Camera Lenses - Overview

If you are taking a step up from a compact digital camera to a Digital SLR one of the biggest differences is that a Digital SLR is just a camera body. The lens is a separate unit that you attach to the camera body in order to take a photo. Therefore to take pictures with your Digital SLR you will need to buy a lens and attach it to your camera. When you buy a consumer level Digital SLR you get the option to buy your camera with one or two lenses in what is known as a kit.

The kit lenses are good enough to get most people started. The quality of the lens can be variable, but unless you a very particular about photo quality they are perfectly adequate while you are learning more about what your camera can do. Even so if your Digital SLR only came with one wide angle lens you will find this limiting when it comes to the type of photographs you can take. So it is useful to understand more about the different types and quality of lenses that are available to you.

The lens plays a very significant role when it comes to picture quality. In fact the lens is probably of more importance when it comes to picture quality than the camera body itself. A poor quality less can cause a lack of sharpness in your photos as well as other problems such as a lack of contrast in your shots and various types of distortion.

camera lenses

Camera Lens Types

Lenses come in different shapes and sizes. Many, like macro lenses or tilt and shift lenses, carry out specialist jobs while others like a normal telephoto lens, can take care of a number of different types of photo opportunities.

The type of lens you require will depend on the type of photographs you are looking to take. You may be planning to specialise in a particular type of photography. If this is the case then it is likely there is a type of lens that you will benefit from over and above other types. If your interest is more general than a standard telephoto lens is likely to suit the majority of your initial requirements.

You will also find that some lenses zoom and some lenses do not. The ones with a fixed focal length and do not zoom are known as Prime lenses.

How Many Lenses Do You Need?

There is no correct answer to this question. The answer depends on the type of photographs you are planning to take and whether or not you are looking for supreme picture quality.

If you buy a typical, consumer level Digital SLR you will have the option to buy the camera in what is known as a kit. This means that the camera will come with a lens or possibly two lenses. The most common kit lens is a wide angle lens. These are ideal for squeezing in wider scenes such as landscapes and groups of people.

When you buy a kit with a second lens that lens will probably be a general telephoto lens. This will give you a lot more flexibility and can cover a large proportion of every day photo opportunities.

As long as you do not have many specific photo requirements these two lenses may well be all you need, especially when you are getting started.

It is when you start to become more specialised in the type of photos that you take that you will need to buy extra lenses. For example if you decide to take up wildlife photography a lens with a long focal length is more or less a necessity. If you decide close up photography is of interest to you then macro lenses will be on your shopping list.

Many years ago zoom lenses were considered to be lower quality than a prime lens. Today any difference in quality is a lot less obvious, so unless you are seeking professional level quality buying a lens with plenty of zoom will cut down on the number of lenses you need in your camera bag.

Related Pages

Camera Lens Introduction
Buying Your First Lens
Camera Lens Types
Camera Lens Brands
Buying Second Hand Lenses
Lens Sharpness
Digital SLR Crop Factor
Caring For Your Camera Lens
Common Lens Faults
Camera Lens FAQs

Lens Mounts

Probably the most important concept to grasp initially is the role of the lens mount. This is used to connect a lens to a camera body. The most important point to be aware of is that different brands of Digital SLRs have different lens mounts. This means that for example a Sony lens will NOT be compatible with a Canon Digital SLR.

Complexity is added to the subject by third party lenses manufacturers. For example a company like Sigma will make lenses for use with different camera brands. When buying a third party lens you will need to ensure the lens you buy has the same lens mount as your Digital SLR.


Almost all modern lenses will offer the ability to focus either automatically or manually. If you decide to buy an older lens it is worth checking to see if it is capable of automatic focus if this is important to you. If it is an older lens you are buying it is also worth checking with the manufacturer that all of the functions the lens offers are compatible with your Digital SLR and there are no restrictions in how the lens can be used. For example you may find auto focus does not work.

You should not face any restriction with current lenses, but it is always worth checking your camera manual before buying.

Lens Quality and Price

Lenses also differ in quality and price. The quality of the lenses you require will depend on the quality of the photographs you are looking to take and your budget. You do not need ultimate quality lenses if you take photos for fun.

Image Stabilisation

Some lenses come with image stabilisation. This is a big help in combating camera shake and can lead to sharper images. Depending on the brand of camera you own you may find that Image Stabilisation has been built into your camera body. If this is the case you do not need to buy lenses with Image Stabilisation.

Filter Rings

The vast majority of lenses will come with filter rings. These allow you to add filters to the front of your lens. The size of the filter ring can differ from lens to lens.