Choosing the Lens That’s Right You

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Everything is Cooler in a Fisheye Lens Photo by Louis Cahill

The most common camera question I get from my friends is “what lens should I buy.”

My usual answer is, “the one that costs the most.” It’s a joke, but there is some truth to it. Here are a few tips on choosing a good lens that’s in your budget.

First of all you do get what you pay for and it’s better to save up and buy a good lens than to buy one that you will not be satisfied with and need to replace. Be wary of third party manufacturers. If you have a Nikon camera you are likely better off with a Nikon lens. The term “prosumer” means amateur. These lenses have poor glass and good marketing.

A 200mm is Cool Too

Modern zoom lenses are very good but no one lens can do it all well. Choose a zoom with a modest range like 24-70 not 18-200. Lenses with fast apertures like 1.8 can be wonderful for freezing action but a zoom lens with that kind of aperture will be very expensive. If a fast aperture is important to you you might consider a prime lens like an 85mm f 1.8.

Special purpose lenses like fish eyes are fun but a fish eye is a one trick pony, even if it is a pretty cool trick. A lot of guys see a cool photo taken with a fish eye and run out and buy one. They shoot with it all the time for the first month, then it lives in the bag. If you’ve got the cash, why not, but if your on a budget put that money towards a better quality wide angle.

The other question I get all the time is, “What’s your go to lens for fishing?” Hands down it’s the 12-24 zoom. I like to be close to the action and a wide angle helps with that. It’s great the boat where you can’t always take a step back and it’s small so it fits neatly in my dry bag.

If you have a good camera store near by stop in and ask if you can try one on your camera or maybe even rent a lens for the weekend. There’s nothing better than getting a feel for it before you buy. There are a lot of choices when it comes to buying a lens for your DSLR. Think it through before you throw down the plastic.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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34 thoughts on “Choosing the Lens That’s Right You

  1. Nicely timed article. My D70 just went kaput. I’ve been researching a camera and arsenal of fast lens’. Think I’ve settled on the new D800 and a stable of 2.8’s. I’m sweating the second mortgage though. I shoot a lot of bird dogs in addition to fishing so am looking forward to the 70-200m 2.8 ED VR II.

  2. What do you mean “the one that costs the most.” is a joke??? Now what to I do with this bag full of high priced glass? I love every lens in my bag and your advise has been priceless. How Lucky am I 🙂

  3. I’m new to the DSLR world, and just received a Nikon D5100 with the normal lenses that are packaged with it (an 18-24 and 55-200). I’ll upgrade to a lens one of these days (when I get a clue to what I’m doing), but I’m surprised to hear you almost always carry a 12-24 when fishing. I’m usually never close to anyone and can never get the camera ready in time if I have a fish. So, I carry the 55-200 so I can get distance (and also incase any wildlife show up.

    I’d also be interested to hear your comments on keeping a camera safe while wading. I find it very tough to be fishing and have the camera ready.

  4. FINALLY!! I have been waiting for an article like this to come up. I am in the market for a new lens and think you have made my mind up on a wide angle. I shoot with a Canon T3i (wish I had a fullframe camera) and a 18-50mm 2.8-4.5 lens. I am leaning toward the Tokina 11-16mm because I shoot with a cropped sensor and I hear great things about the Tokina.

    • I don’t know much about Canons and nothing about the tokina but but your really not missing much in the full frame sensor as far as I’m concerned. Do you like my photos? Well, I use a d300s. I’ve had clients make prints 12′ tall from my files and they look great.

    • Richard, I’ve shot a Canon 50D (APS-C crop sensor) for years and my favorite lens is a Canon EF-S 17-55 2.8. Very sharp. Very fast. It’s also $1K but you get what you pay for.

  5. Looking through your portfolio and love the close up shots of fish. What lens do you use when you photograph the fish mostly? I imagine its a macro of some sort, but could be wrong.

  6. You’re giving me a guilt complex. I’ve been shooting my kit lens for 3 years. I need to stick up the liquor store to buy some glass. That 10-24 /3.5 has got my name on it…. after jail time of course.

  7. I’m a Canon guy and just picked up the 24-105L for some more on the water stuff, but I’m with Louis, the 10-22 I have is my most used lens on the water. It creates some outstanding images and POV’s. It won’t break the bank at around $800 new either.

  8. Louis – first of all, congrats on your pic in the TU calendar. Second, nice article and thanks for the tips. Do you use a polarizing filter when you shoot over the water? If so, which one? Thanks!

  9. Thanks Louis. I’m hoping to upgrade here soon so I’ve been in research mode for awhile. I’ll probably stay on the Canon APS-C sensor and was thinking about Canon’s 10-22mm so am glad to hear that I’m on the right track. 12′ prints! That’s great. It’s amazing how many pixels are getting packed on a sensor.

    I’m with you on staying with your brand, I’ve yet to see an off-brand lens that truly works seamlessly with your body like a native. “You get what you pay for” is exactly right and never truer than with camera gear.

    Thanks for the tips on camera dry packs, should share that with the rest of the blokes here. Good stuff. Thanks again!

  10. Pingback: Buying a DSLR camera system | Wide-angle lens for fishing | Better fishing photos

  11. Pingback: Summer issue- Montana Fly Fishing Magazine, Louis Cahill on camera lenses, John P. Newbury fly tying/photography —

  12. The comment about keeping your equipment dry interested me. Has anyone used the Simms Dry Creek day pack or the Lowe Pro Dry Zone for hiking and wading?

    • Personally I don’t use day packs for my camera because it takes too long to get them out. I can’t afford to miss a shot because I can’t get to my camera. I’ve been using the sea line seal packs for years but I just saw a new system from Smith Fly today that I will buy as soon as its available. I’ll have more info on that soon.

    • I use the Nikon d300s. I don’t know a lot about the lower end models. Look into the D90 and D5100. The Cannon Rebel is good too. I hear good things about the Sony NEX7. I hope this helps. You’re English is fine.

  13. I have a sony a6000 and was looking to add another lens, I do mostly fishing related photography. Whether that’s on a boat or not. Any suggestions on a good lens to get?

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