One of the main advantages of buying a DSLR or interchangeable lens camera is the ability to use a variety of lenses. They allow you to switch to the one that’s best for any particular situation. There are several lenses to choose from and trying to understand the differences between all of them can be overwhelming. Here’s what you need to know.
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Before you get started, you’ll need to make sure the lens you’re considering is compatible with your camera. Not all cameras and lenses will work together. For example, a Nikon lens won’t fit a Canon camera.
Now that you’ve found a lens that’s compatible with your camera, you’ll need to consider the focal length. To put it simply, the focal length of a lens tells you how much of the scene in front of you the lens will let you see, and how close the objects will appear.
A high number will bring faraway images closer like a telescope. The higher the number, the farther you can see. This is known as a telephoto lens. Telephoto lenses are useful for capturing things like wildlife, sporting events, and faraway action.
The opposite of a telephoto lens is a wide-angle lens. These have lower number focal lengths and let you capture a large amount of your surroundings. Wide-angle lenses are ideal for when you’re trying to photograph as much of a scene as possible, like the entire skyline of a city or a large group of people.
Lenses that fall in the middle, usually with a focal length of 35 to 50 millimeters, are known as normal lenses. These lenses more or less replicate the field of view that the human eye sees. They’re good, all-around lenses and are often recommended for students learning the art of photography.
Any lens that has a single focal length, whether it’s telephoto, wide-angle, or normal is known as a prime lens or fixed focal length lens. If you want to change what your camera sees, you’ll have to change the lens.
So what if you don’t want to change the lenses constantly but still want to easily capture different perspectives? That’s a job for a zoom lens which can adjust to a variety of focal lengths. They can zoom from wide to ultra wide, telephoto to super telephoto, or even all the way from wide-angle to a telephoto view. Zoom lenses are very popular and are often included with a new camera. The lens that comes with your camera usually covers a modest zoom range from wide-angle to a slight telephoto. So if zoom lenses are more convenient, you might wonder why anyone would use a prime lens. The answer is usually that they’re looking for the ultimate image quality in their photos.
Optics is a complicated science requiring combinations of precise lens elements to create a lens that produces quality images. This process is extra difficult on a zoom lens which has to be optimized to work at a variety of focal lengths. Because a prime lens only has to work at a single focal length, everything in its design can be optimized specifically to provide the best image quality possible with no compromises.
Another benefit is that prime lenses can easily be built with what is known as a fast or wide aperture. Aperture is the technical term for the opening of a lens. Think of it like the pupil of your eye. The aperture determines how much light the lens can let in. A fast lens with a wide aperture can let in more light. This allows for better overall image quality in low-light situations, like nighttime portraits or the inside of a dark restaurant.
Wide aperture lenses also create a pleasant background blur that you’ll see in professional portraits. So to gain these benefits, many users choose prime lenses. Of course, it is possible to get a zoom lens that rivals the quality of a prime lens, but you should expect to pay considerably more.
A few more terms to look out for when selecting a lens:
– macro, a lens that’s designated as macro has the ability to focus onto objects very closely, often closer than your own eyes. Some dedicated macro lenses can even magnify objects to give you a view that’s many times closer than real-life.
– fisheye, fisheye lenses are a type of white angle lens that let you capture extreme amounts of a scene, often more than 180 degrees of your surroundings. The major downside to a fisheye lens is the extreme distortion it creates. If you’ve ever looked through a door peephole, a form of a fisheye lens, you’ve experienced this. Objects closer to the camera look comically large, and lines in the background appear curved.
Knowing the basic facts about lenses will help you decide which lens works best for the type of photography that interests you.