Help me buy a new lens for my camera

I want to buy a new lens for my Pentax ZX-L. I’m teaching myself photography and I would like to get a lens that is both practical and will help me learn proper photographic techniques. My only current lens is a Sigma 28-300 that I acquired fairly cheaply. One friend says I should go for a 35mm, while another is pushing a 50mm. What type of lens would you advise a guy like me to buy? What features should I look for?

For learning, I’d go with a 50mm to start. It’s a 1:1 lens, no zoom or wide angle, and probably the best place to start. Look for quality glass and low f-stop. I’m sure other photographers far more knowledgeable than I will give some specific suggestions.

Take a look at B&H Photo ( for a great selection and good service mail order place. There are some cheaper places, but few better.

Why get a lens that is already covered by your zoom range?Unless of course you want a faster lens. Your 28-300 has an aperture of f3.5-6.3, but you could probably get a 50/1.4 pretty cheap, giving you an extra 2 1/2 stops and allowing you to take pictures in much lower light.

Personally, i don’t think there’s any reason that you can’t learn “proper photographic techniques” with a zoom lens. Just make sure that you are willing to walk around an object or a scene and look at all the possible angles. If you need to get closer, don’t just let the zoom do the “walking” for you; move closer to the object and try a different perspective.

One reason that people like fixed focal length lenses is that they often come with depth-of-field markers, allowing you to see how much of your picture will be in focus. However, if i’m not mistaken, the Pentax ZX-L has a depth-of-field preview button, which is all you need.

If i were in your position and i wanted to get a fixed focal length lens, i’d go for something wider, like a 24mm or even a 20mm. It’s amazing how much more dramatic your shots can look if you use a good wide angle lens. It really makes a difference over the 28mm option that you currently have.

Just my 2c. Good luck.

Look for a low f number. You want big glass for your common use lens. Pay the money up front for the large aperture and get it over with, or pay the money later for costly high speed film and always have grainy shots. The more natural lighting latitude you have, the more images you will capture without backfill.

I work almost exclusively with ambient light and prize my Nikkor 50mm f1.4 and 50 mm f1.2 lenses. With the iris opened up, I can fade the background and highlight my subject without competing elements in the shot.

Whether you get the 35mm or a 50mm depends on how much portrait versus scenic work you do. If you shoot most of your film out of doors, go for the wider angle 35mm. If you like to capture candid poses of people and animals, get the 50mm. Either way, big glass will permit you to have more options in composing your work.

You already have a great Zoom, which encompases the benefits of varying telephoto lenses up to 300. If that’s your only lens, I’d say you are missing a good portrait lens for standard knock around shots. For the best portrait, get a lens with the lowest F number on it that you can afford. An average range is from F22 down to F4. If you can buy a lens with an F value lower than 3, you’ll be really happy with your purchase.

Another vote for a fast 50

I got a fast 50 for my Pentax ZX-50, I think it’s a 1.4 or 1.2. Nice thing about it is that it’s a small lens, makes the camera easier to carry around. My zoom lens is so big that the whole camera gets clunky, and the body is very light making it really lens heavy. With the 50, it feels a lot more like a compact point and shoot, and I can shoot without flash in more situations.

I would agree with a lens like a 50mm which forces you to think about composition, rather than just punching out there with the zoom. I’m also fond of my macro-zoom. It’s WYSIWYG, which is great for composition photography, and in macro mode forces you to think about depth of field.

I have a 28-300 (Tamron, by the way–nice lens) and a 20-35(Tokina, which I picked up used for a song). Those two pretty much cover the spectrum for my needs, although I really wish I had a fisheye…

Yet another strong strong vote for the fastes 50mm you can buy. Personally I hate zooms with a passion. I do motly street and outdoor photography, so I prefer to zoom with my feet. However for telephoto apllications I do have a 150-300 zoom.
Anywho, yeah definitely a 50mm to learn with. Next on the block Id get a 28 mm, and then a high end zoom. Fisheyes are a blast, but have pretty limited uses. As for brand, avoid anything at Ritz camera. Their house brand Quantaray, is notorious for breaking, its often made with plastic mounts… But to each his own.

Although I collect old manual Nikons and their vintage Nikkor lenses, I’d like to give a nod towards my Vivitar Series I 75-210 f3.5 telezoom macro combination. I’ve heard good things about the Series I lenses from other Nikon collectors and have gotten satisfactory performance out of this one on many occassions. You may wish to see if they make a fast 50mm lens.

I strongly agree with mhendo. Since your current lens covers a huge gamut, consider this: right now, what frustrates you about your current lens’ focal range? If you would like a more distorted wider angle, get 20-24–they are fun. Want higher quality telephoto shots, put your money down on a better 200 or 300. I’ve never been real thrilled with my straight 50mm lenses, and I have had some great, fast, and sharp ones. They just seem too limiting and I return to my wide angle and telephoto lenses instead.

I shot an entire photo safari in Botswana (28 rolls) with a Vivitar 28-210, mounted on a Nikon N70. Most folks’ first comment on the photos is “you could submit these to National Geographic”. High praise for the lens quality, I can tell you.

When I use my 70-210, I usually use it at one end or ther other. Do you do that with your 28-300? (I’m really not sure.)

If so, I would pick a nice midrange prime (middle of your range that is). 50mm is the classic. Light in weight and weighty in light. The single cheapest lens for any camera should be a 50mm f/1.8, so there’s no reason not to have one. OTOH, 85mm or 100mm is a nice portrait lens, and probably my next purchase.

Agreed. My 1960s vintage Nikkor AI 105mm f2.5 semi-telephoto is still judged by some experts to be one of the finest 35mm portrait lenses ever made. I find little to argue about their assessment.

SIDEBAR: In the mid to late sixties, Japan was so eager to escape the stigma of “Made in Japan” that they simply tried too hard when building the old all-metal Nikon Nikkormats and F-1s. These things are indestructible and the glass for them remains some of the best I’ve ever seen for mid-price SLRs. I just got back some shots of my friend running his Arab at their first horse show. The color saturation (on Kodak Gold) was superb and the details were needle sharp. You’ll have to pry this gear out of my cold dead fingers.

Yet another vote for a fast (F/1.8 or F/1.4) 50mm lens. It forces you to make a tight composition. With a wider angle lens it’s too easy to get lazy and end up with a weak composition.

My other favorite lens is a 75-150 F/3.5 zoom (Nikon). Maybe an 85mm fixed would work better, but the 75-150 has a good reputation (well deserved, IMHO).

Garsh, it’s good to hear from the supposedly “all-manual” crowd. I agree, a tight focus lens makes you do your mental homework like few auto-focus PhD (Push here Dummy) cameras will ever do.