Skip to content
Understanding Camera Lenses

Understanding Camera Lenses

It's good for you to know a few lens basics such as the different lens types, and just a few lens specifications. After that, if you can learn just a little bit about specialty lenses, you'll have the knowledge to be confident in choosing the best digital camera lens for your situation. These tips on camera lenses will help you choose the right lens to use with different kinds of photography.

Understanding Camera Lenses

What Does a Camera Lens Do?

A digital camera lens has just two simple functions. It must let the right amount of light into the camera and it must focus the light onto the camera sensor. Sounds simple, right? One or more of the lens elements move forward or backward during focusing until the light is sharply focused on the sensor. Just about every single lens and camera you can buy for your specific camera now has one or more autofocusing systems. Advanced cameras also give you the important ability to focus manually. Your camera determines how long the shutter stays open and the aperture is how big the opening is when the shutter is open. Smaller numbers like f-2 and f-4 are larger lens openings and allow more light to strike the camera sensors. Each lens design will have its own maximum aperture its capable of.

What Size Lens Your Camera Needs

When it comes to DSLR cameras, there are primarily two sizes of sensors and two sizes of lenses. Full-frame cameras and lenses are used primarily by pro photographers. The smaller sensor cameras are often referred to as APS-C. Here are the abbreviations for the lens sizes made by Canon, Nikon, Sigma, and Tamron for full-size and smaller sized DSLR cameras. Canon Full frame: EF Canon APS-C: EF-S Nikon Full frame: FX Nikon APS-C: DX Sigma Full frame: DG Sigma APS-C: DC Tamron APS-C: APS-C You can always use a full-sized lens on a smaller sensor camera, especially if you already own it.

Understanding Camera Lenses

Types of Camera Lenses

There are dozens of different types of lenses available from, designed for use in a wide range of circumstances. The most important factor in any camera lens is its focal length. This determines which type of lens it is, and what subjects it will be able to photograph. Focal lengths range from just a few millimeters up to over a meter, and can be loosely grouped as follows:

Standard Lenses A standard lens is one with a mid-range focal length, typically around 50mm. They have an angle of view which is roughly the same as the angle that the human eye can comfortably view, meaning that they produce images which appear "natural" to the viewer. Standard camera lenses usually have a fixed focal length and wide aperture, giving them excellent performance in low light. They are popular for a wide range of photography subjects, including landscapes, portraits, and candid shots.

Macro Lenses A macro lens from is one designed especially for close-up photography. They have a different internal construction from normal lenses which gives them very good sharpness and contrast, meaning that they produce some really eye-catching photos. Macro lenses are useful for photographing any subject at very close range. Typical subjects include insects, animals, and plants, but they are also popular for taking extremely detailed photos of everyday objects.

Understanding Camera Lenses

Telephoto Lenses A telephoto lens has a long focal length and provides a high level of magnification, allowing you to photograph subjects at a moderate to far distance. They tend to be bigger and heavier than other types of lenses. Telephoto lenses are popular for any type of photography where you can't get near to the subject, including wildlife and sporting events. They’re also commonly used in portrait photography, where a moderate telephoto lens will provide a natural, undistorted perspective.

Wide Angle Lenses A wide angle lens is one with a short focal length. They provide an angle of view beyond that of a standard lens, allowing them to capture more of the scene in a single shot. Extreme wide angle lenses are known as fisheye lenses. These can capture around 180 degrees, making for some intriguing, almost abstract photos. Wide angle lenses are useful for photographing landscapes, cramped interiors, and other subjects which won't fit into a normal lens's field of view. Fisheye lenses take this even further, and are popular for photographing action sports like skateboarding and surfing, where their inherent distortion gives photos a dynamic feel.

Understanding Camera Lenses

Specialty Lenses Finally, there are a number of specialist camera lenses which cater for less common photography needs. These include tilt and shift lenses for perspective control, soft-focus lenses for portrait photography, and infrared lenses for capturing light outside the normal spectrum. A specialty lens is used to produce some sort of special or creative effect, and so they have limited use in general photography. However, they can be very useful if you need to photograph a particular subject in a particular way. When shopping for lenses, it's important to consider the types of subjects you intend to shoot, the likely lighting conditions, and of course your budget. There’s no single lens that is perfect for every situation. You'll need to balance the pros and cons of the various options and pick the best compromise.

Previous article What is the secret to taking a good picture?

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields