Knowing about camera lenses and how to select the best ones is an important asset if you want to be an amazing photographer. Even beginners working with a budget camera can get spectacular footage if they pay attention to the lens characteristics.

A digital camera is capable of incredible things- you can capture timeless images of the moments that are special to you, and these images are captured in resolutions up to 4k ready to be shared with your friends and family, and the world.

An appropriate and good-quality camera lens can be the difference between a beginner and a pro photographer, and while you will gather many lenses in your career, knowing the ins and outs will help you master photography techniques in no time.

Before we talk all about the different types of lenses out there in the market, let’s first cover what lenses are- and how they work. You will also need to be familiar with lens terminology to use your camera skillfully. I’ve included a short section that will get you up to speed on the concepts you need to know about lenses before you can understand their types.

What Is A Camera Lens?

A lens is just a curved optical tool that can converge or diverge rays of light thanks to the curved surfaces that form the body. It’s just something that will make things larger or smaller. You’ve probably seen a magnifying glass- that consists of a magnifying lens!

camera lens- magnifying glass closeup
Magnifying glass close-up (showing light rays converge with a convex lens) | Noelle Otto

Most modern lenses are an ensemble of one or more lenses and other apparatus that provide a range of focal lengths. Lenses can often be substituted for similar lenses with different focal lengths, and with just a single camera, you can use many lenses that fit your purpose.

Similar types of lenses are present in smartphones, microscopes, telescopes, and even our eyes!

There are basically two types of lenses we commonly see – convex and concave. Convex lenses have both sides convex, and the latter has both sides concave. Convex lenses are good at converging (making far objects appear nearer), so they are used in cameras, microscopes, projectors, etc. The convex portion of the lens is good for achieving focus on specific parts of the photograph.

Concave lenses diverge rays and are used in telescopes, flashlights, lasers, etc.


Parts Of A Camera Lens

Lens Barrel

The lens barrel or the body of the lens is the mechanical structure of a lens that houses a complete lens.

lens barrel in camera lens

You will find the barrel made out of both plastic and Aluminum and both seem to hold up pretty well. Metal lens barrels are generally heavier, and personally, I would rather get a metal barrel than a plastic one. Plastic barrels are, however, quite good in their own right as they aren’t unreliable unless, of course, you get a cheap barrel.

Zoom Ring

When you hold a camera, you rotate a ring on the lens so you can get focus on specific subjects. That is the zoom adjustment ring- it’s found on both photography cameras and camcorders.

zoom ring on a camera lens

If you use a 5x zoom lens, it will effectively allow you to zoom in to your subject as much as five times the original zoom level, or somewhere in between. The zoom ring does this by adjusting the focal length of the camera lens.

Bayonet

lens bayonet/ mount for fixing lens on camera

The bayonet or mount is the terminal portion of a lens apparatus that latches onto the camera body. This is one of the most important things you need to pay attention to, as a specific camera will only attach to lenses of a particular bayonet size.

Focus Ring

Aside from the zoom ring (which alters the focal length), there is also a focus ring on most camera lenses that can be used to adjust the focusing distance from the subject. You will find it at the rear of the zoom adjustment ring.

Aperture Ring

The aperture ring or F-stop ring is a rotating apparatus that can be found on most older cameras that helps you adjust the amount of light entering the lens.

Increasing the aperture will increase the brightness of the image while lowering the aperture will make the overall image darker.

Aperture Blades

To increase or decrease the aperture on a camera lens, there are blades that cover the lens aperture in a rough circular manner. You may want rounded aperture blade edges if you like having bokeh effects in your final shots.

The number of lens aperture blades can also affect the smoothness of the bokeh – the consensus is, the higher the number of aperture blades, the smoother the bokeh.


Basic Photography Terminology

Now that we have talked a bit about the parts of a digital camera, let’s talk about the slang pros use- this will help you understand what photographers are talking about when they say things like aperture or FOV. This will allow you to shoot better portraits and make the best out of the camera lenses you already have.

Aperture

In a digital camera, there is an opening for light to reach the sensors. The aperture is simply the portion that allows light to pass in, and you can vary the amount of light to achieve finer control over the composition.

aperture in a camera lens- shutter

The aperture of a camera lens is measured in terms of F-stops (or F-number), which is just a way of standardizing apertures over lenses of different focal lengths. F-stop is the ratio of focal length on a lens to the entrance pupil diameter, and the lower the value of F-stop, the wider the aperture.

A setting with f/2 has a wider aperture than f/22- you can think of it like this: a number divided by 2 will always be bigger than one divided by 22. Which is bigger, 10/2 or 10/22?

If you know the F-number, you can also figure out the image brightness. For eg, a telephoto lens of 200mm f/10 is significantly darker than a wide-angle lens of 30mm f/1.5.

Field of View

The field of view or FOV of a lens is the maximum extent to which a camera can capture an image. It’s measured in terms of angles.

If you have a lens of longer focal length, it will have a shorter FOV but produce higher resolution images when compared to a shorter focal length lens.

Lens Ratio

The lens ratio of a lens determines how well a camera can handle the light passing in through the aperture. It’s expressed as a ratio of two numbers that show the widest aperture a lens can handle.

