Ever get confused when it comes to the many types of lenses? Let’s make it simple!

Even if you’ve been in the photography world for years, you may not be experienced with many types of lenses. The truth is, many types of lenses are expensive, so we often choose a type of photography and then pick a few lenses that work with our vision.  It can be useful to try several types of lenses for different perspectives and composition.

We are going to break down all the types of lenses you have when it comes to expanding your normal lens arsenal! Here’s a great lenses cheat sheet for knowing what lens is good for what type of photography depending on the focal lengths!

FOCAL LENGTHSTYPES OF LENSESTYPE OF PHOTOGRAPHY
8-24mmFisheye Lens (Ultra wide angle Lens)Panoramic shots, cityscapes, landscape, real estate, abstract.
24-35mmWide Angle LensInteriors, landscapes, architecture, forest photography.

35, 50, 85, 135mm

Standard Prime LensesPortraits, weddings, street photography or documentary photography.

50mm

Normal LensPortraits, Landscapes, Street Photography, and even Sports photography
55-200mmZoom LensPortraits, weddings, wildlife photography.
50-200mmMacro LensUltra detailed photography (rings, nature.)
100-600mmTelephoto Lens

Sports, wildlife, astronomy.

Standard Prime Lenses

A prime lens is a fixed focal length. A fixed focal length means that if you choose a 35mm lens, this lens will ONLY give you a 35mm perspective (meaning you can’t zoom in and out with this lens). You can only shoot from one fixed focal length with this lens, meaning you have to move your physical body to get wide shots vs close ups.

This type of lens can have large apertures, especially compared with a zoom or normal lens. A prime lens can typically have a maximum aperture range from f2.8 to f1.2.

A prime (“fixed lens”) tends to work for ALL types of photography, specifically street photography, portraits, weddings, landscape, etc. Read more about prime lenses!

focal perspectives

This shows the different perspectives given the different focal lengths you may choose on a lens. A 24mm prime lens will give you the widest view, while a 135mm prime lens will crop in much closer! (Remember that if you have a crop sensor camera, these fixed focal lengths are about 1.5x longer focal.)

Types of Standard Prime Lenses: 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 135mm, 200mm

Pros:

  • A prime lens usually delivers sharper images overall, compared to other lens types.
  • This lens tend to be light weight.
  • This lens works better in low light conditions.
  • A lens great for general photography from interiors, to landscapes and portraits.

Cons:

  • Fixed length, won’t zoom.
  • The need to carry multiple lenses.

Normal Lenses

On a camera, a normal lens is typically 50mm. This means that a normal lens is pretty similar to what the human eye sees. Actually, any lens with focal lengths between 40mm and 58mm will look about the same how things appear to the human eye.

On a crop sensor camera, a normal lens is about 35mm, although any lenses with focal lengths between 28mm and 36mm will work.

Pros:

  • Everything looks exactly like the human eye sees it.
  • A normal lens offers an accurate real-life reflection as is possible with a camera.
  • This lens is very easy to use.

Cons:

  • Showing everything exactly as the human eye sees it: if what you see is mundane, it could look boring.
  • A normal lens won’t take great wide landscapes or close-up sport photos.

Zoom Lenses

A zoom lens is great due to its extreme versatility! A zoom lens allows you to stay in one place (no running around or twisted ankles) and zooms to multiple focal lengths with one auto focus function!  A popular zoom lens is the Canon 70-200mm, which means this lens can zoom as far out as 70mm and up to 200mm (and every focal lengths in between)!

In terms of maximum aperture, you can find a zoom lens in two categories. On a variable aperture lens, the maximum aperture will change throughout the zoom range. On a fixed aperture lens (or a constant aperture lens), however, the maximum aperture will remain the same.

What’s really cool is that a zoom lens (if on auto focus) can maintain that focus while you change your focal lengths, which means you can snap quickly with zoom lenses!

lenses

Types of Zoom Lenses: 17-40mm, 24-105mm, 70-200mm

Pros:

  • Zoom capabilities, meaning you get multiple focal lengths in ONE lens.
  • This lens allows you to stay in one position while using the zoom feature.
  • This lens is GREAT for weddings, portraits and wildlife photography.

