4 Steps for Choosing Your Next Lens

nikkor_85_1_8.jpgEvery once in a while comes that moment when you decide to get a new lens. For me this moment arrived about three weeks ago, when I decided that I deserve a nice photography treat my wife finally said yes, you can buy what ever you want, just stop talking about lenses all the time. (If you just want to learn what my winning lens is, go here and look at the second lens).

I would like to share the process I went through for selecting my next lens to purchase. I am not sure if the process was the best process that one can do to choose a lens, I post it here to help others in their choices. Please hit me in the comments if you find this process can be improved. So here is the tale of the duel between Sharpy (85mm/1.8) and Shorty (60mm/2.8 macro).

1. Explore Your Needs?

The first step for making any new purchase is needs definition. What do you need a new lens for? Are there aspects in your photography where you feel limited? Here are a bunch of gut feelings you may have that drive you for a new lens.

  • My lenses are not fast enough – I miss great shots in dark places.
  • My lenses take too long to focus – I miss all those great action shots
  • My lenses don’t have enough focal length / are not wide enough – I wish I could shoot from further away or I wish I could squeeze more into the frame.

Is there a new area in the vast photography realm that you want to explore? (Macro, landscape, portraiture and astronomy are some or the area you’d like to explore)

Is there a certain way you like to shoot, and would like to take it into extreme? Macro is such an example – a different lens there can make lots of difference (of course, you can always go DIY).

Ask the most specific question that you can. I’ll use my internal dialog from three weeks ago as an example:
Needy me: (jumping up and down) I want a new lens
Smart me: (takes out a fatherly pipe) Why?
Needy me: (scratching head) I want to take portraits with blurred background.
Smart me: (blowing smoke from a gun, lays back and sighs) So, what wrong with the great 50mm/1.8 you have?
Needy me: (Hitting my head with a banana) Nothing actually, it’s sharp, it has a great bokeh, and it focuses in the speed of lighting. The only thing is…
Smart me: (looking bored) yes….
Needy me: (got it) it is to short for outdoor photography.

2. Research

choose_a_lens_explore.jpgThe nice thing about this fast era that we are living in, is that everything is at the tips of your fingers. At least for initial research. I started by googling "Nikon portrait lens". I got back a bunch of links that really helped me focus on my options. (Image by borghetti)

This link from wlcastleman.com was a great help as it showed some of the more common options for portraiture lenses.

I also spent some time on the Nikon USA store and on the Nikon lenses page of B&H.

Lastly I passively hit every forum I know to check if they had any opinion on the subject – Be careful here not all forum members know what they are talking about.

By the end f this step I narrowed it down to the Nikon 85mm/1.8 (Sharpy) and the 60mm/2.8 macro (Shorty).

3. Consult

I rang the phone of every photographer I know either amateur or pro and asked about their first hand experience with the mentioned lenses. Nothing bits hearing first hand. I asked:
- Are they fast?
- Are they sharp
- Are they fun to work with? (Totally subjective, still very important).
- What a comfy working distance?
- Anything else?

Some ten phone calls later (and ten less friends, who swore to talk to me about photography ever again). I still was not sure. This is when I decide to "capitalize" on the fact that I run a blog read by the best photographers in the world, and get your help.

This was probably one of the smarter things I did. I learned allot, I learned that:

  • Sharpy is very sharp and give a great bokeh
  • Sharpy has a very minor CA issue
  • Sharpy is great for outdoor photograph, but can be a bit tight in a studio. (not to mention a living room)
  • Shorty is also sharp (Sorry name is already taken)
  • I was also reminded that 60mm is very close to 50mm (which is like the 50mm/1.8 that I already own)
  • I rarely do macro shots, so the macro function is of very little use for me.

4. Decide

Finally, I had a winner – Sharpy. I would like to thanks all the great commentators that really helped me make this choice.

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