The Types of Camera Lenses for Your DSLR: Part II: Lesson 2

The types of DSLR camera lenses are many and each is suited for a particular use, but by no means limits your imagination and what you can achieve with a specific lens. You have probably heard of DSLR lens types like a wide angle, zooms, telephotos and other lenses. What I will focus on is the assortment of lens types. How they might be used I will cover in brief detail. Later, I’ll explain how each lens functions in a particular type of photography to achieve certain effects.

Focal Length

The focal length is important to understand as it pertains to the length of the lens. The focal length of a particular lens is the distance from your camera’s sensor to the lens at the end. The notation for focal length is f. You will see this notation again when discussing or reading about lenses and f stops.

Focal Length of a lens is measured from the camera’s sensor to the lens in mm

Prime Lenses

Prime lenses usually have the best optics and usually more expensive than other lenses. These lenses have a fixed focal length. This is particularly true as you go up in focal length. For example, a 50 mm prime lens may go for a few hundred dollars or more while a 500 mm may cost several thousand dollars or more.

Zoom Lenses

As the name implies, these lenses allow you to zoom in or out on a subject. These are composed of different lens elements, near, mid and distant. As you zoom in the field of view is narrower as the image appears closer. As you zoom out the field of view is wider. These are common in kits when you purchase a camera with a lens. These can be wide to the telephoto range like an 18-200 mm, or wide to wide like a 10-20 mm. The optics are not quite as good as a prime lens but still perform very well. Ideal uses would be portraits, wildlife, and weddings.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon River Gorge 18-200 mm Zoom at 200 mm

Wide Angle Lenses

Shot with a 20 mm prime lens
Shot with a 20 mm prime lens

Wide angles come in a variety of sizes from 10-35 mm. 14mm, 20mm, 21mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm wide angles are common. These are usually more affordable as well as a versatile lens. It has a much wider field of view. Consider the field of view similar to the human eye is around 35 mm you can get a lot in the frame. They do tend to distort which can be fixed if desired in post-processing. These have a great depth of field meaning everything from front to back is in focus.

Telephoto Lenses

Not to be confused with Zoom lenses, telephotos have a dedicated telephoto lens elements and may zoom. By design, they are meant to focus at greater distances. They can be heavy. The telephoto range starts around 200 mm and up like the Sigma 150-500 mm telephoto. These are ideal for shooting distant subjects like wildlife, planets, stars, and sports. Common telephotos are 70-300 mm, 100-400 mm, 400 mm, 600 mm

Osprey shot at 500mm

Macro Lenses

Macro lenses allow getting a very detailed close-up shot like coins, insects, flowers or even smaller depending on the lens. These almost always require a tripod for sharpness. The depth of field, sharpness from front to back, can also be very narrow. The goal of macro lenses is to get a 1:1 image of your subject. Macro lenses tend to be expensive and are in prime focal length ranges of 50-200 mm.

Fiddlehead shot with a 100 mm Macro lens
Fiddlehead shot with a 100 mm Macro lens

Fisheye Lenses

Fisheye lenses are ultra wide lenses that are used most often in an abstract photograph. The lens looks like a fisheye and gives you a panorama view anywhere from 100-180 mm.

Fisheye Lens
The Types of Camera Lenses for Your DSLR: Part II: Lesson 2


Welcome! My interest in photography spans 40 years and started with the purchase of my first SLR. Since then my passion has grown to landscapes, beach scenes, and travel photography primarily. Photography techniques I particularly enjoy are long exposures, and what I call splash art. You can see these on my gallery page if it interests you. Currently, I live on Amelia Island in Northeast Florida with my beautiful wife and our wonder dog, Fuji.

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