Types of Photography Lenses (Ultimate Guide)
Photography is a way to be artistic and take pictures of everything we see. There are lots of different things we can do with photography.
The lens on a camera is really important for how the picture turns out.
To take good pictures, it’s important to know the types of lenses and how they can help.
This guide will tell you about different types of lenses and how they work best.
Photographers can learn about different types of lenses like zoom, wide-angle, and telephoto to make better equipment choices.
We’re going to talk about what’s special about these lenses and figure out when and where they work best, so you have the right tools for any photo opportunity.
Understanding Photography Lenses
Focal length is an important part of lenses because it decides how much you can see and how big things appear through the lens.
There are three types of focal lengths, which are measured in millimeters (mm).
- Wide-angle lenses (14mm to 35mm): These lenses provide a wide field of view, making them ideal for landscape photography or capturing large scenes.
- Standard lenses (35mm to 85mm): With a field of view similar to the human eye, standard lenses are versatile and suitable for a wide range of photography genres, such as portraits and general-use.
- Telephoto lenses (greater than 70mm): These lenses offer higher magnification with a narrower field of view, perfect for capturing distant subjects or adding emphasis to specific parts of an image.
Aperture means how big the lens is open. This affects how much light goes into your camera.
The f-number on your camera tells you how much of your photo will be in focus. This is called the depth of field.
A lower f-number means only a small area will be in focus, while a higher f-number means more of the image will be in focus.
When the f-number is small, the opening in the camera is bigger and the area in focus is small.
When the f-number is big, the opening in the camera is smaller and more of the picture is in focus.
The maximum aperture is the biggest hole in the lens that lets in the most light for the camera to see.
If a camera lens has a lower f-number, like f/1.8, it allows more light in and is called a “fast lens.”
Fast lenses are really good for taking pictures in dark places and making things stand out from the background.
Lens format is a crucial consideration when choosing lenses for your camera system.
Lenses are designed to work with specific sensor sizes, categorized as:
- Full-frame (35mm) lenses: Designed for cameras with full-frame sensors, these lenses deliver the best image quality and performance for professional photography.
- APS-C lenses: Tailored for cameras with APS-C sensors, these lenses offer a balance of cost and performance suitable for enthusiasts and semi-professionals.
- Micro Four Thirds lenses: Compatible with Micro Four Thirds camera systems, these lenses provide compact and lightweight options for those prioritizing size and portability.
Note that using a lens designed for a different sensor size can still work (e.g., a full-frame lens on an APS-C camera), but the effective field of view may change.
The image sensor in your camera captures the light coming through the lens and converts it into an image file.
There are two main types of image sensors:
- Full-frame sensors: These sensors are larger (typically 36mm x 24mm) and produce higher quality images with better low-light performance and shallower depth of field.
- APS-C sensors: Smaller than full-frame sensors (approximately 24mm x 16mm), these are more common in semi-professional and enthusiast cameras, with lower cost and still offering excellent image quality.
Prime lenses are camera lenses that cannot zoom because they have a fixed focal length.
They are famous for being sharp, fast, and easy to carry because they are not heavy.
We will talk about different kinds of prime camera lenses: regular ones, wide ones, ones that make far things look close, and ones that are medium-sized.
Normal lenses are lenses that are similar to the human eye’s way of seeing things. These lenses usually make things far away look close and clear.
They work best on cameras with a big lens, where the lens is about 50mm long. Normal lenses are often used for many things.
- Street photography
- General-purpose photography
Wide-angle lenses have a shorter focal length, typically under 35mm. This allows them to capture a wider field of view, making them perfect for:
- Interior photography
Telephoto lenses have a longer focal length, typically above 85mm. These lenses allow you to capture subjects from a distance, making them ideal for:
- Wildlife photography
- Sports photography
Telephoto lenses can also produce a shallow depth of field, creating a beautiful background blur, which is great for portraits.
Medium Telephoto Lenses
Medium telephoto lenses have a focal length between 85mm and 135mm.
This range offers a mix of both wide-angle and telephoto capabilities, making them versatile for many situations.
These lenses are suited for:
- Wildlife photography
- Event photography
Zoom lenses are good for photographers because they can change the zoom of the lens without changing the lens itself.
This tool helps photographers to change the amount of focus in the picture faster without having to switch lenses.
This section is about different types of zoom lenses.
There are four types: standard zoom, wide-angle zoom, telephoto zoom, and superzoom.
Standard Zoom Lenses
Standard zoom lenses can zoom in and out from far away to up close, like a camera with a range of 24-70mm.
This means that these cameras are great for taking pictures every day because they can be used for many different things and situations.
There are some well-known types of lenses that can zoom called standard zoom lenses.
