used to produce a 1000mm f/11 Reflex-NIKKOR, which was a bear of a lens to shoot with, even when mounted on a tripod.

A couple of cute kids running through a field appear sharp against ethereally blurred trees in the background and tall grass in the foreground when captured with a 500mm mirror lens.

I should also warn you, mirror lenses tend to be about a half-stop slower than advertised and they vignette slightly toward the corners, but—IMHO—the vignetting invariably works in favor of the pictures these lenses capture.

The only other so-called downside of mirror lenses is an aesthetic issue having to do with donuts. Not the kind you dip in coffee, but the hollow circular twirls of light formed by out-of-focus specular highlights in the foreground and background of photographs taken with mirror lenses. These donuts are common to photographs taken with mirror lenses, which has to do with the way the light travels into and around the mirror system inside the lens barrel. Depending on one’s tastes, some find these circular highlights to be disturbing, but these are subjective qualifiers. From my experience the donuts usually work fine, sometimes they don’t, and in many cases they aren’t even an issue—they don’t exist.

Circular specular highlights, aka donuts, are a trademark of mirror lenses. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t work, but the criteria for making these calls is subjective according to one’s personal aesthetics.

Who Makes Mirror Lenses?

Back in the day, every camera manufacturer produced at least one mirror lens, usually in the 500mm range. These days there are only five manufacturers of mirror lenses, and three of these are one-and-the-same lens sold under different labels. Though most manufacturers have focused their R&D budgets on conventional telephoto lenses, the recently introduced Tokina SZX 400mm f/8 Reflex MF lens is available for most popular lens mounts, including T-mounts. What makes this lens so cool—aside from the fact it’s small enough to fit it in your coat pocket and costs less than $300, is that it can focus down to 45.3″ (a 0.4x magnification ratio!), which is amazingly close for a 400mm lens.

Tokina’s recently introduced SZX 400mm f/8 Reflex MF is less than 3″ long and focuses down to 0.4x magnification. It’s also extremely affordable.

Other manufacturers of mirror lenses include Bower, which produces a 500mm f/6.3 mirror lens in dedicated mounts, as well as a T-mount version for most major brands. Opteka produces a 500mm f/6.3 and a slightly slower 500mm f/8 mirror lens in a choice of lens mounts.

Bower 500mm f/6.3 DX Mirror Lens

If you prefer a shorter focal length, Rokinon’s Reflex 300mm f/6.3 ED UMC CS is available in a wide choice of lens mounts, as is its kissing cousin—the Samyang Reflex 300mm f/6.3 ED UMCV CS mirror lens.

An old fishing shack on the North Shore of Long Island, NY.
Morning sunlight glistens off the hull of a cherry-red ketch, in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Though I’ve managed to capture some truly impressive photographs with mirror lenses under extremely challenging shooting conditions, I’ll be the first to tell you mirror lenses are not as sharp as their conventional telephoto counterparts. Are they sharp? Yes, they are, but they come in a close second to their faster counterparts containing glass elements. With that in mind, one of the most advanced pieces of combined technologies ever created by human beings is the Hubble Telescope, which happens to be a mirror lens. It’s a big one, but it’s a mirror lens, nonetheless.

Camera Lens Characteristics

All lenses filter and focus light so that it hits the sensor or film strip correctly. However, there are a variety of other factors that determine how a camera lens affects the look and quality of the final photo.

1. Focal length is the measurement of distance (in millimeters) between the point of convergence of your lens and the sensor recording the image. The focal length range of a lens is expressed by a number, and that number tells you how much of the scene your camera will be able to capture. Smaller numbers have a wider angle of view and show more of the scene; larger numbers have a narrower angle of view and show less.

2. Aperture is how big the opening is that lets light in, expressed in f-stops. F-stops are counterintuitive, because the larger the number, the smaller the opening. For example, f/2.8 allows twice as much light into the camera as f4, and 16 times as much light as f11. Aperture affects the depth of field: larger openings create a shallower depth of field, while smaller openings make more of the image in focus.

