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How to Choose a Lens: Part One

If you've ever shopped for a camera lens, you know how confusing it can be. There are a ton of technical terms, numbers, settings and prices. I'm going to break down what these terms mean in a few posts. For this first post, we're going to talk about lens mounts.

Shot with Sony FE 24-700mm f2.8 (E-Mount)


Lens mount is probably the easiest setting to figure out. This setting is usually listed at the very beginning of the lens name (example: Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM Lens). The EF part of that particular lens is the lens mount. This means this lens will only mount to the EF Canon line. The other typical mount for a Canon is EF-S (example: EF-S 35mm f2.8 Macro). The difference here is the sensor size. The EF mount cameras are full frame cameras (meaning they have larger sensors). The EF-S mounts are for standard DSLRs (like a Rebel) or what sometimes is called "cropped" or APS sized sensor cameras. These are smaller sensors and therefore (annoyingly) use all different lenses. If you've ever switched or upgraded cameras, you will likely have experienced the joy (haha) of needing to buy all new lenses. There are some lenses that will work on multiple mounts, you just need to research if your particular lens will work with different mounts. There are also different lens mounts for mirrorless cameras, which adds another headache in the lens process.

Shot with LensBaby Spark (Canon Mount) with a Sony Adapter (see more info on adapters below).


Additionally, the lens mount is listed on the lens itself sometimes depending on the manufacturer. This again can be a bit confusing because in the lens description this lens below is listed as Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8, but the mount itself is called E-Mount.

Sony makes it very obvious which mount a lens uses. Not all lenses have this listed in an obvious way. You will have to research your particular brand of camera to see how their naming system works.


Regardless of brands, most typically have a lens series for full frame cameras, one for standard DSLRs, and one for mirrorless. This may sound confusing, but once you figure out your lens mount type, you can easily narrow down your results based on your mount.


There are also adapters for lenses that sometimes allow you use a lens that was not intended for your camera. These pieces go between your camera and lens and allow access to more lenses. This is not a lens within itself, it still needs a lens attached to the front in order to operate. I have one of these that allows me to use my LensBaby Spark on my Sony. These are not an ideal shooting situation and it's always best to use the lenses that are intended for your camera (name brand or third party). These adapters can help you transition from one camera type to another, but I wouldn't recommend using these for full-time shooting.

This is an example of an adapter that allows me to use my LensBaby (Canon mount) with my Sony. It goes in between the lens and the camera.

Both images shot with LensBaby Spark and the Sony Lens Mount Adapter. We will talk more about the fun things you can do with LensBaby lenses in another post.


EF Canon Lenses


This can sound confusing, but it really is as easy as searching "What lens mount does my X camera use?" and you should be able to figure it out quickly. Or again, sometimes it is written plainly on the lens itself. Most websites will let you filter out lenses by lens mount and you should have no problem. My favorite online shop for cameras and lenses is B&H Photo. I would always encourage you to buy from your local camera store, but I do like to do research online first. I particularly like B&H (vs. something like Amazon) because they are an actual camera store only sell camera/video equipment. They have very accurate information (not always the case with Amazon) and have very helpful reviews/images from other real photographers. You can also call them directly if you have any questions. If you don't have a camera store near you, B&H is a great online option. Also, most cameras store will price match with B&H and/or Amazon, so don't be afraid to bring that up when shopping in person. Another great thing that a local camera store can do is a student discount. If you are enrolled in photography classes at a college, you can often show your ID to get a discount. Make sure to ask!


There are also third party brands (Sigma, Tamron, etc) lenses for most camera bodies and these will have the same parameters as the original manufacturers. You will need to specify if they fit with the brand (Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc) and then the lens mount.

Canon 100mm Macro f2.8L Macro IS USM


We will discuss further lens topics in future posts (so many settings - the lens listed above is a good example-what is IS? what is USM? what is L? etc). There are the third party lenses to consider, focal length, zoom vs. prime, series, macro, image stabilization, and the list goes on. I will try to break down each topic individually. I hate to admit this, but I really didn't understand MOST of this until after I graduated from a photography degree. I just used whatever lens I had and tried to get the best images I could. It took me shooting many images and not getting the results I wanted to really research lenses and understand what each of them could do. I do think lens choice is one of the most important decisions to make as a photographer, more so even than the camera. I hope to inspire you to dive more deeply into what each of these numbers and letters mean.




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