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 camera lenses. The truth is, many 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 different types of camera lenses for different perspectives and compositions.

We are going to break down all the 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 length!

FOCAL LENGTHTYPE OF LENSTYPE OF PHOTOGRAPHY

18-55mm

Kit Lens

Landscapes, architecture, portraits, events
8-24mm Fisheye 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.

400-2000mm
Super-Telephoto LensAction shots, sports, wildlife, astronomy
17-35mm
Tilt-Shift Lens
Architecture, fine art
35-80mm
Infrared Lens
Black and white, infrared

Kit Lenses

Kit lenses are excellent companions for general-purpose photography because they rarely come in a focal length longer than 18-55mm. This type of lens is inexpensive and may even come as a complementary lens for your camera purchase. 

This lens is light and more compact than other camera lenses, making it perfect for photographers who are still in the early stages of photography. However, it is not very fast nor incredibly sharp, unlike other quality camera lenses. 

The moderate wide-angle focal range is suitable for taking realistic images of architecture, landscapes, and events. The 55mm focal end is also good for highlighting details and compressing perspective in portrait photography.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and moderate focal range.
  • Ideal starter lens.
  • Can serve as a short telephoto or wide-angle lens depending on the perspective. 

Cons:

  • Limited focal length. 
  • Tends to have slower autofocus. 

Standard Prime Lenses

A prime lens is a fixed focal length. A fixed focal length means that if you choose a 35mm lens, this standard lens will ONLY give you a 35mm perspective (meaning you can’t zoom in and out with these prime lenses). 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. Standard lenses 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 length 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, this focal length is about 1.5x longer focal.)

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

Pros:

  • Prime lenses usually delivers sharper images quality overall, compared to other different types of lenses.
  • Standard lenses tend to be light weight.
  • Standard lenses work 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 standard 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 camera 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

Zoom lenses are great due to their extreme versatility! Zoom lenses allow 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 zoom 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 variable aperture zoom lenses, 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 camera lens allows you to stay in one position while using the zoom feature.
  • This camera lens is GREAT for weddings, portraits and wildlife photography.

Cons:

  • Heavy camera lens.
  • Not as sharp as a prime lens.
  • This camera 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, as wide angle lenses allows you to gain a wider field of view. Landscape photographers tend to use a wide-angle camera lens to make sure they get the full scene of what they are photographing. Keep in mind that with wide-angle lenses, the lower the number focal lengths, the more that will fit in your frame.

Wide-angle lenses tend to distort images (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

A telephoto lens is used to photograph subjects/scenes from a very far away! These lenses can also zoom, meaning that these lenses don’t necessarily fall into the focal lengths “prime” category.

Telephoto lenses are great for photographing nature and wildlife (basically when you don’t want to irritate the majestic lion that seems on the hungry side). These lenses are 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

Super-Telephoto Lenses

With focal lengths ranging from 400mm to 2000mm, super-telephoto lenses let you magnify a subject without physically getting close to it. You can also consider super-telephoto lenses as sports or wildlife lenses as the focal length enables you to stay at a certain spot while focusing on faraway subjects clearly. 

This high-end lens normally offers an extremely shallow depth of field, especially with a low f-number to bring in more light. Depending on the look you’re looking for, the limited depth of field and compression can either be a downside or advantage in taking high quality photos. 

Types of Super-Telephoto Lenses: 400mm, 600mm, 800mm, 1000mm, 2000mm 

Pros:

  • Great for capturing distant subjects like wildlife and heavenly bodies.
  • Most super-telephoto lenses contain image stabilization. 
  • Works well with a crop sensor camera. 

Cons: 

  • Small minimum focusing distance of about two meters from the subject.
  • Huge, heavy, and expensive. 

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:

Cons:

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

Macro Lenses

Macro lenses are better used for extreme close ups! Macro lenses will show details of fine hairs on insects, water droplets on plants, or detailed shots of diamond rings

Macro lenses aim to reproduce a life-size 1:1 image of your subject, similar to the human eye. Unlike macro lenses, other camera lenses simply don’t let you get up close to focus so precisely.

Type 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 high quality image.

Cons:

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

Tilt-Shift Lenses 

Tilt-shift camera lenses distort perspective, making subjects appear smaller than their original dimensions or sizes. This is why these camera lenses are mainly used for architecture and fine art photography. These camera lenses are generally wide-angled, ranging from 17mm to 35mm. 

The tilt, shift, rise, and fall movements of this lens lets you manipulate the focal plane. The effect depends on how you adjust the position of the optics in accordance with the camera sensor. 

Type of Tilt-Shift Lenses: 17mm, 24mm, 35mm 

Pros:

  • Manipulates vanishing points of a scene. 
  • Reduces lens distortion to improve image quality.
  • Sharp focus with excellent saturation and contrast. 

Cons:

  • Heavier than typical camera lenses. 
  • Tends to have problems with auto exposure.

Infrared Lenses

Infrared lenses use the basic concept of capturing light, although they catch infrared light that is practically impossible for the human eye to see. 

Compared with other camera lenses, IR lenses play with light instead of perspective. This camera lens filters out all light waves except for infrared light to produce a unique visual effect. 

Types of Infrared Lenses: 35mm, 50mm, 80mm

Pros:

  • Optimizes camera performance regardless of the lighting condition. 
  • Captures what the naked eye cannot see. 
  • Removes focus shift problems to improve focus and image quality. 

Cons:

  • Inability to use a converted camera for anything other than IR photography.
  • Challenging learning curve. 

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 camera lenses for you and your artistic personality!