with Courtney Slazinik
Everything You Want To Know About Camera Lenses: Part 5 – Comparing Different Lenses

Have you checked out the lens series this month? If you have been following the other posts you will know more about what the writing on the lens means, you’ll have been given an idea on which lenses to buy and when, heard what our favorite lenses are and, difference of your lens on a crop vs. full frame camera. There has been so much useful information shared by everyone, I am kind of nervous to follow all of those awesome posts! Since the other articles have already given so much information, there’s not a ton I can add…therefore my goal is to portray the difference in some of the popular lenses in pictures.

Questions alot of photographers receive

-What is your favorite lens & why?
-Which lenses do you use most?
-If I buy THAT lens, can I take pictures like THAT?
-What lens do I have to buy to blur the background?
-Just tell me which one to buy :)

The fact of the matter is that you can ask opinions of others all day long but in the end, you need to be happy with your purchase because it’s the right fit for YOU, not for us or a friend or a photographer you follow. We have attempted to educate you all this month so that you can make the decision yourself but it would be a disservice to just tell you what to do! I will try to point out some of the differences in lenses through pictures while attempting to be unbiased :)  Although I can’t say I always followed my own advice (I wish I did), I always recommend people rent a lens before buying it to make sure it’s a good fit. Usually lens rental is available (online or locally) at a reasonable price. Try Borrow Lenses if interested in check on lens rental prices.

Some people have go-to lenses they LOVE & rarely use their others. Some people (like myself) constantly change lenses out to achieve different affects & truly LOVE all of them for different reasons. There is no right or wrong & everyone is different :)  Don’t feel pressured to buy every lens out on the market all at once because that’s not feasible. Plus if you do that – you might start buying for price & not quality then so that you can get more for your money. With lenses quality matters & it pays off to invest in good lenses. Take your time adding to your collection & make sure you are informed & have tried out each lens before you just HAVE. TO. HAVE. IT. NOW. so that you make sure you are happy for the long run! Because if you think about it….if you invest in a lens that is say $800-$2500, whether it is high or low on that range, you want to get use out of it for a LONG time!

Lenses do a nice job of helping you create the look you want for your images. If you are going for that urban, editorial-ish wide angle feel, obviously a wide angle is the best choice. If you are photographing a single child in a field with beautiful light coming through the trees & are hoping to capture bokeh, I’d grab the 50mm or 85mm over the 24-70mm or whatever wide angle lens YOU have.

Before I continue to ramble, I will post some examples of images using different lenses. In order to accurately depict the different in look & feel between the lenses I chose to use. I chose the same subject at the same spot with the same f-stop, same ISO & same distance from my subject on the same day :)

(Boy was it hard to get this guy to stay still…I definitely had to put down some tape to show him where to stand & kind of giving in to the idea of having “mediocre/ not so good” pictures for this post!). I tried about four different days, was forced to quit each time either because of weather or Garrett’s behavior! I then decided to re-schedule to a time when his dad could be there with us so that he had a distraction. I also had to buy donuts & tell him to eat them veeeeery slowly without getting up! Are your kids this high maintenance?

All of my lenses go as low as f/ 2.8….many of them go much lower, but unfortunately my wide angle & zoom lens only go to f/ 2.8 so for that reason (to create consistency) I will take each image at F/2.8. Just for the record, if I were shooting these images for fun & not for the purpose of this project, I’d have shot more wide open (probably f/1.8-2.5).

Here are the lenses I used in the order I used them:
All images taken with f/2.8, ISO 200, kelvin WB 5800, & SS varied a stop or two. I took the pictures from the SAME spot, moments within each other using a tripod to make sure I really did stay in one spot…(side note: the sun was popping in & out of the clouds every two seconds & going from completely overcast to very sunny during each set pretty much….if I tweaked settings, it was only a stop or two up or down for exposure to account for the change in light).

These images are pretty much untouched/ unedited so the color is off. I wish the sun was out consistently because I think the best way to truly show a difference between lenses is to look at the light coming through the trees, then compare the bokeh & look. Ih well, I tried to wait for good, sunny weather to backlight these photos & it just wasn’t going to happen! I hope this still shows the difference in the focal lengths well enough.

1. Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 @ 24mm (at 2.8)

2. Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 @ 70mm (at 2.8)

3. Nikon 50mm 1.4G (at 2.8)

The 50mm 1.4G or the 50mm 1.8D would also be a good investment & would provide similar results.