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L
- Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8
Wide-Angle Zoom Lenses
Wide-angle zoom lenses can take pictures that include a lot in the frame. They can go from very wide to not as wide.
A regular zoom lens that can take wide views can have a range of 12 to 24 millimetres or 16 to 35 millimetres.
These lenses are great for taking pictures of big landscapes, buildings and inside spaces.
There are lenses that can zoom out to show a wider view of a scene, and these are called wide-angle zoom lenses.
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L
- Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.
Telephoto Zoom Lenses
Telephoto zoom lenses let photographers take pictures of far away things because they can reach them better.
This means that there are different types of lenses for cameras that can zoom in really far.
Some common ones are 70-200mm, 100-400mm, and 200-500mm.
These lenses are great for taking pictures of sports, animals in their natural habitats, and people’s faces.
Some zoom lenses that magnify far away objects are popular, like:
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
- Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8
Superzoom lenses can take pictures of different things far away without needing to change the lens.
The superzoom lenses can have different ranges like 18-200mm, 18-270mm, or 18-300mm.
While easy to use, these lenses usually don’t produce images as good as those shot with more expensive, high-quality zoom lenses.
Some lenses can zoom in very far and they are called superzoom lenses.
- Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6
- Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3
These lenses are a popular choice for travel photographers who want flexibility without needing to carry multiple lenses.
However, professional photographers may prefer to invest in more specialized zoom lenses for optimal image quality and performance.
Specialty lenses each have distinct characteristics and can help you achieve artistic and technical feats in your images.
Macro lenses help you take really detailed photos of small things like bugs and flowers when you get close up.
These lenses make things look as big as they are in real life on your camera.
Macro lenses can come in different sizes, like 60mm, 100mm, or 180mm.
- 60mm: Good for small subjects and provides decent working distance (the distance between the lens and the subject).
- 100mm: Great for achieving more working distance and more subject isolation through shallower depth of field.
- 180mm: Offers the most working distance but can be bulkier and more expensive.
Tilt-shift lenses let you choose where to focus and change how the picture looks.
These special lenses are often used in photos of buildings and landscapes. They make the lines look straight and avoid the picture looking blurry.
- Tilt: Helps control the plane of focus for creative effects or maximizing depth of field.
- Shift: Allows you to correct perspective distortion of tall buildings or other architectural elements.
Fisheye lenses are special camera lenses that make things look really big and bendy.
They can see almost everything in front of them, sometimes even up to half of a circle.
They can make cool and creative pictures, and people really like them for taking photos of sports, virtual reality, and other artsy things.
Types of Fisheye Lenses:
- Circular Fisheye: Creates a circular image, capturing the full 180-degree field of view.
- Full-Frame Fisheye: Produces a rectangular image with the same 180-degree field of view but cropped to fill the frame.
Super-telephoto lenses are very special cameras that can take pictures of things that are far away.
These cameras have very long lenses, usually from 300mm to 800mm or even longer.
They are great for taking pictures of animals, sports, and airplanes that are far away.
These lenses can be very big, hard to carry, and cost a lot of money, but they are really good at making faraway things look clear and sharp.
- Image stabilization: Essential for reducing camera shake at such long focal lengths
- Tripod collar: Allows for more stable and balanced mounting on a tripod.
Ultra-wide-angle lenses let you see a lot of things in your picture because they can capture a wide area, usually between 10mm and 18mm.
They are good at taking pictures of big outdoor views, buildings, and inside rooms.
- Prime vs. Zoom Lenses: There are both prime and zoom ultra-wide-angle lenses, depending on your needs and preferences. Prime lenses tend to be sharper and faster but have a fixed focal length. Zoom lenses offer more flexibility in composing your shots but can be heavier and may have variable maximum apertures.
Lens Characteristics and Quality
Having clear and crisp images is very important. This means how well a lens can take pictures that show all the details and look very clear.
Things like how the lens is made, the quality of the glass, and how it’s put together all affect how sharp a picture looks.
Prime lenses are lenses that do not zoom in or out.
They have a fixed distance that they are focused on, like 24mm or 50mm.
They are really sharp and clear when compared to lenses that do zoom in and out.
Some tips for achieving better sharpness:
- Use a tripod to minimize camera shake
- Choose the optimal aperture for your lens (often between f/5.6 to f/8)
- Focus accurately using your camera’s focus points
Bokeh is a nice-looking effect in pictures where the blurry parts of the image look soft and smooth.
It makes the thing in the front look different from the stuff in the back, making the picture have more layers.
Lenses that can open very wide (like f/1.4 or f/1.8) can make things in the background look blurry.
Factors affecting bokeh:
- Aperture size: Larger apertures create a shallower depth of field
- Focal length: Longer focal lengths result in more compression and bokeh
- Distance: A closer subject and more distant background will increase bokeh
Low-light performance means how good a camera lens can take pictures in dark places.
