How do you break in a lens? Get to know it? You can find all kinds of digital photography tips about buying a lens but few people talk about digital camera lens basics for once you make the purchase.

wpid9752-20150115_3_AmyAnneJenkins_Copyright.jpg

Digital Camera Lens Basics: Getting to Know Your Lenses

I mentioned Friday that we got my husband a new camera, when we did I also got a new lens- the Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.0-5.6. This lens in many ways replaces two of my other lenses that cover that distance. I’m hoping it will become the sight-seeing go-to lens- at least outdoors. (Technically three, because my Nikon V4 came with a different 10-30mm than I already had- but I don’t like that new lens one bit and quickly decided I won’t be using it. It just does not seem to get as much light.) One advantage to this lens is that it’s a wider diameter and seems to bring in more light than it’s two compadre’s it replaces. I haven’t used it much though. . . it’s rained a lot here. And been cold and dreary. Thursday, the sun came out! And I had to spend some time outside to enjoy it. So what did I do? I went to the arboretum, of course. It’s one of my photography playgrounds. It really was about getting in the sun more than taking pictures but I decided that instead of pulling out my trusty 18.5mm lens (basically a nifty fifty), I’d try my new lens out- put it through a few “paces”. It made me think about breaking in a lens.

I am as guilty as anyone in sticking with a favorite lens. That 18.5mm is great indoors and for taking flower pics- it’s got that coveted aperture that this lens doesn’t have. But, I know that I really want to get where I use this lens a lot. I love shooting at a wide angle (and do have a 10mm prime) but also love being able to take pictures more stealthier with the ability to zoom in. This new lens should become another favorite- and quickly is. One thing I’ve learned is that you have to dedicate some time to each lens in order to really get to know it- to break it in.

wpid9741-20150115_4_AmyAnneJenkins_Copyright.jpg

So, how do I break in a new lens?

First Things First: Lens Prep

Lens Filter

There are varying opinions on lens filters. But, I always use one. I view it as a protective barrier for all I put my camera through. It allows me to go around without the lens cap always on the camera. Let’s face it, if I scratch my actual lens, I’m gonna cry big time. I can’t afford to be replacing them.

White Balance Lens Cap

I love to use a custom white balance and since I shoot Nikon, it’s easy to do. One of the cool advantages to this lens is that I can put a Balens on it. There are several brands of white balance lens caps out there and I loved using a Balens when I used my old dSLR or when I use my old dSLR lenses on my current camera. Unfortunately, they don’t make them for my other Nikon 1 lenses- the 40.5 filter size. I use a different tool that I can hold over the lens with those lenses. But, this lens is 55mm- needless to say just as I used to, I factored in the cost of the Balens, along with lens filter, into the cost of this lens. Both of the images above show off the power of a custom white balance. I love when I get this right in camera and not have to edit it.

Digital Camera Lens Basics- Know Your Lens Facts

Depending on how much research you did prior to purchasing your camera lens, you may have already gathered this information. It’s good to review those camera lens basics as you get your camera (because we can’t always remember the numbers, right? I don’t think I’m the only one.)

Minimum Focus Distance

This is the thing I didn’t remember when I was out shooting flowers and didn’t take the time to look up. The minimum focus distance is basically how close you can get to your subject and have it in focus. For example, for this lens, it’s 1.1 feet. So, I can’t focus on something 6 inches away. It’s handy to remember this little fact. Now, because I wasn’t shooting in manual focus, my camera would display a red box when I was too close, but that becomes a matter of trial and error I might have avoided.

wpid9735-20150115_1_AmyAnneJenkins_Copyright.jpg

Focal Length

How wide or zoomed can you shoot? The focal length of your lens along with your camera type will tell you this. We’ll talk quickly about three types of cameras here.

  • Full Frame dSLR- If you don’t know if you own one of these, chances are you don’t. These cameras are more expensive. In the case of focal length, a 35 mm lens is going to be just that.
  • Crop Factor dSLR- If you have a dSLR and it’s not full frame, this is your camera. The “crop factor” impacts the actual focal length. Your focal length will be what’s on the lens X some multiplier. The number varies slightly by camera. My Nikon D80 had a crop factor of 1.5. . . so that 35mm lens would be 52.5mm. One advantage is that it means the farther reaches are multiplied. . . so if the lens ranges to 200mm, you’re actually getting further. In the case of the D80, it was 300mm.
  • Mirrorless- So, my camera is a mirrorless and there are a number of them on the market. The crop factor on these is much higher. On the Nikon 1 camera’s it’s 2.7. So that 35mm lens would be 94.5mm. And at 200 mm, it’s 540mm. You start to see where they type of camera makes a difference. The factor applies regardless of the lens- so the lenses I had when I used my D80 get the same 2.7 factor applied when I use them on my Nikon 1.