It’s common to see values like 1:2.8 on a lens barrel and the widest aperture is represented by f/2.8. You might also find a variable value for the widest aperture like 1:3.5-5.6 where the widest aperture may be either 3.5 or 5.6.

We talked about F-stops before, and lenses with smaller F-stops feature a wider aperture and are the ones you will want to get your hands on. If you are confused as to what you should get, invest in a good f/2.8 lens and you will definitely find a great use for it.

Optical Centre

optical center of a lens- rays not deviated

In a lens, the optical center is supposed to be the center, and the rays of light passing through it do not suffer any deviations. If you are into calibrating camera lenses, you will need to know about optical centers.

For the rest of us, it’s just an optical term for a lens.

Chromatic Aberration

chromatic aberration/ fringes in images

You may have noticed that sometimes, unwanted colors may show up on the edges of objects when you are capturing a high-resolution image. It’s generally unwanted and will show up in high-contrast areas and most photographers use image editing programs like Adobe Photoshop to touch up images and correct color by adjusting histograms.

Bokeh

bokeh effect in a camera lens

Bokeh is the pleasing aesthetic that is formed in parts that are out of focus. You can adjust the bokeh by varying the aperture shape and aperture blades.

Many photographers also like adding synthetic bokeh to their images when the lenses do not form bokeh on their own.

Filter Sizes

filter size of a camera lens

The filter size of a lens is the inner diameter of the front portion of a camera lens.


Types Of Camera Lenses

If you are planning to be a professional photographer, you will need to get at least three different lenses of different focal lengths. Now that we know all about the lingo involved, we are ready to tackle the types of camera lenses available in the market.

Prime vs Zoom Lenses

Some camera lenses feature a fixed focal length and while you may think that lenses with a variable focal length may be more desirable, fixed focal length lenses offer better image clarity. The lenses with a fixed focal length are also called prime lenses, and the ones that feature variable focal length sizes are called zoom lenses.

On a prime lens, you may find focal lengths of 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 100mm, or something in between. A zoom lens, on the other hand, features a range of focal lengths like 70 – 300mm or 18 – 55mm.

Standard Lens

standard lens on a camera

The lenses that feature a camera with 50mm, 85mm, or 100mm lenses are known as standard lenses. This is because 50mm is very similar to what human eyes can see, so with a standard lens, you get a faithful reproduction considering the angle of view.

Telephoto Lens

telephoto lens

Telephoto lenses are great if you want to capture interesting footage. These lenses feature long focal lengths and a narrow FOV and capture detailed images from far. If you want to capture cinematographic footage, you will find these lenses a great choice but due to complex construction and more parts, they can be quite expensive.

Fish Eye Lens

fish eye lens for camera

We have the fish eye lens which you may be already familiar with- if you have watched earlier videos of Rob Scallon.

You get a much bigger field of view with this lens and a focal length of about 7 – 16mm, but it might look unrealistic and fantasy-like. If you film straight lines with a fish eye lens, you will see those curved into oval or even elliptical shapes.

Wide Angle Lens

The field of view of a lens increases with the decrease in focal length. Wide-angle lenses are those lenses that feature a small focal length of 15 – 35mm, and as a result, feature a much wider field of view.

Canon 17-40 mm f/4 L retrofocus zoom lens | wide angle lens

These work great for portraits, wildlife photography, and group events. You will also find wide-angle lenses handy if you are into making documentaries.


What To Look For In A Camera Lens?

Usage

Most camera lenses work well in low light conditions but if you don’t have a high budget, you need to be careful about performance in low light and think about exposure. Get a wide aperture lens if you are into portraits and would like bokeh and nice blurred backgrounds.

Budget

Lenses can cost upwards of thousands of dollars, and more often than not, good lenses cost more than the price of the camera body. If your budget doesn’t allow it, you can find one with a decent range and F-stop for your purpose.

You can adjust lighting and the manual settings on your camera to compensate for the lens limitations. I would recommend a lens of 24 – 70mm (f/2.8).

Compatibility

Most Nikon lenses will work with a Canon camera, albeit with some limitations. You may lose the AF features and other important features, and you will almost always need an adapter. I would recommend sticking to a brand you like and getting the same brand lenses so you enjoy maximum flexibility.

It may not be necessary but noting the mount size/type can also be useful to prevent any compatibility issues.


Final Thoughts

If you are just starting out with a camera, you can get amazing images even with a cheap camera if you have a high-quality lens. Whether you should start out with a cheap camera or an expensive one is really up to you, but decent lenses are something you cannot miss out on.

Knowing the basics of how lenses work and what type of camera lenses are available to you can be very helpful when you need to shoot amazing pictures. Pair a budget camera with a good camera lens and you will find that it’s actually hard to capture bad footage!

Camera Lenses FAQ

 

Do Nikon Lenses Fit A Canon Camera?

Most Nikon lenses will work with Canon cameras or vice-versa if you have an adapter but some features may not work smoothly.

How Do Unstick Jammed Camera Lenses?

You can try to use a brush or a vacuum cleaner crevice tool gently. Check out our post on how to fix a stuck zoom lens if you want to read more about it.

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