If you’re new to the world of photography, this post will help you to understand the different types of camera lenses, and their uses.
All types of lenses will be covered in this complete guide to camera lenses explained.
So, whether you’re searching for a lens that can produce telephoto photos, or wide angle shots, you’ll soon be able to understand what the best camera lens would be to purchase next for your genre of photography.
At a glance, here are the main topics covered, click on a link to skip to the section you need.
- What is a camera lens?
- What to consider when buying a camera lens
- Understanding the letters & numbers in the names of camera lenses
- Basic types of camera lenses:
- The advantages of the most common lens sizes
Let’s get started!
Firstly, what is a camera lens?
A camera lens is arguably the most crucial component of your photography gear. Your camera body would be unable to capture photographs without a lens. It is sometimes known as the camera’s “eye.”
The primary function of your camera lens is to capture light reflected from a scene or subject.
The reflected light beams are directed to the camera’s image sensor as they enter the camera lens and travel through the elements.
The image sensor will then record the colours and intensity of incoming light entering the camera through the lens.
The collected light can then be replicated exactly as the image was viewed via the camera’s viewfinder or LCD screen when the shutter release button was pushed.
Camera lenses are made up of a sequence of convex (curved outward) or concave glass plates (curved inward).
In order to decrease aberration, modern lenses aim to adjust the angle of incidence and angle of refraction to similar values, and they feature a focus element that allows the operator to determine which regions of the image are crisp and which are blurred.
Camera lenses explained: What to consider when buying a camera lens
Choosing the appropriate lens for your camera kit is critical since it allows you to use your camera to its full potential.
Your final image quality and resolution will suffer without a suitable camera lens for your camera.
Even if you have a low-cost camera, adding a high-quality lens to your camera equipment can help you take outstanding photographs.
However, using a low-quality lens with one of the finest camera bodies available, on the other hand, might result in poor image quality.
Furthermore, pairing with a lens filter can help elevate your photography. Check out Types of Camera Lens Filters Explained: An Essential Guide for more information.
First of all, keep in mind that lenses can get very pricey very rapidly. Consider getting a versatile zoom lens, such as the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM or the Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM II, if price is a factor for you.
These types of lenses are referred to as workhorse lenses since they perform admirably in all genres, including both portrait and landscape photography.
The size and weight of the lens should be taken into account as well. Large telephoto lenses can be very heavy, although the photos are worth it!
So, before purchasing consider the intended use of your camera and lens; if it’s just for taking family photos, get a lighter, more portable model.
However, if you’re a professional photographer who specialises in sports or wildlife, a telephoto lens is essential for getting those distant and rare photos.
Don’t forget to protect your lens. Learn more at this article UV Protection Lens Filter: Is It an Essential Purchase?
Camera lenses explained: understanding the letters & numbers in the names of camera lenses
In addition to the points above, when purchasing a new lens, you should also evaluate the characteristics of each lens you’re considering.
Typically, lenses are labelled with various numbers and letters such as Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM or NIKKOR Z 50mm F1.8 S.
Each number and letter will indicate important lens features such as focal length, maximum aperture, lens version and focusing motor.
Other characteristics that may also be highlighted in the name include stabilisation, filter diameter, and focusing distances.
If you are a beginner or amateur photographer, the majority of the letters and numbers won’t make too much difference.
The most important features that you should consider before purchasing are:
This will impact whether or not the lens will physically fit your camera.
Canon, for example, has an EF series of lenses designed for cameras with an EF mount and an RF range of lenses suited for cameras with RF mounts.
This increases image quality by reducing the vibration caused by natural handshake while shooting without a tripod.
While some camera bodies include in-built stabilisation, having in-built stabilisation in your lens further reduces the likelihood of your image being out of focus.
When shooting wildlife with large telephoto lenses, for example, in-lens stabilisation is really handy to obtain sharp wildlife telephoto photos.
