Who hasn’t been persuaded by an 18-200mm lens for under $400 or an 18-50 IS for only $100. Why would I spend $1000+ for a fixed lens without image stabilization when I can have a full zoom for ¼ the price?
A camera lens is the most important part of your camera kit and the single biggest contributor to the quality of photographs. A lens will determine sharpness, low light capabilities, color, contrast, depth of field, focusing speed & accuracy, build quality, and other factors. As a result, it is important to look at the pros & cons of each type of lens to determine what type may be best for you.
While we all wish kit lenses and super-zooms offered the quality of fixed prime lenses, the fact remains that quality lenses are complicated and expensive. Prime lenses, lenses with a fixed focal length, are able to offer amazing quality at often inexpensive prices because the lens makers are able to design the lens for a specific purpose without having to worry about zoom extremities. These prime lenses are also very fast with apertures of f/1.2 in many cases and sharp. This is a great way to learn photography, experiment with wide open apertures, and achieve sharpness otherwise only obtainable in $1000+ lenses.
No matter how hard you try, there will never be any substitute for great glass. Whether you are shooting on a Nikon 3Ds or a D3100, it will be difficult to achieve amazing results without a good quality lens attached to the front. At Learningcameras.com, we always stress glass over bodies as the next upgrade in your kit. Besides impacting virtually every aspect of a photo, lenses typically have a great shelf life of 5-10 years minimum, depreciate very little over time, and can often be purchased for less than a great camera body. If money is a limiting factor, both Nikon & Canon have a great selection of inexpensive prime lenses, such as the 50mm 1.8, that offer decent quality at only $100. This is a great way to get started learning and growing. Also, without the flexibility of a zoom range, this forces the photographer to think about perspective and image composition, very important to achieving great results.
Check out Part 2