Gear Inspirations Photography Tech

Happy New Gear! Five next-step lens upgrades for 2021

Get 2021's photography off to a flier and expand your creative options by investing in a new lens this year

If you want to expand your photographic horizons in 2021, you can do it in many ways, and one of the most effective is by investing in new lenses.

Most of us start out in photography with a standard zoom these days – an 18-55mm or 24-70mm – or maybe something a little longer still like an 18-105mm or 24-120mm. These are dead useful when you’re working out what sort of photography you enjoy – and they’re also a neat way of deciding what new lens is best suited to your needs.

How? Well, just have a think about what your present lens is lacking, and how it’s restricting what you’re trying to achieve. Does it not magnify the subject as much as you’d like? Does it not give you a shallow enough depth-of-field, or do you find shooting in low-light difficult? Do you perhaps struggle to fit enough of the subject into the frame? Or maybe you need to focus closer than your current lens allows?

Once you’ve decided, take a look at these upgrade options… 

© Kingsley Singleton. Fast lenses make it easier to isolate portrait subjects.

Get a shallower depth-of-field with a faster lens

Picking up a fast lens, whether it’s a zoom or prime, is one of the things you can guarantee will really change the look of your pictures. A fast lens is one with a wide maximum aperture, usually f/2.8 or greater on a zoom, such as a 24-70mm f/2.8 or 70-200mm f/2.8, and f/1.8 or greater on a prime, though telephoto primes are an exception – with very long primes, even f/4 is fast.

Whether you shoot portraits, wildlife of action, the benefits are the same. At the lens’s widest, you’ll not only let more light into the camera, leading to faster shutter speeds, but also achieve a shallow depth-of-field, allowing you to isolate a subject more easily against a blurred background or foreground. 

© Kingsley Singleton. Wide lenses give a broader field of view, perfect for landscapes or other big subjects.

Squeeze more into the frame with a wider lens

Whether you’re shooting landscapes, street scenes or interiors – or you just want to get up close to large subjects, the answer is to find a lens with shorter available focal lengths than you currently have. In fact, push wider than the end of your standard zoom allows and you’ll notice that just a few millimetres difference in focal length makes a huge difference to the field of view. Choosing a 10-24mm, 8-16mm, or 14-24mm zoom, or any prime lens with a focal length around those numbers will dramatically change the compositions you can make.

© Kingsley Singleton. Long telephoto lenses make it easy to fill the frame with smaller or distance subjects.

Magnify the subject with a longer lens

If you get to the long end of your current zoom lens, or fit your longest focal length prime lens, and find that the subject you’re aiming at is still too small to make an impact, then what you need for 2021 is the extra focal length of a telephoto or super telephoto lens. Increased focal length means extra magnification and that brings the ability to fill the frame more easily, creating dynamic images that are full of detail.

A 70-200mm zoom lens is a great place to start, but longer zoom options like 100-400mm or 150-600mm bring even greater benefits. Make sure you choose a lens with image stabilisation, or twin it with a camera that has in-body image stabilisation to ensure you get the sharpest results. 

© Kingsley Singleton. Superzoom lenses pack in a huge range of focal lengths letting you use one lens all day.

Be ready for anything with a superzoom 

Do you find that you’re changing lenses too often and never seem to have quite the right one mounted on your camera at the right time? Or do you find that you need to change lenses in situations that compromise the camera, letting dust or moisture get to your sensor? Well then a superzoom lens could be just the investment you need.

Typical superzooms cover focal lengths like 14-140mm, 18-200mm, 18-270mm, 18-300mm, 24-240mm, 28-200mm, 28-300mm and so on. Basically you get a superb level of coverage, letting you use everything from wide-angle to long telephoto focal lengths, and cover all the subjects those cater for in one package.

You’ll find super zooms tend to have variable maximum apertures, meaning that the maximum aperture available may fall as you zoom in, but it’s a small price to pay for the versatility they offer. What’s more, though superzooms come in all shapes and sizes, they’ll likely always take up less space and be lighter than the individual lenses they replace. 

© Kingsley Singleton. Macro lenses let you focus much closer than regular optics, so small subjects come to life.

Focus closer and expose amazing detail with a macro

Focusing close to the camera reveals amazing levels of detail, often literally showing you things you can’t see with the naked eye. And the closer you focus, the more you’ll see. A typical standard zoom can focus to within about 20cm or 30cm of the camera’s sensor, and this leads to a reproduction ratio of something like 1:3 or 1:5 at the maximum. But a macro lens lets you focus much closer still, and that means the reproduction ratio is higher. A 1:1 ratio means the subject is being projected onto the sensor at life size, and some macro lenses go even higher than that.

Maximum magnification occurs at the closest focusing distance, but macro lenses are useful for still life, nature and wildlife subjects throughout their focal range, making them a great addition to any kit bag.