3. Maximum Aperture. Lenses will list a maximum aperture on the barrel, indicating the maximum width a lens aperture can open. Typically, lenses with a wider maximum aperture cost a bit more. A lens with a wide maximum aperture is great for low light situations, so if you are considering night photography, it might be worth the investment.

4. Depth of Field. Controlling the amount of the photo that is in focus is one of the photographer’s best tools to help draw the viewer’s eye where you want it. For example, landscapes are typically shot so that everything is in focus, so photographers will shoot at small apertures (e.g. f11 or f16). The depth of field varies with the type of lens, due to maximum aperture.

Common Lens Sizes and Specs

16mm Lens

1. Angle of view: Very wide

2. Description: Very wide view of the world. Great for landscape photography.

3. Depth of field: Everything is in focus. Impossible to have a shallow depth of field.

4. Distortion of space: Makes things seem farther away than they actually are. Exaggerates the size of anything very close to the camera.

35mm Lens

1. Angle of view: Wide

2. Description: Roughly what a cell phone would capture. Great for street photography.

3. Depth of field: Pretty much everything is in focus unless your subject is very close to the camera.

4. Distortion of space: Less spatial distortion than a very wide lens, but it still makes things seem farther away than they actually are.

50mm Lens

1. Angle of view: Normal

2. Description: Roughly the way the human eye sees the world. Good for just about any type of photography.

3. Depth of field: Easy to have a shallow or deep depth of field, depending on aperture range.

4. Distortion of space: Very little or none.

85mm Lens

1. Angle of view: Medium telephoto

2. Description: Great for isolating a subject from the background. Good for portrait photography.

3. Depth of field: Easy to get a shallow depth of field.

4. Distortion of space: Makes things seem closer than they actually are.

200mm Lens

1. Angle of view: Telephoto

2. Description: Ideal for picking out a distant subject, the way a telescope does. Good for compressing your subject and the background.

3. Depth of field: Quite often has a shallow depth of field unless everything you’re shooting is quite far away.

4. Distortion of space: Makes things seem significantly closer than they actually are.

What to Consider When Buying a Camera Lens

There are a few important factors to take into consideration when investing in a new camera lens.

1. Cost. Lenses can get very expensive very quickly. If cost is a concern for you, consider a middle length zoom lens—for example a 24-70mm (f/2.8) lens. This is a workhorse lens that works well in a variety of situations, from portraits to landscapes.

2. Size and weight. Another major factor to consider when buying a lens is how large and heavy it will be. A large telephoto lens can weigh as much as 10 pounds. Take into account what the purpose of your camera and lens is; if it’s simply to take vacation photos, opt for a lighter, more compact one. But if you’re a, say, travel or wildlife photographer, then a telephoto is important for capturing those rare shots from afar.

3. Features. In addition to the camera lens specs discussed above, some lenses offer additional features and functionality. For instance, many lenses have a built-in autofocus feature, which can help you easily achieve the proper focus for your subject. Other lenses offer manual focus, which is more difficult to use, but also better suited to certain situations—for instance, low light conditions.

Lens Selection based on Sensor Size

Once you know what kind of sensor you have (full-frame or cropped), you can start shopping for the correct lens. Most lenses fall into two categories;

Camera Lenses for Full-Frame sensor cameras

Camera Lenses for Crop Frame sensors cameras

Lenses are made specifically for full-frame sensors or crop sensor cameras. Crop frame sensor lenses are designed specifically to match the smaller sensor size inside the camera. If your camera has a cropped sensor, you can use both full-frame and cropped frame lenses. However, if you have a full-frame sensor camera, you don’t want to use a lens for crop-frame cameras. Full-frame cameras should only use lenses designed for full-frame cameras.

