For a photographer, a camera without a lens is useless. In the film, DSLR, or mirrorless cameras, the lens focuses the light shown through the viewfinder onto a small spot, (typically) 35mm, on the back of the camera. When your camera’s lens is removed, you can only produce white light as an image.
As a result, high-quality lenses can make even a relatively cheap camera take excellent photos, while low-quality lenses can make an expensive camera mediocre and the results poor.
Understanding camera lens basics will enable you to select the right lens for your photographic needs.
What Is a Camera Lens?
An object that focuses light on a fixed point is called a lens. Lenses direct light to film strips in traditional film cameras, just as they do in digital cameras (such as DSLRs or mirrorless cameras). In a camera, the lenses are composed of convex (outwardly curved) or concave (inwardly curved) glass plates.
- What Is a Camera Lens?
- Camera Lens Characteristics
- 5 Basic Types of Camera Lenses
- 1. Macro Lenses
- 2. Telephoto Lenses
- 3. Wide Angle Lenses
- 4. Standard Lenses
- 5. Specialty Lenses
- Common Lens Sizes and Specs
- 16mm Lens
- 35mm Lens
- 50mm Lens
- 85mm Lens
- 200mm Lens
- Lenses basics and Types
- Standard/Normal Lens
- 4. Zoom Lens
- 8. Image-Stabilization Lens
- What to Consider When Buying a Camera Lens
Camera Lens Characteristics
Filters and focusing mechanisms ensure that light hits the film or sensor in the correct manner. A variety of other factors, however, influence how the final photo looks and how it is viewed.
A lens’ focal length corresponds to the distance between the optical center and the sensor that records the image (in millimeters). You can tell how much your camera is able to capture by knowing the focal length of its lens. More of the scene is shown with smaller numbers; fewer details are shown with larger numbers.
It is used to describe the aperture through which light enters a camera. As for F-stops increase, the opening shrinks, which is counterintuitive. Similarly, f/2.8 provides 16 times more light than f11 and twice as much light as f4. Increasing the aperture will decrease the depth of field, and decreasing the aperture will increase the amount of the image in focus.
A lens’ barrel will indicate the aperture’s maximum opening, usually indicated by a maximum aperture number. An aperture lens with a larger maximum aperture typically costs more. An aperture that is wide is especially useful in low light, so if you plan on taking pictures at night, I would recommend it.
Depth of Field.
Photographers can use the depth of field to focus control to help guide the eye of the viewer toward their desired location in the photo. Typically, landscapes are shot with a small aperture (f11 or f16) so that everything in the scene is in focus. A lens’ maximum aperture determines the depth of field.
5 Basic Types of Camera Lenses
Camera lenses fall into two categories:
Prime lenses. Prime lenses are faster and sharper because they have a fixed focal length. In spite of prime lenses’ limited versatility, they’re fast and light, making them convenient to transport
Zoom lenses. By using several lenses on a single lens, zooms can reach different focal lengths, which makes them more versatile. However, they are less fast. Although they are able to be more flexible due to their glass composition, they are often heavier and bigger than prime lenses.
Prime and zoom lenses come in a wide range of types, each with a different focal length.
1. Macro Lenses
Macro photography is created with a lens such as this one. This particular camera produces sharp images even at very close ranges thanks to its unique design. The detail you can capture in an image with this lens is incredible, and it is great for nature photography.
2. Telephoto Lenses
Multiple focal points are found in telephoto lenses. It is possible to isolate a distant subject with these types of lenses. Such magnified views are, however, limited by the smaller field of view that these lenses provide. A telephoto lens focuses close to distant objects much like a telescope does for viewing stars and planets. Telephoto lenses are often used by sports photographers to create an intimate relationship with the subjects standing on the bench or the sidelines (players). You may find telephoto lenses in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices, so make sure you take some time when choosing a lens.
3. Wide Angle Lenses
Lenses that have a wide-angle are ideal for utilizing a large amount of space. Landscape photography or street photography are ideal examples where you can use a wide-angle lens. Except for objects in close proximity to the lens, everything is in focus with wide-angle lenses.
4. Standard Lenses
Standard lenses are suitable for various types of photography. The focal length of these lenses is somewhere in the middle between 35mm and 85mm.
