10 golden rules to buy the wrong lens

Usually we try to give you good advice. In this article we do our best to give you bad advice. So here are 9 golden rules to make sure that you buy the wrong lens.

1. Sharpness is all that matters

You should discard any but the very sharpest lenses and put the sharpness high above any other aspects. Only inspecting your über-large prints with a loupe will impress your neighbor more than the super heavy $5000 lens you took that picture with.

2. Buy Bob’s favorite lens

If your mate is raving about his new Fantastilux 7.2/14-140 then that lens is perfect for you as well. Bob will certainly be very experienced when it comes to lenses. It also doesn’t matter that he mostly shoots soccer while you are more interested in landscape photography. If the lens does one thing well it will do other things as well.

3. Trust in numbers

There is no better way to judge the quality of a lens than going by the numbers since the numbers are always right. Luckily many sites provide very exact numbers to help you in your search for the perfect lens. To keep your faith in the numbers you shouldn’t let yourself be bothered by a heretic called Roger Cicala and his mutterings on lens variance.

Our favorite site even calculates how many megapixels a lens resolves. This is super handy because instead of becoming confused by a number of tests which disagree whether the MTF50-score LW/PH which lens X resolves 12 mm off center at f/5.6 with a focal length of 42mm when tested at a reproduction ratio of 1:30 is 1234 or 1432 you just have one handy number. This makes comparing lenses so much easier! You also don’t need to understand yet another complicated technical term. You can use the same one you used to determine which is the best camera.

4. Trust every review

The sole motivation of every lens reviewer ever is to help you make educated buying decisions. They simply have superior morals and are therefore never tempted to spin their reviews so you buy the reviewed lens trough their affiliate link so they can earn a $30 commission on a $1000 lens.

Manufacturers like Sony also go out of their way to provide you with independent advice: When they announce a new product they fly a number of influencers to exotic locations and provide them with some colorful subjects and nice food. Of course no reviewer’s review has ever been influenced by this nice treatment and privileged access.

5. Buy new lenses. Always.

New lenses are exciting and always better than the lenses you already own and know. So the smart photographer changes his gear as often as possible. What, after all, is the worth of knowing a lens well? What does it matter that you will burn a lot of money in the process? You are right that is worth nothing compared to being at the bleeding edge of technology.

6. Trust in brand names

Today’s world is confusing. Brands are one of the few guideposts you can rely on. When your lens has that blue Zeiss label you can be sure that it was 100% developed by Zeiss and that it is both optically superior to other brands and also underlies extensive quality control. Chinese products in contrast are always a let-down. So the smart photographer will always go for more prestigious brand without considering actual test results.

7. Invest in cameras not lenses

Superficially it might appear like it was smarter to invest in lenses which will far outlast your camera and have a bigger impact on image quality but in truth it is much smarter to invest most of your money into the newest camera model. What good does your fancy lens do if you missed a scene with last generations obsolete AF? Your new camera will do twice as many frames per second as your old one but your new lens won’t be twice as good. So because of the extensive improvements each generation brings it is much smarter to always have the newest camera model.

8. Buy faster lenses

How can you distance yourself from the amateurs? Right you need to have faster lenses. A f/1.8 prime or f/4 zoom just doesn’t cut it. “Professional photographers use f/1.4 primes if they have to but they prefer f/0.95 primes. F/2.8 zooms will do because with very few exceptions there aren’t any f/2 zooms. Even if you rarely use your fast lens at its fast aperture, everyone knows that fast lenses are better at every aperture, so all that extra weight and cost is definitely worth it!

9. Real men use heavy lenses

Don’t let yourself be compromised by puny little men who tell you that you are much more likely to actually use lighter lenses. Only with the sharpest and fastest lens will you be able to unleash your creative potential. A proper lens is heavy. So stop complaining about your back-pain and put that set of Otus lenses into your camera bag.

10. It’s the gear stupid

You aren’t happy with you images? There is a great hack: Instead of studying the work of others and critisizing your own work you shoulf spend more time on gear forums and review sites and buy more gear. Prefearably with a red dot. That way your compositions will rapidly improve, you will learn to see and use the light and you will develop a deep connection with every subject in no time.

