Which lens should I Buy?

Want some new kit?

If you’re a “kit monkey” and have unlimited funds, you may as well stop reading this now.

However, have financial limits, here are a few things to ask yourself when looking to buy a new gizmo for your collection.

small canon 500

1 – What “extra” will it enable me to do?

This is the big one for me – what could I do with this kit that I can’t currently do?

Let’s take a “fast prime lens” as an example. This will allow:-

  • blurry backgrounds
  • shoot in darker conditions
  • shallow DOF creativity
  • pin sharp shots
  • small, discrete for street photography
  • lightweight for travel


So they can open up quite a few opportunities.

Conversely, there are things like “sound triggers” – devices which shoot when something makes a sound – like a bursting balloon or water droplet.

Now these things are cool – put some flour in a balloon, burst it and capture the shot of the flour cloud. Then set up your water droplet experiment – wow, you can get cool effects.

So they do enable you to capture a very specific thing – but is that enough to justify their cost?

Make a list of stuff your new kit will enable you to do, then sit on it for a while – make sure it’s worth it.


2 – How often am I likely to use it?

We all buy kit on a whim then months later find it gathering dust.

Take a “tilt-shift” lens – these are specialist items, used for architectural, archival and some landscape work. They’re really expensive too – around £2000 for a new one.

Being honest with yourself, how often would you use it?

For architectural photographers, it may be in constant use – others, it may never leave the kit bag.

The “sound triggers” mentioned above – you’ll probably use them once when you get them. Then never see them again till a mate comes round. Show them how cool they are…. before returning them to their bag, never to be seen again!

If it’s going to get used once or twice a year – why not just hire one when you need it?


3 – Do I need this “level” of kit?

We all aspire to top-level lenses and kit – but do we really “need” it?

This will vary depending on how passionate you are about a subject – if you are a bird photographer, dedicating hours in hides to get the perfect shot, then spending £1000 on the best tripod and head system, £5000 on a fast super-telephoto lens and a body with excellent autofocus may be worth it.

If you’re a general snapper who occasionally shoots birds eating peanuts you’ve put out for them, you’re probably better with something a little cheaper. A general “long zoom” lens maybe all you “need”. Or perhaps get a 1.4 times converter for £200ish to get you a bit closer to the action.

However, if you shoot sports and action and are always in the wet, you may “need” a waterproof body, like the Canon 1D series – the 5D image quality is on par, but get them wet and they stop working… in this instance, buying the expensive kit is needed.

Put your money where you spend most of your time – and invest more in lenses than bodies if money is tight.


4 – What am I going to use the resultant images for?

Investing thousands of pounds in professional bodies and lenses may be overkill if you never print or sell your shots. There’s nothing wrong with taking photos for pleasure and to share online – but do you really need 36 megapixels if they only ever get shown on Flickr at 1000 pixels wide?

Think about what your ultimate goal is.

If you’re shooting for bill-boards, then you may need a Hassleblad with a 60 megapixel back.

If you may occasionally print something out at A4, then my old Canon 10D (6 megapixels) did a fine job.

Again, shooting with better lenses reaps more benefits (in many instances) than spending lots on bodies.


5 – If I slept on it would I feel the same in the morning?

And finally – are you bored? Been looking on EBAY all day and just fancy a bit of kit for the sake of it?

Or has that new lens been playing on your mind for weeks?

Use the “sleep on it” test before hitting the “buy” button. I’ve saved thousands of pounds over the years.

Photographic retail therapy is a very expensive and ineffective way of inspiring you to go take photos – they best way is to get your shoes on, pack your bag and go out to take photos. Force yourself… don’t blow the credit card and expect the new kit to make the difference.

However, if it’s been niggling away for weeks, or years even, then maybe it is worth the investment.



The only person who can decide this is YOU – hopefully these questions will make you think before buying something you’ll never really use.

A sizeable group of photographers are motivated by the technology, numbers and reviews, rather than creativity, human interaction and the joys of “taking” photos. So if you are in the former group – then go for it, feed your lust for “new toys”.

McFade’s Websites

Blog Topics

McFade Written by: