With a variety of camera lenses on the market, how do you choose the one that's best for your outdoor camera? Check out our digital camera lens reviews. From wide-angle lenses and telephoto zooms, trust advice from the experts.
Some of the best nature photographers share thoughts and tips on their favorite medium telephoto zoom lenses
The versatility of medium tele-zooms is just incredible. With ranges that vary from around 50mm to between 200mm and 400mm at the high end, these lenses provide a tremendous variety of framing options for landscape, wildlife, sports action and macro work. Between one of these lenses and a good wide-angle, you can travel most anywhere and be confident that your bases will be covered for nearly any situation. And you can travel light—an absolute necessity if you fly anywhere these days, given the weight restrictions on baggage, not to mention how much easier it can be on your back.
There's a new player in the stabilization game: Welcome to Tamron‚’s Vibration Control zoom
It becomes a challenge to lug a lot of gear into the field. On the other hand, it’s nice to have wide-angle, telephoto and close-up capability, as well as a tripod for support. So the dilemma is always to either travel comfortably or be prepared for anything.
A trio of new high-quality optics are available for the Nikon line of cameras
A new player has entered the arena of digital SLR nature photography. While it’s a name synonymous with exceptional quality and performance in its optics, that reputation has mostly centered on medium-format camera lenses, binoculars, spotting scopes and motion-picture lenses used by Hollywood’s movie industry.
My favorite photo subjects are birds, and I like to travel light, so I do most of my shooting with one lens, a fast telephoto. But between close encounters of the bird kind, I often come across lovely landscapes and flowers that require a much wider or closer viewpoint. The 18-200mm zoom lenses for my small-sensor digital SLR aren’t quite long enough for most birds and other distant wildlife, while the 28-300mm lenses aren’t really wide-angle on such D-SLRs. So I have to carry another lens or two or miss out on those non-bird photo ops.
A creative approach to nature photography provided by this ultra-wide-angle zoom
Tokina’s AT-X 107 DX AF 10-17mm ƒ/3.5-4.5 fish-eye zoom lens is the most fun I’ve had with a lens in a long while. It features an incredibly wide 180-degree field of view, and with its zoom, something unique for fish-eye lenses, it also acts effectively as a wide-angle lens (albeit with some barrel distortion).
This fast, versatile tele-zoom lens adds to your shooting options
Transitioning quickly from one shot to the next using a variety of focal lengths—it’s one of the features I appreciate most in the new APO 50-150mm ƒ/2.8 EX DC HSM telephoto zoom lens from Sigma. One moment you can get down low to compose a close-up of a lizard and the next you can zoom in tight on a bird about to burst into flight 50 feet away. In addition to its quick response time, the Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) autofocus is remarkably silent. And the manual focus override switch makes changing from one mode to the other simple, even while shooting.
Pros love their fast glass. Maybe they're onto something.
When shopping for a new lens, you might encounter the desired focal length (or focal-length range, in a zoom lens) in more than one speed. For example, one camera manufacturer’s lineup includes 400mm ƒ/2.8, 400mm ƒ/4 and 400mm ƒ/5.6 supertelephotos. The ƒ/2.8 is 4.5 times larger in volume, 4.2 times heavier and costs $5,000 more than the ƒ/5.6. Is it worth it? Many wildlife and action photographers think it is.
A versatile lens with a fast aperture and popular focal length for D-SLRs
When we all shot film, one of the favorite focal lengths for a macro lens was 105mm. Sigma’s new 70mm ƒ/2.8 macro lens fits that tradition for digital cameras. All photographers using digital SLRs with small-format, APS-C-sized sensors will find that this lens acts like a 105mm lens with a 35mm camera because of the crop or multiply factor.
You don't need a "full-frame"-sensor D-SLR to do wide-angle photography
The widely used APS-C-sized image sensor has helped make excellent D-SLRs affordable, but long carried a drawback for wide-angle photographers: a narrowed angle of view. Fortunately, camera and independent lens manufacturers now offer very short focal-length zoom lenses for these cameras, designed to eliminate this problem.
When you can't or won't use a tripod, these technologies steady your hand
There are two distinct image-stabilization technologies employed to prevent blurry photographs when shooting at slower shutter speeds. Lens-shift stabilization, as the name implies, is achieved through moving elements in the lens barrel itself. Canon’s IS and Nikon’s VR technologies are both of the lens-shift variety. Sensor-shift stabilization occurs within the camera body rather than the lens. The primary advantage to sensor-shift technology lies in the ability to use any lens and get a stabilized image. Panasonic, Pentax, Samsung and Sony all have sensor-stabilization camera models in their lineups.
A new lens with macro capability and high image quality
A telephoto zoom is an important part of most outdoor photographers’ gear. But unlike the casual shooter, for a pro or serious amateur, a fast maximum aperture becomes essential because we often find ourselves shooting in relatively low light, such as at dusk or dawn. Yet such fast lenses can often be expensive and out of reach for some photographers. With the Sigma APO 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG Macro HSM, a fast telephoto zoom for less than $1,200, I was curious to see how well this affordable zoom would perform.
What you need to know about buying and shooting with long lenses
Long lenses are terrific tools when you can’t get close to your subject, providing dramatic frame-filling images of distant wildlife and sports subjects. Long lenses are also useful to isolate a subject from busy surroundings and for telephoto compression effects. There’s a variety from which to choose today—both prime (single-focal-length) lenses and tele-zooms. Following are some considerations when buying and using long lenses.
While fixed-focal-length supertelephoto lenses (400mm and up) are popular with wildlife pros and sports shooters, there’s something to be said for the more than 50 telephoto zoom lenses on the market. Tele-zooms provide long focal lengths and add framing flexibility—quite handy when you can’t easily move toward or away from a subject in the field. Zooms also mean fewer lenses to lug into the field and fewer lens changes (a plus for D-SLR users who want to keep their image sensors dust-free). And for those on tight budgets, zooms that go to 300mm can be had for far less than fixed-focal-length 300mm lenses.
Lensbabies create a distinctive look with your digital SLR.
Photographers love accessories that help them create unique-looking images. With many photographers owning the same cameras and lenses, it’s exciting to find a product that provides us with the ability to create a distinctive photograph. The Lensbaby 2.0 gives photographers the flexibility to explore our individual creativity.
I like to travel light on hikes. This means a light D-SLR body and a light but versatile zoom lens. The wide-range zooms (28-200mm or 28-300mm, or digital equivalent) provide the versatility but weigh enough to notice on a lengthy hike. A good solution is to decide whether I’m in a wide-angle mood or a telephoto mood, and "lens" accordingly.