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What makes a good lens?


I often get asked this question in the form, “What lens should I get?”. The truth is, I cannot answer that question, in fact I doubt that most photographers can and here is why.

Take my wife for example, her go to lens is without doubt a 50mm prime of some sorts, from a f/1.4 to the variety of Lensbabies, she loves them and there is nothing wrong with that. I however have a completely different approach, I am a bit more pragmatic and experience has thought me that I make better photographs when I think less and more importantly that I can be spontaneous, so I am drawn to zoom lenses.

But what would I choose if I was to have only one lens? A question I actually recently saw on Google +.

And I started thinking of this conundrum, mostly because I think it’s would be affected by circumstances. But then it struck me what are my most used lenses.

When I shoot with a cropped sensor (1.6x magnification) my everyday lens is the 16-35mm f/2.8 (26-56mm), this lens left me the freedom to do a lot  of street photography and was ideal for HDR and panoramic photography. Having recently upgraded to a full frame sensor camera things changed dramatically, the 16-35 was no longer a go to lens, it became too wide with too much distortion for my liking. I suddenly found myself going for my 24-105mm f/4 with optical stabiliser, the later being one of the most misunderstood photographic tools of our time by the way, but I digress. This lens became the only lens that was on my camera, simply because it is so versatile. But what about creative depth of field? At f/4 one would expect it to be really limited and on a cropped sensor it is, I do not find this to be an issue on a full sensor camera.

Finally, what if I was forced to pick a single lens?

This got me thinking, it seems to me that a lot of point and shoots are also within that range, there must be a reason.

So what makes a good lens? Well the fact it’s on your camera and you can shoot with it is the most important but given the choice I would choose a zoom lens between 18 and 100 mm with the highest possible aperture.


The 3 photographs bellow where all taken with a canon EOS 5D MkIII and a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS L.


Hail in September
Tea and pilates
Cape Town by night

Click photographs to enlarge