4. Nikon 85mm 1.4G (at 2.8)

The 85mm 1.4D or even the 85mm 1.8 would also be a good investment & provide similar results.

5. Nikon 16mm fisheye 2.8 (at 2.8)

6. Nikon 105mm Macro 2.8

7. Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 @ 70 (at 2.8)

8. Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 @ 200 (at 2.8)

Those are all of the lenses I own. Sorry Canon people, I’m not a two brand girl or I’d provide images using both! This list can easily be applied to Canon lenses as well, as they offer comparable quality & lens focal length options. In fact Canon even offers many of their L series prime lenses in f/1.2 (such as the 50mm 1.2L or the 85mm 1.2L which I hear are sweet (costly but SWEET!)!

Here’s one from the same day I decided to edit & make presentable :) I set up my tripod to take interval shots so I could be in some, too!

So what can you notice after reviewing the images shot with different lenses & different focal lengths (all with the same settings)?
I remember I said I’d stay unbiased & let you jump to your own conclusions :) You decide what you think first & then read the following. Don’t cheat!

I will just say that if you agree with some of the statements below, then we are on the same page!
-while the 24-70mm is a great portrait lens, it is (to me) the most beneficial around 24mm:
…indoors when you don’t have much room to back up & want to shoot wide
…to capture wide angle shots where you really want to capture the background to make a statement
for the “lifestyle” feel where you’d like to incorporate as much context as possible
…but for this project (since wide angle was not the “look” I was going for), shooting at 24mm was unnecessary & almost looked silly

-at 70mm, the 24-70mm still has the ability to blur the background a bit (maybe not as much as the 50mm or 85mm though)
-the 50mm is a great versatile, sharp, fun lens & would be a great first purchase

-the 85mm is smooth & creates beautiful bokeh, awesome for portraits of one individual especially

-the fisheye is VERY fun! not necessarily practical to use often though; definitely didn’t work for this assignment but it has it’s time & place where it is INCREDIBLE!

-the macro lens is a great lens but more useful maybe for macro shots versus portraits such as the one I took for this project (a better example of a good time to use it below)

-the 70-200mm when shot at 20mm really brings the background in to bring attention to subject nicely

Bottom line, all of these lenses (in my mind) have very redeeming qualities & specific purposes. You just have to decide what is right for you when making your lens purchases using your experience & all of the information that all of the lens series posts have taught!

I’d love to hear what you think! Thanks for reading!

Read the whole series: Everything you want to know about camera lenses
Part 1: Understanding the writing on the lens
Part 2: What lens should I buy next?
Part 3: Our Favorite Lenses
Part 4: Lens on crop vs. full frame sensor
Part 5: Comparing different lenses
Part 6: 50mm 1.8 vs 1.4

Disclaimer: These are affiliate links. What does that mean? Basically, if you loved the information and decide to purchase anything through the link that the author of this post will receive a small percentage of money from the company at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance if you do decide to make a purchase :)

  • March 23, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    Still loving that sand bokeh! Great post Kelly!

  • Amy
    March 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    I’m just loving this series — it has been so helpful! I have one question though — are you shooting with a full frame, or crop sensor camera? I’m just wondering because of what you said about the 85 mm. If that’s on a full frame, then a crop sensor camera would need one that is about 120mm?

  • March 23, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    This will save Courtney having to reply to my long email about lenses. Thanks so much for writing this post. I have come to the conclusion that no one can really “tell” me what lens to buy. It’s a very personal thing, but the more I’ve read and the more examples I’ve seen, I’m starting to get a better idea of what photos I would like to shoot and hence, which lenses to invest in. I’m a Canon user with an entry level slr. I will get a better body, but not before I get a better lens–currently have a kit lens and the not too bad 50mm f/1.8. Is there a way of “Liking” posts? I LIKE this one :)

    I do have a quick question….since I’m not a professional photographer and money doesn’t really grow on trees, would it be better to save on a Canon built lens or will I get the same quality with a third party lens? I would appreciate feedback. THanks!

    • Courtney
      March 24, 2012 at 10:14 AM

      Hey Gerty! Sorry I haven’t emailed you back yet :O) Today my mission is to catch up on emails :O) You can “like” it on the FB button or share it in Pinterest :O)

      As far as name brand vs 3rd party it’s completely up to you. There is often a pretty big price difference so it depends on what you want to spend. I know my first zoom I couldn’t afford the name brand 24-70 so I went with the Tamron 28-75. It was exactly what I needed and is a great lens.

