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How To Choose A Lens: Camera Lenses Explained For Beginners

Without our eyes we can't see and cameras are the same without their lenses. This article will look at the different types of lenses there are and tell you how they can be used.

|  Lenses and Optical Items
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Lenses are the eyes of a camera used to project an image of the subject onto the recording material (sensor in digital cameras and film in older cameras). Lenses are either built into the camera (fixed) or they can be removed (interchangeable). They'll also either have a fixed focal length (prime) or will have the ability to zoom

Lenses with fixed focal lengths can be smaller, lighter and sometimes cheaper than zooms, but if you plan on buying several fixed focal length lenses, this can often become rather more expensive than purchasing a couple of zoom lenses. Also, fixed focal length lenses generally work better in low light conditions (photographing indoor sporting events or at a football match in winter) and are also more useful when you want to blur the background of an image and leave your subject in focus.

For more detailed information on the differences between primes and zooms, we actually have an article that covers the pros and cons of both types of lenses that's well worth taking a look at. 

As well as prime and zoom lenses, there are also a wide variety of lens types that are tailored towards specific shooting needs. Below you'll find the different lens types that are available along with descriptions which explains what they're mostly used for. 


Standard Lens

Fujifilm Fujinon XF 50mm f/2 R WR

A standard lens will let you create an image similar in perspective and scale to what the human eye sees. A standard lens doesn't change the size of an object or add distortion to the subject in an image. Standard lenses for 35mm film cameras were 50mm while standard lenses for digital cameras with a smaller APS sensor have a 35mm focal length. Medium format cameras have standard lenses that are between 75mm and 105mm.

Best Standard Prime Lenses   Best 50mm Prime Lenses


Short Telephoto Lens

 Sony FE 85mm f/1.8

Short telephoto lenses also see an image in a way similar to what the human eye sees and they're great for portraits. If you're shooting close-ups of people's faces, the lens won't make them appear distorted and will produce a more flattering image. A short telephoto lens will also let you take photographs further back, keeping a comfortable distance between you and your subject.


Long/Telephoto Lens

Fujifilm Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR


These lenses are good at magnifying distant objects. They make objects appear larger/closer to you than they really are. It means you can take an image of a bonfire, for example, that appears to be just in front of you when really it's far enough away to not get your fingers burnt. These longer lenses can be rather large and if you plan on using them without a tripod, you won't need that gym membership for much longer!

Mirror lenses fall under this category and can offer even longer focal lengths (bring the subject even closer). Widely used for astronomic purposes, mirror lenses are made up of mirrors rather than the glass usually found in lenses. Light bounces off the mirrors and is 'folded' which is why these lenses can produce a longer focal length but still remain small. However, these lenses do have a few problems and can produce poor quality images.


Best Telephoto Zoom Lenses   Best Telephoto Prime Lenses


Ultra/Wide Angle

Samyang Premium MF 14mm f/2.4


Ultra/wide-angle lenses are good for capturing a large scene. It can exaggerate depth in an image and they often cause you to move closer to your subjects which means you give emphasis to the front while still capturing the background. For example, if you're photographing something such as a field full of flowers, by getting as close to the flower nearest to you as possible will exaggerate the size but you'll also be able to see the rest of the field. Wide-angle lenses are also good for architectural photography as the wider the view you have available for this sort of work, the less distortion there will be. You can also use this lens for portraits to add an interesting, unique angle to your work but be careful, as it can make parts look extremely large and distorted.

Best Wide-Angle Landscape Lenses



Nikon AF-S FISHEYE NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED


A fisheye lens makes everything you take look like it's in a Goldfish bowl. A fisheye lens creates an extremely wide-angled image that appears convex/circular. It's a useful tool for getting in close to something and still retaining the detail of the surroundings. It's also great for creating unique looking images.


Macro Lens

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS


Macro lenses are all about close-up photography. You can get in close to photograph details of larger objects and you can also capture sharp, life-size images of small subjects such as flowers and insects. They're also useful for product photography and for capturing other small objects. Macro lenses have a limited depth of field (how much of the image is sharp and in focus) so it is important you frame and focus on the most important part of your image.

Best Lenses For Macro Photography


Which Type Of Lens Should I Choose?

While any lens can be used to record any subject, some are better at certain jobs than others. This table rates each type of lens out of three stars to indicate how useful they are for various photographic scenarios (3 stars = most suited). 


50mm Standard lens Short telephoto lens Long/Telephoto
Ultra /Wide Angle Macro
Product photography/ close-up work.


For more help on choosing a lens that's right for you, have a look at our 'Review' or 'Best Gear' sections of the site. 

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