Camera Lens Types and Sizes Made Simple

There are many types of interchangeable lenses for cameras

The biggest difference comes down focal length, although other characteristics give lenses with the capacity to carry out specialized task that otherwise could not be accomplished.  Lenses can be broken down onto four basic types of Wide-Angle, Standard, Telephoto and Super Telephoto although Telephotos can be moderate, medium and super. Sometimes lenses overlap and sometimes they don't (You certainly would want a powerful Super Zoom to shoot wildlife and not a Macro lens that gets as close as one inch. away)

Additionally there are Primes (fixed focal length) and Zooms (variable focal length) while Zooms are also available with fixed or variable apertures. There are also specialized lenses such as Macro, Fisheye, Defocus Control, and Perspective Control. If that wasn't enough, there's also Stabilized lenses and lenses for APS-C sensors or Full Frame Sensors (with APS-C not working on the Full Frame Sensors). Although this discussion was intended to be about 35mm digital cameras, except for different numbers on the focal lengths it equally applies to Point & Shoot camera lenses, Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds, Sony Nex lenses, plus the professional formats such as Medium Format and Large Format lenses.

Any discussion about cameras always comes down to light, and basically the more light you can get to the sensor or film plane the more you pay for it. As an example a 3x variable aperture Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX  consumer lens runs around $130 or a 4x variable aperture Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX VR. costs about $240, while a 3x fixed aperture Nikon 70-200MM F/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Typical Internet price of $2,199 is almost 10 times as costly, or a prime, manual focus Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux-M ASPH lens Typical Discount Price, $10,495 compared to a prime NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D AF at just $134.

 So, lets clear up some the above thoughts below.

Lens Type SLR Focal Length Effective APS-C Focal Length with FLM of 1.6 Best Use
Super Wide Angle 18mm 28.8mm Interiors
Wide Angle 28mm or less 44,80mm Interiors and Tight Places
Standard Anything from 35mm to 85mm 56mm to 136mm Portraits
Telephoto Anything from 100mm to 300mm 160mm to 450mm Portraits and Sports
Super-Telephoto 300mm or more 450mm or more Wildlife and Sports


Once you have an interchangeable lens camera, you pretty much need to match the camera and lens brands as one brand typically fit another brand, although there are plenty of workarounds. In addition Sigma, Tamron and Tokina makes autofocus lenses to fit most Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic Pentax and Sony DSLR cameras,


There's not much reason to buy a manual focus lens today, unless you're a photography enthusiast or you have some older lenses you want to mount on your new DSLR or Four Thirds Camera. There are too many good autofocus lens available to be fooling around with manual focus (and just think about action sports with a MF lens). no way.   Having stated that, Voigtlander and Zeiss make some of the finest manual focus lenses available, while Samyang through it many associated names makes a variety of less expensive manual focus lenses.


You may overhear the terminology "prime lens," and become curious just what it means. A prime lens is a set focal length (FFL) lens, just the opposite of that of a lens that zooms, and features a varying focal length (VFL). A 50mm lens is an instance of a prime lens. while an 18-55mm is a zoom lens example. Most often. prime lenses have superior optical quality over that of a lens that zooms, and generally have a faster maximum aperture while one must do more walking (sneaker zoom) with a prime lens.


Tamron 18-70mm Super Zoom Lens
Tamron 18-270mm Super Zoom Lens
A zoom lens lets you to adjust the focal length without changing lenses. It features a variable focal length, allowing it to be employed like a wide-angle for shooting one image, then become a normal or even a telephoto for the following shot, depending upon its focal length ranges. A few zoom lenses cover a array of mostly telephoto settings, for instance, from 70mm through 300mm, or 80mm to 200mm, whereas others offer a range of wide-angle lengths, like 18mm through 55mm. Popular, all-purpose zoom lenses start from moderate wide-angles through moderate telephoto lenses.

A zoomís focal range is typically designated by its most wide and most narrow focal lengths, for instance 70-300mm for a lens which zooms from 70mm through 300mm. Many times there's an arrow in the middle of the numbers to designate that it's a zoom. v Zoom lenses give the photographer flexibility to compose images while staying in only one shooting position. For example, using a 70-300mm zoom, you can shoot a three-quarters-length photo of someone using a 70mm setting, capture a head with shoulders portrait using 105mm, and photograph a far away wild animal using 300mm.

The biggest downside of zooms is that they weigh a lot and they are slow. Most feature maximum apertures no bigger than f/4 or f/3.5 using their largest focal extent. High-quality, faster zooms can be prohibitively costly, if the can be obtained anyplace for your particular camera. An excellent quality zoom is particularly useful for aerial photography and also for versatility and speed when doing a wedding shoot.


Canon 50mm Standard Prime Lens
Canon 50mm Standard Prime Lens
The normal lens that, until recently, typically was included with your new camera. It had a set single focal-length (fixed, non-zooming) lens that was labeled 'normal' because the scene that see looking through it is pretty much the same scene we see by the naked human eye.

