As a beginner photographer, you might be wondering what the difference is between a wide-angle lens and a normal lens. Both of these types of lenses have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, and understanding these can help you take better photos.
Introduction: Understanding the Basics
Let’s start with some basics. A lens is an essential part of any camera. It is responsible for focusing light onto the camera’s sensor, creating an image. Different lenses have different focal lengths. It determines the angle of view and magnification of a lens.
By strict definition, focal length is distance between the lens and the camera’s sensor when the lens is focused at infinity. This distance is expressed in millimeters, or mm.
In practical terms, focal length affects how close or how far away you feel from your subject and how much of your scene can be viewed through the lens.
Wide Angle Lenses
Lenses with a short focal length captuer wider angles of view and offer less magnification. You can capture more of your scene, but aren’t as “close” to your subject. We call lenses with a short focal length “wide angle lenses” because they offer a wide angle of the scene.
Typically, lenses have a focal length shorter than 35mm are considered wide angle lenses. A 35mm, 24mm, or 14mm, or even a 14-24mm zoom lens would be considered a wide angle lens.
Sometimes, ultra-wide-angle lenses are called fisheye lenses. Fisheye lenses typically have a focal length between 8mm to 16mm, which provides an angle of view of up to 180 degrees. This extreme angle of view causes the lens to curve straight lines and exaggerate perspective, resulting in a distorted, almost surreal image.
Telephoto lenses have a longer focal length, offering greater magnification of your subject. When you use a telephoto lens, the subject should appear closer than if you just used your eyes to view them.
Photographers call that extension of view “reach.” You might hear us say a telephoto lens gives us great reach, so we can photograph far-away subjects more easily.
Telephoto lenses are sometimes broken down into two categories: medium telephoto lenses and super telephoto lenses. A medium telephoto lens has a focal distance of 85-135mm. A super-telephoto lens has a focal distance greater than 140mm.
The term normal lens is misleading. New photographers just use it to describe a lens with a focal length of about 50-75mm and closely replicate the field of view and distances we can see with our naked eye.
There’s nothing wrong with a wide-angle lens or a telephoto lens. They just offer a different perspective and can be used to enhance your photography as you like!
The longer the focal length, the narrower the angle of view and the higher the magnification, while shorter focal lengths capture wider angles of view and less magnification. Focal length is a crucial factor in determining the type of lens you need for specific photography genres such as portraits, landscape, or wildlife photography.
Focal length vs zoom
Don’t confuse focal length with zoom.
Focal length, as we said before, determines the magnification of your subject and field of view.
Zoom is a characteristic of camera lens, meaning it has a range of focal lengths that you can change by rotating part of the lens. For example, if you have a lens with a zoom range of 18-55mm, you can shoot at any focal length between 18mm and 55mm simply by adjusting the lens.
As you increase the focal length through the zoom range, your subject will be “zoomed in” or appear as if it’s gotten closer to you.
A lens that has only a single focal length is called a prime lens. A 35mm prime lens, for example, cannot zoom in and out to different focal lengths.
Wide angle lenses, normal lenses, medium telephoto lenses and super telephoto lenses can all be zoom lenses. There are also wide angle and telephoto prime lenses, as well as prime normal lenses.
Using Lenses for Different Types of Photography: Portrait, Wildlife, Landscape, Architectural, and More
So why does this matter? Depending on what you’re shooting and your goals for the image, you may want to use a wide-angle or normal lens. Or even a telephoto lens.
For example, portrait photographers often prefer a normal or telephoto lens. These lenses are more flattering to subjects and have less distortion, so a human’s proportions look correct in the photograph.
Wildlife and sports photographers often use telephoto lenses to capture distant subjects, and get them closer to the action without physically being there.
Landscape photographers may prefer wide-angle lenses to capture expansive views. Architectural photographers may need to use a normal lens to avoid perspective distortion and ensure straight lines.
The Benefits of Wide-Angle Lenses: Perspective Distortion and Exaggerated Perspective
One of the main benefits of a wide-angle lens is that it can create perspective distortion, which can be used creatively to create unique and compelling images. This is especially useful for architectural or interior photography, where a wide-angle lens can exaggerate the perspective and create a sense of depth in the image. However, it’s important to note that perspective distortion can also make distant objects appear smaller than they actually are, so it’s not always the best choice for every situation.
The Advantages of Normal Lenses: Natural Images and Selective Focus
On the other hand, a normal lens can create images that are more natural and true to life. They also tend to have a shallower depth of field than wide-angle lenses, meaning that you can create more selective focus and blurred backgrounds. This is particularly useful for portrait photography, where you want to isolate your subject from the background.
Camera Gear: Choosing the Right Lens for Your Camera Body
One thing that can affect the focal length is your camera’s sensor.
Mirrorless and dlsr cameras have different types of sensors. A full-frame camera, for example, has a larger sensor than a crop-sensor camera.
For example, if a lens has a focal length of 50mm and is mounted on a full-frame camera, the angle of view captured by the lens will be the lens’s natural angle of view. However, if the same lens is mounted on a camera with a smaller sensor, the angle of view will be reduced, and the image captured by the lens will have a narrower field of view. This is because the smaller sensor captures only the central portion of the image that the lens projects.
The crop factor of a camera is a multiplier that tells you how much the angle of view is reduced when using a lens designed for a full-frame camera on a camera with a smaller sensor. For example, if a camera has a crop factor of 1.5x, a 50mm lens will effectively become a 75mm lens (50mm x 1.5), and the angle of view captured by the lens will be narrower.
Therefore, it’s important to take the crop factor of your camera into consideration when selecting camera lenses. A lens with a shorter focal length may be more appropriate for a camera with a smaller sensor, while a longer focal length lens may be more suitable for a full-frame camera. It’s also important to keep in mind that the crop factor effect only applies to lenses designed for full-frame cameras, and lenses specifically designed for cameras with smaller sensors will not be affected by crop factor.
And even if you don’t have a dslr or mirrorless, camera, you can still be creative. Use the different smartphone camera abilities to shoot with a wide-angle or normal field of view.
Experimenting with Different Lenses: How to Capture More Compelling Images
Just because some expert says a wide-angle lens is best for landscape photography doesn’t mean you can’t be creative!
Experiment with different focal lengths and create more varied and interesting images. Just keep in mind that there will be an obvious difference in the images captured by each lens, so be mindful of those differences as you work.
Choose a wide-angle lens for a family session and shoot from story-telling perspective. Use a long telephoto lens to photograph landscapes.
The Importance of Post-Processing: Enhancing Your Images with Photo Editing Software
Once you’ve captured your images, you can use photo editing software to further enhance your photos and bring out the best in your images. With the right gear and a bit of practice, you’ll be well on your way to creating stunning and unique images with both wide-angle and normal lenses