A lens is what your camera uses to focus on a scene. Lenses can be cheap or expensive and big or small. If you have been researching what kind of lens you will need for what you are going to use your camera for I’m sure you have already discovered that there is a huge variety of lenses available for just about any situation possible. There are wide-angle, midrange, zoom, telephoto, and fixed lenses. So what does it all mean?
The cost and quality of camera lenses is based on a wide variety of things. It is first of all based on the size and focal length capabilities of a lens. For example, a 28-128 mm. lens will be cheaper than a 100-400 mm. lens. But what can make a lens very expensive is its aperture capabilities. A lens that can achieve a wider aperture will be more expensive (all other things constant). There are also many other things that are taken into account with price but the zoom and aperture capabilities are the main things.
Types and Focal Lengths
Wide-Angle Lens – Wide angle lenses are most commonly defined as lenses with focal lengths that are less than 50 mm. A wide angle lens is most commonly used for landscape photography. Most photographers buy them because they can focus on a very wide range from side to side. Sometimes they are necessary for portraits as well though. I have found myself in many situations where the only way that I could fit everyone into the frame was with a wide-angle lens. When I use my wide-angle lens I almost always make the aperture very narrow so I have a very large depth of field. Wide-angle lenses are good at focusing on everything rather than one small part of a scene. I personally use my fixed 24mm. wide-angle lens almost more than my standard telephoto.
Standard Telephoto Lens – This is the typical short range zoom lens that usually is sold included with new digital slr cameras. They usually have a range of around 28-85 mm. and are compact in size. This is a very well-rounded lens and can be used for just about every situation possible which is the very reason it usually comes included with new cameras. It can be sufficient for landscapes and portrait photography as well as spur of the moment photos like sports or movements.
Medium Telephoto Lens – This is most commonly defined as a lens that has a midrange telephoto capability. This is usually somewhere between 80 and 150 mm. This is the perfect type of lens for portrait photography. The focal length of this type of lens is kind to the face and makes the nose appear to be more flush with the rest of the face. Closer range lenses make the nose appear closer to the camera than the rest of the face therefore accentuating it and making it appear larger than it really is. Although this lens is perfect for portrait photography, it is also great for sports photos and other subject oriented pictures.
Long Range Telephoto Lens – This is most commonly defined as a lens that has a long range telephoto capability which is usually considered greater than 150 mm. This type of lens can be very powerful and very expensive. Photographers buy these lenses for many different reasons. If you watch sports events you can usually see photographers on the sidelines with huge telephoto lenses that are capable of zooming to the far side of a football field. These lenses can be used for nature photography in capturing dangerous animals without getting too close. The paparazzi also uses these types of lenses on occasion to get photos of celebrities from behind boundaries or fences. The long range zoom creates a whole new world of opportunities for photographers.
Prime or Fixed Lenses Compared to Zoom Lenses
Why would a photographer buy a fixed focal length lens when he could get 100 different focal lengths with a zoom lens? There are in fact many good reasons to choose fixed lenses over zoom lenses. The reason I bought a fixed wide-angle lens instead of a zoom wide angle is because fixed lens are faster and they show more depth. The differences between the two kinds are usually very subtle, but it does make quite a difference. Since the zoom lenses change focal lengths as they shift they tend to flatten the depth of field and change the perspective. With a fixed lens, there aren’t any moving parts and therefore better performance on their one focal length.
More Uncommon Specialized Lenses
Macro Lens – This type of lens is built specifically to be able to focus on something while being extremely close to it. This lens is commonly used to get very close to intricate objects such as flowers or bugs. I have used my macro lens to take photos of water drops, faces, eyes, and hair. The possibilities are endless and I have used mine to create some amazing close-up colorful photos.
Tilt Shift Lens – This type of lens is built for only a few types of situations where distortion occurs because the subject is very long or wide. Tilt movements of the lens allow you to obtain a wide depth of field even at a wide aperture and still keep the entire subject in focus. Shift movements of the lens correct the effect seen in pictures taken of tall objects such as buildings, so that the subject does not look distorted. Most people use this kind of lens for panoramic or architectural photography.
The type of lens you should get entirely depends on what kind of photos you are going to take. I like taking landscape photos so therefore I bought a fixed wide-angle lens so I could take the best possible landscape photos that I could. Just because you want to take good photos doesn’t mean you have to drop a couple thousand dollars on lenses. It is true that you tend to get what you pay for with lenses but I would recommend starting off with a few medium quality lenses and practice your basic skills before investing in a very expensive lens. And once you do get a lens that you care about make sure you get a UV filter for it so you can preserve its quality and prevent it doesn’t get scratched.
Richard Schneider is a digital photography enthusiast and founder of PictureCorrect which offers photography tips and news on all topics involving digital photography. You will also be interested in the photography network, one of the largest social networks designed exclusively for photographers.