If you’re interested in pursuing photography, it’s important that you understand the different types of camera lenses and how they’re used. After all, one lens rarely fits all — for certain projects, you may find that a wide angle lens works better than your standard one, or vice versa. But how are you supposed to know which to use, of all the types of camera lenses?
While trying to understand the ins and outs of a camera may seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a basic description of the different types of camera lenses that will help anyone, even a photography novice, figure out what lens will fit their needs best.
The 7 Main Types of Camera Lenses
These lenses are labeled “standard” for a reason — they’re oftentimes used as a default for photographers. With a focal length of 40mm to 60mm, they’re able to accurately replicate what we can see with the human eye without too much distortion. These lenses are often used for street photography, portraits, and documentary photography. If you buy a camera that comes with a lens, it’s most likely going to be a standard one.
Zoom lenses are often beloved for their extreme versatility — while standing in one fixed spot, this lens allows you to photograph one subject from multiple focal lengths. One popular kind of zoom lens lets you zoom from anywhere between 70mm to 200mm, which can give the same subject a drastically different look and allows photographers to change the composition of a photo without so much as taking a step in a different direction.
Unlike zoom lenses, prime lenses have a fixed focal length. A 35mm lens will only give you a 35mm perspective, meaning that if you want a wide shot or a close-up of a subject, you must physically move to get it. They also force you to take more time composing your image, as you can’t easily zoom in and out to change it. However, of all the types of camera lenses, these lenses tend to produce sharper images and perform better in low lighting. They’re lighter, more compact, and generally cheaper than zoom lenses.
Wide Angle Lenses
Wide angle lenses allow the photographer to capture a wider field of view than a standard lens might. While they tend to distort photos (which is especially noticeable with faces), they also make it possible to capture the full scene, especially when photographing landscapes or architecture. Before purchasing one, just remember: the lower the number of focal strength, the more you’ll be able to fit in the frame.
Telephoto lenses have focal lengths of 70mm or longer and are used to photograph subjects that are very far away. They’re excellent for portraits, as they produce the least distortion of any lens, and, out of all the types of camera lenses available, they’re perfect for photographing wildlife, nature, sports, or the stars. The downside? These lenses are usually pretty large and heavy, making them a nuisance to carry around.
Macro lenses are best when used for extreme, larger-than-life close ups, typically of very small objects like flowers or insects. These lenses allow photographers to capture minute details that would generally go undetected by the human eye. While the quality of these images may be great, it’s easy to mess up these pictures — since you’re zoomed in so close on the subject, it’s important to keep the camera extra steady to avoid blurring or messing up the composition of the shot.
Fisheye lenses are anything with a focal length less than 15mm and are pretty much wide angle lenses to the extreme. These lenses offer a 180-degree field of vision, though as a result, the photographs are distorted, giving off the strange effect of seeing the world through a fish bowl (hence the name of the lens). This panoramic view is great for landscapes, sports, or abstract photography.