What lens should I choose for nature and landscape photography?
Quite often when you buy your first SLR (single lens reflex) camera, it will come bundled with a lens. Some stores are flexible and will let you choose a different lens (with varying cost) to take with your camera body.
The lens is just as important as the body you choose, and will determine the quality of your images.
The aperture of the lens is important, but in terms of choosing a lens, the lower the number, represents how wide the lens can open, and how fast it can work. This is because the wider a lens can open, the more light can be let in and the faster an image can be taken. The aperture is represented by ‘f.’ and the lower the number, the wider it gets. So, a lens that is 50mm with an f/2.8 is pretty fast. Why would you want this? It means you can take pictures quickly even when you are handholding the camera.
There are generally three types of lenses you can choose; Standard, Telephoto and Wide Angle. Lenses can also be ‘fixed’ or ‘zoom’.
What does this mean?
Zoom and fixed lens
Well, a zoom lens will have two numbers, say 80 – 200mm. This means that it can take images from 80mm to 200mm (from a standard view to fairly close up). A fixed focal lens or ‘prime’ lens will not zoom in and out, but just provide one viewpoint. These lenses are often more expensive because although they do not have the flexibility of the zoom lenses, they are of higher quality and can normally take pin sharp images. However, the zoom lenses mean that you can carry one instead of three separate lenses and offers more possibilities to the average photographer.
In film format, a standard or normal lens is around 40mm to 55mm, although 50mm is the closest to how the human eye works. This makes the lens very user friendly and suitable for many situations.
The telephoto lens is a widely used choice in wildlife photography. With a telephoto, you can stay a fair distance back from the object you are photographing and close in on it. If you are photographing animals, quite often you do not want to disturb them, or else they will run away. Additionally, if you are on safari, you cannot get to close to dangerous animals – if you are in a zoo, you often have to see animals from afar. Telephotos can be from 85mm up to 1200mm. The recommended lenses for wildlife is 300mm – 400mm for land animals and 600mm for birds (since they are often far away).
With a telephoto lens, especially for wildlife, it can be worth spending more on a fast lens (with a low aperture number) but this can be costly. It is worth looking for a camera with the IS or VR function – ‘Image Stabilized’ or ‘Vibration Reducing’ depending on the manufacturer. This means there is less shake when taking a picture hand held (but it is better to use a tripod if you are using a long telephoto).
Then there are wide-angle lenses, perfect for landscape. Because they can fit a lot into the picture, you can capture much of the landscape; foreground, a feature and perhaps the sky. As they tend to have a greater depth of field, it is easier to have sharp pictures. They are also wonderful for building and architecture shots, as you can use the wide angle to give a great sense of space. They can vary from 10mm up to 35mm (but bear in mind the multiplication factor with a digital camera.)
If you want to take close up images, it is a good idea to buy a macro lens. Macro lenses of 90mm to105mm with an aperture of 2.8 are often a good choice. These can be great for pictures of insects or of small wildlife and plants.
There are different accessories you can purchase in order to get other effects.
There are lens hoods, which attach to the rim of your lens, and provide a shade from the sun. This prevents flare; the yellow dots or beams that sometimes occur when you take a photograph with bright sun.
Filters are an inexpensive and excellent way of adding color or special effects to your images. They also protect your lens from scratches and a lot of photographers will have a clear filter ready (regardless of whether they use digital or film) to put on a lens before they dream of taking it out.
Filters can come with an adaptor, in which you can slot square shaped filters into it, or in a circular form, that you can screw on top of the lens. With digital photography, the use of filters for color and enhancement is less popular because effects can be added later with digital editing software.
With film cameras, the number and types of filters are numerous; polarising for bringing out the sky and clouds, graduated for adding color to the sky, star filters for making stars and lights shine. Companies like Cokin, Hoya and Kood make a wide selection depending on your needs.