      • March 24, 2012 at 10:32 AM

        Thanks for that Courtney. Sorry, I wasn’t having a go at you. I know you’re very busy. It was coincidence that this last post on lenses answered all the questions I bombarded you with in that email :) I agree about the price difference. That tamron lens a third of the price of a canon lens here is Australia. I should just keep saving and make that decision closer to when I’m buying, but may I say that this series has been so helpful in showing me the ropes as far as lenses go. I now have a complete wish list of lenses and good reasons to back them up. I love this little home in the world wide web!

        • Courtney
          March 24, 2012 at 3:01 PM

          Oh, Gerty, I know you weren’t giving me a hard time :O) You are so sweet :O)

  • March 23, 2012 at 2:46 PM

    just found the LIKE button :p

  • March 24, 2012 at 12:07 AM

    This is a great post. It definitely answered questions I had about lenses, but the links don’t seem to be working. I keep getting error messages :o(

    • Courtney
      March 24, 2012 at 10:14 AM

      Yes, thank you for letting us know! I’m going to be fixing those. Sorry about that. Computer…blah! :O)

  • March 24, 2012 at 4:02 AM

    This is really helpful. Thank you!

  • March 24, 2012 at 7:12 AM

    Great and helpful post- TFS! I like the 85 shot, but that’s b/c you are in it :)

  • March 26, 2012 at 12:09 AM

    Wow. I am a beginner photographer and am still learning about the things I can do with my digital point and shoot. I dream of one day getting a camera where I can change the lens – you can do so much more with them! Just amazing. I found you on SITS and will be back!

  • Jen
    March 26, 2012 at 2:19 AM

    I really like that 85mm lens where you created the Bokeh effect. It seems to work better than the 50mm one I bought. I also like what you did with the 24-70 mm with the indoor shot. The weather has gotten so beautiful here in MN now that I’m excited to get my camera out and take more photos. I even set up a page on my website just for photography. You’ve inspired me!

  • March 31, 2012 at 7:28 AM

    Loved this series! Thanks so much. The only bummer is I wish it had been done two years ago =) I bought my D40 with the kit lenses and still wasn’t getting the pictures I wanted for basketball. So I talked to a friend of mine and he suggested getting the 18mm-200mm 3.5-5.6. But like you said earlier the lens was perfect for his needs, outdoor soccer games, not mine, indoor basketball. I still got some good pics with the 18mm-200mm (VR helped a ton in the low light) but after one year I wanted more. The lens I thought I wanted wouldn’t auto focus on my D40 so I purchased the D90 and started saving for the 85mm 1.8. Thankfully I rented it. Turns out my son and his best friend didn’t like the way the pics looked. they wanted a more open feel rather than the tight close ups. So back to the drawing board…I finally purchased the Tamron 24-70mm 2.8 and love it! It works perfect capturing the type of pictures my kids want for basketball and is a great walk around lens too.

    I gave my D40 and the 18-200mm to my daughter, she loves photography and mainly shoots outdoors so this combo is perfect for her. I still want the 85mm I loved the pics that I took during my mom’s visit. It would be great to go out and do photo shoots with my kids and their friends and maybe sneak in a game or two =)

  • Lauren
    April 13, 2012 at 7:58 AM

    These are great tips and all but it seems like your blog and your contributors only shoot full frame. I thought this site was more about learning, and I’m pretty sure most of us that are beginning can’t afford to shoot with full frame. You should add a contributor that’s actually learning on a beginner camera.

    • Courtney
      May 21, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      Hey Lauren,

      Just saw this comment, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Sorry you feel you aren’t able to learn as much from photographers that shoot full frame. However, when I started this blog I shot on a crop sensor and it wasn’t until June 2011 that I upgraded to a full frame, which was almost a year after I started this blog. So any posts older than June 2011 were shot with my crop sensor D90. However, I don’t feel that the techniques we are teaching would change if you were on a crop or full frame. I still pull photos from my crop sensor and use them in posts mixed with full frame shots. Is there something in particular you were wondering? We’d love to answer any questions you may have but like I said, the techniques and knowledge are the same whether you are on a full frame or crop sensor. Thanks for your feed back!! If you would like to see a comparison of some of these lenses on a crop sensor be sure to check out Melissa’s post in this series – http://www.clickitupanotch.com/2012/03/everything-you-want-to-know-about-camera-lenses-part-4-lens-on-crop-vs-full-frame-sensors/

  • Sabrina
    April 20, 2013 at 11:30 PM

    Hi there. I loved this post. It definitely cleared up a lot of confusion I have had about which lens to use for different scenarios. My big question is what lens would you recommend for capturing a military homecoming? I have only done up-close family and children sessions. So something like this is totally new. I’ll be renting a lens and could use some help from someone who knows what they are doing! ;) Thanks!

