Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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I have a beginner photographer and I have spent a lot of time learning the basics (exposures, lenses, focal lengths, crop factor etc). It's all good except I'm not so sure when I need to buy lenses of different focal lengths.

With a short focal length (a lens like this one), I can still use it to take landscape. It doesn't mean I can't take photo of things that are far away from me. So unless I need magnification why would I need any other lens?

Also, I read that for portrait lens I really want focal length of 80-85mm but again wouldn't I be perfectly fine to take portraits with the lens above?

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If you're beginning, maybe start with kit zooms rather than primes? –  BBking Dec 14 '12 at 2:39
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If offers you a change of the angle of view, and also varying depth of field. Basically more options then if you only have a single focal length. –  dpollitt Dec 14 '12 at 3:14
    
But you can vary dof anyway with aperture is it not? –  erotsppa Dec 14 '12 at 4:05

2 Answers 2

You don't need more focal lengths. You may find that that 24mm fits your style perfectly. Its wide field of view is a traditional favorite, and it's never really gone out of style. The popular Fujifilm X100 comes with a similar non-interchangeable lens, and for that matter, it's about what you get from the iPhone's built-in camera.

You may like to have some versatility. The perspective compression given by a longer focal length is often seen as more flattering for portraits — with a wide angle lens you have to get right up close to fill the frame with a subject's face, and that can look odd. The links @dpollitt suggests in his comment up above offer good background into all of this, and I recommend reading them if you aren't clear on the concepts. But since you say you've researched focal length, maybe that's just fine with your style.

The common advice is to start with a cheap zoom, and it's not bad advice at all, but it's also just fine to take the less-travelled path if it appeals to you. Why waste your time mucking around, if you feel like this lens will fit what you want? If you get just the 24mm and work with that as your photography, you'll be better off than many photographers with arsenals of zooms and primes but no vision.

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As a beginner, I would not recommend that Zeiss lens. I'm sure it is a wonderful lens, but its manual focus only. Most beginners need auto-focus lenses.

Depending on your body (which you did not mention) use of a manual focus lens will really beg you to get a focus screen with a micro prism or a split prism. Most beginning DSLRs do not have a screen suitable for manual focus.

Many entry level DSLRs do have a focus confirmation, which can work with some manual focus lenses. But many folks find that these confirmation features are slow, and thus not suitable for many subjects (i.e. sports)

Just start with the "kit zoom lens". It will let you experiment. You may decide that you want to use primes, or maybe just move up to a better zoom. Since most kit lenses cost only about $100, its not a big deal to get it and later decide that you need something else.

Note: I recently bought a Canon T4i, and the body only was more expensive that getting it with the kit lens. I don't want the kit lens, but it was cheaper to get the bundle.

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Zeiss makes MF-only lenses for Canon and Nikon, but autofocus lenses (like this one) for Sony. –  mattdm Dec 14 '12 at 3:22
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Yep, that is an AF lens, but with Sony's version of Full Time Manual focusing. Looks like a great lens, that one. –  Chinmay Kanchi Dec 14 '12 at 6:54
    
Wow, didn't know that. auto-focus would make it more suitable. Its still an expensive lens. –  Pat Farrell Dec 14 '12 at 7:04

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