The main types of lenses

Lenses - article from Radozhiva

Lenses - article from Radozhiva

I tried to write as compact as possible about everything main types of lenses on a short list. Lenses differ in different ways, such as: focal length, aperture, purpose and image quality. I will not categorize them. Each type requires a separate huge article, but I know for myself that only a few will be interested in reading it. Ordinary users of digital SLR cameras just need to quickly figure out what is what, without unnecessary complex details.

Lenses have in their name a whole a bunch of different numbers, letters, and strange expressions. The most important lens parameters are its focal length and aperture value... Focal length, roughly speaking, says how much the lens brings the image closer or further away from you, how far or close the lens can 'see'. Focal length can be proper and equivalent (effective).

It is often understood that focal length is responsible for the angle of the field of view... The focal length is indicated in millimeters (mm or mm). For example, 50mm, 35mm or 85mm (read as 85 millimeters). The lower the number in the focal length designation, the 'wider' the lens sees. One number is indicated for prime lenses. For zoom lenses, two numbers are indicated, for example, 70-210mm, 17-50mm, 200-400mm. The values ​​can be anything, the values ​​depend on frame sizefor which the lens is built. How to translate the focal length into degrees of the viewing angle can find here.

The aperture value (relative aperture) is indicated as an F. For example, F4.5, or F / 4.5, or f4.5 or f / 4.5, etc. Also, instead of the number F, they often write “1: x”, for example 1: 4.5 (read as “one to four and five”). For prime lenses, write one F number, for example F2.8 or F5.6 (read as “fif five and six”). For zooms, two F numbers are written, for example F / 2.8-4,5 or F / 3,5-5,6.

You can find different writing methods. But the meaning is the same. For zoom lenses, the numbers indicate the aperture values ​​for the extreme focal length positions. For example, the designation 18-55mm f / 3.5-5.6 means that at 18mm focal length (at the wide angle, at the 'short end'), the maximum aperture will be f / 3.5, and for 55mm (at the 'long end' of the lens) the maximum the aperture value will already be F / 5.6.

There are zoom lenses for which only one value is displayed clean F. For example, for Tokina 12-24mm f4 at different focal lengths, the maximum aperture remains constant at F / 4. I recommend reading about the difference in the concepts of 'aperture' and 'aperture' in my article 'Aperture'.

And so, here are the types of lenses that I often hear:

Fix (fixed lens, discrete lens, Prime lens, Fix-focal lens) - lens with one focal length value. No zoom, because he has a focal length FIXtied. Basically, it has very small aperture numbers F. It is often said that fixed lenses have a large aperture. An example of a fixed lens is Nikon 50mm F1.8G or Canon EF 85mm 1: 1.8 USM. The name of the lens most often indicates only one number for the focal length in millimeters and one number with the letter F. Because of the huge aperture ratio, such lenses are rarely called fast (fast lens), this name is due to the fact that such lenses allow you to shoot on short 'fast' exposures.

Zoom (zoom lens, zoom lens, zoom lens, Zoom lens, Zoom Lens) - zoom lens. Zoom is also called 'zoom', it changes the focal length of the lens, thus changing the angle of view of the lens. They say that such a lens is able to 'zoom in' and 'remove' the picture. An example of a zoom lens is Nikon 35-70mm f / 2.8 AF-D. Zooms are constant aperturethat does not change when zooming, and with a variable aperture: in such a lens aperture changes at different values ​​of the focal length, about it is already written a little higher.

SuperZoom (Ultrasound, UltraZoom, MegaZoom, SuperZoom) Is a zoom lens with a large zoom factor. Such a lens can operate at very different focal lengths.

How to find the zoom ratio? Quite simply, you need to divide the larger number in the lens designation by the smaller one. For example, a zoom of 18-105VR gives 5.8x magnification. Indeed, 105mm / 18mm = 5.8 times. Kit lens 18-55mm gives 3x zoom. The zoom ratio is usually denoted by 'X', for example, 3X, 5X, 12X.

