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Main Types of Camera Lenses

For different perspectives and composition, it can be useful to try different types of camera lenses. Ever get confused when it comes to the many different types of camera lenses?

There are two main types camera lenses are zoom lenses and prime lenses:

  • Zoom lens – it is a lens which can go from wide angle to telephoto range or from telephoto to high telephoto; the focal length can change. Ideal by most travelers because one or two lenses will give an entire range that they will ever need. However, the image quality is often compromised by this convenience.
  • Prime lens (primary focal length, unifocal lens or FFL) – is a fixed focal length photographic lens, typically with a maximum aperture from f2.8 to f1.2. Prime lenses come in a wide range of focal lengths from wide angles through to the very longest of tele-photo lenses. They have a larger maximum aperture, which enables quicker shutter speeds (faster) than zoom lenses. Read more on Wikipedia

There are many possible lens choices and all will give you a different and distinct image. The lens choice depends on the environment and on the creativity of the photographer in selecting the right lens to capture the vision of the world the way he or she sees it, or wants to present it.

Here are some of the main lens types:

  • Standard lens (normal lens) – a similar angle of view to the human eye, giving photos a natural feel. They are general-purpose lenses, and can be used to photograph everything from close-up portraits to landscapes. A standard lens will make the distance between near and far objects look ‘normal’. For a 35mm film camera or a full-frame DSLR, the 50mm lens is considered standard.
  • Telephoto lens – long-focus lens; long focal length lenses. The angle of view of approx. 20°. This lens class is suited for capturing distant motives up close, e.g., sports, nature or theatrical photography.
  • Wide angle lens – camera lens with a focal length of less than 35mm is considered wide angle (useful in architectural, interior and landscape photography where the photographer may not be able to move farther from the scene to photograph it). Angle of view greater than 55°. Wide-angle lenses come in both fixed-focal-length and zoom varieties.
  • Also, there are ultra-wide angle lenses (fisheye lenses). They are small, ultra-wide, and show a distorted, spherical view of the world, most evident in the curved, outer corners of the photo.
  • Macro Lens – a lens suitable for taking photographs unusually close to the subject. Designed for photographing small subjects at very close distances. They can focus much nearer than normal lenses, allowing you to fill the frame with your subject and capture more details. Macro lenses normally have a fixed focal length (prime lenses). There are zoom macro lenses available but they are low quality and they have low magnification ratio. Read more about macro lenses

Additional devices can be mounted on lenses to change the image quality, such as different filters. Also, tele-converters can be used between lens and camera and to increase the focal length of the mounted lens.

Popular focal lengths

  • 12 to 21mm: Ultra-Wide — usually used at very close subject distances to produce a perspective that provides a dramatic, often extreme image that distorts a scene’s natural proportions.
  • 24 to 35mm: Wide — capture a wider field of view than a standard lens, at shorter distances, the perspective can show distortion.
  • 50 mm: Standard — a focal length near the 44mm image diagonal and a perspective similar to human vision.
  • 85 mm: Portrait — short telephoto lens that accommodates a longer subject to camera distance for pleasing perspective effects and useful image framing.
  • 135 mm: Telephoto — used, for example, by action and sports photographers to capture far away objects.
  • 200 to 500 mm: Super Telephoto — specialized, bulky lenses typically used in sports, action, and wildlife photography.