Why You Don’t Need a Fancy Lens

When it comes to photography, it seems as if there is an endless amount of gear. There’s SLRs, rangefinders, DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, APSC sensors, medium format sensors, full-frame sensors, the list goes on. And that’s just concerning the camera body themselves….

So much goes on in the world of photography gear. Nowadays, much like the phone market, it seems to be that camera companies are constantly trying to make the next iteration of gear for your current setup to feel obsolete. In recent years, I’ve been seeing similar trends in camera lenses (this could also just be due to the shift from DSLR camera bodies to mirrorless bodies) – though there are still significant lenses that people will gravitate towards like the Canon L series 24-70mm. These staple lenses that are talked about again and again are the type that seem like they should be a part of everyone’s kit. They’re expensive, but can be well worth it if you take photography very seriously. But the truth is that unless you’re doing photoshoots for people, wedding photography, or top-level client work, you really don’t need a fancy lens.

In fact, some of the photos I’ve taken that have been recognized and used by local establishments have been made using the kit lens that comes with the camera (my camera being the Sony A7iii). When it boils down to it, it’s really about composition and getting the exposure just right. Unless you’re really zooming in to see the tiniest of details with a program that your clients don’t even have, you really don’t need a crazy expensive lens. What you need is a lens that fits the work you’re doing with the tools you have. Unless you know you’re going to need a specific tool for a specific type of photography, a kit lens will go a long way. If you bought a camera in recent years, the lens that comes with your camera will go even further. For example, my camera’s in-body image stabilization allows me to take some very slow shutter speed photos without sacrificing high ISOs or image blur for some night time photography.

Many of the expensive lenses are super sharp. Tied in with some wild camera bodies with extremely large megapixel counts and you’ll get an extremely sharp image. But the fact is that the sites clients use your photos for – like Instagram or Facebook – can’t even utilize the full resolution of a photo. I, myself, have had to tone down the clarity and texture of my photos just a tad bit so that the images don’t look too sharp. It’s my opinion that photos look more real and pleasing to the eye when it’s not so sharp – especially when it comes to photographing people or telling a story.

How can you take your kit lens further? Well most kit lenses are zoom lenses (haven’t seen a prime lens included in camera bundle yet). It wasn’t until I bought a cheap nifty fifty for my Canon t1i that I was able to appreciate the prime lens. Setting this limitation in my photography really let my creative juices flow. When you use your kit lens, try to do something similar. Let yourself be restrained to a few focal lengths – whether it’s 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, or 75mm. Take a day and shoot in a specific focal length and see what you come up with. On another day, shoot at a different focal length and see what differences you make in your photography. Take note on how it affects your shooting style and most importantly whether you like that range or not. Even if you don’t like shooting at one specific focal length (that telephoto range really seems to be a problem of mine) I urge you to continue trying it out until you get results you enjoy.

Setting these limitations will truly show how focal length affects the composition, steps needed to take the photo, and your overall shooting style. It will significantly improve your overall skills with your camera as you learn to do the best with what you have. Limiting yourself on your camera forces you to show the extremes of what your camera and lens could handle – which allows you to make better choices in understanding the tools/gear you’ll need in the future as you progress through your photography.

With your kit lens, really try to nail the composition. Get your settings just right so that you can utilize the full potential of your setup. By understanding the limits of your gear, you’ll know what settings would work best for each unique scenario. If you know your camera body has no image stabilization, you’ll make sure to shoot at a shutter speed equal to around the fraction of your focal length (i.e. ~1/60th of a second minimum for a focal length of 50mm). Nail the focus, really try to get the range of shadows and light that you would like to see in your photo, cut the distractions in your composition, and be deliberate in your photo making.

Finally, the kit lens is all you need to tell a story. For my work, and I assume for a lot of other photographers, the story is the most important part of the photo. What am I trying to say? What can I do within the confines of the four edges of a print to express to the viewer what I want? How can I show motion? How can I make a person feel free, happy, sad, or scared? How can I convey the enjoyment or hardships of people in the photo? Can the colors in my composition reflect the mood of the subject? Compositionally, there are so many deliberate choices you can start to make. You don’t need a fancy lens to start making these choices – and in fact some of the limitations of a kit lens help to creatively express these choices. Your photography is yours. Own every detail about it.

If you enjoyed this post, I urge you to follow my blog. I am still growing. It has been a lot of fun writing what I have so far. I will continue to publish and try to make a schedule so that you all will be able to expect a post at a specific time of the week.

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