All The Camera Lenses You’ll Need, (Ever)
Camera Lenses, these are all the common ones, and all you’ll ever need. They’ll take care of all your photographic needs.
Whether you specialise in one genre of photography or not, these Camera Lenses will suffice.
In this article I’ll look briefly at the different types of Camera Lenses used in photography everyday.
Most photographers wont own or ever use all of these Lenses. That said, all of them will be used. Some of them will be useful by photographers specialising in different types of photography.
Different cameras and their Lenses
To take a picture you expose the camera’s sensor to light. When you press the shutter it opens the Lens briefly to let the light in.
Cameras either have a fixed Lens or interchangeable Lenses. The ones with interchangeable Lenses offer more scope to the photographer than Cameras with fixed Lenses.
Fixed Lens Cameras are Compact Cameras, often called Point and Shoot, and Bridge Cameras. Some of these, particularly Bridge Cameras have very big zoom ranges.
Interchangeable Lens Cameras are Compact System Cameras, ( CSCs ), Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras, ( DSLRs ), and Medium Format Cameras.
The ability to use different Camera Lenses allows the photographer to be more creative, than with fixed Lenses.
No Camera will refuse to take a photograph of anything. However the photo from an interchangeable Lens Camera will probably be better in most cases.
The various Camera Lenses specialise in the different images they take.
It’s not all down to the Lens, the size of the sensor also plays a part. The fixed Lens Cameras generally have smaller sensors.
Within the interchangeable Lens Camera line up, the sensors vary in size also. Sensors are another story though, in this article the subject is Camera Lenses.
There’s quite a variety, all capable of producing different photos. Saying that though, there are some photos that more than one Lens can take.
DSLRs have Interchangeable Camera Lenses
DSLR cameras come with two different sensor sizes. There’s Full Frame and APS-C sensors. All the major manufacturers who make DSLRs, produce both.
In general the Lenses that are used on Full Frame DSLRs can also be used on the APS-C models. The reverse is not the case.
If you try to fit a Camera Lens built for an APS-C Lens to a Full Frame Camera it won’t work. It will break the mirror inside and effectively destroy the camera.
These are very versatile Lenses. You can zoom out to get a bigger area into the photograph. Then you can zoom in to include a lesser area, but in greater detail.
In general if the subject doesn’t make a pleasing composition, zooming in or out, might fix that. With a Wide Angle, a Standard and a Telephoto Zoom to hand, all possibilities are covered.
One Superzoom Lens will cover all but extreme wide or narrow shots. It will be more than sufficient for most everyday or holiday situations.
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Wide Angle Zoom Lenses
These Lenses are capable of cramming a huge amount into an image. There used often for landscape photography.
At the widest setting they shoot photographs with enormous detail. Most of detail is very small, getting smaller the farther away something is.
They are Zoom Lenses so they zoom in somewhat. However, even fully zoomed in, they take wide photographs.
Landscape is not the only thing they’re useful for, they’ve used for interiors also. Basically they can shoot everything in front of the photographer.
They come with different zoom ranges, some being wide than others. At the widest end they can range from 8mm or so to about 24mm.
At the narrow end they don’t go beyond 35mm. Few Wide Angle Zooms extend to more than half that distance though.
Two things to watch out for with these Camera Lenses are; distortion and including unintended detail in the shot.
Anything that is too close to the Lens will be distorted. Taking a portrait from very close range will result in the features closest being exaggerated. The result will be a caricature rather than a portrait.
Shooting wide open can result in the photographer including their feet in the photo. That’s not hard to avoid. When using a tripod though, it is easy to include the front legs of that.
Shooting with the light source behind the photographer introduces the possibility of incorporating their shadow in the shot. This can happen with any Lens, but more so with these.
Wide Angle Zoom Lenses on Adorama
Wide Angle Zoom Lenses on Amazon
For DSLRs, there is usually a Camera Lens supplied with a new Camera. The body can be bought separately, if the purchaser already has such a Lens, but is always available with one.
With a full frame DSLR this is usually a 24-70mm, and with an APS-C Camera it’s generally 18-55mm. There are alternatives if preferred by the purchaser. These usually have a greater range.
These are Standard Zooms. They offer photographs that are reasonably wide at one end, and can isolate some detail at the other.
The photos they take are great for starting photography. If you could only ever have but one Camera Lens, a Standard Zoom would definitely be one of the most useful. A Superzoom would be another.
