Photo Lesson Overview on

CGIPix is an observation that Nikon, Canon and the rest no longer make cameras,
they make computers that you can attach a lens to.
Here is a basic overview of what it takes to create good, better or best pictures, you decide how much effort you want to put into your pictures.

The basics of camera lenses:

Lenses are classified by their focal length and speed, such as a 50mm F1.4 lens or an 80-200mm F2.8.

35mm camera lenses come in 2 styles, primes and zooms. A zoom lens will have a range, 18mm-200mm, while a prime will have one focal length, 50mm.

With the quality of current zoom lenses, combined with digital cameras, zoom lenses will work fine for most applications. The general rule with zoom lenses is that the more range, the less quality throughout, i.e., an 18-200mm lens will not be as sharp as an 80-200mm lens. This is a generalization, and in most photos, it's hard to tell if there's any distortion caused by a zoom lens.

Which Lens to Buy?

With digital cameras, zoom lenses are convenient, because it minimizes lens changes, and the chances to get dust on the sensor. From there, the questions are what are you shooting, and how much can you spend?

Starting Out

When you're first starting out, a good plan is to buy cheaper lenses, and see what you use most. A lot of camera kits come with an 18-55mm lens and a 55-200mm lens. This covers the range, and does it cheaply. Once you see what range you use most, then buy better glass for that need, i.e. if you're always shooting at 200mm and cropping your photos, pick up a 300mm or 400mm. If your photos are all at 18mm and you want to go wider, then a 12-24mm lens would be a good one to get.

Properties of Lenses

Wide-Angle Lenses Properties and Uses

Wide angle lenses tend to distort the image somewhat. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on how you use it. Taking a picture of a person with a wide angle lens, up close to their face, creates the appearance of a huge nose, and very distorted facial features. The same wide lens on a scenic shoot will create great results, showing a vast area of land. The lower the focal length, the more the distortion will be apparent, thus a 15mm lens will make lines converge and distort much more than a 35mm lens.

Wide-Angle Lenses for Film and Full Frame

With a 35mm film camera, a 50mm lens is considered "standard". Any lenses with a focal length less than 50mm would be considered wide-angle. The wide angle prime lenses were 35mm, 28mm, 24mm, 20mm and 15mm. Of course, there are lots of other sizes, but these are the more common ones.

Wide-Angle Lenses for Digital Crop Frames

Since a lot of cameras use a 1.5 (Nikon), 1.6 or 1.3 (Canon) or 2x (Olympus) crop sensor, the lenses have to go wider to create a wide angle picture. With a 1.5 crop sensor, a 35mm is considered a "standard" lens. You can use a prime lens made for a film or full format camera on a cropped sensor, but not the other way, without some loss of the image frame. For digital cropped sensors, most of the wide angle lenses are zooms.

Telephoto Lenses Properties and Uses

Telephoto lenses tend to "flatten" an image, compressing the view of the reality in front of the camera. A great example, use a 28mm wide angle lens, and put something in the frame to fill it, and an object behind it. Now switch to a 200mm lens, move back to keep the object the same size in the frame, and the object behind it will appear much closer. The best example of where a telephoto lens is a necessity is sports, racing and wildlife, where you can't really get close to the subject, and need a lens that will bring the action in. An 85mm F1.4, 105mm F2 and 135mm F2 are the three standard lenses for fashion and portrait photographers using full frame. These three lenses will flatten the image somewhat and are fast enough to open up and really blur the background. A sports, news, portrait and fashion photographer will rely heavily on a 70-200 F2.8 or 80-200 F2.8 for the versatile range and image flattening.

Telephoto Lenses for Film and Full Frame

Telephoto prime lenses for film and full frame cameras start at the 85mm range. The longest telephoto lenses are 1000mm+, but those lenses are few and far between. The standard prime lenses in the telephoto range are the 85mm, 105m, 135mm, 180mm and 200mm. The lenses longer than 200mm fall into the super telephoto lenses.

Telephoto Lenses for Digital Crop Frames

With a cropped sensor, a telephoto lens will get a boost. A 200mm lens mounted on a 1.5 crop sensor will produce the same image field as a 300mm lens on a full frame camera. Telephoto lenses made for cropped frame cameras cannot be used with full frame, same as the wide angle lenses.