A majority of DSLR and traditional SLR film cameras are provided with a lens that zooms instead of having a normal lens today. The zoom lens focal setting usually includes one that's within the reach of the normal lens. As an example, the normal lens on a 35mm SLR camera is around 50mm, while many cameras equipped with zoom lenses encompass a range from, 18-55mm a 28mm to 70mm equivalent.

A normal lens, however, typically has capabilities far above those of the typical zoom lens, while the benefits to owning one It that it's most often a fast lens, another way of saying that its wide open aperture is very big, many times in the É/1.2, É/1.4 or É/1.8, range letting you to shoot images in low light using faster shutter speeds. It is most often a sharp lens that's bright and easy to focus, creating distortion-free pictures with excellent color rendition and resolution.

Most have autofocus, and several step down to small apertures in the É/22 range to create extended field depths. Also, some have macro abilities, giving them a dual purpose. A normal lens works as a really good all around lens, useful in day in and day out applications, including landscapes, candid photography, and poor-light work.


Entry / Stairway Shot with 10mm Lens Entry / Stairway Shot with 10mm Lens
The labels "wide-angle" and "telephoto" were founded upon the opposite viewing angles they create when compared to a normal lens. The wide-angle lens acquires a much wider viewing angle than that of a normal lens. Not just one wide-angle lens exists, but rather a range of lenses that provide wider and wider viewing angles, some may have an ultra wide-angle or super lens classification, while the very widest of all is the fish-eye lens .

Lenses deem to be in the wide-angle category include the 24mm, 28mm and the 35mm category, while the 28mm is the standard wide-angle lens for SLRs. The super wide angle lens then take the rein, and runs from 20mm down to around 13mm.

Wide-angle lenses give a big field depth, making it easy to have both the foreground and the background in focus. The fact that they encompass such broad areas (viewing angles), they are terrific for shooting in tight spots, like interiors of buildings, or group close-up photos. Most wide angles show some distortion, just like looking in a curved mirror, especially when your subject is captured close-in. They are extremely helpful when there's no time for precise focusing or composing properly, because they gobble up the entire scene and the majority of it will turn out right on-focus. Not a single photojournalist could get by without one. They are also good for landscapes, acquiring huge ground and sky areas, plus they're great for travel shots, although they're not practical for close-up portrait photography or small up close subjects as they trash perspective.


Sunnex Fisheye Image 360 degree Fisheye Image
A fish-eye is an ultra, super exceptionally-wide-angle lens, supplying 180 degree angles of view or more, becoming so wide that a photographerís tripod legs or even his own feet can show up in a horizontally captured image. These lenses have no linear distortion correction, another way of saying no straight lines, especially near the view frame edges, will be curved way past exaggeration point. Several fisheye lenses create a circular photo, as can be seen at the right.

It's an extreme lens, while the best use is to create images not meant for any sort of normal perspective. The field depth is infinite. it's a lens for the resourceful, inventive, photographer, as each image it captures will turn out unique while displaying too many will cause most viewers to start yawning. It's a great lens for acquiring overall crowd scenes, like those at at a sports stadium, and images where any other focal length lens just doesn't capture the entire view and the distinctive effects of a fisheye.


Nikon Gray 70-200mm Telephoto Lens
Nikon Gray 70-200mm Telephoto Lens
Telephoto lenses produce a more narrow angle of view than a normal lens. Their viewing angles are more narrow while their focal lengths are extended . They come in a variety focal lengths, while the longest and on the whole more expensive, approaches a telescopes capacity of magnify images. Although magnifying images is not the single purpose of a telephoto lens. Their inherent shallow field depth makes them in demand for removing unwelcome foreground and background items by simply making them not in focus. Additionally, their foreshortening attribute can create much more natural pleasant appearing portraits, and can visually constrict far off objects so they appear closer. For example The setting sun, can appear so much bigger and nearer when photographed using a telephoto lens.

Magnification of images, nonetheless, is an important trait of extremely long telephoto lenses. Have you ever seen a photo of a pass receiver or a high jumper that appears as though the photography was only a few feet from the athlete and wondered how this was possible? It's the magnification capacity of a super telephoto lens that makes such pictures possible. The photographer could have been more than fifty yards away, although the close-up photo became possible because of a high-power telephoto zoom.

Telephoto lenses necessitate precise focusing as they have an inherent shallow field depth. And because their viewing angle is so narrow while their weight gets considerable, a tripod or monopod is necessary to assure continuous, precise subject position. These longer focal lengths additionally makes holding the camera by hand less an option because shutter times must be quick to avoid blurring from either the camera or any subject movement. So when employing a long telephoto lens, a monopod or tripod should also be used to ensure in-focus images.


Restaurant sign Captured with Moderate Telephoto Lens
Restaurant sign Captured with Moderate Telephoto Lens
Moderate telephoto length lenses (85mm through 130m lenses for 35mm SLR cameras) may be held by hand when shutter times are quick enough, and are just rightl for portrait photography, particularly headshots or head and shoulder portraits. In fact, 75mm, a 105mm equivalent is thought of as the classic lens for portrait.

Even a 200mm lens may be hand-held easily when shutter speeds become faster than 1/200 second. (See Hand Holding Slow Shutter for details on shooting your camera without using a tripod.)

