Understanding Camera Lenses

If you have an interchangeable-lens camera, it’s essential to understand the correct use of each camera lens according to the situation. Understanding the differences between camera lenses will hugely increase your results.

Standard reflex cameras have become more affordable, thus more used by amateur photographers. If you’re one of them, you might have found yourself using only the basic zoom lens 18-55mm for every scenario, instead of switching camera lenses. The 18-55mm lens is commonly packaged together with a reflex camera, so it’s the most used.

Of course,  lenses are not cheap, but it’s good to have at least one camera lens to switch between according to your photography style. So, first you need to figure out what you like to photograph. Are you interested in portraits? Are you a landscape lover? Or do you like macro and details?

Once you have the answer to these questions, it will be easier for you to decide which lens(es) will be your backup.

18-55mm: General-Purpose Zoom Lens

The 18-55mm lens is defined as “the general-purpose zoom” because it has a length spectrum wide enough to experiment from landscapes to close-up portraits. It offers a range of focal lengths between 18mm and 55mm (included). As mentioned before, it generally comes packaged together with the camera, so it is a good starting point.

It’s the ideal lens if you want to travel light-weighted, as they can cover a good variety of scenarios. You can use them for:

  • Portraits
  • Landscape Photography

50mm: Standard Prime Lens

Standard prime lenses have a mid-focal range. Being a fixed focal length, they are opposed to zooms, which can be adjusted. For this reason, they are considered less flexible, but the perk is that their optical quality is usually higher.

The most common types are 35mm and 50mm. However, the latter is generally cheaper and gives you the same angle view of a naked eye. The thirty-five millimeter, instead, is considered as a wide-angle lens because it opens up the scene.

Since the general impression you get is that objects appear farther than they actually are, they are mainly useful for:

  • Landscape Photography
  • Architectural Photography
  • Street Photography
  • Photography in low-light condition.

Below 40mm: Wide Angles Lens

As mentioned before, a 35mm lens is counted as a wide-angle lens, because you can include more into the frame.

All fixed lens whose focal length is below 20mm are defined as ultra-wide or ‘fisheye’ lens, if shorter then 14mm. This type of lens gives a special-effect to your pictures, so they aren’t used all the time.

Consider using a wide-angle lens for:

  • Large group Shooting
  • Landscape Photography

70-300mm: Telephoto Zoom Lens

Telephoto zooms give a narrower angle view, making distant objects appear closer. They allow you to get closer to your subject without having to move. However, you might consider buying a tripod to assure stability and sharpness to your pictures.

Focal length range between 70 and 150mm is particularly great for portraits, as they separate the subject from the background and do not distort facial features.

Longer zooms (called super-telephoto zooms, up to 800mm) are generally required for more specific activities, such as

  • Sports Photography
  • Wildlife Photography
Outdoor Telephoto Photography. Caucasian Photographer with Large Telephoto Lens Taking Pictures During Scenic Sunset Using Camera Tripod.

Macro lens

A macro lens is ideal for close-up photography. You can find some macro features in zoom lenses, but that refers uniquely to their suitability for macro shooting. On the contrary, true macro lenses are prime lenses. With macro lenses you can capture a great amount of details of tiny objects and products.

Its standard focal length is anywhere between 60mm and 200mm, but you can also opt for macro lenses between 30mm and 50mm if you are looking for something less bulky.

Macro lens is great for:

  • Product Photography
  • Nature Photography

Having read all this, you may have a question popping up in your mind. Would it be more convenient to purchase a zoom that covers a wider range, for example from 18mm to 105mm, instead of several prime lenses? This way you would have several focal lengths in just one package.

From an economic point of view, the answer is yes, also because the quality of zooms has hugely increased lately. This means that a prime and a zoom set at the same focal length have almost the same sharpness. However, zooms are still not as fast as primes. The speed of a lens is very important because it refers to its widest aperture and therefore to the amount of light the camera manages to let in.

Translated in practical terms, it means that in the same lighting condition, a prime would take a better picture than a zoom.

What should you purchase then? This depends on your needs. We believe that the ideal package would be to have an 18-55mm zoom lens, a 70-200 telephoto lens and a prime because they would allow you to widely experiment all situations.

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