It is important to recognize that various camera manufacturers use different letters in their lens names to indicate whether or not image stabilisation is included in the lens.
- Some examples include:
The focal length of a lens is one of the most crucial characteristics to consider when purchasing a new lens. This is the distance between the point of convergence of your lens and the sensor capturing the photos, which is usually measured in millimetres.
A lens’ focal length is stated as a number (mm). This number informs you how much of the scene your camera can capture.
Smaller numbers have a broader field of view and reveal more of the scene, whereas larger numbers will zoom further into your subjects.
Zoom lenses are distinguished by two numbers that denote the variable focal range that could be achieved.
A 24-70mm lens, for example, is a standard kit zoom lens. Prime lenses, on the other hand, are indicated by a single number, such as 35mm, they do not zoom and have a fixed focal length.
|FOCAL LENGTH||TYPE OF LENS||SUITABLE GENRE|
|4mm – 14mm||Fisheye||Creative & Action|
|14mm – 35mm||Wide Angle||Architecture & Landscapes|
|35mm – 85mm||Standard||Street & Travel|
|85mm – 135mm||Short Telephoto||Weddings & Portraits|
|135mm – 300mm||Medium Telephoto||Nature & Events|
|300mm +||Super Telephoto||Wildlife & Sports|
|50mm, 100mm, 180mm||Macro||Insects & Flowers|
The size of the area that allows light to enter your lens is called the aperture and is defined in f-stops.
A smaller number, confusingly, indicates that the lens has a greater maximum aperture – a wider hole – and hence can gather more light; a F2.8 lens, for example, catches twice as much light as a F4.
The depth of field in your images is affected by the aperture that your lens is set at. A larger aperture (e.g., F2.8) will provide a shallower depth of field, while smaller apertures (e.g., F16) brings more of the picture into focus.
Adjusting the extent of the photo that is in focus is one of the best techniques a photographer has for attracting the viewer’s attention.
Landscapes, for example, are frequently shot with small apertures (e.g., F16) to ensure that everything is in focus.
Whereas, if you were shooting product photography you would want to use a lens with a large aperture (e.g., F2.8), to have the ability to blur the background and draw your audience’s attention to the product.
The maximum aperture a lens can open is usually listed on the barrel of the lens. Lenses with a larger maximum aperture often cost a little more.
A lens with a large maximum aperture is ideal for low-light circumstances, so keep this in mind if you plan to shoot night photography.
Camera lenses explained: Basic types of camera lenses
Now that you know what lens features to look for, let’s have a look at the various types of lenses available for your camera.
When you first start out in photography, learning the different types of camera lenses and what they should be used for may seem complex.
This section will break down the basic types of lenses and what type of photography they are suitable for.
What is a zoom lens?
Zoom lenses offer the capacity to alter focal length, allowing you to zoom into or away from your subject. You are able to modify your angle of view by adjusting the optical components inside the lens.
This is quite appealing to certain photographers, particularly travel photographers, because it allows you to have the equivalent of multiple types of lenses in one.
The Canon RF 24-240mm F4-6.3 IS USM RF zoom lens, for example, allows you to capture everything from wide angle shots to close-up telephoto photos of animals.
What is a prime lens?
In contrast to a zoom lens, a prime lens is one in which the focal length cannot be changed. Your field of vision is ‘fixed’, and if you want to shoot closer to the subject you will need to physically move.
A fixed focus length forces you to envision your composition before you shoot. Therefore, many believe that the constraint of only shooting with a single focal length can inspire creativity and develop your photography skills quickly.
Using prime lenses encourages photographers to evaluate their surroundings better and allows them to realise how where they stand will influence the perspective in the final image.
In general, prime lenses provide far higher quality photographs than zoom lenses. They also have the added benefit of usually being a lot lighter in weight than zoom lenses.
These lenses also work great for newborn photography.
