Nick Carver Photography Blog

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What Lens Should I Buy Next?

Canon's Insanely Extensive Lineup of Lenses

Here's a common question I get in my inbox: "What lens should I buy next?"

It's something we've probably all wondered at some point in our photographic lives (myself included), so I thought I'd write up a short article here detailing my answer. But before I go into my thoughts on this query, I can't help but point out the peculiarity of it.

This question puts the cart before the horse. It asks what lens to buy next before asking "do I need to buy a new lens?" There's an assumption that you must need some new, different lens...of some sort...probably. It's almost making the statement that there is always another lens to buy. But remember that these are lenses, not shoes. They are advanced, complex, expensive instruments that will last you a long time. They are more of an investment than a purchase. So, before you ask what lens you should buy next, ask yourself if you need to buy another lens.

But how do you know if you need to buy another lens? After all, you haven't tried each one...

Well, my answer to the question in question (read that again, it makes sense) is the same answer I give everybody: "Your shooting will reveal to you what new equipment you need." What I mean by that is that as you shoot, you will quickly find out what lens you need based on what barriers you hit with your current equipment.

For instance:

  • If you find yourself always wishing you could zoom in closer because you can't get close enough to the action, then you need a longer zoom (read my recommendations here).
  • If you find yourself always moving backwards trying to pull in more of the scene, then you should consider a wide-angle lens (read my recommendations here).
  • If you find yourself always wishing you could focus on subjects closer to the lens, then you need a macro.
  • If you find yourself always wishing you could get blurrier backgrounds, then you need a lens with a wider maximum aperture...but that's assuming you already know how to use the aperture like the back of your hand and that you truly are getting the most out of your current lens.

So really, only look at buying new equipment if you're unable to achieve the pictures you want with the lenses you currently have. But let me qualify that statement in a big, BIG way: you have to be certain that you aren't able to achieve the pictures you want because of the lenses, and not because of your shoddy technique or lack of knowledge. Because if you're not fully trained in your current equipment and you don't know shutter speed, aperture and ISO like the back of your hand, then how can you be sure that you just aren't getting the full use out of your current equipment? You have to completely rule out user error, user incompetence, and user-desire-to-just-buy-a-new-toy-because-it's-fun-and-I-hope-that-will-make-my-pictures-look-how-I-want.

This is why amateur photographers get GAS - that's "Gear Acquisition Syndrome." I had a bad case of it for years. But new gear won't make your pictures better. Better technique will.

Just as an example, I've had a lot of people say to me that the kit lens that came with their camera is poor quality and their pictures are soft as a result - and they are certain of this fact. In all my 1500+ hours of teaching and helping students troubleshoot photos that are blurry, lack clarity and appear "soft", the lens has never been the issue. Never. Not once. It's been camera shake, too slow of a shutter speed, poor aperture selection, poor tripod technique, poor light, dirty filters and/or dirty lenses. But it's never been the lens quality.

Now I'm not going to say that certain lenses won't result in better pictures, but in order for a lens to result in better pictures, you must know how to use it to its fullest potential. Just like a 16-year-old brand new driver won't drive any better in a $200,000 Ferrari than in a $2000 Tercel, an amateur photographer won't get any better pictures with a $2500 lens than a $150 lens.

So don't be a 16-year-old in a Ferrari and don't get GAS. Buy equipment when you truly need it, not because you want it.