Fast lens (fast lens, bright lens, fast lense) - lens with large aperture. Often under aperture and the diaphragm understand the same thing. Therefore, a fast aperture simply has a small F number, starting from F2.8 and lower, but you can often find another division. there is super-fast lensesEg Nikon 50mm F1.2MF. An example of a fast lens is Nikon 50mm F1.4G, Tamron 17-50mm F2.8.

Whale lens (whale, whale lens, kit lens) - lens from the kit that comes with the camera. Usually, a whale lens means an entry-level lens, but this is not always true. An example of a whale lens is Canon EF-S 18-55mm f / 3.5-5.6 III, Nikon 18-55mm F / 3.5-5.6, Sony DT 3.5-5.6 / 18-55 SAM or SMC Pentax-DA 1: 3.5-5.6 18-55mm AL WR.

Manual (manual lens, manual focus lens, manual, non-autofocus) - a lens with which you can shoot only focusing with your hands. An example is Helios-81N, Nikon 200mm F / 4.0 or Canon Lens FD 55mm f / 1.2 SSC.

Manual chip lens - a lens with which you can shoot only by focusing with your hands, but with the addition of a special microcircuit that simulates some functions of an autofocus lens. You can read more about this in the section about Lushnikov's dandelion.

Autofocus lens - a lens that supports auto focus. Focusing is carried out by the camera or lens automatics. Nikon has different methods of autofocus implementation (see details in the section Nikon lens differences).

Wide-angle lens (wide, wide-angle, wide lens, wide-angle lens) - a lens whose focal length is less than the lens frame diagonal. Usually they just say that such a lens gives a wide angle of view. With this lens you can 'capture' a lot of space in the frame. I will not tie this concept to certain focal length values, since there is a lot of confusion due to the different film sizes and matrices of digital cameras, for example, for crop and full frame (full frame). There is also a subdivision for super wide-angle lens.

Normal lens (standard lens) - a lens whose focal length is approximately equal to the diagonal of the frame. For example, 35mm film and full-format digital cameras have a frame diagonal of 43,27mm, for such a frame diagonal a 50mm lens can be considered a normal lens. These lenses give natural normal an image that looks like what the human eye sees.

Telephoto lens (Telephoto lens) - a lens with a large focal length. Usually the focal length should be noticeably larger than the diagonal of the frame. This lens gives a narrow angle of view, so we get a strong approximation of what we are shooting. Such lenses are most often used for shooting distant objects, for example, for shooting nature, sports, astrophotography, etc. There is also a subdivision for short telephoto lenses, medium telephoto lenses and super telephoto lenses (telephoto lens, medium telephoto, super telephot) - these divisions are highly subjective.

Portrait lens (portrait lens) - a lens with which you can take a good portrait. The notation is rather arbitrary. Portrait lenses are usually understood as fast lenses without distortion. Usually such a lens is good at blurring the background and foreground. You can often find that high-aperture telephoto lenses are referred to as portrait lenses. Classic portrait lenses for 35mm film or full frame are Canon EF 85mm 1: 1.8 USM, Nikon 85mm F / 1.8D AF Nikkor и Asahi Opt. Co. Super-Takumar 1: 1.9 / 85, Soligor Tele-Auto 1: 2.8 f = 135mm In fact, any lens can be portrait, but not all lenses can do what the photographer intended.

Macro lens (macro lens, macro lens) - a lens that can capture small objects in close-up. A real shooter should shoot at 1: 1 magnification. An example would be Nikon 105 mm f / 2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor, Wave 9 50 mm F2.8 MC MACRO or Tamron SP AF 90 mm 1: 2.8 Di MACRO 1: 1 etc.

Professional (prof. Lens, pro lens) - a lens of improved design, designed for heavy loads, such lenses give a good quality of the original image and assume a fairly deep wallet for the owner. The concept is conditional, but seriously affects the dignity of the photographer. These lenses include Nikon 24-70 mm f / 2.8G ED AF-S N Nikkor, Nikon 28-70 mm f / 2.8D ED AF-S Nikkor, Nikon 80-200 mm f / 2.8D ED AF Nikkor

Specialized lens (special lens) - a lens that can produce an unusual picture. These could be

  • soft lenses, longer term "soft focus lens"
  • Monocle lenses. What is it, read in my article monocle
  • title shift lenses - lenses with shift and tilt of the optical axis
  • movie lenses, projection lenses, reproduction lenses, lenses from photographic enlargers, etc.
  • lenses for astronomy, for military affairs, industrial lenses, lenses for night observation, medicine, etc.

