Let's talk lenses

You might never have even thought about lenses before, but they are a fundamental part of your camera, and can drastically affect your photos. There are two basic categories of lenses; prime, which have a fixed focal length, and zoom lenses, which allow you to change focal lengths and zoom in and out.

Whilst the added flexibility of a zoom lens may initially make it seem the better option of the two - they are heavier, bulkier, and slower than prime lenses. With a prime lens you are restricted to one focal length, however you get sharper image quality.

Don't let this dissuade you from a zoom lens! For beginners looking to explore different focal lengths they are an ideal option, being versatile and much cheaper than purchasing a series of different prime lenses.



Within these two categories there are a variety of different lenses with differing focal lengths available. You might want to go for something that will allow you to take a pretty broad range of photos, or, if you want something more specific, a lens that is a little more limited. It really depends on the kind of photos you are after and what is going to work for you.

When buying a lens - think about compatibility. You don't want to spend money on something that isn't going to fit and work with the camera body you already have. Also consider size and weight - do you want to lug something really heavy around, or add a huge lens that means you can no longer fit your camera in your bag? There isn't a wrong answer, these are just all things you want to take into consideration.


Which lens should you go for?

With lenses I find it helps to think of it as, the higher the number, the more close cropped in you will be. So a 35mm lens will give you a much wider field of view than a 200mm option.

If you are after an everyday lens, many people recommend 35mm or 50mm as starting points.


Photo by @coltonallanphotography. Taken on a 50mm lens.

A "normal" lens for 35mm photography is 50mm. This will give you approximately the same viewing distance as the human eye - so what you see will be translated exactly into what the camera captures. Bear in mind that this will change if you are shooting at a different format - for 6x6 medium format cameras, for example, an 80mm lens will give you this natural look.

A 35mm lens gives a slightly wider than normal angle of view, expanding the amount of background you can capture alongside your subject. This is going to produce a slightly different field of view and look to what the human eye sees - if you're after something wider with a bit more of a unique look, this is a great option to start with.


Photo by Matt Day - The difference between a 35mm lens (left) and a 50mm lens.

Macro lenses allow you to shoot close-up, capturing tiny subjects or product photography. Wide angle lenses will allow for large landscape shots, getting as much in the photo as possible and a fish eye lens will exaggerate this, narrowing the image to create the distinctive warped shape.


Photo by @coltonallanphotography. Taken on a 200mm lens.

Different lenses have different depths of field, so will, of course, produce changing effects. Here's a rough summary of what you can expect to see from the more common lens options.

16mm Lens

  • Angle of view: Very wide, perfect for landscape photography.
  • Depth of field: Everything is in focus. Impossible to have a shallow depth of field.
  • Distortion of space: Makes things seem farther away than they actually are. Exaggerates the size of anything very close to the camera.

35mm Lens

  • Angle of view: Wide, great for street photography - this is similar to what the camera on your phone would capture.
  • Depth of field: Pretty much everything is in focus unless your subject is very close to the camera.
  • Distortion of space: Less spatial distortion than a very wide lens, but it still makes things seem farther away than they actually are.

50mm Lens

  • Angle of view: Normal, the way the human eye sees the world, versatile - great for most kinds of photography
  • Depth of field: Easy to have a shallow or deep depth of field, depending on aperture range.
  • Distortion of space: Very little or none.

85mm Lens

  • Angle of view: Medium telephoto, great for portrait photography and isolating a subject from the background
  • Depth of field: Easy to get a shallow depth of field.
  • Distortion of space: Makes things seem closer than they actually are.

200mm Lens

  • Angle of view: Telephoto, best for picking out a subject some way off, and compressing subject and background.
  • Depth of field: Quite often has a shallow depth of field unless everything you’re shooting is quite far away.
  • Distortion of space: Makes things seem significantly closer than they actually are.

Photo by @jordisalesr. Taken on a 28mm lens. 

Cover photo by @jordisalesr

Author: Becca Knight 

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