However, each focal length is appropriate for a distinct set of circumstances. The 50mm prime lens, for example, is ideal for portraiture since the focus length is as near to the human eye as possible. A 35 mm prime lens, on the other hand, is typically used by landscape photographers.
Check out these RF prime lenses from Canon!
What is a telephoto lens?
If you need additional reach in your photography, than a regular zoom lens can provide, you’ll need to invest in a telephoto lens to get the photos you’re after.
Typical focal lengths for telephoto lenses range from 100mm to 600mm+ which allow you to zoom into subjects much further away and obtain exceptional detail in your telephoto photos.
These types of lenses are often extremely large and expensive! Telephoto lenses can be heavy and frequently require a tripod to hold them, which means they are far less practical than a regular zoom lens.
However, if you are a professional wildlife or sports photographer, a telephoto lens is a must have lens to get the required photos.
What is a wide angle lens?
A wide angle lens is a must-have lens for any landscape photographer looking to develop their expertise. The focal lengths of wide angle lenses generally range from 16 to 35mm.
These lenses capture more of the scene in front of you than a zoom lens, which is necessary for wide angle shots.
As a result, wide angle lenses are essential for capturing landscapes because they allow you to capture a larger portion of the scene.
They’re also great for shooting architecture, especially taller structures, because they allow you to get wide angle shots that will include the whole building in front of you.
What is a fisheye lens?
A fisheye lens is an ultra-wide-angle lens with a massive field of view for epic shots. These types of lenses can have a focal length as little as 8mm.
A fisheye lens is a more specialised form of lens that most photographers do not require. However, they can be handy for shooting indoors or action sport photography.
Surf photographers, for example, frequently use a fisheye lens to get the renowned inside the barrel of the wave view.
What is a macro lens?
The term macro refers to a lens with extremely close-focusing capability, allowing you to photograph tiny subjects such as insects or flowers.
Some zoom lenses carry the word “macro” in their name to signify that they can focus closer than usual, although real macro lenses typically have fixed focal lengths.
Camera lenses explained: The advantages of the most common lens sizes
This last section in this guide to camera lenses explained will help you to understand the most common lens sizes and the advantages of using each of these types of lenses.
16mm lens – ideal for getting wide angle shots. Normally, everything in your field of view will be sharp. Ideal for landscape and real estate photographers.
35mm lens – This is comparable to what a normal phone camera would capture. Wide angle shots are still achievable. This focal length is excellent for street photography. Unless your subject is really close to the camera, almost everything in your photo will be in focus.
50mm lens – Approximately how the human eye perceives the world. Suitable for almost every form of photography. Depending on the aperture range, it is usually achievable to create a shallow or deep depth of field.
85mm lens – Excellent for separating an object from its surroundings. Ideally suited for portrait photography. It is simple to achieve a shallow depth of field in your photographs. This type of focal length will make objects look closer than they are.
200mm lens – Perfect for locating a distant object in the same manner that a telescope does. Excellent for compressing your subject and surroundings. Unless something you’re photographing is relatively far away, you will be able to achieve shallow depth of field. Telephoto lenses like this, will make things appear much closer in your photos than they actually are.
Still unsure where to start?
Check out these posts for a quick round up on the best types of lenses for these popular brands:
- Best Fujifilm mirrorless lenses
- Best Sony mirrorless lenses
- Best Nikon Z mount lenses
- Best Canon RF lenses
Hopefully, this guide to camera lenses explained has helped you to understand the basic features of the various types of lenses.
There are multiple types of camera lenses for practically every circumstance you can encounter as a photographer.
However, the principles of things to consider while looking for a new type of lens remain the same, regardless of whether you want to capture telephoto photos or wide angle shots.
Remember, when choosing the next lens to add to your camera gear, contemplate the focal length, aperture capability and the type of photos you want to capture.
Knowing which lens is best for your genre of photography will help you take your abilities to the next level.
For a more in depth look into an important area of camera lenses head over to Lens Distortion: An Essential Photography Guide.
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