A photographer is only as good as their creative toolkit, and that includes their lens of choice. Newcomers to the world of photography may be a little hesitant on committing to one lens, curious to explore the full spectrum before settling down – and if that’s you, we’re about to break it down to make your search for the perfect lens a little easier. First things first.
Focal length is measured in millimetres and describes the zoom capabilities of a lens, with a higher number meaning bigger zoom – whereas a lower focal length is better suited to wide shots. Put simply, the higher your lens’ focal length, the less you will be able to capture – and the closer you’ll be able to get.
Maximum aperture, measured in f-stops, refers to the maximum amount of light gathered by your lens – with larger maximum apertures capable of letting in much more light. Your maximum aperture can be used in low-light contexts and produces a shallower depth of field, creating an image where only your focal point is shown in crisp focus.
Tony Howell, tonyhowell.co.uk
The Wide Angle Lens
Wide angle lenses generally have a focal length of 24-35mm – available as either primes or zooms, and with either a fixed or variable maximum aperture. The wide angle lens, as you might expect, gives you a significantly wider field of view, and can achieve a particularly low minimum focusing distance – ideal for those up close and personal shots.
Subject: This one’s all about the background, so buildings, landscapes and group shots are a breeze with a wide angle lens. Or for a unique portrait shot, use wide angle lenses to place your subject in a contextual background.
The Telephoto Lens
A telephoto lens generally has a focal length beyond 70mm – some even surpassing 135mm – offering an incredibly narrow field of view. This makes them perfect for capturing faraway subjects and finer details, bringing distant objects closer and compressing the sense of distance between various components. The narrow depth of field afforded by a telephoto lens allows your central subject to stay in focus, while both the foreground and background remain blurry.
Subject: Ideal for sports and wildlife photography where you’d struggle to get up close and personal with your subject, as well as portraits and landscapes in need of a sense of relative scaling.
Stu Cooper, cooper-photography.co.uk
The Macro Lens
Macro lenses are capable of production ratios beyond 1:1, meaning your subjects can be photographed to scale. The term ‘macro’ is generally attributed to any lens used for extreme close-ups, with a focal length of 40-200mm. With macro, photographers can achieve an exceptional level of sharpness and detail, although with a lesser depth of field than other lenses – meaning very little of the image will be in focus.
Subject: The macro lens’ close-up capabilities make it ideal for nature and wildlife photography, as well as portraits – credited by their ability to enhance subjects with their superior sharpness ideal focal length.
The Fisheye Lens
Less conventional than telephoto or macro lenses, fisheyes are essentially ultra-wide angle lenses, capable of some powerful visual distortion – producing a hemispherical or panoramic image. Lines of perspective are bent spectacularly with a fisheye lens, giving your subject a trademark convex look. The fisheye lens generally has a focal length of 8-10mm for circular images, or 15-16mm for a full frame image.
Subject: Originally known as “whole-sky lenses”, fisheyes are capable of capturing an immense field of view – making them an offbeat but legitimate choice for street, landscape and art photography – as well as being a favourite among scientific photographers when capturing the heavens.
Keith Cooper, northlight-images.co.uk
With the help of the right equipment, combined with a trained artistic eye, photographers can excel in in any medium and begin to develop a style that suits their approach and perfectly complements their skillset.