Camera lens reviews are terrible to read, but they're the bread-and-butter of gear addiction. Here's some basic facts about lenses, that should not detract you from using your camera:
- Wide open, all lenses are sharp in the middle and less sharp in the corners.
- Cheap lenses are sharpest about 2-4 stops down from wide open. Expensive lenses are sharp wide open.
- Wide-angle lenses vignette. That's what they do.
- In addition, all lenses vignette when shooting wide open.
- Unless you're a pedant or are studying optical physics, wide angle lenses have more depth-of-field.
- And, therefore, lens designers care less about a wide-angle lens's bokeh quality.
- Macro lenses are always the sharpest.
- Extremely fast lenses with extremely narrow depth-of-fields will have autofocus accuracy issues, although the cause of these "issues" are humans. When working with a depth-of-field less than a millimeter thick, you or your subject will move and introduce focus errors.
- Colors look best when the lens is at wide aperture. Stopping down the lens mutes color.
- Chromatic aberration is a fact of life. Either don't shoot stark transitions, or correct it in post.
- Distortion only matters if you're shooting architecture.
- Wide-angle lenses usually have better flare control than long lenses. This is because, with wide angles, you're more likely to have a bright light in your shot, so lens designers have prioritized flare control.
- Primes are smaller. Zooms have more parts in them.
All that said, there are some things that are actually important when picking a lens, things that will affect how you use the lens on a regular basis.
- How big is the lens? Big, heavy lenses that restrict your movement and draw attention to yourself are terrible. Avoid them at all costs.
- Was the lens designed by morons? Avoid any lens that is difficult to use.
- Are there depth-of-field markings? These are really helpful.
- Image Stabilization (or whatever pseudonym you know it under) is pretty neat.
When reading a lens review, it's easy to get distracted and forget what I'm doing there. I'm a photographer, I'm there to take photos, not analyze optical performance of different pieces of glass. People have been shooting better photos than mine with worse equipment than mine since the dawn of photography. Sure, a new lens design is faster, clearer, smaller, sleeker, whateverer, but the only thing that should impress me is how the lens can help me take better photos. No tool is perfect, but someone can perfect using a tool.
First published on 28 Apr 2014; last updated on 29 Nov 2017.