Photography 101

Photography 101: Let’s talk about lenses

Photography 101: camera lenses

Depending on your experience, this may or may not seem like a random subject to start with. Being a complete novice has it’s perks – you really just don’t know the rules that you’re breaking! My plan is to tackle topics that seem most interesting to me at the time, and this week… that topic is lenses.

The Plan

Today we’re going to briefly cover three categories of camera lenses:

  1. the wide-angle lens;
  2. the standard lens; and
  3. the telephoto lens.

We’re also going to discuss the differences between prime and zoom lenses. Different lenses can produce very unique shots, and it’s important to know the benefits of each. Let’s get started.

Keep in Mind

  • Lenses have common names, but are most often differentiated by focal length.
  • Focal length is the distance, in millimeters, from the optical center of your lens to the film or sensor when your lens is focused at infinity.1
Focal Length
A visual example of focal length2

The Quick and Dirty

Wide-Angle Lens

These lenses are anything with a short focal length, usually below 50mm. The shorter the focal length, the wider the angle you can capture. As such, these lenses are great for any photos where you want to capture a lot of subject. Think architecture and landscapes.

Good to know: The Fisheye, a lens that can capture 180°, is an example of a wide-angle lens.

Standard Lens

The 50mm lens is the most common standard lens, but the focal length for this category can vary. This focal length provides the closest match to our eyes’ field of view, giving a realistic, standard image. There’s a wide range of possible subjects with this lens, so see what works for you!

Telephoto Lens

You guessed it… these lenses constitute any lens with a long focal length, usually above 50mm. Instead of capturing a lot of subject, you can capture subjects at a greater distance. Think wildlife photography and sporting events.

Good to know: The Macro, a lens that magnifies a subject, is an example of a telephoto lens.

Zoom Lens

Zoom lenses can give you some bang for your buck – they provide you with a range of focal lengths. This allows them to be used in a variety of situations for a range of shots, but sometimes the quality can suffer. These lenses will be labeled with their minimum and maximum lengths.

Prime Lens

Prime lenses are the opposite. They give you one focal length as opposed to a range. They’re often of a better quality, but it means you need to carry more than one lens with you at a time. This could be inconvenient if you were traveling and saw both a wild hyena and a beautiful temple in the same day.


Too long; didn't read: camera lenses

Shot of the Week

This week’s SOTW theme is: something blue.

Happy shooting!

  1. A Beginner’s Introduction to Wide-Angle Photography (2012)
  2. 3D Viewing: the Pinhole Camera Model

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