Identifying Full-Frame vs Cropped Sensor Cameras

So how do you tell the difference between a full-frame sensor camera and a camera with a cropped sensor? Lens manufacturers label their APS-C format SLR lenses as follows:

Canon (EF-S)

Nikon (DX)

Sony (DT)

Tamron (Di II)

Pentax (DA)

Sigma (DC)

Tokina (DX)

Image Stabilization (IS)

Nothing ruins an image more than a blurry image resulting from camera shake. Camera shake is particularly problematic at slower shutter speeds or with longer focal length lenses (telephoto or zoom). Image Stabilisation (abbreviated ‘IS’) compensates for camera or lens movement and will help you to achieve sharper images at slower shutter speeds.

Some cameras have image stabilization built-in, while others use IS in the lens. Image Stabilization in the lens works by using electromagnets to move internal glass elements. When you turn on image stabilization, those electromagnets are activated to create a floating spring-like suspension system so the glass can absorb camera shake and make your images sharper. Each manufacturer has its own definition for image stabilization;

Canon (IS) Image Stabilization

Nikkor (VR) Vibration reduction

Sigma (OS) Optical Stability

Tamron (VC) Vibration Correction

Fujifilm | Panasonic | Samsung (OIS) Optical Image Stabilization

Image stabilization is available in a wide range of different lenses, but it’s particularly effective with longer focal length lenses because images taken with longer lenses require faster shutter speeds to keep them sharp.

Lens Mounts and Third Party Lenses

Each camera manufacturer uses its own proprietary lens mount that we refer to as first-party lenses.  This means camera lenses cannot be swapped with different brands; a Nikon lens won’t fit on a Canon body. Other manufactures, referred to as third-party, make lenses to fit different mounts on multiple brands.

Third party lens manufacturers include Zeiss, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Meyer-Optik Gorlitz, Rokinon, IRIX, Lensbaby, Samyang, Venus Optics, and Voigtlander Nokton.

Lens Quality

Some lens manufacturers offer different qualities of camera lenses. When we talk about a higher quality lens, we usually mean the glass elements used in the construction of the lens are of a higher grade, resulting superior quality images.

Higher quality lenses are usually weather sealed and as you might have guessed, more expensive. Canon “L” lenses (Canon Luxury Lenses) can be easily identified by a red ring or white body. Nikkor lenses have “ED” on the lens barrel to signify the “Extra Low Dispersion” glass used in the lens.

Putting it all Together

The pictures you take, or the pictures you plan on taking, will determine which lens is right for you. So first decide if you need a lens for photographing picturesque landscapes, travel, sports, close-up shots, capturing wildlife, a lens for wedding photography, or even for a traditional portrait.

Next, check for lens mounting compatibility and compatibility with the sensor in your camera. Decide whether you need a fast lens and what maximum aperture you desire. Decide whether you need a higher quality lens and what extra features you need (image stabilization, autofocus, weatherproof, etc.).

Additionally, there are many options out there for renting lenses to try out before you make a final purchase decision. Try Borrow Lenses or Adorama Rental Company.

Camera lenses will be a good investment because lenses usually last longer than camera bodies and are less likely to become obsolete. So don’t be afraid to spend a little extra for a quality lens. Those of you who are just starting your journey in capturing photography with professional-level cameras – moving away from the phones or point and shoots.

In the end, your decision to purchase your second or third lens can have an amazingly positive impact on the quality of your photos. However, just by purchasing an expensive DSLR with a high-end lens alone won’t be enough to rocket you into the league of Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz. Taking the time to learn important information like how your camera works, how to properly expose your photos, how to frame an image, etc. will be the key to launching your photography hobby into a photography career. Be sure to stop by the beginner photography course to learn more.

Resources, “Mirror Lenses: Lightweight Super-Telephotos that Are Affordable.” By Allan Weitz;, “Perspective Control and Tilt-Shift Lenses.” By Amanda Bellucco;, “Different types of camera lenses and when to use them.”;, “Camera Lens Characteristics.”;, “6 Types of Camera Lenses & What to Do With Them.” By Domien Van Eynde;, “Eye vs. Camera.”;, “THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EYE AND CAMERA IN PERSPECTIVE CONTEXT.” By Kerem Deniz Yagmur;