Camera lenses: 9 things you need to know

camera lenses things you need to know
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If you look online you will find literally hundreds of articles comparing lenses, buying guides and reviews.

There are not that many sources of information on some of the most basic questions people ask about lenses.

This article answers the 9 most commonly asked questions I get about lenses:

Are camera lenses universal?

In other words, are camera lenses interchangeable between brands? The simple answer to this is – no.

This means that if you change from Canon to Sony or from Nikon to Canon your existing lenses will not work on your new camera that is from a different manufacturer.

Each brand of camera uses different lens mounts and these are sufficiently different to prevent you from attaching (say) a Nikon lens to a Canon camera.

The major brands do have agreements with third party lens manufacturers who use their lens mounts under license.

Examples of third party lens manufacturers are Sigma and Tamron.


Sigma F mount for Nikon lens

Are camera lens protectors necessary?

Yes definitely! When not in use the lens cap should always be reattached to prevent accidental scratching.

When in use I put a UV (ultra violet) filter on the front of my lens.

Modern glass in lenses does not really need protection from UV rays but the filter does act as a first line of defense on the front of your lens.

The picture below shows what happened when I dropped one of my lenses straight down on the front. I had a UV filter attached so this was the only thing to get broken.

You can buy very cheap UV filters so invest in one to help protect your lens.

are lens protectors necessary

Do camera lenses wear out?

The quality of your lens determine how long it will last.

Anything with moving parts does eventually wear out but if you look after your lenses they will probably outlive you!

It is always best to keep your lenses out of direct sunlight and avoid extreme swings in temperature. 

Keep your lenses in your camera bag or in their own padded lens cases to avoid accidental damage when not in use.

Are camera lenses cheaper in Japan?

If we are comparing apples with apples then the answer is no – lenses are not cheaper in Japan. Note the following:

  1. You may buy a cheaper lens on the grey market in Japan but you can do that anywhere these days.
  2. Most lenses from the major brands are now made in Thailand or China so many of the lenses you will find being sold in Japan are actually imported.
  3. If you add customs duty onto imported electronic purchases (which is how camera equipment is defined by customs), you will not find any material advantage to buying lenses in Japan.
camera lenses things you need to know front element

How much does camera lens cleaning cost?

If you clean the outer parts of your lenses yourself then cleaning is obviously free.

You can clean the front lens glass also as long as you are careful to first blow any dust or grit particles from the surface of the glass. Once you have done that you can clean the glass using a low alcohol solvent and a soft cloth.

Where you will end up paying to clean your lens is if you have  fungus growing on it due to bad storage. Technicians will usually charge around USD 10 to clean this off.

How much does camera lens repair cost?

Most types of damage to lenses can be repaired. The cost of repair depends on the extent of the damage and whether any parts need to be replaced.

Problems with lenses are usually mechanical in origin and affect focusing and aperture settings.

Only repair your lenses with reputable, experienced technicians who can diagnose the problem and give you a quote prior to commencing work on repairs. They will usually charge by the hour excluding the cost of any parts.

The types of reairs and maintenance services you should be able to find include:

  • focus micro-adjustment
  • aperture replacements
  • lens element replacements
  • cosmetic repairs

What happens if you drop a camera lens?

Dropping a camera lens is always a traumatic experience. Damage to the lens occurs most frequently when you drop your camera with the lens attached.

This can often cause damage to the lens mount – either on the lens itself or (worst case scenario) the mount inside the camera.

Dropping a lens by itself usually only causes cosmetic damage i.e a dent or a scratch – unless you drop it with the lens hood deployed and the hood subsequently cracks or breaks.

Luckily, lens hoods from the major brands are readily available and cost around USD 30 for a regular lens hood on a standard lens like a 50 mm.

If you are unfortunate enough to drop a lens then run through the following checks:

Are you able to change the aperture manually?

Does the lens still zoom?

Does auto focus work?

Does manual focus work?

Take some pictures straight away and ensure that you are getting the usual quality images. If something has been knocked out of alignment internally then it will be evident on the images.

Do camera lenses affect colour?

Yes, each lens has different characteristics and lens manufacturers use different coatings and glass treatments – all of which affect the rendition of color when light passes through the lens.

Camera manufacturers also have a signature ‘look’ to the way their cameras render color. Known as colour science some produce cool colour and others warm colour.

You will only see this when you compare images side by side in an unedited file.

Do camera lens adapters affect image quality?

Adapters that allow the attachement of a different lens mounts will not impact image quality as they do not have any glass.

The image below is of a Nikon adapter that allows the old F mount DSLR lenses to be mounted on the new Nikon Z series mirrorless camera bodies.

You can see that it is a tube that you can see straight through.

nikon ftz ii adapter
Nikon F mount to Z mount lens adapter

About camera lenses

Simply put a camera lens captures light and directs it onto a camera sensor or film to produce an image of the scene or subject you are photographing.

As an indispensable tool, lenses allow you to change the field of view and adjust focus as well as change the focal length.

What different types of lenses are there?

Lenses are divided into two main groups – fixed focal length or prime lenses and variable focal length lenses known as zoom lenses.

Prime lenses vs zoom lenses

Primes lenses are smaller, offer only one focal length and are generally considered to focus faster than zoom lenses.

They are also known to produce a sharper image than zoom lenses but these days this is debatable.

Zoom lenses allow you to rapidly change focal length either by manipulating an external focal length ring or via an internal motor.

They are invariably heavier than prime lenses and usually take longer to obtain focus when using auto focus.

To put this into perspective, we are only talking fractions of a second here.

Most serious photographers keep a selection of both prime and zoom lenses in order to get the maximum flexibility and choice when out on a shoot.

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