Now that everyone has turned to digital cameras and developed their latest movie, a large number of people are switching from a fixed-lens camera to a DSLR or SLD. Compared to all but a handful of premium fixed-lens models, these cameras are noticeably more expensive, especially when you consider the cost of the lenses.

When it comes to choosing which DSLR to buy, a large number of models compete with prices ranging from $400 to $8,000 USD. It is easy to find a model that will cost your entire budget and tell yourself you bought the best DSLR you can afford while forgetting about the cheap lens that comes with it. This is the biggest mistake you can make when buying a DSLR because:

The secret to modern digital SLR cameras is that they’re ALL really good.

Despite the price difference between the cheapest and most expensive DSLRs, image quality is similar and indistinguishable for the most common print and web-sharing sizes. In fact, it often happens that an $800 camera and a $1600 camera share the sami image sensor! There is a jump in quality between cropped sensor DSLRs and full frame ones that you can afford on a budget of at least $2500 USD without including a lens. However, even that leap doesn’t compare to the difference in quality between cheap and high-end lenses. So spending more money on a lens will often improve image quality much more than spending more on a camera.

Now that image quality differences are out of the way, it’s time you learned that image quality has very little to do with the impact of photography. What makes a great image complex, but the least important aspect is its quality. That’s right, people appreciate images based on many factors in which image quality plays little role. Take a look, for example, at the magnificent National Geographic photographs taken over 30 years ago. They’re still great pictures, although the cameras used were much more capable than today’s.

Lenses play a role in image quality, but more importantly, they control the vision you put into your images. Depth of field, focal length, and perspective drastically change your photos. Choosing the right lenses gives you creative power in all of these aspects. To quote LIFE photographer Joe McNally:

…the lens is incredibly important to what photographers do; defines what we see.

For this reason, it’s critical to spend enough to get lenses that suit your photography in terms of subject matter and style. If nothing else, one of the biggest advantages of DSLRs is that there are so many lenses to choose from. So, if you already have a DSLR, you should seriously consider getting your next shoot to buy a lens. If you don’t already have one, then the best advice is to choose lenses first.

Choose not just your next target, but all the ones you would like to shoot with. Start by buying one and get more as your budget allows. It is also possible to rent glasses for occasions when you need something for a special occasion. The good thing about buying lenses is that they tend to last longer than cameras because the optical technology changes less. Most medium to high-quality lenses also increase in value and usually end up making up the majority of your photography investment, so choose wisely.

Just like buying a digital camera requires some research, so does your choice of lenses. If you’re confused by basic lens terminology such as focal length, aperture, filter thread, supersonic, etc., you should start by reading a lens buying guide. By reading two pages there, you will know all the basics about camera lenses. If you already know what you’re looking for in terms of focal length, aperture, and lens type, the Lens Finder can find and compare lenses that match your criteria.

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