Beginner Youtubers Series Pt. 2: Best Lens Options

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Background picture by Evan Wise

I’m back with part two of my “Beginner Youtubers Series”! I hope you found value in part one where I wrote ALL about camera options. In part two, I want to talk about lenses.

DSLR Cameras

In part one I mentioned that if you really want to get serious about your youtube channel and you are looking for the best quality, then DSLR cameras are the way to go. Especially if you plan to do “interview” style videos where you just sit in front of the camera most of the time. These cameras are what a lot of professional videographers are using, because honestly the quality they produce is amazing. The sensors (and the lenses) of these cameras really pack a punch and offer beautiful “filmlike” images.

Best Lens Options

But one of the main overwhelming factors about DSLR cameras are the lenses. There are quite a few to choose from, and when you are just starting out it’s really difficult to understand everything. So hopefully I can help you with this!

My goal is to give you a basic understanding of lenses and why some may be better than others for your youtube videos!

Kit Lenses Vs. Professional Grade Lenses

Okay—so the first distinction we need to make is the difference between “kit” lenses and professional grade lenses. For the purposes of demonstration, I will speak mostly about Nikon and Canon brands because they display this concept pretty easily.

When you begin to shop around for a DSLR camera, you will find that there are package deals that include lenses with them. Like this T5i camera with an 18-55mm lens or this Nikon D5500 with an 18-40mm lens.

Those are what we call “kit lenses” because they come in a kit (very creative—I know). Bottom line is this, they are okay but they are not the best. One thing I can tell you that most beginners don’t know is that the lens is sometimes more important then the camera.

What makes a “good” lens versus a “not so good lens” you ask?

Without getting too technical, it is the glass used and the construction. The lenses that generally come with DSLR cameras in packages are not made with the same glass as some of the professional lenses. They also sometimes lack in overall construction, making for slower autofocus and sometimes softer focus in general. Even further, these kit lenses often have a higher aperture range then the professional grade ones, which can mean darker images. More on that in another post.

So, I say all of that to say that when you are looking for a good deal, getting a DSLR with a kit lens is quite alright. But down the road, you will likely want to upgrade the lens to a professional grade one. The easiest way to tell the difference between consumer and professional grade is this, Canon professional grade lenses have a red line around the rim and the Nikon professional grade lenses have a gold line.

You will see a difference in the quality of your images when you upgrade. I plan to write a post on lenses just to give you all the information about them at a later time. But for now, kit lenses are okay but you will likely want to upgrade as you grow your channel.

Professional Prime Lenses: Pros and Cons

Once we step into what we call “professional grade” lenses, there are zoom lenses and prime lenses you can choose from. Another thing you may run into when you start to do more research are people swearing up and down about how wonderful, beautiful and life changing prime lenses are.

Prime lenses, are lenses that have a fixed focal length. This basically means that you can not zoom in or out using the lens itself, if you want to get a closer shot you will have to move closer to your subject, if you want a wider what you will have to move away. There are some limitations with this as well. For example, you can only get so close to a subject before the lens just won’t focus at all.

You can usually determine Prime lenses by it’s description, if it only has one number in front of the “mm” then it is a prime lens. Examples of these are the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 Or the Nikon 85mm f/1.4.

Here are some pros of prime lenses and the main reason why some people swear by them:

They are Incredibly Sharp

Because of the construction of these lenses and the glass used, the images that come from them are generally incredibly sharp (given that you make sure you focus the lens on your subject correctly). This doesn’t mean you can not get a sharp, clear image with a zoom lens, it’s just that prime lenses are known for this.

They have lower Apertures

Another pro that prime lenses have is that they are “fast” or have lower aperture ranges. Aperture controls how much light the lens can allow which can lead to brighter images. The lower the number, the more light the lens can allow, this is especially good for low light situations. If you plan to film in an area that doesn’t have much light (not recommended) then these can help you to compensate for that!

When it comes to prime lenses, there is really only one “con” I can think of:

Fixed Focal Length

The very nature of a prime lens is it’s fixed focal length. To me, this is not always ideal. For a vlogger, the problem could be that maybe the lens is too wide or too “zoomed in” for the area that you want to film in. If you are in a tight space then you may not have the ability to move the camera further away or closer to you in order to make the shot look good. This is really the only con I can think of for prime lenses, the fixed focal length can create limitations for you.

Professional Zoom Lenses: Pros and Cons

Zoom lenses are ones that have a range of numbers in its description before the “mm”. Like this Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 II or this Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. These types of lenses have pros and cons as well. Let’s start with some of the Pros:

They are more Versatile

Because you have a minimum and maximum focal length, you can zoom in or out to create a variety of shots more easily then you can with a prime lens. This versatility is great for vloggers who plan to do travel vlogs, or maybe even an instructional type video. Having the freedom to zoom without having to physically move the camera a great pro.

Better Bokeh

Now, some of the longer zoom lenses out there can produce a better Bokeh. Bokeh basically means a blurry background, like this:

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Image by Celine Sayuri Tagami

The idea behind it is that a blurry background creates a greater contrast between the subject and the background.

Some people obsess over bokeh. I mean, they really get into it.

Now, it’s important to say that you can and will achieve this look with any lens. Prime, Zoom, Kit or Professional, it doesn’t really matter you can create bokeh with it. However, from what i’ve found in my research, longer zoom lenses create a more intense and “beautiful” bokeh, which some people really care about. Longer just means that it has more of a range between each number. So a lens like the Canon 70-20mm f/2.8 would be considered a longer lens. This lens would create a stronger, more pronounced bokeh than the 24-70mm lens I mentioned earlier generally speaking.

Now, you can also create a more pronounced bokeh by changing a few settings, but that’s another post for another time. For now, just know that lenses with a lower aperture and more range will have the ability to produce a more prominent bokeh.

Now, on to the cons. As with the prime lenses earlier, I can only thing of one real con that zoom lenses have.

Lower Aperture

Generally speaking,there are quite a few of zoom lenses that sacrifice in aperture. Some examples are this Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS and this Nikon 24-120 f/4G. The aperture range is located after the F/ and the larger the number, the darker the lens. There are many zoom lenses that have lower apertures like this, and they are really not ideal if the place you are filming does not have adequate light and you can’t bring in more of it.

Those of us in the industry consider 2.8 or lower (like 1.8 or 1.4) a “high aperture” while anything higher than 2.8 (like 3, or 4) we consider a “low aperture”.  This is really the only con to using zoom lenses for your videos!

In conclusion

Lenses can be tricky to understand when you are new to making videos. But I hope this helps you as you move forward! I’ll be back very soon to talk to you about the last component to making great youtube videos, lighting and audio!

Do you have any questions for me about lenses?! Feel free to ask in the comments below!

I hope you found value in this post and as always, thank you for reading!

Read More:

Beginner Youtubers Series Pt. 1: Best Camera Options for Vlogger

Beginner Youtubers Series Pt. 3: Best Lens Options

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Next articleBeginner Youtubers Series Pt. 3: Lighting and Audio For Beginner Youtubers
Olivia Johnson
Olivia Johnson is a videographer, photographer and freelance writer in the Atlanta, GA area. She works with soloprenuers and businesses to create video content that resonates with their audiences. Her full-service video production company, Silver Iris Entertainment specializes in commercials, business profiles, and event videography. She is also the founder and main contributor at Creatlivity, a lifestyle blog for women in business. She contributes articles about entrepreneurship, marketing, videography, photography, and tech.
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