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Understanding Glass – All About Different Digital Camera Lenses

By on March 7, 2013
portrait lenses

If you understand glass, then understanding camera lenses will be a lot easier.

Talking about the different kinds of digital camera lenses can be exciting and intimidating at the same time, as there are just so many lenses out there, and with lots of names and numbers which can just make things more confusing to really understand thoroughly.

As photographers, picking out our next lens is one of the most important decisions we can make. We must understand different factors about ourselves and the kind of photography we will be interested in to really pin point the best lens that will suit our needs. If you have been stuck with your 18-55mm f/3.5- 5.6kit lens for 1-2 years now and you feel like you need to change things up a bit then let me help you understand the various types of lenses available to you.

But before we talk about the varieties of lenses out there, let us start by taking a look at different technical terms like “focal length” and “aperture”. Let’s use our usual kit lens as an example, the 18-55mm f/3.5 – 5.6. The “18-55mm” part is the focal length which is defined as the lens’s magnification capability. The “f3.5 – 5.6″ part is the maximum aperture that your lenUnderstanding Camera Lenses 300x158 Understanding Glass   All About Different Digital Camera Lensess can provide. Aperture is defined as the opening which determines how much light can enter the lens. The smaller the f/number, the bigger the opening is, the bigger the opening, the more light the lens can accommodate.

I know it’s confusing but read it aloud repeatedly and you’ll soon get the hang of it. Aperture is important when buying lenses because better lenses have smaller f/numbers that can take better photographs in low light situations. Aside from that, smaller f/numbers are one of the factors that affect “bokeh” or the blur we see on backgrounds of certain pictures. If you are interested in producing better “bokeh” photographs then you should aim for lenses that have smaller f/numbers.

Now that we have covered some of the vital technical terms, let us now discuss wide angle lenses. Wide angle lenses are categorized in 3 types… wide, ultra-wide, and fish eye lenses. You may be familiar with fish eye as it’s often used as an effect in photo-editing software on personal computers and cellphone applications. The fish eye lens distorts the picture by bending straight lines around the midpoint of the image creating a circular effect. The fish eye lens is a creative addition to your collection but use it sparingly as some have often used the effect without real resolve.

Ultra wide angle lenses are defined as lenses that have a focal length shorter than 24mm. Ultra wide angle lenses or UWA are used primarily in tight rooms, enormous buildings, and subjects worthy of distortion. Wide angle lenses, on the other hand, have focal lengths shorter than 35mm and are primarily used for landscapes and enclosed spaces.what is a camera lens 300x210 Understanding Glass   All About Different Digital Camera Lenses

When a lens enters the 35mm to 50mm zone, it is called a normal lens. The normal lens or the standard lens produce what the human eye normally sees so the pictures that they produce tend to have that natural feel. Standard lenses are very versatile and can be used in street photography, landscapes, and even portraits.

If a lens exceeds the 50mm mark, it is technically called a telephoto lens, but the term is usually reserved for lenses that have focal lengths of 100mm and above. A sub category of telephoto lenses is the portrait lens which has a focal length of 50-100mm or anything in between. They are called portrait lenses because they are commonly used for such purposes. Telephoto lenses are great for bird and safari photography. They can also be used for action shots in sports photography and any subject that would require intense magnification. Although telephoto lenses are known to photograph distant subjects, they can also be used in landscapes and bokeh photography.

Let’s now move on to prime lenses. Prime lenses in short, do not possess a zoom mechanism. It is fixed on one focal point so you might find these kinds of lenses to be troublesome because of their lack in versatility. But prime lenses are the best for what they actually do. They produce images where the subject is sharp but the background is delectably blurred, they’re very advantageous in low light situations, and they are definitely faster compared to their zoom enabled counterparts.

Speaking of zoom enabled counterparts, zoom lenses are very convenient and versatile. Travel photographers prefer zoom lenses because they don’t need to bring a lot of different lenses with them thus minimizing the amount weight they have to carry. An example of a zoom camera is the 18-55mm which is the most common kit lens paired with entry level camera bodies. Another example is the 18-200mm which is called a “super zoom” because it covers an entire range of focal lengths from wide angle to telephoto.

about camera lenses 300x161 Understanding Glass   All About Different Digital Camera Lenses

The last type of lens that we will discuss is the macro lens. Macro lenses are used for close up photography of small objects like insects, flowers, coins, and even jewelry. This type of lens provides the highest amount of detail on small objects, which other lenses cannot provide, so consider this a must have if you are interested in nature photography.

The last thing to consider when buying a lens is what kind of photography you really are interested in. Think long and hard on what kind of images you want to produce. Are you willing to sacrifice convenience for sharper images? Or do you value versatility over quality? I have shared everything that you need to know, it’s now up to you to make that choice, and start to create something extraordinary to either sell online or just share with your family and friends, but understanding camera lenses beforehand will make it a lot easier when you finally decide to buy a new camera lens.

About Mike Chase


  1. Rachael

    March 11, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    What lens would you recommend for birth photography? I often deal with low light, so I would need a large aperture. I would also need a decent zoom range. Thanks

  2. Jaime

    June 12, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Wow, just found and read your page. You explained it so even I could understand, Thank You for that!
    I want to purchase a lens for my Nikon however I was wondering in lens other then the “Nikon” brand (since they appear less expensive). What do you think?

    • Administrator

      June 19, 2013 at 8:23 am

      sure… as long as it’s compatible with your camera – make
      sure it comes with a guarantee in case it doesn’t:)

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