The Lens – The Most Important Part of the Camera


The Lens – The Most Important Part of the Camera

Ask any experienced photographer whether to buy a new camera or a new lens and the answer will usually be, “it’s all about the glass,” or, “a good lens is more important than a good camera.”

A bad lens on a good camera will still make poor images, but a good lens on a poor or average camera will most likely give the photographer good results.

I listened to several friends talking over coffee about reviews they had read about the latest camera offering from Canon. The discussion began with questions like, “why does a photographer that doesn’t shoot sports need a camera with 7 or 8 frames a second” and “I really don’t spend much time shooting in low light situations, so why would I spend extra money on a camera because it is capable of a high ISO.” However, as expected, it wasn’t long before the talk easily turned to an exchange of views on lenses. Remember, because after all, “it’s all about the glass.”

The conversation easily moved from a difference of opinion between those that preferred prime (fixed focal length) lenses, and those, like me, that chose multi-focal length (zoom) lenses. We talked about the importance of wide angle and, of course, wide aperture lenses.

Just because you can change the lens doesn’t mean you have to, but I don’t know many photographers that are that sensible. Mostly we are willing to change lenses as soon as we have extra cash in our pockets, more emotional and impulsive than sensible.

I know very few are content with the short zoom that came as a package with the camera any more than they are with the tires the manufacturer installed on their car. Yes, the lenses, just like the tires aren’t high quality, but that’s not my point. What I mean is that changing lenses is like changing the visual personality of the image, and most photographers I know are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personality and personal vision.

The camera might capture some subject’s personality, but the lens, in my opinion, says more about the photographer than the subject.

Several photographers standing on a picturesque hillside using the same camera and lens will probably produce much the same image, but give them each a different lens and the resulting images will be diverse, distinct, and individual.

Yes, it is all about the glass, and there is such a pleasing and very exciting diversity of lenses out there waiting for each photographer to choose, discard, and choose again as they explore and create within this stimulating medium of photography.

As I wrote those words I wondered if there were others that I could use that were more applicable than stimulating. I could have used, intoxicating, invigorating, or even compelling. They all fit and, I think, could apply to some of the feelings I could see and hear from those photographers lounging around my shop drinking warm coffee on a cold November day as they talked about the lenses they used and would like to use.

A new camera is a lot of fun, but it really is “all about the glass.

I appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

17 responses to “The Lens – The Most Important Part of the Camera

  1. Very thought provoking. In film cameras, I would say you are correct that it’s all about the glass. Film cameras really were just devices that exposed film through the lens and given the same lens, they all produced the same results. Digital cameras record files from a sensor and some sensors are better than others. Since you can’t change sensors like changing film, you are stuck with the only quality the camera can deliver. My D600 is so much different than my old D80 using the same lenses. I think we are at a place in digital camera technology that there is little difference in models within a manufacturers lineup as far as results are concerned. But there will probably be some interesting improvements in the near future for digital cameras since the trend is now moving more to phones and point and shoots. What will cameras look like in 50 years?


    • oneowner, You wrote, “I think we are at a place in digital camera technology that there is little difference in models within a manufacturers lineup as far as results are concerned”. You may be right… So the difference may be how each “device” deals with how different lenses allow the light to move to the sensor. And, of course, each lenses perspective. As in how much curvature there is on the front element.
      And I expect the “interesting improvements in the near future” you mentioned will be pretty exciting.
      You also mentioned a “trend” that is “moving to phones and point and shoots”. I suppose that might be right with those that are content with only documenting events in their life. But from what I have read, most manufacturers wi


  2. Agree with you, John. Invest in the lenses, however, when it comes to bodies, I can see a difference between my D300 and 800. After years of lugging, perhaps mirrorless is in my future. You?


  3. I used to have camera envy when I first started out and went quickly from a D90 to a D7000 then they brought out the 800 which was beyond my bank balance but I managed to get a 2nd hand 700 and fell in love, even though it’s too big and heavy!


  4. It is all about the glass. It’s easy to get caught up in gear envy but it gets expensive fast.
    I’m surviving quite nicely with my 6 year old D60 for now. I have one good 35mm f/1.8 a 40mm macro my 10-24mm wide angle and my kit lens. Anything else I have need for, I rent.
    In fact I rented the 70-200 f/2.8 this weekend for a special project: what a beast! But logically no reason to spend $2400 on one.


    • Yes, you are so right Martin. Thats what I meant when I wrote, “….changing the visual personality of the image, ….most photographers I know are engaged in, what I’ll call, a search for a perspective that fits their personality and personal vision.”

      Liked by 1 person

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