Guest Blog: Choosing Camera Lenses with Entertainment Photographer Brad Moore

Choosing lenses can be confusing with so many things to consider… Focal length, maximum aperture, weight, price, premium vs zoom, etc. I’ll try to break things down as best I can and hopefully give you a better understanding of it all so you can make a more informed decision on what to buy.

What do all these numbers mean?
When you look at lenses, you’re going to see a lot of different numbers. The first will be followed by mm. So 24-70mm or 70-200mm or 16-35mm or whatever. This is the focal length. The smaller the number, the “wider” the lens, which is why they are called wide-angle lenses. The larger the number, the “longer” the lens, and these are called telephoto lenses once they are 70mm or longer. After these digits, you will see some that start with f/. So f/2.8, f/4, f/3.5-5.6, etc. This is the f-stop or maximum aperture (the terms are relatively interchangeable). The lower the number, the “faster” the lens, i.e. the glass. The larger the number, the “slower” the lens/glass. Let’s dig a little deeper into these two sets of numbers…

Zoom vs. Prime Lenses
If you see two numbers, like 24-70mm, on a lens, that means it’s a zoom lens. These lenses allow you to get closer or further away from your subject without having to physically move to do so. If there’s only one number, like 35mm, it means it’s a prime, or ‘prime’ lens. So whether you want to get closer or further from your subject, you have to “zoom in with your feet”, as Joe McNally puts it.

Fixed or variable opening
If you see a number, like f/2.8, on a lens, it means it’s a fixed aperture lens. All prime lenses are fixed aperture, as well as some zoom lenses. This means that regardless of the focal length of the lens, your maximum aperture will remain the same. If you see two numbers, like f/3.5-5.6, then it’s a variable aperture lens. This means that as you zoom in or out the lens, the maximum aperture will change. If I’m using an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, the maximum aperture will jump from f/3.5 when I’m at 18mm, then gradually increase to f/5.6 when I will zoom to 135mm.

put it all together
While zooms can be fast, prime lenses tend to be faster. For example, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 currently costs around $1900. But if I wanted a faster prime lens, I have plenty of options at different price points. I can get a 35mm f/2 lens for around $600 or the original f/1.4 version for around $1000 (there is a newer version for around $2000). Lots of 35mm options for Nikon shooters too. Or I can look at the Canon 50mm range and go from $125 for the f/1.8 version to $400 for the f/1.4 version or even add a big extra and spend $1400 for the f/1.2 version. Again, Nikon also offers various 50mm options.

But, you need to consider the types of shooting situations you most often find yourself in. Can you zoom with your feet? If so, prime lenses might be best for you. If not, and you find yourself in situations where space is limited (e.g. a photo pit at a concert), zoom lenses may be best. And what camera do you shoot with? Does it handle high ISO situations well enough? If so, you might prefer to shoot at higher ISO with a slower lens than spend more money on a faster lens.

The “standard” professional configuration
Many working professionals have what is called the “trinity” of lenses. For Canon shooters, these are the 11-24mm f/4 or 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8. For Nikon photographers, these are the 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8.

Why these lenses? They’ll cover you very well in most situations, from super wide to telephoto, and they’re all pretty fast lenses, so they’re useful if you’re shooting in low-light situations. They’re also high-end lenses, so they’ll put a dent in your wallet. Worth it if you need it, but…

To save money
Do you really need to jump for the more expensive options? Unless you’re shooting in low-light situations, you probably don’t. For example, my buddy Peter Hurley does the vast majority of his work in the studio where he controls the light, so he uses the Canon 70-200mm f/4 lens instead of the 70-200mm f/2.8. What is the difference? About $600, a light stop and almost half the weight.

So for Peter the f/4 version makes more sense because if he needs more light he is in his studio and can adjust the power. And it never shoots at f/2.8, so why spend all that extra money and add twice the weight to what it’s holding and carrying in its gear bag? Nikon also makes 70-200mm f/4 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. The price difference isn’t as big as Canon’s, but $600 is still a lot of money!

But for someone like me who works live and backstage, I need that extra stop of light that the f/2.8 version gives me. Could I manage with the f/4? A lot of time, yes. But if I’m in a small room with bad lighting trying to photograph a high-energy performer who doesn’t allow flash, I’ll have a hard time getting a single photo that isn’t blurry even at ISO 25600. My wallet might be thinner and my shoulders might hurt a little more late at night, but at least the pictures are sharp!

Full frame or crop
One last thing to consider is whether you are shooting on a full frame camera or a crop sensor camera. Most low-end DSLRs are crop sensors, meaning they’re smaller than full-frame sensors. Some lenses are designed to only cover the size of the crop sensor, so if you use them on a full frame camera, your image will be cropped and you will lose some of your resolution, as seen below right.

However, if you buy full frame lenses, you can use them on any camera without loss of image resolution. If you use them on a crop sensor camera, they effectively become a “longer” lens due to the smaller sensor size. So what was a 70-200mm lens becomes a lens of around 105-300mm, depending on the exact size of the crop sensor.

So which one should you buy? If you never plan to upgrade to a full frame camera and always stick with a crop sensor camera, you can save some money and just buy crop lenses. But if you think you could make the jump to a full-frame camera, it’s up to you whether you want to save in the short term, then buy new lenses when you make the jump, or go ahead and invest now. to save you the hassle later. .

On Canon, cropped lenses are denoted by the letters EF-S (full frame lenses are simply EF), and Nikon denotes their cropped lenses by the letters DX (full frame lenses are FX). And to find out if your camera body is a full frame sensor or a crop sensor, all you need to do is check the specs online and it should be one of the first things listed. Canon crop sensors will say APS-C sensor (full frame will just say full frame), and Nikon crop sensors will say DX-Format while full frame will say FX-Format.

Hope this helps you decide which lenses to buy. If in doubt, you can always rent lenses (and other gear) from places like LensProToGo, Borrow Lenses, or Lens Rentals to try before you buy.

You can see Brad’s work at and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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