Commonly Used Lens Types

Article 2 min
Explore different types of commonly used lenses, their purpose and uses.

There are three basic types of lenses for DSLR cameras: normal, telephoto and wide angle. Explore each type to determine which lens is appropriate for capturing the image that communicates the message you are trying to convey.

Image of three lenses and a lens focal length for each:  normal lens (24-70mm),  telephoto lens (300mm) and wide angle lens (14-24mm).
Three basic types of lenses: normal, telephoto and wide angle and their respective lens focal length.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 200805-D-ZW071-0002

The normal lens is a standard lens for everyday use. It provides a moderate working distance from the subject. 

Best Uses:

  • Situations when it is essential to reproduce a scene exactly as it appears with the naked eye
  • Especially useful for investigative photography

Advantages

  • Speed of lens allows for faster shutter speeds
  • Allows the ability to shoot in low light conditions
  • Generally lightweight and compact

Disadvantages

  • Can be moderately expensive

This is an example of an image taken with a normal lens. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Image of a service dog with person in the background labeled,  "Normal Lens."
This is an example of an image taken with a normal lens.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 200805-D-ZW071-0003

The telephoto lens affects perspective by making subjects that are far away appear closer. This compression is known as a telephoto effect.

Best Uses:

  • Situations where you cannot or do not want to get close to the subject
  • For portraits as they provide a greater working distance from the subject
  • When the background should be blurred

Advantages

  • Allows for a shallow depth of field

Disadvantages

  • Heavier, bulkier and usually more expensive
  • Must be focused more accurately
  • Magnifies camera shake
  • Requires a shutter speed at least equivalent to their focal length to handhold effectively

This is an example of an image taken with a telephoto lens. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Image of two fire fighters in hazmat suites hosing a fire labeled, "Telephoto Lens."
This is an example of an image taken with a telephoto lens.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 200805-D-ZW071-0004

The short lens does not magnify the subject; instead, it shows the opposite. Images will appear smaller than what is seen with the naked eye. The wide angle lens is a short lens that causes an apparent distortion of perspective by making objects very close to the lens seem larger than an object of the same size that is farther away.

Best Uses:

  • Situations where you are physically prevented from getting far enough away from the subject to fill the frame, such as in small rooms and tight spaces
  • For fast-moving situations when you do not have time to refocus for every shot
  • When it is desirable to have the whole scene in focus
  • Situations that warrant a greater depth of field
  • When you want to distort perspective as a special effect (in accordance with DoDI 5040.02)

Advantages

  • Allows for larger depth of field
  • Useful in small spaces
  • Handheld with slower shutter speeds equivalent to their focal length

Disadvantages

  • Generally bulkier and heavier

This is an example of an image taken with a wide angle lens. Photo by DINFOS PAVILION Team
Image of two fire fighters in hazmat suites hosing a fire labeled, "Telephoto Lens."
This is an example of an image taken with a wide angle lens.
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 200805-D-ZW071-0005

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