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The Right Fit

July 13, 2011 - Dave Hecei
If you own a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) then you are probably aware that you can remove the lens on your camera and attach other lenses. This is one of the major benefits that DSLRs have over point-and-shoot cameras. Being able to choose from dozens of lenses makes a DSLR extremely versatile. You can be shooting landscapes one day, a football game the next, and then super close-ups the next. Unfortunately, getting the right lens for your DSLR isn’t quite as cut-and-dry as you would think.

The first thing you must know is that not all lenses fit all cameras. If you have a Canon, Nikon, Pentax, or Sony DSLR, then you have to get a lens that is designed for that camera brand. A Canon zoom, even if it is the best ever made, will not fit on a Sony or Nikon body – and vice versa. That being said, you don’t have to buy a Canon lens to fit your Canon DSLR.

There are several third-party lens manufacturers with lenses that will fit most of the major brand cameras. One of the biggest lens makers out there is Sigma, and they have come a long way over the last few decades that I have used them. Along with Sigma, there are two others that make great lenses for the major DSLRs – Tamron and Tokina.

Most professional photographers will tell you that they only shoot with lenses from their camera’s manufacturer. Canon shooters love Canon glass, as with Nikon shooters. Over the years I have shot with several cameras and have used lenses from Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina. These lenses have performed great, and since I still have many of these lenses, I can say they are well built. I will say that I am just an avid photographer, not a professional, so I don’t use my equipment on a daily basis, so I don’t ‘beat’ on my equipment.

All camera makers have both low- and high-end lenses. The same holds true with the third-party companies. The adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is mostly true when buying a lens. A $150 lens is not going to be as well built as a $1200 lens. There are other reasons why the huge price difference, but higher priced lenses will have metal lens mounts, not plastic. Higher-end lenses will generally have very little plastic parts to them. They also tend to have better glass element, usually specialty glass, like ED or SD, or aspherical lens elements.

The last thing I need to mention is camera formats. Most DSLRs have a sensor that is somewhat smaller than a frame of 35mm film, which is what most lenses are based on. This sensor size is often referred to as APS-C. Manufacturers soon discovered that since the sensor was smaller they could design lenses that used smaller glass elements and thus lowering costs, which does benefit the consumer.

On the Canon side, they have two lines – EF and EF-S. On the Nikon side, there is the FX and SX format. A Canon EF lens will work on any DSLR with either full-size or APS-C sensors. Canon EF-S lenses will only work with smaller sensor models. The EF-S lens even has a lug on the mount that prevents it from attaching to either a film SLR or full-sized sensor DSLR.

Nikon FX lenses will work will all Nikon mount camera bodies. The Nikon SX lenses are for smaller sensor models. I believe that a SX lens will fit on a full-sized sensor, or film SLR, but the image will be automatically cropped on DSLR models. If you were to use a SX lens on a film SLR Nikon you will see serious vignetting in the corners. Some of the third party lenses are also designed for use on smaller sensor DSLRs. Just check out the specifications of any non-manufacturer’s lens.

Of course, if you have an APS-C sensor camera you don’t have to worry about what lens format you buy. The problem only arises if you still shoot with a film SLR or you have, or plan on buying in the near future, a full-sized sensor DSLR. Lenses made for the smaller format will not work as planned, or sometimes not at all, on a big sensor or film camera.


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