Did I miss any important tipps? Please tell me about them in the comments!

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I have two hobbies: Photography and photographic gear. Both are related only to a small degree.

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39 thoughts on “10 golden rules to buy the wrong lens”

  1. This is a great read with valid points, but some „self-irony“ as well, I presume 😉

    I wonder if you could do a a7 camera body comparison from your perspective(s) at some point, as it seems all of you are on different A7 models at the time being?!

      1. Looking forward to it. I find your site to be an incredible source for detailed and unbiased lens reviews, and such info is even harder to find for camera bodies (e.g. will all my kids photos be in perfect focus when i now buy an a7iii over an a7rii ? …most of the guys that shot dunebuggys and flew over the hoover dam would probably say yes! see point 4 on your list)

  2. This can be useful to a lot of people getting lost in technicality and forgetting that what is important is the vision not the equipment. If what you are taking the picture with is worth from let’s say €700 up (with €700 you can have a good second hand camera and lens) it is difficult to blame the equipment if the photo is not good.
    Good work

  3. I recently tested a Sony 100mm STF (~$1900 Canadian) versus my Nikkor 105mm 2.5 AI-S (~$100 used). Until my print size exceeded 16″x24″ (40cm x 60cm) the two lenses were close to indistinguishable. After that, the Nikkor was a bit soft.

    I find it very interesting that very few reviewers actually talk about the end product in their reviews. Most people don’t even print any more and virtually any camera/lens combination from the past decade is more than sufficient for web. When asked, I tell people to find a camera and lens they like to use. Unless they print very large sizes, the specs of the camera and lenses don’t matter much. That is also why most people can get by with their mobile phone.

    In my case, most of my work goes out as prints smaller than 40cm x 60cm and so I use my trusty Nikkor and save a bundle.

    1. If you compare these two lenses then you definitely don’t need STF. It’s for very specific work and connects some features that make it worth the money if you can use it. For most people it is not worth the price.

      1. The disappointing thing about the STF was that it is a dedicated portrait lens but, even taking into account the bokeh, it did not out perform the old Nikon except in sharpness. Sharpness is not usually a major consideration for portrait lenses and in this case not even noticeable until printed very large. Perhaps I was hoping for magic that didn’t exist…

        1. Or maybe you just don’t like the STF look? With this kind of lens it’s not about out-performing. It’s whether you like the effect. STF lenses look completely different to other sorts of lenses (including soft focus or enhanced bokeh via SA) for sure and many people love them. I don’t. Looks too much like a Gaussian blur filter to me. But that’s just personal taste.

    2. ..+1..
      ..for me its primarily about the specific rendering of a lens, not about maximum sharpness..i even did a print 140×100 cm that i shot with the pano setting of my old nex 7 and it worked, because you also have to take into account the viewing distance..(same goes for ultra hd tv sets..if you sit 4 meters away and dont have an eagle‘s eyes it will be hard to find out the difference betwenn hd and ultra hd)..in the end its always about faster, higher, stronger as growth is the capitalistic mantra nowadays..

  4. Real men use DSLRs, and with hand grips. Mirrorlesses are for the weak, and are not professional.
    (From soooo many of my friends when they asked me for camera advice and I suggested a mirrorless)

  5. You must have had such fun thinking up these
    tongue-in-cheek “recommendations.”
    Here are a couple more…

    #10 “If you find a really good lens, stick with only that brand forever. They obviously know how to make good lenses and everything they make will be equally good”

    #11 “If you only buy Leica lenses, you can be certain that you’re getting the very best value for money possible. Rest assured you’ve bought the best, and no one can produce a lens that comes near to their quality.”

    The possibilities are endless….. ;o)

        1. But I just compared on a Fuji X-T20 the following tele lenses, at a long distance (~150 ft): Nikon 200/4.0 AIs, Contax Zeiss 180/2.8, Contax Zeiss 200/4.0, Canon 200/2.8 FDn, Pentax 200/2.8 FA*, Pentax 200/4.0 A and Leica R 180/3.4 Apo, all in superb condition. You guess it: at full aperture, in the center, the sharper is the Leica, no contest.
          (they are all more or less equivalent at f/5.6; at f/4.0, weird things happened that don’t make sense. Maybe due to focusing shift?)

