Common Sense Lens Selection Philosophy

Canon Ef-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USMIts funny how heated the conversation gets when folks discuss lens selection for a new camera like the Canon EOS 50D. You can read all the lens reviews in the world, dig through the forum posts on and ask all your buddies, but in the end lens selection is just plain tough! I see many folks spending weeks and weeks agonizing over their decision. Scared to death of spending too much or too little.

Here are a few facts that I’ve learned over the past 30 years.

  • Your lens needs will change as you continue to develop your skills as a photographer. The better your photographic technique becomes, the more you will want better lenses to compliment that growth.
  • They will also change as your photographic interests change. Landscape photographers use very different lenses than wildlife photographers who use very different lenses than portrait photographers.
  • Lens technology continues to improve but not as quickly as camera technology does. The limits of lens technology are defined by the limits of physics, optics and materials science, all slowly developing fields. The limits of cameras are defined by the limits of electronics and software, our fastest growing technologies.
  • High quality lenses are expensive, sometimes much more expensive than the cameras they attach to. Unlike cameras however, lenses are designed to last for decades, not just until the next x0D model is released.
  • The market for used lenses is incredible. Thirty years ago buying and selling used lenses was very difficult and the resale value was poor. Today the resale market is full of great values, both for the buyer and seller.

So what does this mean for someone that just bought the EOS 50D and is agonizing over the decision of which lens to purchase next? Should he or she purchase a wide-angle zoom, a telephoto prime, an image stabilized lens or a fast f/2 lens? With all these options to choose from, how do you decide?

Well, first off it means that there is no right or wrong decision. It means that you won’t know if you’ve made a good decision until you go out and shoot with a lens for days or even weeks and evaluate your results. It means that your decision is not permanent and a lens you buy this year you may need to sell a few years down the road.

It means that lens selection like the rest of photography is a journey, not a destination. It also means that no two people travel the same path along this journey and what lenses work best for one person may not for another.

One of the greatest pleasures I’ve experienced in photography is trying out a lens for the first time. Looking through the viewfinder and seeing the world a little differently that I had before. Capturing a little bit of that excitement in an image and displaying it to my family, friends and the world.

Don’t put your photographic journey on hold by agonizing over a lens selection decision. Be bold. Be brave. Life is too short!

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