Types of Lenses
...what kind of lenses are there?
Now we get to the fun stuff! Lenses are typically grouped into categories that share the same attributes. These are standard, zoom, wide angle, telephoto, macro, and specialty lenses. Each type of lens is manufactured to fulfill certain uses. These can range from “multi-purpose” to specific applications, like telephotos lenses for nature or sports photography.
As the name implies, these lenses are marketed as multi-purpose and are usually included in camera kits. With a focal length range of 28mm to 80mm and a popular fixed range of 50mm (for full frame 35mm cameras), these lenses have maximum f-stop size ranging from f/2.8 to f/5.6. Standard lenses are great for ideal lighting conditions, traveling, and general photography, they’re not suitable for trickier conditions like low lighting or fast movement.
Standard Lenses »
It makes little sense to purchase several fixed focal length lenses; your collection would be massive and expensive, not to mention very heavy to carry! , Instead, zoom lenses are a smart alternative. Obviously, zoom lenses are designed to cover a range of focal lengths to accommodate a wide variety of shooting without having to change the lens.
Some small tradeoffs go along with using a zoom lens. For example, although they can cover a range of focal lengths and can be set at in between lengths like 33mm or 165mm, they are usually not as fast as fixed focal length lenses.
Clearly, their advantages far outweigh any potential disadvantages. They’re more portable and convenient; and they allow you to shoot distant subjects and bring them closer to you.
Higher end zoom lenses offer a maximum aperture that remain constant through the focal length range, while less costly ones change their aperture through the range, resulting in a more compact lens.
Zoom Lenses »
Need a wide angle of view? Wide angle lenses are ideal for capturing large subject areas whether it is landscapes, nature, outdoor scenes, or large groups. Any lens with a focal length much smaller than 50mm is considered a wide angle lens. Its design also allows for larger views in tight spaces. That makes it great for not cutting off important subject matter when increasing the distance between yourself and the subject is impossible.
Another benefit of wide angle lenses is that they are great for accentuating the foreground keeping it super sharp. At the same time, wide angle lenses make the background seem much further away. A prominent foreground set against a receding background often results in a very pleasing effect. Compared to a standard lens, wide angles have a better depth of field and clarity. 24mm and 28mm are the most common focal lengths.
Wide Angle Lenses »
Essentially the exact opposite of wide angle lenses, telephoto lenses bring far off objects and subjects into close view. In general, focal lengths that are greater than 50mm are considered to be telephoto lenses. 70-120mm are deemed short telephotos or portrait lenses, 135-210mm as normal telephotos and 300mm or more as ultra or extreme telephoto lenses. Telephoto lenses narrow the angle of view (increasing magnification) and therefore are ideal for long distance shooting. These lenses are ideal for sporting events, nature/animal photography, and far off landscapes like mountains. There are fixed and zoom focal lengths available in the telephoto category.
Telephoto Lenses »
Photo by Claudia Meyer
Macro lenses are important to photographers who tend to shoot close-ups. That’s because, although they’re quite similar to standard lenses in most ways, macro lenses are engineered to focus at much shorter distances. Most often used in nature photography, these lenses magnify small objects like insects and flowers and captures immense detail and clarity. Other applications of a macro lens are in scientific photography and product photography. You’ll find that macro lenses can also act as a standard lens.
These lenses tend to have a higher f-stop number (which allows in less light) and therefore are not always ideal in low lighting situations. For subjects that are sensitive to movement (insects and animals, for example), macro lenses with longer focal lengths can be used.
Macro Lenses »
Bottom: © Edwin Stemp
Specialty lenses have a distinct characteristic that distinguishes itself from other lenses. Take the fisheye lens, for example. An extreme wide angle lens, the fisheye has an average angle of view of a full 180 degrees. Covering this wide angle of view has its downside; the image ends up being distorted with the center bulging out towards you and the edges pushed back. This convex distortion is widely used in extreme sports such as skateboarding and snowboarding, as it captures not only the boards but the rider as well.
Fisheye Lenses »
A shift/perspective lens is predominantly used in architectural photography. Shooting tall structures often requires that the camera be tilted to capture the entire subject in the frame. This leads to the structure distorting, appearing as if it was leaning. A shift/perspective lens is designed with mechanisms enabling you to adjust the front elements of the lens allowing you to shoot the subject with your untilted camera.
Tilt/Shift Lenses »
Tele Converters are a clever means of extending your focal length with your current lens. For professional lenses, it mounts in between your camera body and the lens, and in cameras where the lens is permanently attached to the camera, there are tele converters that attach to the front of the lens.
Typical magnification sizes are 2x and 1.4x, with Nikon having a third 1.7x option. For example, if you have a 200mm lens, by adding a 2x tele converter, the focal length increases to 400mm lens. This provides a great alternative to purchasing another lens, since a tele converter is less expensive and generally more compact and lighter weight than its lens counterpart. However converters reduce the amount of light and therefore can make focusing a little harder. Also, a 1.4x tele converter can make you lose one f-stop of lens speed; they also reduce overall image quality to a degree. Nevertheless, with the right lens and converter combination, it is possible to achieve very good results.
Types of Photography