At its bottom end, the zoom lens will have a focal length large enough for a wider-angle full-frame picture, while its top-end will have a focal length small enough for close-ups.
5. Specialty Lenses
Finally, one can choose from a long list of specialized lenses to give your photos a unique feel and look. Specialty camera lenses come in several varieties, but some of the more notable ones are:
The fisheye lens. This lens has a 180-degree arc of view, which makes it extremely wide-angle. Known for distorting images, fisheye lenses make even a room appear like a bubble.
Tilt-shift lens. Perspective is distorted with tilt-shift lenses, so things appear smaller than they are – almost like toys.
Infrared lens. Instead of experimenting with perspective, these lenses filter out all light except infrared.
Common Lens Sizes and Specs
The angle of view: Very wide
Description: A very broad view of the world. Excellent for taking landscape photos.
Depth of field: The focus is on everything. Depth of field cannot be shallow.
Distortion of space: This is an illusion that distances are greater than they actually are. The appearance of greater size than what it really is.
The angle of view: Wide
Description: A cell phone’s camera would capture something similar. Street photography is terrific with a cell phone.
Depth of field: Except for subjects that are very close to the camera, most things are in focus.
Distortion of space: Despite its reduced distortion, this lens results in further-off images than their actual distances.
The angle of view: Normal
Description: A picture that is roughly similar to the view from a human eye. A good photo for almost any subject.
Depth of field: With various aperture ranges, different depths of field can be achieved.
Distortion of space: A very small amount or none.
The angle of view: Medium telephoto
Description: The perfect tool for removing background from a subject. This is especially useful when photographing portraits.
Depth of field: It is easy to achieve shallow depths of field.
Distortion of space: It creates a false sense of closeness.
The angle of view: Telephoto
Description: A telescope would be ideal for identifying distant objects. The subject and background will be compressed with a telescope.
Depth of field: The depth of field is often shallow except when you are shooting far away.
Distortion of space: The distance between them seems considerably closer than it is.
Lenses basics and Types
Lenses define the way you “see” the world through the viewfinder – they give photography its expressive qualities.
It is impossible to accurately capture your vision on “film” or with the image sensor unless you embrace the inherent distortion of the camera lens.
The Focal Length
A lens’ focal length is one of its most important characteristics.
Focal length is the distance measured from an image sensor (or film plane) of the camera to the optic center of a lens when focused at infinity.
For proper understanding, let’s define “optical center” as well. (Usually, but not always) The optical center of a lens is the point where two light rays entering the lens from different directions cross.
Wider fields of view are provided by shorter focal length lenses, but their magnification is reduced. Alternatively, longer focal lengths have a smaller field of view but are able to magnify more.
Millimeters are the unit of measurement for interchangeable lenses on DSLRs.
The focal length and adaptor ring size of a lens are typically displayed on the barrel of the lens.
The Lens Ratio
A lens’s maximum aperture is indicated by a ratio number on the barrel (e.g., 1:2.8, 1:2.8, 1:2.4, 1:2.8, 1:3.5-5.6, etc).
Light from the lens is transmitted to the image sensor based on the aperture.
If you have a small aperture value, your lens will be brighter than one that has a large one. High-quality zoom lenses have a consistent f-stop across their focal ranges (i.e. f/2.8 at 35mm and f/2.8 at 80mm).
As you zoom from wide-angle to telephoto, you lose at least one stop of light because of the f-stop of the lens changes (e.g., f/3.5 at 28mm, f/5.6 at 80mm).
The lens with a large maximum aperture has a lower f-number, so it is of better quality and you can do more with it.
Taking photos in low-light conditions using such a lens, for instance, would be possible even when the ambient light is low.
Additionally, the bright lenses will make it possible to achieve very shallow depths of field.
Lenses with an f/2.8 or smaller aperture are considered professional lenses and come with a higher price tag.
1. Standard Lens
Basically, a fixed focal length lens (50mm, 85mm, 100mm) reproduces what the human eye sees pretty well in terms of perspective and angle of view.
Typically, the 50mm lens is the standard lens for 35mm film cameras or full-frame DSLRs.
In all probability, your 85mm or 100mm f/2.8 lens is the best choice for capturing portraits since its wide aperture, coupled with its increased focal length, gives you a soft background while making it less likely to distract from your main subject.
