Types of Lenses – Complete Guide (Telephoto, Wide-Angle, and More)

Andy
| Last Updated: April 4, 2021

Digital Camera HQ is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Time and experience are the most important factors in the quality of your photography.

But then, even top-notch photographers agree that the kind of lens you use is equally important. 

This guide will explore all the lenses you can try when shopping to pick a suitable one for your photography needs. 

Different Types of Camera Lenses and Their Uses

The many camera lens options on the market can make it hard to choose the one that addresses your present photography needs. 

For this reason, you should understand the uses of every type of lens and the niches it's best for if you are to make an informed decision before buying one that suits your style.

Telephoto

What is a Telephoto Lens?

A telephoto lens is not among the camera lenses whose focal length falls under the "prime" category. Instead, a telephoto lens is a kind of zoom lens with multiple long focal points. 

The telephoto zoom lens comes with a focal length range of 60 mm to 600 mm or more. A telephoto lens focal length is longer than its physical size, giving it superior magnification qualities. 

This attribute makes it ideal for capturing close up subjects from a significant distance. However, with such considerable magnification, the lens produces a narrower field of view. 

It is also bulky and may require tripods or stands for image stabilization. 

Photo credit: giphy.com

What is a Telephoto Lens Used For? - Telephoto Lens Uses

  • Making Far Away Objects Appear Closer to the Camera

    This attribute is why a telephoto lens is popular among wildlife, sports, nature, and astronomy enthusiasts. 

  • Its ability to bring distant subjects closer offers photographers picture clarity and a sense of intimacy with the subjects they intend to capture. 

  • Helps Create Blurred Backgrounds

    Its narrow depth of field is useful, especially in portrait photography. It helps isolate and keep your object in focus but with a blurry background. 

Wide Angle 

What is a Wide Angle Lens?

From its name, a wide-angle lens displays a broader field of view than the human vision. 

It has a wide focal field that is shorter than the sensor or film's length. This feature allows you to fully view and capture more scenes before you in a single shot. 

With this lens, the lower the number of focal lengths, the more your view fits in a frame, which means that almost everything before you is in focus, unless the subject is too close, or you don't have the correct exposure.

Such lenses mostly have a focal length ranging between 16mm and 35 mm.

Photo credit: gfycat.com

What is a Wide Angle Lens Used For? - Wide Angle Lens Uses

  • Landscape, Travel, Architecture, and Street Photography

  • You can generally use a wide-angle lens for scenes where you want to capture as much as possible.  

    These scenes require wide lenses because you'll need to showcase as many activities as possible and offer a sense of inclusion.

  • Adding Depth 

    The wide-angle lens distorts the ongoing event and enhances perspective. It achieves this by making closer objects appear more prominent than those farther away, even if they are of the same size in reality. 

Fisheye 

What is a Fisheye Lens?

Fisheye is a type of specialty lens. Its name comes from the "fisheye" effect it creates- a spherical and warped perception of the frame, just like a fish's eyes. This effect enables it to capture a wider field of view.

It is primarily an extra-large wide-angle lens with a focal length between 4mm and 14mm. 

You don't see this lens often because it is mainly suitable for abstract photography. The reason is, unlike other lenses, it distorts the straight line perspective, giving a more convex and panoramic appearance.

Just like in a fish, a fisheye lens can take in a wrap-around viewing angle in full 180-degrees scope.

What is a Fisheye Lens Used For? - Fisheye Lens Uses

  • Underwater Shooting

    This lens is suitable for underwater shooting because of its ability to get closer to the subject while still allowing an enormous angle of view. This technique is most suited to a faster shutter speed for short exposure to avoid motion blur.
  • Action Sports

    You can use this lens for scenes that welcome distortion, like action sports. Sports that do not require straight lines include skateboarding, freestyle skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, or roller-skating. Like underwater shooting, action sports require fast shutter speed for a crisp image of the action.

Photo credit: gfycat.com

  • Experimental Photography

    Although it is mainly for practical uses, you can embrace it to express your creativity by making intriguing pictures of any subject, whether a portrait or still life. While most applications for a fisheye require a minimum shutter speed for good results, experimental photography may use a long exposure and high exposure value to intentionally create motion blur for a surreal, distorted effect.

SLR

What is an SLR Lens?

Single Lens Reflex is a lens that allows photographers to see what the imaging system will capture through their eyepiece.

A camera that uses this lens has a reflex mirror between the lens and the focusing screen. 

After pressing the shutter button, the rays from the image hit the mirrors and reflect onto a glass screen. The mirrors' reflex allows you to have a clear view of what you are about to capture.

The mirrors leave in time, and the reflex lets you see the next image before you capture it. 