Standard Zoom Lenses on Adorama
Standard Zoom Lenses on Amazon
Going beyond Standard Zooms, there’s Telephoto Zooms. These let you zoom in closer to pick out detail.
You can pick out and photograph detail at distance with these Lenses. They’re used a lot for wildlife and sport photography.
In wildlife photography you have to keep your distance with most animals. They wont hang around if they feel threatened. A Telephoto Zoom is vital to fill the frame from distance.
Again with sport the photographer can’t be in the middle of the action most of the time. Some sport takes place in confined areas, but most don’t. The photographer must stay away from the action but still get close up shots.
While not being vital for most other types of photography, a Telephoto Zoom is always useful.
When a photographer first wants to add another lens to their kit, a Telephoto Zoom is usually considered. My second Lens was one, and I don’t think I was untypical.
The one I bought was a 55-250mm. That is where they start from, 55mm. Few go beyond 800mm at the narrow end. That’s more to do with the cost of building and buying them, than the ability or desire to do so.
Popular Camera Lenses in this category would include; 55-250mm, 70-200mm, 70-300mm and 100-400mm. There are others.
Telephoto Zoom Lenses on Adorama
Telephoto Zoom Lenses on Amazon
The difference between Super Zoom Lenses and other Zoom Lenses is the range of the individual Lens. It’s much greater.
At the wide end Super Zooms start at the same place as Standard Zooms. At the narrow end they extend in Telephoto territory. Mostly to 300mm. There is one widely available at 18-400mm.
The problem with building Super Zoom Lenses is that it’s hard to keep the required standard beyond a certain range.
They’re not categorised by how close they zoom, but how many times greater the narrow end is than the wide end.
A 70-300mm Camera Lens has a range of 4.3x, a 100-400mm, 4x and a 60-600mm, 10x. They’re considered Telephoto Zooms.
An 18-200mm has an 11.1 range, a 16-300mm, 18.8x and an 18-400mm 22.2x. They’re categorised as Superzooms
Basically a zoom range of 10x or less is a Telephoto Lens and greater is a Super Zoom.
Super Zooms are great for travelling where you can bring one Lens rather than two or more.
An 18-250mm Super Zoom will have the exact range as an 18-55mm and a 55-250mm. It is a compromise though and the quality of the photos may be slightly inferior.
Super Zoom Lenses on Adorama
Super Zoom Lenses on Amazon
Prime Camera Lenses
Prime Lenses don’t zoom. They each have a fixed focal length. That can fall within the range of Wide Angle, Standard and Telephoto also.
All Zoom Camera Lenses are a compromise because they cover several focal lengths. Prime Lenses are more precise because they’re all optimised for a single focal length.
These Lenses generally give excellent picture quality. The construction is all focused on one focal length rather than several.
Prime Lenses have bigger maximum apertures than Zoom Lenses. This makes them much better at isolating a subject than a Zoom.
The wider aperture allows more light in. This allows the Prime Lens to take faster shots than a Zoom in the same situation.
In general, though not always, Prime Lenses are smaller and lighter. The facility to zoom adds extra parts and therefore more weight to Zoom Lenses.
Wide Angle Primes
Prime Lenses with focal lengths of 35mm and wider, ( smaller numbers ), are classed as Wide Angle Primes.
With all Prime Camera Lenses if you want to include more or less in a photo, you have to move. You can move closer, to get less in, or farther away, to include more of the subject.
If you’re shooting something close at hand, like a still life, that’s easily done. Shooting a landscape could involve a long walk to achieve this though.
Some people think a photographer should go walkabout occasionally with a single Prime Lens. It’s thought that more will be learnt by adjusting their stance rather than zooming in and out.
The widest Prime Lenses generally available are 8mm. They are extremely wide and will squeeze an enormous area into an image.
There’s a big difference between that and a 35mm Camera Lens, yet that still covers a big area.
Wide Angle Prime Lenses on Adorama
Wide Angle Prime Lenses on Amazon
Standard Prime Lenses
The standard Prime Lenses cover the focal lengths form 40mm to 55mm. Considering Prime Lenses are commonly available from 8mm to 800mm, this is a small fraction of that.
The standard range is a comfortable range to shoot within. Some casual photographers will never add to the Kit Lens their camera came with.
Those who buy a camera with more ambition can still enjoy themselves. It may be some time before they can afford a second lens, but they have a very useful one.
If a photographer only had a single Camera Lens, a Prime Lens, then one in this range would be best.
