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

  • Dmitriy

    I will write from memory. Shooting portraits limits the distance to the subject (for fixing) where there will be no distortion of the face (the face will not be too large), all the same, the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50 mm f / 1,8G is more suitable for these purposes. But 35 is still more universal. And so I would say 50 more for the soul (and these are portraits), and the 35th to shoot the rest.

  • Elena Smirnova

    Dmitry, I understood everything, thanks!

  • Jeanne

    Dmitry, and yet I do not fully understand the difference between a macro lens and a lens with great light power. For example, Canon EF 135mm f / 2L USM or Canon EF 100mm f / 2.8L Macro IS USM?
    Thank you

  • Jeanne

    Oh, I beg your pardon) a question for the author of the article - Arkady !!

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Different minimum focusing distances, and indeed, lenses for different tasks.

  • Paul

    Hello everyone. I’m new to photography and I don’t understand how to highlight the main subject and blur the background. That is, I know how to select a large object and blur the background, but for example, how to clearly take pictures of my eyes and blur my face? Or how to photograph the title of a book that is written in large letters, and the small letters that are written next to blur. I have a Nikon D3100 camera with an 18-105 mm lens. Is it possible to do this with this lens?

  • Anna

    For me, a very good educational program and really liked the pictures! Thanks!

  • Victor

    Hello! You, Arkady, explain everything clearly on many issues. How much I don’t read on the net I can’t understand one thing? As soon as the lens is fast, especially with a fixed aperture, the price goes up significantly !!! And immediately the explanations of the type begin: their assembly is almost manual, the materials are not plastic, but metal, high quality lenses and the like. EXPLAIN: Why you can't take automated assembly, plastic, cheap lenses, etc. and MAKE A BIG "HOLE", what is the technical reason ??? Thanks in advance.

  • alexxx

    on cheap lenses a big hole gives a sharp image

    • Victor

      Yes, I don’t think so. Take an inexpensive whale lens, take a shot on a diaphragm. 11, and then at 3,5. And what? Will not be sharp? Nothing like this! Only the depth of field will change, and the object in the frame that the focus was on will be sharp as with 11 and 3,5.

    • Victor

      In my question, I meant not the cheapest, which is not much lower, but the usual Kit quality of the lens ...

  • Patriarch Nikon

    the technical reason is that an increase in aperture ratio entails an increase in the physical size of the lenses, which in turn is associated with complexity, and, accordingly, an increase in the cost of their manufacture.

  • Victor

    And here I do not agree. Why then are there cheap fast fixes?
    I'll try to answer myself, I already have experience with several Nikon lenses, maybe it will be interesting to someone. It's all about image distortion and sharpness that falls from the center of the frame to its edges, and this is especially noticeable in the largest holes. For this reason, using Nikon's 1.8G 35mm fixture is not recommended to shoot unnecessarily at a maximum aperture of 1.8, but to start from 2.2-2.8., Then the frame will be sharp in all its parts. And again? Why then are there cheap fast fixes ??? The fact is that nothing moves inside the fixture, all the lenses always remain at the same distance from each other, so the fix can be made with a minimum number of high-quality lenses, simplicity of design, and accordingly the price is low. Zoom is another matter! The lens groups “run” relative to each other when the FR is changed, and in order to have a picture tolerable in sharpness and distortion at the output at a large aperture, the lens design HAS BEEN SIGNIFICANTLY COMPLICATED, the number of groups and elements in these optical groups changes, and the quality of the lenses increases. This is the 1st reason for the rise in price! Next. Since “a big pile of expensive parts” has gathered, no one will clothe them in a cheap plastic case! - and this is the 2nd reason for the further rise in price! Well, and collecting all this automatically, too, somehow does not work: manual assembly - this is the third reason for the rise in price! Everything seems to be. Yes, mind you, on fixes 3 and 1.8 are easily done, and at zooms greater than 1.4, as a rule, they do not fall)))))

    • anonym

      In a fix, of course it moves inside when focus is brought in, I set it out a little incorrectly, but the essence should be clear.

  • Alexander

    Good afternoon!!! Could you please explain what “technical lens” means and is it suitable for taking photos?

  • Another Dmitry

    Oh and ah! I want to buy a camera. GOOD and RELIABLE. I started reading articles about cameras. Head spin. Some incomprehensible things are denoted by other obscure terms. I don’t understand a damn thing in the photo. Well, how, how to choose ??? I look at the Cenon 6D. I read. Simpler, simpler and more accessible. Your astrophysics causes headaches. Exclude professional slang. He is for the pros. EASY AND AVAILABLE !!!!!!!!!

    • Milan

      If you want to learn how to take pictures well, you should learn different terms.

  • Nicholas

    Hello ! After a year of using canon 600d, complete with kit 18-55 and Helios 44, I came to the conclusion that it is interesting for me to shoot portraits in the first one, and this does not bring the desired results with macro lenses. Especially in terms of macro! Could you advise a lens that could be used for portraiture and macro? Or maybe for macro use macro rings or lenses? Then again: which ones to take? confused.

  • Milan

    Thank you very much, everything is very clear

  • Dmitriy

    Hello! Tell me which is the best lens to take on the Nikon D7100, for portrait shooting ?? Thanks in advance.

    • Arkady Shapoval

      For d7100 will be a good option Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm 1: 1.4GN

  • Dmitriy

    and micro filming.

