Lens Buying Guide – Types of Lenses – From Standard to Zoom

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Types of Lenses… What kind of lenses are there?

Now we get to the fun stuff. All the different types of lenses!

Lenses are typically grouped into categories that share the same attributes. These are standard, zoom, wide angle, telephoto, macro, and specialty lenses. Each type of lens is manufactured to fulfill certain uses. These can range from “multi-purpose” to specific applications, like telephotos lenses for nature or sports photography.

Standard (Usually part of a lens kit that comes with the camera)

As the name implies, these lenses are marketed as multi-purpose and are usually included in camera kits. With a focal length range of 28mm to 80mm and a popular fixed range of 50mm (for full frame 35mm cameras), these lenses have maximum f-stop size ranging from f/2.8 to f/5.6. Standard lenses are great for ideal lighting conditions, traveling, and general photography, they’re not suitable for trickier conditions like low lighting or fast movement.
Standard Lenses »

Prime Lenses

You’ve probably heard this term “prime lens” thrown around a lot when shopping for a lens, but just what does it mean?

50mm prime lens

Example of a “nifty fifty” 50mm prime lens

A prime lens is simply put, a lens that is fixed at a specific focal length and does not allow you to zoom in or out. That’s it. Pretty simple right?

Most prime lenses feature a maximum aperture opening anywhere from f/1.2 to f/2.8 (the exception to this is certain “super” telephoto focal lengths which max out at f/4 or slightly higher).

When shopping for a prime lens, it’s important to understand that there are advantages and disadvantages to shooting with a fixed-focal length.

Prime Lens Advantages

More Light – Because of their wider maximum apertures, prime lenses allow more available light to enter the sensor via the lens allowing you to shoot in less that ideal lighting conditions without having to increase your ISO settings.

Sharper Images – Even when shooting wide open (at full aperture), prime lenses tend to stay sharper that non prime lenses.

There are of course, exceptions to this that depend on the focal length and type of lens being used. Wide angle lenses for example will always distort the edges more than standard/portrait lenses due to the curve of the lens.

When using wide angle lenses, it’s a good idea to keep your subject in the center (also known as the “sweet spot”) of the lens so that they remain sharp.

Shallower Depth of Field – As you open up your aperture, you narrow your depth of field, isolating your subject from their surroundings in terms of sharpness and clarity.

In layman’s terms, your subject stays sharp and the background will start to become “softer” or “creamier” in terms of focus.

This is advantageous, especially when shooting portraiture, as it helps to keep your subject as the center of attention by blurring out any potential background distractions.

Potential Prime Lens Disadvantages

No Zoom – The one thing that you learn when shooting with prime lenses is that the only way to get closer or further away from your subject is to move your own body to do so, essentially making you act as the zoom feature that the lens lacks.

Price – Typically more expensive than non prime lenses, pricing can depend on a number of factors, including whether or not it’s a full-frame or non-full-frame lens as well as the maximum aperture size and focal length (usually getting more expensive as it goes wider and longer).

Common fixed focal length for prime lenses include:

Wide Angle Primes (mostly used for street photography or landscape)

Standard/Portrait Primes (also used for editorial, food and fashion)

Macro Primes

Telephoto/Super Telephoto Primes (mostly used for wildlife and sports)


It makes little sense to purchase several fixed focal length lenses; your collection would be massive and expensive, not to mention very heavy to carry! , Instead, zoom lenses are a smart alternative. Obviously, zoom lenses are designed to cover a range of focal lengths to accommodate a wide variety of shooting without having to change the lens.

Some small tradeoffs go along with using a zoom lens. For example, although they can cover a range of focal lengths and can be set at in between lengths like 33mm or 165mm, they are usually not as fast as fixed focal length lenses.

