Tips to Make Better Images : Choosing the Right Lens

All too often we look at adding lenses to our kit, and when we enter the camera store or go online, we are directed to a particular brand or range.  Back in the days of film, zoom lenses were growing in popularity but it was acknowledged that they were a compromise, more flexible than a fixed focal length lens (what we now call primes), but never as sharp or as contrasty, or as bright.  Photographers made the hard decision to go zoom or prime, and serious shooters often had zooms that overlapped the primes.
Today lens technology has changed dramatically.  We no longer have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for lenses with extra low dispersion glass, or apochromatic elements.  Multicoatings that actually do the job are no longer solely the province of the camera manufacturers, or as it was then, the glass manufacturers.
However, one size RARELY fits all and I am seeing an increase in the number of vendors pushing the one size fits all lens.  While I don't dispute that the very expensive Nikon and Canon 28-300 variants are quite good, we pay a price for their flexibility still.  And when we look to the non- L Canons and the non-FX Nikons as well as pretty much all of the third parties we are giving up even more.
Theres an old saying that you can have any two of good, fast and cheap, and this applies to lenses to some extent although fast and cheap is hard to find outside of the 50/1.8 sub $200 offerings.  Before you run out and buy the kit zoom or that new exciting 18-270 take some time to consider your own needs, not what the seller wants you to buy.
Wide to tele lenses are ALWAYS compromises.  They all vignette in the corners when wide open, and all display some level of barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion distortion at the tele end.  My friends Quyen, Bryan and I have done eye level tests and there are lenses on the market where the distortion is not just there, it's so obviously there, that potential buyers should run, not walk, from those lenses.
We also find that the wider the zoom range, the slower the lens is.  By this I mean that it has a relatively small maximum aperture and one that varies depending on the focal length selected.  Have you ever noticed that top line lienses have the same aperture through the zoom range while consumer grade range from 3.5-6.7 and beyond?
I also see a significant shift away from using a flash.  Since our default lenses are slower optically and people dont want to use flash, even though flash has never been better than it is today, how can they make successful images in low light?  There are only two options, slow shutter speeds, or pumping up the ISO.
Certainly film never had the ISO range of today's digital cameras that can produce decent results up to ISO 3200 in most cases.  But do an experiment and take the same shot on a tripod at ISO 200 and ISO 3200.  The difference in image quality is enormous.  Colour saturation, contrast and digital noise are very different.  As we push the ISO higher we give up saturation and contrast in exchange for noise..  If we go to slow shutter speeds we need a tripod and may still get motion blur if the subject moves.
Fast lenses, those with larger maximum apertures cost more.  People keep cameras between three and five years, but often keep the glass much longer.  Should you not consider having fewer lenses that are faster, or consider zooming with your feet instead of zooming in the lens?  The wide range zooms make great snapshots, but I consistently see that the best work of photographers is captured with primes or with the top of line zooms.
It's your call, but do think about what you want out of the photographs you will make.  That will define the route to follow for glass.