2. Wide Angle Lens
When compared to a standard lens, a wide-angle lens has a shorter focal length (10 to 42mm).
With more of an angle of view, you can capture more images. Landscape photography and group portraiture are ideal situations to use a wide-angle lens.
As a matter of fact, wide angles are the only kind of shots you can take that capture the entire scene without leaving out anything significant.
A wide-angle lens will allow you to achieve a shallow depth of field in this way.
3. Telephoto Lens
You can get narrow fields of view with telephoto lenses (100mm – 800mm).
It is possible to compress the distance (as well as the depth sense) and spot specific objects from a distance with these long lenses.
A slight lateral movement can cause a subject to disappear out of view. They have a high resolving power and an inherent shallow depth of field.
You can use them for photography in many different genres, including wildlife, sports, and documentaries. Using them, you are able to take pictures from hundreds of feet away.
4. Zoom Lens
Variable-focal-length zoom lenses are very handy.
With zoom lenses ranging from 24 to 300mm, you have a lot of composition options.
Zoom lenses sacrifice aperture for zoom. Since these lenses contain a large number of elements, allowing light to pass through is limited.
In other words, you must give up lens speed unless you are prepared to spend a lot of money.
5. Fisheye Lens
Fisheye lenses change straight lines into curves so that they produce images with an incredibly wide field of view.
When you distort the perspective, you can sometimes obtain circular, convex, or oval images.
Fish-eye lenses have a range of focal lengths between 7*16mm.
6. Macro Lens
“Macro” photography involves taking close-up or close-up photos with a macro lens.
Between 50mm and 200mm is their focal length range. At close range, these lenses are capable of obtaining razor-sharp focus, but after that, their ability to focus correctly diminishes.
In addition, the photographer can photograph wasps, butterflies, and flowers in life-size or larger.
7. Tilt-Shift Lens
You can manipulate the vanishing points using the Tilt-Shift lens when shooting buildings, which should avoid the parallel lines in the image convergent. This will eliminate the distortion of the lens.
Using a tilt-shift lens, you can also selectively focus your images, whereby only certain elements of your image are in focus and out of focus within the same plane.
8. Image-Stabilization Lens
In the longer lenses, you’ll find gyro stabilizer sensors and servo-controlled lens elements to reduce camera shake related to long-focal length lenses or low-light conditions where you have to use slower shutter speeds to get an effective EV.
With these lenses, the user is claimed to be able to capture a sharp image even at shutter speeds 2 to 4 stops slower (exposure times 4 to 16 times longer) than what is required for sharp images.
What to Consider When Buying a Camera Lens
When investing in a new camera lens, it is important to keep a few factors in mind.
Fast and very expensive lenses are a common problem. For a reasonable price, consider a zoom lens that has a middle focal length, such as a 24-70mm (f/2.8) lens. From portraits to landscapes, the lens is a workhorse.
Size and weight.
The size and weight of the lens are other major factors to consider when buying one. Heavy lenses usually weigh more than 10 pounds and can be very bulky. When choosing a camera and lens, consider the purpose of the device. If you are simply taking vacation photos, choose something smaller and lighter. A telephoto lens, however, is essential for shooting distant shots from afar, such as when traveling or photographing wildlife.
Additional functionality and features are available with some camera lenses besides those listed above. You could, for instance, use a lens with an automatic focusing feature to make it easier to focus on your subject. Alternatively, other lenses allow manual focusing, which is more difficult to operate, but it is more suitable to certain situations, such as low light.
All lens brands and models of cameras are not compatible. If you do not have an adapter, it won’t be possible to use Nikon lenses with Canon or Sony cameras (and even then, not all features will work). Verify that the camera lens you are buying is compatible with your body by contacting the lens manufacturer.
A healthy dose of patience and plenty of practice is crucial if you want to become a professional photographer. Jimmy Chin, a photographer for National Geographic, knows this all too well. In Jimmy Chin’s MasterClass on adventure photography, he explores a variety of approaches for shooting commercials, editorial spreads, and passion projects, revealing key insights on regaining the mastery of your craft.
The lenses available to you will all provide you with a distinctive and different image.
The photographer’s creativity contributes to capturing the world in the way she or he wants to present it by choosing the right lens.