There are a number of different ways in which to classify camera lenses. The classifications below are based around focal length and function. You will find that many lenses fall into more than one of the categories mentioned. For example a 55 - 200mm lens will fall into Standard Telephoto, Medium Telephoto and Super Telephoto categories. You can also find lenses that are telephoto, but also have a macro function.
If you are looking for flexibility in a lens to cover a range of photography subjects then looking out for lenses that fall into a number of categories is a good idea. Likewise zoom lenses give you extra flexibility compared with prime lenses with fixed focal lengths.
As you will see below although most lenses can be used for a variety of subjects they often have one or two disciplines that they are ideal for. For example a macro lens is ideal for close up work, but from time to time a macro lens can be used to add a different look to portrait shots and even landscape photos.
Extreme wide angle lenses are ideal for architecture and interiors. They are also used by landscape photographers. I have met a number of photographers who have reignited their excitement for photography after buying a 14mm lens. That sort of focal length gives you a very different picture to a 21mm lens. After buying a lens with such a short focal length experienced photographs have suddenly found themselves looking at the world in a whole new way.
If you are on a more modest budget this focal range is still capable of capturing wide scenes.
These tend to be lightweight, unobtrusive lenses that you can attach to your Digital SLR and head out for any general photography. The big advantage is portability. If you previously owned a compact camera with plenty of zoom available you might find this type of lens takes a bit of getting used to. But without the luxury of a powerful zoom you develop an eye for the photo opportunities that are all around you.
A medium telephoto lens produces the most flattering portrait shots. They also come in useful for any general photography.
If you have interests in wildlife and sports then in most cases you will be unable to physically get close in to the action. For more distant shots you may need to consider camera lenses with a focal length of around 400 - 500mm. Once you start looking at lenses of 300mm and above the price, size and weight of the lens starts to increase. Therefore you may also choose to invest in a good quality tripod or monopod.
An alternative to paying out for extreme telephoto lenses or to further boost their focal lengths is to invest in a tele converter. A tele converter is a small ring that sits between your camera body and lens.
Camera Lens Introduction
Buying Your First Lens
Camera Lens Types
Camera Lens Brands
Buying Second Hand Lenses
Digital SLR Crop Factor
Caring For Your Camera Lens
Common Lens Faults
Camera Lens FAQs
I remember buying my first macro lens with a focal length of 50mm and thinking it would be good for anything I wanted to photograph close up. Then I noticed that there were other focal lengths available - 60mm, 100mm, 180mm etc.
If you are taking shots of products or items that you cannot scare off such as flowers then the 50mm lens works well. For anything where you are unable to physically get in close I would go with a longer focal length. This gives you a much better chance of taking your photograph without disturbing your subject.
You may be able to get away with handholding a 100mm macro lens, but once you go above that weight increases and a tripod becomes increasingly important if you are looking for your photos to be pin sharp.
Fisheye lenses have extreme wide angle focal lengths. They produce a different effect to a picture with the centre of the shot bulging out towards you. Typical uses include photographing interiors. This type of lens is often bought either by professional photographer or by someone looking to add completely different effects to their photographs. Take care when buying to make sure the lens is compatible with the Crop Factor of your Digital SLR body.
A prime lens is a lens with a fixed focal length. This means it cannot zoom in and out. The main advantage of a prime lens is that it tends to be cheaper than a zoom lens. This is because building the lens is a lot less complex. Historically, prime lenses have been viewed as offering superior optical quality when compared with zoom lenses. Advances in technology have led to the quality gap closing, but there is still a view that a prime lens will have a slight quality edge over a zoom lens.
The advantage a zoom lens has is the extra flexibility it offers. This is especially true if you are out and about with your camera. A zoom lens can do the job of a number of prime lenses. A camera bag with a couple of zoom lenses is much lighter than one with a number of prime lenses. You are also less likely to miss a shot due to the fact you are swapping lenses.
Have you ever taken a photo of a tall building and had it look like it is falling backwards? Tilt and shift lenses correct errors in perspective making tall buildings stand upright. These lenses do not come cheap. So to make it worth buying one you will need to have an interest in architecture and buildings.