Cons:

  • Heavy lens.
  • Not as sharp as a prime lens.
  • This lens type has typically a higher maximum aperture, meaning many of these lenses won’t go below f/2.8 (creating less compression/bokeh).

Wide-Angle Lenses

A wide angle lens is pretty self-explanatory, a wide angle lens allows you to gain a wider viewfield. Landscape photographers tend to use a wide-angle lens to make sure they get the full scene of what they are photographing. Keep in mind that with a wide angle lens, the lower the number focal lengths, the more that will fit in your frame.

A wide angle lens tends to distort photos (especially of faces), which can fixed moderately post-processing. A wide angle lens is very versatile and tend to be really affordable.

Types of Wide Angle Lens: 14mm, 20mm, 21mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm

Pros:

  • A wide angle lens is lightweight, great for hiking and throwing in a backpack!
  • A wide angle provides more depth of field, creating more in focus images.

Cons:

  • Wide angle is not great for achieving compression (also known as bokeh or a blurry background).
  • Wide angle can create distorted images.

wide lens

Telephoto Lenses

The specialty of a telephoto lens is that they are used to photography subjects/scenes from a very far away! A telephoto lens can also zoom, meaning that telephoto lenses don’t necessarily fall into the fixed focal lengths “prime” category.

A telephoto lens is the best when it comes to photographing nature and wildlife (basically when you don’t want to irritate the majestic lion that seems on the hungry side). This lens is perfect for planet/star photography and for photographing sports (like surfing or from the sidelines of a football game).

Types of Telephoto Lenses: 70-300mm, 100-400mm, 300mm, 400mm, 600mm

Pros:

  • This lens is great for wildlife, sports and astronomy photography!
  • You can shoot in one stationary position with this lens.
  • Shallow depth of field, meaning more great blur in the background!

Cons:

  • They tend to be heavy, and often require the use of a tripod.
  • Really expensive!

telephoto lens

Fisheye Lenses

A fisheye lens is basically one that’s ultra wide-angle lens. This very specific lens is most often used in abstract photography, and allows you to capture the most panoramic view given by any other type of photography lens. This lens uses a particular type of “mapping” that purposely distort lines given a more convex appearance.

You’ll learn that a fisheye lens is often ( though not always) a prime lens. A fish eye lens also tends to offer a better maximum aperture, helping you you shoot easier in lower light.

As the name implies, a fisheye lens looks just like actual fish eyes, giving a panoramic view of anywhere from 100-180 degrees.

Fun fact: Most fisheye lens models are most often used commercially as security camera because they offer the widest view!

This photograph, by fisheye lens master Larry Beard, is abstract photography on fire. Check out his website if you want to be blown away!

Types of Fisheye Lenses:  Any range from 8-24mm

Pros:

  • Ultra-wide field of view, and panoramic features.
  • This lens is perfect for small spaces or wide landscapes.
  • Offer a better maximum aperture.
  • A great lens for abstract photography!

Cons:

  • Very specific uses, not great for portraits.
  • Major line distortion.

Macro Lenses

This type of lenses is better used for extreme close ups! This lens will show details of fine hairs on insects, water droplets on plants, or detailed shots of diamond rings.  This lens’ main goal is to reproduce a life size 1:1 image of your subject, similar to the human eye. Other lenses simply don’t let you get up close to focus so precisely.

Types of Macro Lens: Variety of prime focal lengths ranging from 50-200mm.

Pros:

  • Allows for extreme detailed shots (nature shots, wedding details, snowflakes, etc). Very precise!
  • Get magnification of subject (up to 5x it’s actual size).
  • Best quality image.

Cons:

  • This lens has a limited use (not necessarily great for portraits or general photography.
  • These lenses tend to be expensive.
  • Reported focusing issues (long focusing times and slower shutter speed).

lenses

There are great options for renting lenses, to avoid any buyer’s remorse if you discover that you don’t like a lens. Some photographers LOVE a zoom lens while others find these lenses cumbersome, just like others shoot only with fisheye lenses and find their niche in that area of abstract photography.

The point is, much like our individual identity, lens choices are very personal and there is no ONE right lens for any subject.  Enjoy the process of choosing the perfect lenses for you and your artistic personality!