Ordinary people most often never in their life use specialized lenses, so I do not focus on them. I specifically do not seriously address the issue of lens quality, there can be a million different opinions and arguments on this subject, since all lenses have different tastes and colors.

It is important how to take pictures, and not using any equipment. Therefore, for this article I shot spring sketches to dilute a boring text. Filmed on the simplest Nikon D40 and the simplest non-autofocus, manual, very old, zoom-free lens, unchipped, Soviet, without the Helios-81N MC adapter. All untreated, mid-range on-camera JPEG with neutral picture management, reduced size and imprinted data from EXIF - no magic.


Due to the fact that no universal lens, which could combine all the qualities of different fixes and zooms and provide coverage for all ranges of focal length, you have to use several lenses in turn. Each lens has its own purpose and will be useful in different tasks.. You can also read interesting thoughts on the subject of zoom and fixed lenses.

Share and like article Thank you for attention. Arkady Shapoval.

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Comments: 230, on the topic: The main types of lenses

  • Ivan

    Hello. The more I read your site, the more doubt I have))). Your advice on optics is very necessary. I have optics 50 1/8, 35 1/8, so I think it's worth changing 50 1/8 to 50 1/4 and buying 85 1/8, and I'm also very interested in which lens to take, which is not very expensive with a constant aperture and 17 to 70 mm?

  • Svetlana

    Tell me, I have a Canon 550 and an 18-55 and, 50 f / 1.4 lens. I need a strong approximation, which advise the lens (for travel), preferably not very expensive. Thanks!

  • Love

    Good day, Arkady. Like most readers of your articles, I am very grateful to you for such an understandable topic. Nothing superfluous, everything is concrete and understandable. Thank you for that. I ask you for advice. I need a fast zoom lens for my Nikon D800. Needed in order to shoot portraits, perhaps landscapes, small groups of people. I currently use AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm 1: 3,5 - 5,6 G ED.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Portraits, landscapes and companies of people are very different directions. From aperture for a portrait 70-200 2.8 is good, for groups of people 24-70 2,8. For landscapes 16-35 4.0

      • Love

        Thank you very much, Arkady, for not leaving me unanswered. I will keep in mind and slowly gain experience.

  • Ales

    Good afternoon, Arkady. Please advise the lens for nikon 3100. I rent children everywhere and always: for a walk, at home, day and evening. I try to use the flash less, but it doesn’t always work out clearly. I also don't have enough zoom. But from very expensive advise. And further. For some reason, the settings get lost when I switch from one mode to another. For example, from a portrait in a car.

  • Zhenya

    Good day Arkady.
    Your resource enlightened me very much in matters of photographic equipment and lenses, thank you very much for that.
    I think I’ll take a Canon 600 \ 650, the whale lens offers 18-55 with and without a stabilizer. The difference in price is 400 UAH. Not that much, but does it make sense to overpay for the stabilizer on the lens with such an angle?
    maybe it’s better to take 18-55 without a stabilizer, and add the difference to the purchase of a 70-300 lens?

    With uv. Evgeny

  • Vladimir

    Good afternoon Arkady. Please your opinion on the Nikon 12-24mm f / 4G ED-IF AF-S DX and its main application. Thanks.

  • Alexey

    Arkady !! please tell me which lens to buy for work in a night club?!?!? Carcass canon 5d markII. I think canon EF 35 / 1.4 l or better some kind of zoom !?

  • Oleg

    Greetings Arkady. I bought a Pentax k-30 with kit 18-55 AL. I have old Industar and Helios lenses, but for some reason I can’t catch the sharpness. The viewfinder is normal, but the result is “soapy”.

  • Gennady

    Hi Arkady! I'm interested in your opinion about the wide-angle nozzles that are wound around the lens, I'm sure you had to experience this. Thanks.

  • Victor

    Arkady, tell Helios 81H on the NikonD5000 will work and how focus confirmation will be implemented. And where can I order it and at what price. Thank you.