Useful enough as these Lenses are, I would be surprised if any photographer would be satisfied, with only this Lens.
Standard Prime Lenses on Adorama
Standard Prime Lenses on Amazon
Telephoto Prime Lenses
The Telephoto Prime Lenses start at about 85mm and they extend to where someone is prepared to build them.
They’re commonly available up to 800mm. Beyond that, they exist but they may be harder to locate.
The bigger ones like 500mm, 600mm and 800mm are very expensive.
These are particularly useful for wildlife photography. The photographer can get a close up shot from distance. This eliminates the possibility of them frightening the subject away.
A Telephoto Zoom Lens that zooms that close is also great for wildlife photography. They’re usually cheaper also.
Telephoto Prime Lenses are definitely the preferred choice for portraiture. The preferred lens here though is at the other end of the telephoto spectrum, at 85mm.
It allows sharper shots than Zoom Lenses. And off course it isolates the subject from the background better. A portrait looks better with the subject sharp, and the background blurred.
Telephoto Prime Lenses on Adorama
Telephoto Prime Lenses on Amazon
Now we get into the area of specialised Lenses. The first and possibly the most desirable of these are Macro Lenses.
Macro Lenses are usually Prime Lenses, in that they have a single focal length. Some Zoom Lenses are Macro Lenses also, though not very many.
They mainly produce very large, very detailed shots of small things. Those huge photos of insects that you see were taken with a Macro Lens.
They focus from a shorter distance than other lenses. Not only does this result in bigger images but incredible detail is possible.
In order to achieve this though, there can be absolutely no movement during exposure. That means a tripod is essential.
Macro Lenses are capable of taking other photos as well. They’re excellent for portraits.
The depth of field is very small, and smaller the closer the Lens is to the subject. Some times in this situation focus stacking is used to produce a sharp image.
To achieve this several photos are taken each with a different part in focus. The sharp parts of the photos are blended together, giving one final sharp photograph.
There’s more about macro photography here.
Macro Lenses on Adorama
Macro Lenses on Amazon
Another specialised Lens is a Fisheye Lens. Again this is a Prime Lens, and they shoot extreme wide angle photographs.
The photos produced by these Camera Lenses are distorted. In some shots the distortion is greater than others. It depends on the subject.
There are two types of Fisheye Lens, full frame ones and circular ones.
The full frame Fisheye Lens captures a photo which takes up the entire image, like most photographs.
A circular Fisheye Lens captures the entire subject in a circle. The rest of the rectangular or square image area is black.
The centre of both images is large, with the rest of the photo sloping away. The closer the part of the subject is to the Lens, the greater the distortion.
In a landscape photograph taken by a Fisheye Lens, if there’s no foreground item, the distortion is lessened.
A portrait with the subjects face close to the camera, will result in a caricature. This is also the case with a Wide Angle Zoom Lens.
There’s a full feature on fisheye photography here.
Fisheye Lenses on Adorama
Fisheye Lenses on Amazon
The last of the normal Camera Lenses are Tilt-Shift Lenses. Once again they are a specialised form of Prime Lens.
The Lens can be shifted or tilted in relation to the camera’s sensor. This changes the photograph that is being taken.
Adjusting the tilt feature changes the focus in the photograph. The shift feature shifts the optics in relation to the sensor.
When you take a photograph of a building with an ordinary lens, the sides of the building converge. The top of the building will look much narrower than the bottom.
Using a Tilt-Shift Lens, the shift feature can be adjusted to negative this. In that photo the walls will be straight all the way up.
These are the most specialised Lenses of all. This also makes the expensive. There isn’t a budget version of these.
More information about tilt-shift photography here.
Tilt-Shift Lenses on Adorama
Tilt-Shift Lenses on Amazon
Beyond these any other Camera Lenses are mere novelties. As they’re generally cheap, it won’t break the bank to try one.
Few if any photographers will ever need or use all these type of Lens. Most will be fully equipped with four or five, sometimes less.
A photographer shooting only portraits might only need two or three Prime Lenses. Most will have at least one Telephoto Lens though.
Most photographer would have a few Telephoto Lenses and perhaps a Prime or two.
While most wouldn’t bother with Fisheye and Tilt-Shift Lenses, very few wouldn’t like a Macro Lens.
Then a casual shooter might be well served with a single Superzoom or Standard Zoom Lens.
While this article has been about DSLR Camera Lenses, other interchangeable cameras have similar Lenses. The focal lengths will be different due to the different size sensors.