  • Dmitriy

    Well, for a portrait? Thanks

  • Dmitriy

    oh sorry Sorry, Arkady stepped !! I didn’t read above !!! many thanks.

  • Vlad

    I have some strange lenses from camcorders. Usually they were disassembled to pick out the engine, well, for all kinds of lenses and bearings. In general, how can you attach a non-standard lens to the camera? or is it not worth it?

    but most likely the most difficult thing is that the instructions for them indicate the diagonals of the cardra where 16 mm where 20. It is still remembered that in one resolution is 25 where 35 and in the largest 55.

    I’ll rewrite all the characteristics in the evening. otherwise books from these lenses are at home. From what they are unknown since the company where they were produced for a very long time is gone.

    why make a large front lens on a lens. and the back millimeter two in diameter? otherwise one of those lenses is such a strange miracle.

    • Rodin

      What kind of lenses? Write the label.

  • Aydar

    Tell me, which lens is suitable for photo cars? There is Helios 44, it’s very difficult for them, which FR will be optimal for shooting cars?

    • Yarkiya

      You are not correctly asking the question. Here you need to proceed from the tasks that you solve. On the street or in the cabin, for beauty or after an accident, in motion or static. Specify the question, then it will probably be possible to give advice.

    • Yarkiya

      You can, for example, rent a car like this.

    • Yarkiya

      And you can, and so, here is another lens and other focal.

    • Yarkiya

      Or like this.

      • Aydar

        Like this

  • Aydar

    On the street, for beauty, statics, such as

    • Yarkiya

      In your first example, the focal length is about 70 mm, and the second photo is generally shot wide-angle, from about 18 to 28 mm. So it turns out that the matter is not in focal lengths, but in the photographer’s ability to use the technique that he has. My first shot was taken with 81 N Helios, and the other two were 105 mm 2,8 micro. Pay attention to the second shot, it is impossible to capture so much into the frame from the car’s interior by 105 mm, the ear and part of the nose will fit maximum, if I used shirik, all the proportions would be distorted, so I had to shoot through the open trunk. Now you understand, if you can’t get 44 with Helios, then it’s not 58 mm that limits you, but only your imagination. Experiment and you will succeed.

      • Aydar

        Thank you very much, so we will continue to study)

  • newcomer

    Good day!!
    Tell me pliz, I have a Nikon D7100 with a whale lens 18-105, for which it can be replaced, for home photos, maybe something more wide-angle ?? portraits. Micro shooting !! and is it worth changing at all ?? thanks in advance

    • BB

      Do you have 18-105?
      If you don't know if you need a wider angle, then you don't need it yet.
      If 18-105 is enough for you, use it and rejoice.
      If not, what exactly does not suit you in this lens?

      The Nikko 18-105 lens is quite good, as for the station wagon, it was bundled with the D5100, now it is rearranged on the D7100. Also available are Nikkor 50 / 1.4G, Nikkor 70-300VR, and several Soviet manuals. But most photos are shot just on 18-105 :-)

  • Basil

    I read your article about lenses, thank you very much Andrei for science !!!

  • Alain

    Hello again! Tell me what to choose and what will be a real advantage for me when shooting portraits. On Nikon D90
    Looking Nikor 50 mm AF 1,8 D
    Nikor 50 mm AF-S 1,8 G
    What do you think?)
    Thank you for your reply!

    • KalekseyG

      D is cheaper. G is better. And portraits, can you look at 85, 105, 135 mm?

      • Alain

        As far as I know, portraits are shot mainly at 50 mm, how do you argue the choice of 85 mm or 100 mm?

      • Oleg

        Portraits they are different:
        Accordingly, focal lengths are desirable (IMHO) different.
        -growth (crop - 35 mm, FF 50)
        - waist (crop - 50 mm, FF 85)
        -large front (crop - 85 mm, FF 135)
        Moreover, 85 mm can be removed all types (on the crop), and by 35 mm the large-face will turn into a cartoon (by 50 mm if the distance to the model is less than 1,5 m, distortions will also be noticeable).
        Therefore, I join the CalekseiG advice to look at focal lengths greater than 50 mm.

    • Pastor

      The g-version is sharper, better assembled, has much less chromatic aberrations, is less afraid of backlight and comes with a hood. The d-version is cheaper - these are all its advantages when compared. I would add and take 50 1.8g.

      • Alain

        Got it, thanks a lot)

  • Alexey

    What are the most fast Nikon lenses with the concept of light transmission by glass, and not the maximum open aperture?

    • Pastor

      50 1.4d and 50 1.4g. They have 1.5 t-stop. The 85-current, 35-ki and 24-ki with 1.4 are already worse - 1.6.

      • Alexey

        But what about the Nikon 50mm f / 1.2 Nikkor AI-S?
        He is even better.

        • Pastor

          I wrote about modern lenses. Judging by the information on the network, and purely logical, 1.2 is even lighter, there is information about 1.2 t-stops (which is unlikely) and 1.4 (which is more likely). Accordingly, the old Canon 50 1.0l also has t-stops higher. And so, if you climb into the wilds of history, then Nikon also has a TV-NIKKOR 35mm f / 0,9, which most likely has 1.0-1.2 t-stops.

    • Pastor

      Kanonovsky 50 1.2 and 85 1.2, by the way, also issue 1.5 t-stops, despite the steeper aperture.

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