When it comes to lenses, there are so many choices.
It can be totally overwhelming when deciding what’s the best lens for the job, and which one will help you achieve the look that you desire in your photography.
Before we dive in to today’s breakdown of lenses, check out these other articles to help you get a little more background to help you find out what might be best for you.
Read up on choosing lenses here:
To build further on what we’ve already shared about helping you pick your next lens, in today’s article I want to show you, the different ranges of lenses and focal lengths that are available and which scenarios they’re generally used for.
First, let’s chat focal lengths…
When we’re talking about lenses, the way that we identify and characterise a lens is by it’s focal length.
For example, we often mention the 50mm, the 85mm, the 24-70mm etc.
Focal length of a lens plays a big part in how our images will look. In-fact different focal lengths can cause very different effects on our subject and background and so making a decision about what lens to use, depends on the type of image you’d like to create, as we explain in our article here.
Let’s start super wide, at say 8-12mm… this focal length allows you to see a lot through the viewfinder, it can stretch and distort your images, and are perfect for long stretching skies in a landscapes, or for taking interior shots, or when you don’t have much room to shoot in.
As focal lengths get longer, you reach the middle ground, at say 50mm, where what you see through the viewfinder is similar to what we see as the human eye.
Then we start to get longer, and as we do, the lens has more of a zoom effect… like looking through a telescope. These lenses will brings you closer to your subject.. so it means you have to be further away, and so they’re great for shooting outside, and they have a wonderful compression effect which helps to create beautiful background blur.
So let’s walk through the focal lengths, from wide…. zoom!
Wide Angle: 12mm – 24mm
Best For: Landscapes & Architecture
Wide angle & super wide angles lenses have a focal length in the range of 12mm-35mm (on a full frame sensor) or 8mm-24mm (on a cropped sensor).
Wide angle lenses capture more in the frame than the human eye naturally sees.
Additionally, they have a distortion effect.
They elongate the subject or scene which adds depth, and things that are close to the lens appear larger than they are in real life, with everything behind it appearing smaller.
This is evident when shooting straight lines such as a building or a row of trees, where the distortion causes the lines to converge. Wide angle lenses create those beautiful long stretching skies that you see in travel and landscape images, and they’re also used for real estate images.. to fit everything in!
Therefore they are most popular for shooting landscapes and architecture.
Canon 10 – 22mm Ultra Wide:
Traditionally, a wide angle lens would not be used for portraits, due to the distortion.
However, that distortion can be used to create fun effects!
You can try photographing children at play, at unusual angles, getting in close which results in distorting the subject whilst incorporating their environment to show what they’re up to.
Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6:
Normal: 35mm – 70mm
Best For: Everyday Photos, Portraits, Documentary Style, Food
A normal (or standard) lens has a focal range of anywhere from 35mm to 70mm.
Normal lenses have a natural perspective and present little to no distortion – in other words they mimic very closely what the human eye sees.
These lenses include the primes at 35mm, 50mm and then versatile zooms such as the 24-70mm.
Lenses in this focal range are excellent for situations where the photographer wishes to include some background in order to put their subject in context, but without too much distortion.
Most common uses are street and documentary style photography, portraits and general use.
Canon 50mm 1.2:
Canon 50mm f/1.8:
Portrait Lenses: 70mm – 135mm
Best For: General Portraits, Food, Details
Portrait lenses have a focal range of around 70mm to 135mm.
These focal lengths are popular with portrait photographers as they offer the least distortion balanced with a tight frame.
Additionally, the longer the focal length, the more compression you’ll experience which is essential for creating a beautiful blurred background.
As the portrait primes have wide apertures (low f-stop numbers) I also love to use mine to capture beautiful flowers and detail shots making the most of the shallow depth of field.
Canon 85mm f/1.8:
Canon 135mm f/2.0:
Telephoto: 135mm – 300mm
Best For: Wildlife, Sports, Group Portraits
Now we’re getting longer!
Telephoto lenses have a focal range of approximately 135mm to 300mm.
Due to the fact they bring objects closer to the lens than they are in real life, they offer the photographer the ability to shoot from long distances.
Therefore they are perfect for sports and wildlife photography where your subject can be quite far away, as is also the case with wedding photography, to capture details whilst being able to stand a subtle distance away.
The compression in the background also creates the beautiful contrast between the subject and the background which allows the subject to really stand out and pop!
Canon 200mm f/2.8:
This is also very popular in portrait photography.
When photographing large groups in particular , the beautiful compression effect can make up for the lack of bokeh when you close down your aperture to get everyone in focus.
The only point to be wary of when using the 200mm for portraits is that you have to be quite some distance from your subject (the same reason that makes it perfect for wildlife)
Canon 70 – 200mm f/2.8:
Macro: 60 – 100mm
Best For: Capturing Tiny Details, Flaura & Fauna, Artistic, Abstract & Food
So much fun can be had with a macro lens! (Read more about Macro Photography here)
Tiny subjects can be photographed at their actual size as macro lenses offer a 1:1 ratio, and also have the ability to focus at very close distances.
This makes them popular for photographing very small wildlife and still life.
They are particularly popular with newborn baby photographers for the level of detail they capture, such as the fine wrinkles on teeny fingers and toes.
Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens:
Best For: Fun & Creative Images, Interiors
Fisheye lenses are even wider than traditional wide angle lenses, and they offer a distorted view by enlarging the centre of the image, whilst objects around the centre diminish in size.
Like macro lenses, fisheye lenses can be used to create fun and creative images.
More to Consider…
As a note to consider, we can’t discuss lens focal lengths without also mentioning the camera, because focal length is affected by the size of our camera’s sensor.
Full frame digital cameras have a sensor size that is equivalent to traditional 35mm film cameras, and lenses are manufactured with these sensors in mind.
Whereas entry level DSLRs generally have a smaller sensor, the most common sensor size causing a crop factor of 1.6x. What this means in practice is your lenses will be 1.6 times longer than their stated focal length. Eg. a 50mm lens on a cropped sensor camera will be equivalent to 80mm.
Basically when you look through the lens your images will be slightly closer to you that if you were looking through a full frame.
So sometimes that means you’ll have to step back a little farther!
More on Lenses!
- What to consider BEFORE you buy a new Lens
- Lou’s Favourite Lens
- Have FUN with a Wide Angle Lens
- Best Lenses for Flattering Portraits
- The Best $100 Lens you Can Buy
- Getting the most out of your Kit Lens