A digital SLR, or DSLR, uses a digital camera sensor for image preview. Modern cameras are most commonly DSLR.

Photo credit: giphy.com

What is a SLR Lens Used For? - SLR Lens Uses

  • To Provide Precision of Finer Details in a Scene

    You can use SLR cameras to capture crucial details in a subject because they provide a viewing image on the focusing screen for you to see with your naked eyes precisely the way it appears on the lens.
  • In Theatre, Surveillance, and Portrait Photography

  • SLR lenses have a wider aperture gap that allows you to take pictures in scenes with less lighting, like theatres, without the flash. 

    Its shallow depth of field also helps make the subjects more prominent by blurring the background.

Standard

What is a Standard Lens?

A standard lens is also known as a normal lens. It has a mid-focal length ranging between 35mm and 85 mm, making the distance between far and near objects appear normal. The aperture is not as wide as an SLR.

Since it is an inbetweener, a shoot from a standard lens is calm, relaxing, and natural. 

This lens has an angle view of 50 degrees, offering a pretty equal representation that matches what a human eye can comfortably see. As a result, the lens gives the scenes you capture a more natural-looking perspective than other camera lenses

What is a Standard Lens Used For? - Standard Lens Uses

Photo credit: Expertphotography.com

  • Street and Travel Photography

  • Its human-like normalcy is popular among street and travel photographers because it allows them to relate to their subjects. 

    Photographers in these genres can use this lens because it allows them to capture images of people without getting too close and infringing on their space.

  • Suitable for Background Simplification

    Standard lenses can create visual order in street and travel documentaries that are usually naturally chaotic. This effect is possible, thanks to the narrow field of view of the lens.
  • To Capture Minor Details

    A standard lens can capture a closer focus of the subject and help you grasp its minor details. 

Macro

What is a Macro Lens?

A macro lens is one that has an internal structure that uniquely gives a small subject life-size. It creates an image of great magnification on a camera sensor, making it look the same as it does in real life.

It captures incredible details of small items that are impossible with a naked eye or a standard lens. 

Its focal length ranges from 35mm to 200 mm. You are capable of creating close up photographs that showcase finer details like the hair on insects or water droplets, depending on your choice of focal length. 

What is a Macro Lens Used For? - Macro Lens Uses

  • Portraits

    A macro lens has focal length ranges that make it an ideal portrait lens. It is suitable for portraiture because it allows you to reach the correct focus, especially when you are too close to the object.  
  • To Blur Backgrounds

    Thanks to its narrow depths of field, you can use a macro lens to create unique images by isolating and keeping only a subject in focus but blur the background. Manual mode gives even finer control over focus.
  • Suitable for Close-up Photos
  • The macro lens is the most suitable lens for shooting tack-sharp images like insect hair, wildlife, nature, eyelashes, snowflakes, or even dew on leaves.

    It is usually used with a fast shutter speed and tripod to avoid camera shake and maintain razor-sharp focus.

Photo credit: laughingsquid.com

Micro

What is a Micro Lens?

A micro lens is a type of lens that captures objects from infinity up to their closest focusing distances. This lens allows you to reach the most immediate focus of an ultra-small subject and project it to achieve great magnification. 

The image on the sensor in a micro lens is more extensive than it is in real life. 

This lens's magnification is at a microscopic level, which means it captures subjects that you can't see with your naked eyes.

Unlike macro lenses that try to get as close to the subject as possible, a micro lens extends further away from the camera to achieve a closer capturing distance.

You can limit the overall exposure of your subject if it is too close to the lens. 

Photo credit: emilywick.com

What is a Micro Lens Used For? - Micro Lens Uses

  • In Micro Photography

  • If you are enthusiastic about shooting pictures of small characters, you can try using a micro lens. This lens has short focal lengths that can isolate and improve the visibility of microscopic objects.

    You can use a micro lens to capture miniature subjects such as hemoglobin in blood or tiny soap bubbles. 

    Higher shutter speed is usually required to keep the tiny subjects in perfect focus.

Prime

What is a Prime Lens?

A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length. Since it has a set focal length, it does not change the lens's field of view. Therefore, it does not let you zoom in or out when shooting. 

Although it has a set focal length, you can still use its focus ring to adjust its focal distance.

It also has a fast and large aperture. Therefore, it can utilize the amount of light available by opening its gap to greater ranges. This attribute enables it to produce superior photographs than a zoom lens.

A prime lens lacks movable parts because you can only shoot from a set focal length. This feature will force you to move around a lot to get a better shot of your object.

Photo credit: gfycat.com

What is a Prime Lens Used For? - Prime Lens Uses

  • Suitable for Street and Wedding Photography

  • Such photography genres require less distortion to capture sharper and superior pictures. 