Different Types of Lenses

Standard Zoom Lenses

These are the "regular" kit lenses and lower priced lenses. The aperture is usually starting at F3.5, and sometimes as slow as F5.6. They are great for daylight and tripod, not very good at dusk and dawn.

Fast Zoom Lenses

The best zooms are rated at F2.8, and they are also the more expensive lenses. The image quality will be slightly better and the image in the viewfinder will be brighter, but the more important aspect is the light needed to maintain a good shutter speed. An 80-200mm F2.8 will shoot at F2.8, 1/125 of a second, easily handheld and freezing slower motion, while a 55-200mm F 3.5-5.6 lens, at 200mm will be set at F5.6, 1/30 of a second, way too slow to handhold, and any motion will be blurred badly in the shot. This is where price comes in, the 80-200mm will cost 700.00+ used, while the 55-200mm will cost around 125.00.

Prime Lenses

Prime lenses are great for their speed, a standard 50mm lens is rated at F1.8, a fast one is F1.4 or sometimes F1.2 and Canon even has an F1.0 50mm lens. It's always good to have a 50mm F1.8 lens for low light situations, it's a cheap backup that will cost around 100.00.


A teleconverter is is a cheap way to get extended a lenses range, although you do lose a slight amount of optical quality. Tele-converters come in 1.4, 1.5, 1.7 and 2x ranges. With a 1.4 you lose 1 full stop, i.e. a 300mm F2.8 becomes a 420mm F4 lens. A 2x teleconverter will double the range, and lose 2 stops, a 300mm F2.8 becomes a 600mm F5.6. Don't plan on putting a teleconverter on a slow zoom lens, most cameras will not autofocus very well after F5.6.

Super-Telephoto Lenses

These are the monster lenses you sometimes see, and their price tags and weight are oversized too. These lenses are the 300mm, 400mm, 500mm, 600mm, 800mm and 1200mm. The glass is usually faster, and here is where larger F stops cost a lot more. For a first super-telephoto, the usual go-to lens is a 300mm F2.8, with a 1.4x and 2x converter.

Specialty lenses

Fish Eye Lenses

A fish eye lens causes a massive amount of distortion as you go out from the center of the frame. These lenses are the 16mm, 12mm, and 8mm for film, along with the 10.5mm for cropped sensors. The best use for fish eye lenses is skateboard photography. You can always tell when a photographer gets a new fish eye lens, because suddenly all of their shots are super wide, and then about 2-3 weeks later, you see their ad on Craigslist selling the lens. They are a great lens to use sparingly, or if you're shooting certain subjects, but they are not a good everyday lens

Macro Lenses

Macro lenses have the ability to focus much closer than standard lenses. The object in the frame can be anywhere from 1/2 life size, to 11 times life size or more, with the use of bellows and extensions. The standard macro lenses are 55mm, 60mm, 105mm, and 200mm. Nikon also makes a zoom macro lens, the 70-180mm. Lots of cheap zoom lenses have a pseudo macro setting, where you can get closer. They aren't in the same league as a true macro lens, but are great for shooting macro on a budget.

Mirror Lenses

Mirror lenses are like telescopes, they use mirrors instead of glass to create their telephoto properties. They are sometimes called catadioptric lenses. The quality is not as good as glass, and most are fixed aperture at F8, so focusing is always manual and hard to get nailed. Standard sizes for mirror lenses are 500mm, 600mm, 800mm and 1,000mm. For a budget telephoto they are great, or if you need to get long range without carrying a massive piece of glass.

Lenses I Carry Around

Here's the lenses in my camera bag:

Tokina 12-24mm F4
Tokina 28-80mm F2.8
Nikon 80-200mm F2.8
Tokina 100-300mm F4
Nikon 18-200mm F3.5/5.6(on road trips)
Nikon 50mm 1.4
Nikon 300mm F2.8
Nikon 600mm F4
Nikon 55mm F2.8 Micro

Nikon TC-14B Teleconverter - manual focus
Nikon TC-201 Teleconverter - manual focus
Tokina/Kenko 2x teleconverter - autofocus

Here's the lenses to add:

Tokina 20-35mm F2.8, budget version of Nikon wide angle zooms (17-35mm or 17-55mm F2.8)
Soligor/Sigma 12mm F8 fisheye, great lens to carry, use it four times a year or so

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