  • Alexandra

    hello, could you tell me which one is still better to buy a portrait, I have a Nicon D 7000 camera. for example, my friend has a lens portrait Canon Lens EF 50 mm 1: 1.8
    is there anything better than him? but not very expensive

  • anonym

    Good day! I want to ask. Tell me which portrait portrait is suitable for Sony A65. I want to achieve perfectly beautiful portrait shoots

  • lylya

    Good day! I want to ask. Tell me which portrait portrait is suitable for Sony A65. I want to achieve perfectly beautiful portrait shoots

    • Arkady Shapoval

      SIGMA AF 85 f / 1.4 EX DG HSM for Sony would be a good option

      • Nina

        Hello, Arkady. I am a beginner photographer, I plan to buy a Canon 60 d 18-135mm (EF-S, f / 3.5-5.6 IS), the budget is limited, in your opinion, in order to shoot professionally is it weak or?

  • Vitalina

    I have Nikon d3000, standard lens 18-55 ... What lenses would you recommend next?
    For the mountain landscape and architecture?

  • Igor

    Hello, Arkady. On my nikon d3100 at the moment the lens is Nikon 18-105mm f / 3.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S DX NIKKOR, I want a faster lens, with a better picture, better bokeh lens. There is also a Helius 81n / 2.0, but it is only for unhurried filming. I stopped at the Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM, first I wanted the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50 mm f / 1,8G, but I realized that sometimes the zoom is ok, and the wide angle is in demand. Can you advise more options. Sincerely, Igor. And thanks for the interesting side!

  • gene

    Tell me, is it worth changing the 18-55 kit to the 18-105 kit or tell me which lens to add the 18 camera to the 55-3100, or your version of the lens for shooting children, portrait, landscape.

    • anonym

      then 18-200

  • Elena Smirnova

    Hello! Advise a crop camera (I tend to Nikon D90, but I will consider your advice for both Nikon and Canon) and a fixed lens. purpose of shooting: newborn babies in ordinary apartments (without flash and the ability to move far from the subject). interested in close-ups. tell me a normal lens, not the cheapest, but not exorbitantly expensive ...

    • anonym

      Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50 mm f / 1,8G,

  • Dilshod

    Good day, Arkady! Very interesting article, thank you very much. I have a question for you: we bought a Canon 500d body, we don’t know which lens to take, in principle, the budget allows us to take more expensive, we are amateur photographers, but we are thinking about developing and therefore I want to immediately take a good one for nature photography and portraits. Please advise. Thank you in advance

  • koksalek

    Good day! I plan to take the Pentax K 5-II with a standard lens. I want another lens for filming with a large (moderately) approximation. Advise a couple of reasonably priced lenses. Thanks!

  • Elena Smirnova

    Thanks for your answer, anonymous! Another question: does it make sense to take a Nikon 5200 carcass (fresh version) instead of the outdated d90? After all, the af-s lens will focus on 5200, so why do we need motor carcasses? if they advise taking af-s lenses, but they do not advise more affordable af ... I got confused in 3 pines - in d90, d7000 and d5200 ...

    • anonym

      d7000 will be better, and a fast lens to it!

    • anonym

      and I agree, and the d3100 can be perfectly shot, the SB700 flash. lens 35,1.8 or 50-1.8

  • Dmitry (anonymous)

    Elena, it’s better to spend money on a good lens and flash, and you can make great pictures with Nikon 3100! For myself, Nikon 3200 would take.

  • Marina

    Can you please tell me ... I want to buy an L-class canon lens to blur the background well ... So that I could not only carry out a single photo session with them, but also a family one ...
    Thanks in advance!

  • marina

    And the price is up to $ 1000

  • Dmitriy

    Canon EF 24-105mm f / 4L IS USM ,,,, but the fix draws more beautifully than bokeh.

  • Elena Smirnova

    For my purposes (described above) I was advised Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50 mm f / 1,8G, ... please explain why 35 1.8 is worse for these purposes (shooting newborn close-ups)? It's just that some people advise him, like 50 is a lot and inconvenient, and 35 is just right ... or at 35 I won't take a close-up? Forgive me for such primitive questions, there is no way to try everything in practice, so I ask you to go and buy and understand ...

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