Is Your Glass Half Empty? What You Should Be Thinking When Buying a Lens

Lenses by Bellamy Hunt

Eric’s Note: This post is by Bellamy Hunt (aka Japan Camera Hunter) who has a weekly column on camera gear, lenses, film, and other topics every Tuesday on my blog.

The question that everyone asks me when they have decided to buy a camera is usually “which camera should I buy, oh wise one?“ (Well, maybe no the wise one bit, but you know what I mean).

This is a bit of a loaded question really, as there is no right or wrong answer other than “whatever suits you best”. You could spend hours pouring over the net, reading magazines and reviews or listening to the bloke down the pub, but until you actually hold a camera you have no idea. What I usually tell people is this, find a camera that suits your needs and your style, and most of all, one that feels good in your hand and next to your eye. Because cameras come and go. This is certainly even more relevant now, in the digital age. The average digital camera has a ‘cycle’ of about 3 years, which means that just as you are getting comfortable with your camera, the next piece of eye candy is out there on the shelf flaunting its megapixels at you, and the piece you have in your hand looks forlornly back at you waiting to die.

Lenses by Bellamy Hunt

From my experience, by far the most important thing that you can do is invest some money in good glass. Good lenses pay dividends, and will far outlast your camera. This is especially true with manual focus lenses, that seem to last forever. But you need to be careful, because there is glass, and then there is glass. One man’s dream lens, might be the horror of horrors for the next. But there is one thing that we can all agree on, that kit lenses are almost universally rubbish (there are a few exceptions). If you are even slightly serious about photography, ditch the kit lens and spend a bit of cash on a reasonably fast zoom. You don’t have to spend mega bucks either. You can get a good used lens online that will not break your bank as much as you think.

Also feel free to contact me if you need assistance hunting down a lens you would like.

Lenses by Bellamy Hunt

If you really want to test yourself, go out and get a prime (eg. 50mm) manual focus lens, or any other prime for that matter. This will teach you self discipline and control. Try some zone focusing to really put your skills to the test. You will find your pictures and your skill jump very fast, as you have to judge the distances and be ready all the time. This sort of thing separates the men from the boys, but it is not as daunting as you might think. If you are shooting digital, it doesn’t matter if you screw up, just delete and try again. I shoot film….I have to make sure I am getting it right.

Lenses by Bellamy Hunt

If you are not ready for the plunge, you could always go for an AF, there is no shame in that. But don’t be tempted by the big shiny fancy gear with UltraSonic this and VR that, most of this stuff is completely unnecessary for the average photographer. Sure, if you have money to burn go for it, but as most of us don’t just buy what is within your limits and have fun with what you get.

Lenses by Bellamy Hunt

One thing to bear in mind though is looking after your glass. Humidity is your worst enemy, and can reek havock upon your glass. If you have a kit lens and you don’t really care, then skip the next bit, but if you have spent a bit of money then you should make sure that you get your gear out of the bag at least once a month (I get mine out almost every day). Get it out and let it breathe, check it, clean it, love it and care for it. If you have the space invest in a humidity cabinet that keeps your gear in a temperature controlled environment. If you don’t you could always use a couple of large plastic tubs with some silica gel sachets inside, this will do just as well. The summer heat can destroy your lenses, so make sure that you take care of them.

Also, for the love of god, please use a lens cloth, and not your t-shirt to clean the glass. Your t-shirt could have anything on it, it will screw up the lens. Oh and one last thing, you have just spent a whole bunch of money buying a lens, don’t be cheap, buy a decent nd fliter or clear filter for the front element. That $35 extra could save you an awful lot of money in the long run, take it from a man who knows (dropped my camera, filter smashed but took all the impact, lens lived to fight another day)

Lenses by Bellamy Hunt

So, what is in a glass? An investment that pays dividends, as long as you look after it.

Links to Bellamy Hunt

Looking for a classic film camera from Japan or need help hunting down a lens you want? Contact Bellamy, the camera/lens expert: http://www.japancamerahunter.com/contact/

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13 thoughts on “Is Your Glass Half Empty? What You Should Be Thinking When Buying a Lens”

  1. Midnightrookphotography

    Great ideas. People have to realize that It’s not always about huge apertures. The compact camera and lens is less intrusive and easier to handle.
    My first camera lens combo was a spotmatic with a 35 3.5. I had to learn to get closer, clean up background clutter, and work with light. I also had to get used to the almost impossible feat of focusing in dim light. After almost a year I got a 50 1.4, then a $10 135 2.8 (all m42). Each is a teacher.
    BTW, the 135 is about the same size as the 18-55 kit lens; they even take the same size lens cap!

    1. Japancamerahunter

      Exactly, one of my favourite lenses of all time is a Rokkor 28mm and it has a 3.5 aperture. Not that fast, but damn that lens is sharp.

    1. Japancamerahunter

      It depends on the lens and the situation really. I use a filter on my Summicron 35mm ASPH because I don’t want to screw up the front element on a very expensive lens, and I tend to shoot in inclement weather. But I don’t use a filter on my Nikon 50mm f1.2, as it is not that expensive.

  2. Hi Bellamy,

    I’m new to DSLRs (6 months) and am with a kit lens- both borrowed from a friend… Am planning to get a DSLR in another 6 months.. you mentioned that kit lenses are usually rubbish, with a few exceptions.. Which are those exceptions?

    Georgie

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