Lens Quality For Your Camera: Important?

Much of the time, lens quality beats camera quality!

Lens Quality

By ignoring the lens quality when considering new kit, you may as well forget the quality of camera too. You see, you may have bought the latest all-singing, all-dancing camera. However, if you put a cheap lens on the front, you lose all the benefits that the camera has.


Some of the cheaper lenses can have a permanent effect on the quality of your pictures. They can cause:

  • The edges of the picture to be blurry
  • Purple fringing (chromatic aberration)
  • Poor autofocus
  • Poor perspective on walls and buildings

The list is a long one.

When I first started with SLR photography in the 80's, I was just 13 and couldn't afford a decent lens. I bought a cheap 3rd party telephoto lens and I could never understand where I was going wrong. The pictures were, more often than not, blurred and badly exposed compared to when I used the 50mm prime. The standard lens that came with the camera in those days. It could have put me off for life!

It was only when I went to a large photo exhibition at Earls Court in London when I started to realise. I "played with" a 2000mm prime lens and a 6mm fisheye lens (both worth thousands of £'s even then!). The size and lens quality of the glass made my zoom lens look like a Christmas cracker gift! I was depressed.

Thankfully, due to the ever-increasing competition in photography, you can now get more, good quality lenses at very reasonable prices.

How can I check the lens quality when I buy one?

If you use a digital SLR camera, take it with you when you next go into a camera shop. If you don't use digital, ask the shop assistant if you can borrow one to test the lens.

First of all "feel" the lens:

  • Is it sturdy?
  • Does it feel like quality in your hands?
  • Do the focus ring and/or zoom ring operate smoothly?
  • Is it heavy-ish? (generally means better quality glass)
  • What is the maximum aperture? f.8? Too small! You will hardly be able to use it in normal situations. f3.5 is a good start, 2.8 is better, 1.2...now you're talking!
  • Of course, always check out multiple online reviews too.

Put it on the camera and test the autofocus:

  • Is it reasonably quick and accurate?
  • Is it very noisy? (bad)!
  • Does it spend time "searching" for a focus point or does it find the spot quickly?
  • Can you switch it to manual focus?
  • Again, how does it "feel"?
  • Does it have IS (image stabilisation) and do you need it?

Now take a couple of photos. One of a scene, using a small aperture like f.11, maybe of the street.

Use the cameras replay mode and zoom in to check the focus, paying attention to the edges:

  • Are they pretty sharp?
  • How the depth of field with distant objects? Are they being relatively clear?
  • Is there any fringing (purple halos) around anything?
  • Is the  colour accurate?
  • What is the bokeh (quality of blur) like with a wide open aperture?

Now, take one inside the shop using the widest aperture of f.2.8 or f.4 (maybe f5.6). This is for a really shallow depth of field (i.e. just what you focus on will be sharp!). Be careful to focus on something in particular and hold the camera steady, take the shot. Again, replay the photograph and check that what you focussed on is actually in focus!

These tests should show you the lens quality.

Where is the best place to buy quality lenses but at reasonable prices?

Without wanting to kill off the local camera shop trade, I would suggest the internet (mostly Amazon) for 2 reasons;

  1. 1
    Salesmen: Unless you are a good, regular customer in a shop, you will be looked upon as just another sale in a lot of cases. It happens to myself a lot when I am testing new equipment. I have to bite my lip when I am having inferior quality merchandise pushed on me! You "may" end up leaving with some old, low quality stock rather than the lens quality you were after. Please note that I do still use these shops for most of my smaller purchases. Things such as filters, batteries, camera bags, accessories etc. A bit of payback for occasionally testing their stock shows some respect.
  2. 2
    Cost: It is a sign of the times that the internet is fast becoming the biggest shopping centre in the world. There are no middlemen or sales commissions to pay, most goods are direct from the supplier. Even if the goods go through a couple of dealers, most of the time it still works out a lot cheaper than buying from the high street. Read my buying guide to see how I saved over £400 on just one lens, by reviewing its quality and buying online!

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