Lenses that can let in more light, like those with f/1.4 or f/2.8, can take better photos in the dark.
Some factors to consider in low-light performance:
- Choose a fast lens with a wide aperture
- Increase the ISO setting on your camera, but be aware of potential noise
- Use image stabilization (if available) to reduce camera shake
There is a wide range of lens options catering to different types of photography. Here are some common selections:
- Wide-angle lenses (below 35mm): Ideal for landscape, architecture, and astrophotography
- Standard or medium-range lenses (35mm-70mm): Suitable for portraiture, street, and travel photography
- Short telephoto (70mm-135mm): Great for sports, portraiture, and street photography
- Super-telephoto lenses (400mm and higher): Designed for wildlife, bird, and sports photography
Lens Buying Guide
Understanding Camera Bodies
Before diving into the world of lenses, it’s essential to understand your camera body. Here’s a quick rundown of common camera body types:
- DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex): These cameras use a mirror system to send the light from the lens to the viewfinder. They are compatible with various interchangeable lenses and offer great image quality.
- Mirrorless: As the name suggests, these cameras do not have a mirror, and the image sensor directly captures the light. They are typically lighter and more compact than DSLRs, and have become increasingly popular in recent years.
- Compact/Point-and-shoot: These cameras are simple to use and highly portable, but their small size often means limited image quality and lens options. Upgrading to a mirrorless or DSLR system is generally recommended for more serious photography.
Considering Image Quality
There are several factors that contribute to lens image quality, including:
- Sharpness: A sharp lens will capture fine details accurately.
- Contrast: Lenses with good contrast will render colors with more intensity and depth.
- Distortion: Different lenses may have some form of distortion, such as barrel or pincushion distortion. High-quality lenses often have less noticeable distortion.
- Chromatic aberration: This is color fringing that occurs when a lens cannot focus all colors to a single point. Quality lenses often have corrective elements to minimize aberrations.
Selecting Lenses for Different Types of Photography
Depending on your photography interests, different lenses may be more suitable for your needs.
Here are some lenses to consider for various types of photography:
- Wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle lenses: Ideal for capturing expansive landscapes, architecture, or crowded interiors.
- Standard lenses (35mm to 50mm): Versatile for a variety of subjects, including street, travel, and everyday photography.
- Medium focal length lenses (85mm): Suitable for portraits, close-ups, and some street or travel photography.
- Telephoto and super-telephoto lenses (over 85mm): Perfect for wildlife, sports, and other scenarios that require zooming in on distant subjects.
You can pick either a fixed lens or adjustable lens depending on how you like to take pictures.
Prime lenses take better pictures and can have wider openings, but they can’t change the distance like zoom lenses can.
Zoom lenses let you change how close or far away things look without having to switch lenses.
Types of Photography and Lenses
Portrait photography is all about taking pictures that show who the person really is.
Prime lenses, which are fixed lenses that don’t zoom, are great for taking portraits.
Especially those with a focal length between 85 and 135mm because they can make the background blurry and make the subject stand out more.
- Recommended lenses for portrait photography:
- 85mm prime
- 100mm prime
- 135mm prime
Taking pictures of pretty scenery is what landscape photography is about.
Photographers like to use wide-angle lenses (14-35mm) for taking pictures of landscapes because they can capture more of the view and make it look like there is more depth.
- Recommended lenses for landscape photography:
- 14mm wide-angle
- 24mm wide-angle
- 35mm wide-angle
Street photography is when pictures are taken of people and things that happen in public places without them knowing.
People often use standard or kit lenses (a type of camera lens that can zoom from 35mm to 85mm) for street photography because they work well for taking pictures of all sorts of things.
- Recommended lenses for street photography:
- 35mm prime
- 50mm prime
- 85mm prime
Taking pictures of animals in their natural habitat that move quickly and are far away requires a special skill called wildlife photography.
To take pictures of animals without bothering them, you need really powerful lenses called telephoto and super-telephoto lenses.
They let you get very close up without getting too close.
- Recommended lenses for wildlife photography:
- 135mm telephoto
- 200mm telephoto
- 400mm super-telephoto
Sports photography is taking photos of athletes while they play sports.
Telephoto lenses are needed to take pictures of sports players up close without getting too close to the field.
- Recommended lenses for sports photography:
- 70-200mm telephoto zoom
- 300mm telephoto
- 400mm super-telephoto
Astrophotography means taking pictures of things in space like stars, planets, and galaxies.
Wide lenses that can let in a lot of light and take clear pictures in the dark are often used by people who take pictures of space.
- Recommended lenses for astrophotography:
- 14mm wide-angle
- 24mm prime
- 35mm prime