In this case, because I’m using that mirrorless, that 10-100mm lens is the equivalent to a 27-270mm. 27mm is barely wide angle but it will shoot some wide landscapes and I really love that. It’s not terribly important to know all the details but you’ll want an idea of what your lens is capable of shooting- wider angles (10mm side of this lens) or further distances (100 mm side of this lens).

Lens Type

Just as the focal length is pretty obvious, this one is too. There are various types of lenses but you’ll likely already know whether you bought a fixed length lens, zoom lens, a telephoto lens, wide angle, etc.

This lens is a zoom lens- it will shoot at multiple distances. And it’s considered a telephoto lens. My 18.5 lens would be an example of a fixed length lens- it means I do the zooming strictly with my feet. After I explain the next attribute, I’ll share another reason this info is useful.

wpid9739-20150115_3_AmyAnneJenkins_Copyright.jpg

Aperture

This one can get hard to understand. You want to know the lowest number aperture you can shoot. This is useful for low light and selectively determining what is in focus.

Technically a low number aperture is a wide one- it’s kinda backwards I know. Here’s how I remember it:

  • Low Number Aperture (Wide Aperture)- aka f/1.8= Less in Focus, Useful in Low Light
  • Large Number Aperture (Narrow Aperture)- aka f/16= More in Focus, Needs more light

Did I confuse you yet? Because it may get more confusing, but it’s important to know if you’re going to get out of auto exposure modes.

Lenses are one of two things:

  • Fixed Max Aperture- My 18.5 mm is fixed at 1.8- so I can get down to f/1.8. Some zoom lenses are like this too- they’ll have one number. And it makes it easier to know what you can do.
  • Variable Max Aperture- Yup, that’s this new lens. It’s 10-100mm f/4.0-5.6. How do you read that? It means at 10mm, my max (low number) aperture is f/4.0 but at 100 mm, the lowest number (max aperture) I can get is 5.6.

When I want to shoot a f/8 (a whatever, you don’t so much care about how much of the scene is in focus aperture), it doesn’t really matter. But, when I want to blur out a background, it can make a difference. Or when there’s low light and I don’t want to use a flash, I may want that f/1.8 to bring in more light. (That’s why I know my new lens won’t be as useful in low light.)

wpid9746-20150115_2_AmyAnneJenkins_Copyright.jpg

Mixing Telephoto/Zoom and Aperture

When it comes to the way backgrounds appear, there are a number of factors including the distance of you from the subject and the background- and how much that varies. But, aperture as noted plays a role too. Another can be the type of lens. A zoom lens and especially a telephoto will also give you some of the same effect.

Do you see the way there are all those little circles in the background? That’s Bokeh and it’s created by those vary factors along with the light. This was with my new lens zoomed all the way in at f/5.6 and not the 1.8 where I often get this with my fixed aperture lens.

wpid9754-20150115_4_AmyAnneJenkins_Copyright.jpg

You’ll also notice that some of the backgrounds in the rest of these shots are blurry as well. That’s the telephoto/zoom more than it’s necessarily the aperture. This one is a good example of what a telephoto lens will often do.

wpid9737-20150115_2_AmyAnneJenkins_Copyright.jpg

Exploring with Your Lens

The rest, well, it really comes with experimentation. You’ll learn how it handles light, what types of pictures you like to take with it, and what distances, etc. You’ll get used to how fast it shoots, how heavy or light it is, how steady you have to be with it, etc.

I recommend taking it to places where it doesn’t matter how the shots come out- an arboretum for example (but any of these places will work or just somewhere you can go for an adventure) and just shooting with your camera.

Just shoot- who cares if it turns out. . . like this shot. . . I think I was just mesmerized by the blue skies I’d been missing. They don’t have all be stellar- it’s all about learning rather than how great your images come out.

wpid9748-20150115_1_AmyAnneJenkins_Copyright.jpg

Just as with your camera, the only way to really learn your lens is to use it.

Another Tip:

Look back at old pictures. Why did I go to the arboretum Thursday in the dead of winter? If you follow me on Instagram, you might know the answer. At the beginning of the month, I looked back at my shots from last year. I had pictures of the Camellia’s in bloom. So I went Thursday to see if they were blooming again yet.