Also these lenses are perfect for bringing urban cityscape and landscape details more close, and for shooting crowd scenes, including stage shows, parades, and even a childís Christmas school pageant - when you can't get physically close.


Mule Deer Photographed with Medium Telephoto Lens Mule Deer Photographed with Medium Telephoto Lens
135mm through 300mm lenses for 35mm SLR cameras are deemed to be in the medium telephoto lens category, setting them apart from moderate and super-telephotos. They are placed right in between. A fast 135mm lens is a no-nonsense lens for shooting candid wedding photos and for action shooting when a subject is not close nor far off, as itís not overly heavy, may easily be held by hand while perfect for singling out a subject. Itís also a great lens for portraits.

The 180mm through 200mm lens is perfect for sports while the action is happening right under your nose. Although if you're far away up in the bleachers somewhere, youíll require a lens with more power. Lenses in this focal range are also sensible choices for news photography. Lens speed is critical for this focal length. A slow 180mm lens is useless, whereas a fast 200mm lens could turn out to be your most often used candid lens as it brings in the the action close by while letting you employ fast shutter speeds for acquiring it.

A 300mm lens does all the things a 200mm lens will do, although it brings subjects much closer. The biggest issue with telephoto lenses in this focal length is that the better ones - those faster ones - are quite costly. There's absolutely no point in buying a 300mm f/5.6 or yet an f/4 maximum aperture lens for action shooting as the shutter speeds are most often so lengthy that most of the time you will not be able to capture fast-moving subjects without blurry images, even when using high ISO or fast film. However, a 300mm lens featuring a very wide f/2.8 big aperture is extremely expensive. Naturally, if you do not require fast shutter speeds while using a 300mm lens, then it doesnít need to be fast, although using a tripod is vital.


Big Bad Bear Photo with Super Telephoto Lens
Big Bad Bear Photo with Super Telephoto Lens
Powerful telephoto lenses with focal lengths from 400mm through 800mm and more are extremely expensive, even for slower versions, although they provide the ultimate for telephoto shooting. Deep pockets are necessary for every lenses in this category, particularly the faster models, while a solitary lens may be more costly than the typical consumer might spend on photography during a lifetime. A first rate 400mm É/2.8 is the ultimate dream lens of numerous sports and wildlife photographers, a lens they may save up for over many years to buy. A 600mm É/4 lens is just plain exotic, However the 16x magnification of É/5.6 800mm lens may be employed for astrophotography resulting in crisp, colorful images. Pro photographers are the main users of such exotic lenses. Many of the pictures we see in action and sports magazines and in newspapers are acquired using these lenses.


Miniature Roses Shot with Macro Lens
Miniature Roses Shot with Macro Lens
A macro lens might feature a 60mm focal length or maybe 105 mm, although is unique from other lenses within these focal ranges by its capability to reach out a further distance to allow focusing within a few scant inches to the subject. A 55mm or 60mm macro lens may also be employed used the same as if it were a normal lens, while a 200mm macro lens might be employed as a telephoto, however their capability to focus extremely close lets macro lenses acquire images of tiny subjects in frame-filling, bigger-than-life dimensions.

The nearer your lens gets to your subject, the less field depth you'll have at any particular aperture. When you are exceptionally close, field depth may be measured in fractions of an inch. You need to stop down to small apertures, such as É/16, to assure your subject will turn out adequately sharp. Macro lenses typically have somewhat small minimum apertures as a way to maximize the field depth. 


Catadioptric lenses when employed for photography, are known as mirror or reflex lenses. They smaller, cheaper and weight much less than a refractive lens with similar long focal length (usually more than 300mm), but at the sacrifice of some optical concessions.


By and large, using image stabilization can allow you shoot handheld shots around two stops less than without image stabilization. Another way of putting it is if you need a shutter speed of 1/500s to capture an individual scene, you should therefore be able to shoot it with image stabilization only 1/125s (or 4 times slower). This comes in very handy when shooting moving targets in poor light environments, when panning or when employing long focal lengths.

Many telephoto lenses designed for interchangeable cameras often come with equipped image stabilization. Stabilization is also offered in video digital cameras with long zoom lenses. Digital cameras with long zoom lenses also have integrated image stabilization or other variants much the same as anti-shake features. Stabilization helps with steadying the image being sent back to the sensor by using a "floating" optical component often attached to a fast spinning gyroscope that assists in counterbalancing high frequency vibration, for example (hand shake) at these extended focal lengths. There is an IS suffix after the name on Canon EF lenses using image stabilization, VR "Vibration Reduction" is used on Nikkor lenses image stabilized lenses


Perspective Control lenses (PC) have the capacity rise or fall (shift up or down) which lets a photographer arrange the outlook of the subject to gain additional control over what reaches the sensor or the film without being distorted. In addition to up and down travel, some also have the capability to tilt, which lets a film back or lens to tip at angles, in any direction. Tilting the lens angle in relation with the film plane or sensor adjusts the focus plane, although not the real view. This provides for greater field depth for scene where the primary subject may be stretched out in one dimension, although not another.  New Article Sep 5, 2011

So, lets move on to apertures, f-stops. focal lengths and angles of view

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