Today’s Question: I realize some photographers need a very long lens such as for bird photography. But for more general photography do you have a recommendation for what would be the longest lens I should have?
Tim’s Quick Answer: I don’t think there is really a limit in terms of how much reach a photographer might like to have available. Rather, I think the real limit relates to the increased weight (and size) of a long lens. That said, I do think most photographers would benefit from having a lens on the order of around a 500mm focal length available (based on a 35mm sensor format).
More Detail: I’ve never felt that a particular lens had more reach than I could put to use in my photography. Whatever lens I’m using, it seems that I often feel I could use a longer lens in certain situations. That’s not to say that I always want a longer lens under all circumstances, but that I very often feel that a long lens is helpful.
For bird and wildlife photography most photographers are going to want a very long lens, on the order of a 500mm or 600mm focal length. But even for other types of photography, such as landscape and travel, I find that a long lens can be helpful. More often than not, I bring a 150-600mm lens (https://amzn.to/2O9SOji) with me when traveling for photography. On rare occasions I might bring a lens no longer than a 70-200mm. But when I don’t bring a long lens, in most cases I do think I could have put it to good use if I had brought it with me.
Of course, longer lenses also involve increased size and weight. The 150-600mm lens I often bring on trips weighs 4.4 pounds. That can certainly add a bit of strain to my camera bag. Therefore, you’ll want to consider the size and weight of a lens with a long focal length before deciding if it will be a good option for you.
I think it is fair to say that just about every photographer could get some good use out of a lens such as a 70-200mm. So I would consider that a starting point for many photographers looking for a “long” lens. But I also think that most photographers would be happy to have something like a 100-400mm or 150-600mm lens available, at least for some of their photography.