  6. Entertaining read but I don’t quite agree with „lenses are a better investment than cameras“. They outlast camera bodies, true, but for some applications it makes more sense to invest primarily in new camera bodies (e.g. depending on priorities it might be better to upgrade from A7 to A7Riii with vintage glas than buying new glas for the A7)

    Rule #1: Generalized buying guides are always right ;P

      1. E.g. for landscape photography I’d rather take a a7riii with some of the better Ai-S Nikkors – or other nice vintage lenses such as the the 28mm Pentax K – than an a7 with some fancy new Sony or Zeiss Batis lenses. I’d argue the image quality of the former combination is at least equal if not “better” than the latter (obviously depending on what one finds most important: resolution, DR, lens rendering, sun stars, etc.) 🙂

      2. I just (3months ago) bought an A7 (full stop) NEW!
        U$200 cheaper, which I invested in a Voigtländer 65.
        VERY nice combo!

  7. I really like this fast check list of all my mistakes!
    Thanks indeed! =)

    When I was an absolute beginner, I didn’t know what to look for in a lens! As later on I understood, “I” was the limit to my gear and started to study.
    Now I enjoy all the limit that my lenses and cameras offer!
    Coming back to film on 4×5″, medium format and 35mm, I discovered how much fun is to think (a hard work) before shooting 😉

    PS: I’m sorry for my terrible english! I’m working on that too!

  8. I really like this article! I recognize some of the mistakes I have done myself,that I have become aware of.
    I dont own a Sony A7 series camera anymore,after switching to Fujifilm x-t2,but I like your articles and just have to stop by and read them anyway.

    For me, photography is not just about good pictures,its also the experience with the camera and lenses to achieve the pictures, and thats why I bought fujifilm x-t2. But Im missing the fun with manual old vintage lenses,when I had A7rii. Its not so fun with manual lenses on x-t2 compared with Sony A7 series camera, so Im thinking of buying a A7 ore A7ii just to experience the handling with ols vintage lenses and those A7 series cameras .

    Regards Göran

    1. My golden rule: Spend time on photo forums rather than taking pictures. Why use the gear you have when you can endlessly lust after new gear and look at other people’s photos instead of taking your own?

      This isn’t a slam on this forum. I think it’s one of the best.

  9. The 10 -9 rule seems to be a good one. To get that last 10 percent of performance you have to spend 9 times as much… new glass over vintage on th A7…

  10. The 10 -9 rule seems to be a good one. To get that last 10 percent of performance you have to spend 9 times as much… new glass over vintage on th A7R2…

  11. Agree on everyone except the first one. Sharpness is not everything, but it’s pretty much the most important thing.

    1. I couldn’t disagree more. Rendering, Color, Bokeh and Flare characteristics are much more important. Of course sharpness is nice, but even vintage lenses are often sharp enough.

    2. I entirely support the view that sharpness is essential. Which is why I have always been disappointed when trying to use vintage lenses on a high-resolution sensor such as the A7R series. On the other hand, I enjoy old Nikon glass on a Df body, because it does not exceed the resolution limit of what the lens was designed for. As for DxO providing a number pretending to reflect the maximum resolution of the lens, they provide their methodology and all the detailed results for everyone to look at. They are not the only ones to do that, but there are not so many sites providing a bit of science either, and in this regard they deserve a sligtly better treatment than the article provides.

      1. I think the first and most important thing about a picture is its message. Not the bokeh, not the colours, and definietly not the sharpness. The internet is full of pictures with perfect bokeh (and a cat), perfect sharpness (and a flower), perfect flare resistance (and a posing girl). BS.
        Of course, technical aspects are important, because they help you achieve as high quality as you can get (when needed), but are worthless when used only for the technical superiority itself.

        1. You went to a totally different topic. Of course the most important thing is the eye behind the lens, but that’s not what we are talking about here.

  12. Buy a deeply-discounted “open box” (new) lens from an obscure seller on Flea Bay, whose game is to buy up “duds” cheaply from reputable dealers that need to unload them and then resell to uncritical buyers that don’t bother to test them. No like? …you probably could return it, but you’ll lose time and shipping cost, not to mention likely disappointment.

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