Well everyone, it's getting on into that time of the year again. Holiday shopping! And as you might expect, around this time of the year a lot of the orders we're getting are gifts for people other than the ones buying them. And in a technical market like photography this sometimes leads to a problem: how do you buy a gift for your photographer friends and family, people who know what all these cryptic names and numbers mean, but you don't? Well, we can't realistically teach you everything you need to know to ease those woes in the short shopping season, but we can give you a few easy pointers that might help make it less terrifying.
Today we're going to talk about lenses for "the big two:" Canon and Nikon. While these certainly aren't the only brands on the market (I have myself shot Olympus, my future brother-in-law shoots Sony, and there's Leica, Pentax, Panasonic, Fuji, and oh so much more too), they do account for a very large chunk of the market. The odds are in your favor that your photographer friend uses one of the two of them, and especially if they're just getting going a cheap lens like a 50mm or 35mm prime, or a nice used one might come up as a gift idea. And they are! But, there are a few pitfalls you as a loving gift giver and savvy shopper would like to avoid, and without burdening you too much with the technobabble behind them we'll help point out a couple here real quick.
1. DSLRs have different size sensors.
Unlike pretty much every film camera you've probably seen someone using, that all took the same 35mm film, DSLRs actually commonly have one of two basic sensor sizes. Cheaper ones will have a smaller one often called a "crop" sensor, and many more expensive ones (though not all of them) will have one the same size as 35mm film called "full frame." The reason you need to know this is because there are some lenses made only to be used with the smaller sensor. These "crop" lenses can be made smaller, and smaller means cheaper, and cheaper means they're likely to be tempting gifts. And that's great so long as your giftee has a crop camera. So, step one is to figure out if you're buying for a "crop" or "full-frame" camera. You could always just ask them, most photographers will certainly know. If they don't but you can find out the model of their camera you can also very easily look up whether they have a crop or full-frame sensor.
Once you know whether or not they have a crop or full-frame sensor, here are your handy tips:
- Lenses made for full-frame sensors can be used just fine on both full frame and crop
- Lenses made just for crop sensors will be specially noted right in their names
- Canon crop lenses will have "EF-S" in the name. The -S is the key part. Think of it as "EF-Small"
- Nikon crop lenses will have "DX" in the name. If you don't see a DX, it can be used for either full frame or crop.
But, wait! What about third party brands, like Tamron and Sigma, who make some excellent (and honestly more affordable) lenses for Canon and Nikon? Their names look different, and I don't see an EF-S or DX in any of their names! How do I know which ones work with these "crop" and "full-frame" cameras you're talking about?
Good question! These brands also note whether they're for crop sensors, but for copyright reasons they use different terms.
- Tamron crop lenses will have "Di-II" or "Di II" in the name
- Sigma crop lenses will have "DC" in the name (for "Digital Crop" actually)
- Just like with the brand Nikon and Canon lenses, if you don't see either of those terms in the name it'll work on both full-frame and crop bodies
2. Nikon Autofocus
This is just for the Nikon people, and mostly just if you're shopping used lenses. A lot of modern Nikon DSLRs cannot autofocus older Nikon autofocus lenses. Without having to know the technical stuff there is once again a super-easy way for you to know if you're getting a lens that can autofocus on any camera. Nikon's universal, new autofocus system is indicated by an "AF-S" in the lens name. Older ones will only be called "AF" without the important "-S". All new Nikon lenses are AF-S anyway, you'll only run into this worry when you start looking for used.
To further help you, here is a list of the Nikon DSLRs that require the use of an AF-S lens for autofocus: D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D3100, D3200, D3300, D5000, D5100, and D5200. All of the other Nikon DSLRs can use the old AF lenses just fine, if your budget is tight.
3. Canon EF
This one is just for the Canon people, and again really just if you're buying used. Canon has had two different lens mount systems in its time. The original one all those Canon AE-1's in your closets used back in the 70s was called FD. Any Canon camera with EOS in the name uses the newer EF (or EF-S, if crop) mount. It is important to know that the old FD lenses absolutely won't work on EOS digital cameras. They physically cannot be mounted. This is a pretty common mistake and we want to help steer you away from it right now. Be sure that the lens you're buying for your friend's and family's digital Canon have an EF somewhere in the lens name and you'll always be OK.
4. Buying With Confidence
We know the stuff we sell is highly technical, and highly specific. We don't want you to be afraid to gift it because of that. Leave a gift message on anything you buy from us until Christmas Eve and we'll extend the exchange period on it until January 10th! If it's not right for your giftee, or they need something slightly different, we'll take care of them. We'll make sure one way or another that your gesture of love and thoughtfulness ends with them having the item they want and need for their specific kit. So, even if you do get a bit buried under all the technobabble and alphabet soup, we've got your back. No worries.
Have you checked out our starter's list of 30 gift ideas for photographers all under $200? It's a great place to start...