- A Step-By-Step Guide to Choosing a Portrait Lens
- Enroll in PhotographyTalk's Portrait Photography Mastery Course
- 7 Tips and Tricks for Photographing Landscapes With a Wide-Angle Lens
- 6 Tips for Landscape Photography With a Telephoto Lens
It seems that the age-old question of "Should I upgrade my camera or my lens first?" never seems to be put to rest.
By that I mean that some photographers will adamantly support a camera-first approach while others say that it's the lens that makes the biggest difference, and therefore should be upgraded before the camera body.
There's good reasons for taking both positions, which is why it's a debate that never seems to end.
So, instead of trying to convince you one way or another, let's simply review why you might need an upgraded camera or lens, and how each can be beneficial to your photography.
A Quick Review of Important Features
Remember that your camera body controls things like dynamic range, exposure, focusing, and metering.
It's also responsible for the size and resolution of the images you take, the burst speed (how many images it can take per second), video frame rate, video quality, and the like.
Your lens, on the other hand, is in charge of things like the angle of view, how distorted (or not distorted) the image is, the ability to blur the background and the quality of that background blur, vignetting, and chromatic aberration.
Your lens also determines the level to which you can zoom - some lenses have a range of focal lengths, like 18-55mm while others are fixed at a specific focal length, like 50mm.
There's a few things that are determined by both your camera and your lens, too.
That includes the focusing speed, how much noise is apparent in the images you take in low-light situations, and the detail and sharpness of the images you create.
Your Style of Photography Determines Which Features are Most Important
Now that we've reviewed the basics regarding what cameras and lenses do for your photos, we can use that information to determine which piece of kit is most important for you to upgrade.
For portrait photographers, the focusing points a camera offers are often one of the primary concerns, as the more focusing points the camera has, the more likely the camera will acquire sharp focus on the subject.
Likewise, portrait photographers should look at the controls the camera offers, like the shutter speed range and ISO range for taking action portraits and portraits in low-light situations, respectively.
Portrait photographers should also look at lens factors like the angle of view and the ability of the lens to blur the background, as both features impact your ability to frame the subject and set them in front of a pleasing background.
Consider this scenario...
If you're shooting a portrait in a low-light situation (as seen above), your images will be helped more by a "fast" lens with a large maximum aperture mounted to a cheap camera because the lens lets in a lot of light. All that light means you can minimize the ISO setting, which also minimizes the appearance of noise in the shot.
So in that situation, an upgraded lens would be advisable over an upgraded camera body.
If street photography is your game, an upgraded camera is often advantageous.
Street photography is usually more concerned with the subject matter than it is with the sharpness and detail of those subjects.
What's more, having a small, discrete lens is often advantageous because it's less noticeable to the people you're photographing.
Additionally, an upgraded camera body can offer features that are extremely helpful to street photography, like a tilting LCD for low-angle shots, a faster and more robust autofocus system, and improved exposure controls like a fast shutter speed and extended ISO range.
Many higher-end camera bodies also offer quieter shutter mechanisms, which is certainly helpful when you're trying to capture authentic moments on the street.
When it comes to creating a pleasing landscape photo, most of the features that help you do that are on the lens side.
That is, landscape photographers often care most about the angle of view, distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting - all of which are determined by the lens that's used.
But that doesn't mean that the camera isn't important...
The camera controls the dynamic range of the shots taken, which is an important component of creating a landscape photo that has a pleasing level of contrast.
What's more, the detail of the photos - particularly if they'll be turned into large prints - is controlled by both the lens and the camera body.
So, which is more important - the camera or the lens?
Ideally, if landscapes are your passion, you'll upgrade your lens first.
Not only will that help you control the features listed above and get a higher-quality image, but it will also help you improve the sharpness of detail of the images you take.
Even if you wish to turn your images into large prints, still opt for a better lens. If you upgrade your camera to get a better resolution for those large prints, the diminished quality of the photos you take with your current lens will be painfully evident.
In other words, if you upgrade your camera body, you'll be able to print high-resolution photos, but those photos will be of lesser quality because of the lesser lens that was used to take them.
Wrapping It Up
So, in the great debate over which is more important to upgrade - the camera or the lens - it's a big, fat "it depends."
If you like to take portraits, get a better lens.
If you like to take street photos, opt for a better camera body.
If landscapes are your game, you can go either way, though I'd strongly recommend an upgraded lens before an upgraded camera body.
If you want to learn more about the camera-lens debate, be sure to check out the video above by Tony and Chelsea Northrup.