Most photographers have at least a couple of lenses, and many have a bag full of them. But, depending on their camera and style, every photographer has a favorite lens, the one they pick when they only want to go out with a single lens. This is their walk-around lens.
If you don’t yet have a favorite, this is how to choose your next walk-around lens.
Zoom or Prime?
Your first decision is whether to go with a zoom lens or a prime lens. There are arguments made for both. The quality is generally sharper with a prime lens. They are also usually smaller and lighter and can be less expensive.
Another advantage is they force you to rethink your photography. You either have to move closer to or further away from your subject or crop in post-production.
A zoom lens, on the other hand, gives you more flexibility. With the new super-zooms, you can get as high as an 18-300mm range with a single lens. In many cases, the trade-off is quality. The super-zooms can be a bit soft, especially around the edges. Or you can go for maximum quality, but you will pay a premium.
Finally, in general, zooms are a bit slower than primes. It’s rare to find a zoom faster than f2.8, and usually, they will be at f4 or slower.
What Focal Length?
With prime lenses especially, but also to a certain degree in zooms, you need to determine what focal length you want. Many photographers think that the venerable 50mm is the perfect walk-around lens. If you shoot a lot in cities or landscapes, you may want something wider. How the exact focal length will determine your field of view will depend on your camera’s sensor size. Full-frame cameras appear much wider than their crop sensor counterparts.
The best way to decide is to look at what you have shot in the past. It’s easy to see what focal lengths you have used in most photo library software in the past. In some, you can get a total count of all images by focal length.
Using a tool like this, it will be easy to determine what you actually use instead of what you think you need. Many photographers going on a trip will think they need a long zoom, while history shows that they rarely shot longer than 70mm.
If you find yourself frequently changing lenses on your vacations, maybe it’s time to think about getting a good walk-around lens and make your travels and your photography a little easier.