Clearly, their advantages far outweigh any potential disadvantages. They’re more portable and convenient; and they allow you to shoot distant subjects and bring them closer to you. Higher end zoom lenses offer a maximum aperture that remain constant through the focal length range, while less costly ones change their aperture through the range, resulting in a more compact lens.
Zoom Lenses »

Wide Angle

Lens Buying Guide Page 4 - Lens Types - Wide AngleNeed a wide angle of view? Wide angle lenses are ideal for capturing large subject areas whether it is landscapes, nature, outdoor scenes, or large groups. Any lens with a focal length much smaller than 50mm is considered a wide angle lens. Its design also allows for larger views in tight spaces. That makes it great for not cutting off important subject matter when increasing the distance between yourself and the subject is impossible.

Lens Buying Guide Page 4 - Lens Types - Wide Angle 2Another benefit of wide angle lenses is that they are great for accentuating the foreground keeping it super sharp. At the same time, wide angle lenses make the background seem much further away. A prominent foreground set against a receding background often results in a very pleasing effect. Compared to a standard lens, wide angles have a better depth of field and clarity. 24mm and 28mm are the most common focal lengths.
Wide Angle Lenses »


Essentially the exact opposite of wide angle lenses, telephoto lenses bring far off objects and subjects into close view. In general, focal lengths that are greater than 50mm are considered to be telephoto lenses. 70-120mm are deemed short telephotos or portrait lenses, 135-210mm as normal telephotos and 300mm or more as ultra or extreme telephoto lenses. Telephoto lenses narrow the angle of view (increasing magnification) and therefore are ideal for long distance shooting. These lenses are ideal for sporting events, nature/animal photography, and far off landscapes like mountains. There are fixed and zoom focal lengths available in the telephoto category.
Telephoto Lenses »


Lens Buying Guide Page 4 - Lens Types - Macro

© Claudia Meyer

Macro lenses are important to photographers who tend to shoot close-ups. That’s because, although they’re quite similar to standard lenses in most ways, macro lenses are engineered to focus at much shorter distances. Most often used in nature photography, these lenses magnify small objects like insects and flowers and captures immense detail and clarity. Other applications of a macro lens are in scientific photography and product photography. You’ll find that macro lenses can also act as a standard lens.

These lenses tend to have a higher f-stop number (which allows in less light) and therefore are not always ideal in low lighting situations. For subjects that are sensitive to movement (insects and animals, for example), macro lenses with longer focal lengths can be used.
Macro Lenses »


Lens Buying Guide Page 4 - Specialty lens

© Edwin Stemp

Specialty lenses have a distinct characteristic that distinguishes itself from other lenses. Take the fisheye lens, for example. An extreme wide angle lens, the fisheye has an average angle of view of a full 180 degrees. Covering this wide angle of view has its downside; the image ends up being distorted with the centre bulging out towards you and the edges pushed back. This convex distortion is widely used in extreme sports such as skateboarding and snowboarding, as it captures not only the boards but the rider as well.
Fisheye Lenses »

A shift/perspective lens is predominantly used in architectural photography. Shooting tall structures often requires that the camera be tilted to capture the entire subject in the frame. This leads to the structure distorting, appearing as if it was leaning. A shift/perspective lens is designed with mechanisms enabling you to adjust the front elements of the lens allowing you to shoot the subject with your untilted camera.
Tilt/Shift Lenses »

TeleConverters are a clever means of extending your focal length with your current lens. For professional lenses, it mounts in between your camera body and the lens, and in cameras where the lens is permanently attached to the camera, there are teleconverters that attach to the front of the lens.

Typical magnification sizes are 2x and 1.4x, with Nikon having a third 1.7x option. For example, if you have a 200mm lens, by adding a 2x tele converter, the focal length increases to 400mm lens. This provides a great alternative to purchasing another lens, since a tele converter is less expensive and generally more compact and lighter weight than its lens counterpart. However converters reduce the amount of light and therefore can make focusing a little harder. Also, a 1.4x teleconverter can make you lose one f-stop of lens speed; they also reduce overall image quality to a degree. Nevertheless, with the right lens and converter combination, it is possible to achieve very good results.
TeleConverters »