    The fewer aberrations and distortions will result in cleaner photos for such scenes.

  • Boost Creativity

    The fact that it has a fixed focal length demands that you discover creative positions when taking shots. It allows you to relate to the picture and find more effective ways to compose quality photographs.

Zoom 

What is a Zoom Lens?

It is a versatile camera lens that grants photographers various changeable focal lengths, unlike a prime lens. A standard zoom lens has a focal length that ranges between 8mm to 300 mm and more.

A zoom lens stands out because you can zoom in and out to transform your field of view for a better caption without changing lenses. 

Its multiple focal lengths allow you to take a broader range of scenes instantly without moving. 

However, its images are not as sharp as that of a prime lens. The reason being that its aperture is narrow and only allows less light into the sensor.

Photo credit: Nofilmschool.com

What is a Zoom Lens Used For? - Zoom Lens Uses

  • Wedding, Landscape, and Travel Photography

    A zoom lens is useful in these photography scenes because they require you to capture the most detail. The ability to zoom in and out ensures that you don't end up missing crucial information from the scene.
  • Street and Animal Photography

    Animal and street photography can be quite dangerous to film. However, with a zoom lens, you can capture the subjects from a distance and make them appear closer by zooming in without getting physically near them.

How Do Camera Lenses Work?

A camera lens works like the human eye. After focusing on the image, the aperture controls the quantity of light that reaches the lens. After the light rays reach the lens, it directs the light onto the sensor or film plane.

A Lens is a plastic or optical glass that mounts to a camera's body. It directs light rays by bending them and converging them at the image sensor during exposure.

A lens also has defects known as aberrations, responsible for line distortions, color changes, blurring, and assigning a color to each pixel.

Comparison Overview

Many lenses are good for multiple purposes. So how do these compare?

Prime vs Zoom Lens

Choosing the correct lens to use between the two depends on your situation. A prime lens does not allow you to zoom in or out because of its fixed focal length. It'll require you to move nearer or further away from your subject if you want a perfect shot.

However, a zoom lens offers multiple focal lengths to the photographer. Its movable zoom ring does not require you to physically move when adjusting the scene's angle of view.

Photo credit: Drewgrayphoto.com

Telephoto Lens vs Zoom Lens

A zoom lens is generally a lens with various focal lengths, making it popular among most photographers. This lens can transform the perception distances for the scenes such that far away images can appear closer, and closer images appear further.

On the other hand, a telephoto lens is less standard because it is applicable in practical applications and professional photography. This lens makes a perceived distance seem much closer than you would see with your naked eyes.

Micro vs Macro Lens

Both lenses are applicable in close-up photography to capture a subject closer and more detail than the naked eye.

However, a micro lens captures details of miniature subjects by extending farther away from the camera. On the other hand, the macro lens focuses better by reaching as close to the subject as possible.

Wide Angle Lens vs Normal Lens

A wide-angle lens has a broader focal field that captures a more comprehensive view of a scene than the human eye can. It makes closer objects appear more prominent and captures most of the details of an item in one shot.

However, a normal lens has a mid-focal length such that make both close and far images appear calm and natural to the human eye.

Photo credit: Reddit.com

Conclusion

Being a great photographer comes down to experience, proper exposure, the extent of the focal length, and selecting the best lens for the occasion you intend to shoot. 

If you are at a crossroads, the best way to narrow down to the choice of lens is to know the genre you'll be shooting the most.

People Also Ask

Camera lenses often spark endless debates amongst skillful photographers. Most discussions revolve around the choice of lenses to buy, the situations in which to use them and the optimal shutter speed setting for each, or the meaning of the lens aperture calibrations.

So, it would be interesting to check out a few crucial questions you might have regarding lenses.

What Does the mm Mean on a Camera Lens?

Your lens must have a number and "mm" following it. This number is your lens's focal length, or focal range if it is in a pair. 

On the other hand, the "mm" is the standard unit measurement and the short form for "millimeters." Its presence indicates that your focal length or focal range is so many millimeters long.

What is the Focal Length of the Lens?

The focal length is the measure of how long your camera lens is. It measures the distance between the camera lens and the sensor with the subject in focus.

It showcases the angle of view- how much of the subject your lens can capture. Focal lengths vary with the type of lens.

Andy

Hi, I’m Andy. I’ve been taking pictures for just about as long as I’ve been old enough to hold a camera. I studied photography in community college after high school but was encouraged to follow a career path that was more stable. I do gigs here and there on the side but never took the leap to focus my efforts full-time. When Pam reached out to me through a mutual friend, I jumped on the opportunity to be a writer. Favorite type of photography: macro and street.