  • Emily
    June 18, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    Hi there! I’m absolutely in love with your lense tutorial, now…would you pleaaaase tell me which editing processor you use?!? It would be greatly appreciated thank you so much!

    • June 4, 2014 at 9:13 AM

      Hey Emily! Kelly who wrote this uses Photoshop for editing :)

  • January 6, 2014 at 10:37 PM

    hi, i really enjoyed your articles on different lenses and is really what i needed to help me on my next purchase. i really liked my kit lens with my 60D (18-135)…that was until i got my canon 50mm 1.4. oh my. love love love it. and i don’t mind it being fixed…until i landed a great opportunity. that opportunity is photographing the carriage rides over the holidays. low light and really more event so the 50 is really not the right lens. so i went back to my stock. which did the job just fine but now i’m spoiled. i really need a wider angle or…really…a suggestion on what the best lens would be for that scenario. your expertise and feedback is greatly appreciated.

  • February 25, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this series. It has really been informative to me. I learned all about the writing on my lens; whether it was fixed or prime. I enjoy photography and have been shooting in manual for over a year. I have a Canon 28-135mm macro lens on my camera. This is what came with my camera. It takes great shots up close for that fine detail in manual. However, after reading your series I realized why I am not getting the pictures I like when I take pictures of people or landscapes. This lens is not for that kind of picture taking is what I learned from your post. Is this correct? I would love to get an inexpensive 50mm to practice with in hopes of getting more sharp and crisp shots for taking photos of people.

    Thanks again! Great info!!

  • satish
    May 15, 2014 at 8:16 AM

    I would like to read the review and lab analysis of 58mm 1.4G AF-S nikkor lense.

  • September 27, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    Great information as always…thanks for sharing!

  • Paul Danesi
    December 31, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    Excellent information. Have had my Nikon for almost a year now and wish I had read this article early into my photography life.
    Have been purchasing lenses on eBay, and the best advise I have to offer is that you can save a lot of money by investing in a Nikon with a focus motor in the body. After buying a D7000 I have been able to invest in used AF lenses rather than the more costly AF-S. The savings on my first two lenses well outdistanced the cost of the D7000.
    I have also moved from the “sexy” zoom lenses into a prime lense user. As long as you have a good camera bag, you’re never lost for coverage.

  • Susanne
    August 14, 2015 at 8:25 AM

    Hi guys!

    Great article! As all the others I have been reading here so far;-)

    I wonder if you could help me with a piece of advice on choosing ideal lenses?

    I am about to upgrade to full frame with Canon 6D (from Canon 60D + Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 VC + Canon 50 f/1.8).

    I am looking for preferably 3 lenses (unless you can really convince me why to get more…;-).

    My usage:
    I use my gear for ‘extended’ everyday-use and work hard on getting 100% manual.

    My main shooting will be:
    – everyday life in my family indoor/outdoor (number one!)
    – a bit of portrait (not portrait sessions but mere like my own kids etc.)
    – holidays/vacations/travel (not a lot)
    – food photography and other ‘item-shootings’ for blogging
    – street
    – (I don’t do any wildlife or sports, very little landscape)

    Lenses that I am interested in (for full frame):

    Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 or
    Canon 24-105 f/4

    Canon 70-200 f/4 IS or

    Canon 85 f/1.8

    Sigma Art 35 mm f/1.4

    Sigma Art 50 mm f/1.4

    Canon 100 mm macro f/2.0

    Canon 135 f/2

    Thanks to everyone who will help me;-)

    Kind Regards,

    • August 28, 2015 at 11:27 AM

      Hey Susanne,

      It is really hard to say that what works for one photographer will work for another. I know it’s not the answer you are looking for. For example, if I had to pick my 3 favorite lenses today I’d say the Tamron 24-70mm, Tamron 70-200mm and the 35mm 1.4. But that fits me and my style. It really depends on how you like your images. Do you want a lot of environment in them? Prefer close up? My suggestion would be to rent a few of those lenses you listed and see which you like best. You are the only one who will know if you love that lens. Good luck!

  • Susanne
    August 26, 2015 at 6:29 AM

    Could anybody help with a few pieces of advice on my question above?


  • Fahad
    March 3, 2018 at 12:18 AM

    I appreciate your post. Thanks alot.

Leave a Comment