DSLR lens types

dslr-2lensesFrom ultra-wide to super telephoto, both in fixed focal lengths and zoom, there are plenty of interchangeable lenses from which to choose. Be prepared to open your wallet wide for a high quality lens.

Digital Single Lens Reflex camera lenses come in several grades. As the grade gets higher, prices increase but so does build and image quality. Starter lenses, such as the kit lens that comes with an entry level DSLR, are the least expensive.  There are also mid-priced and professional-grade lenses.

Interchangeable lens types

Prime lens

A prime lens has a fixed focal length. Prime lenses are said to offer superior image quality over most zoom lenses. They are less expensive and lighter than zoom lens and have less moving parts…but they are also less versatile.

Standard lens – 35mm to 85mm – Standard lenses are used for general photography and portrait shots. A 50mm lens, known as a “normal” lens, has about the same angle of view as the human eye.

Wide angle lens – 28mm and lower; great for large group photos, landscapes and for photographing interior and exterior of buildings.

Telephoto lens – 100mm to 300mm; used for portrait and sports photography

Super telephoto lens – 300mm and above; used for sports and wildlife photography. Super telephoto lenses can be super heavy and may need to be used in conjunction with a tripod.

Macro lens - used for taking photos of very small subjects such as coins, jewelry, insects and flowers.

Zoom lens

Zoom lenses offer a lot of flexibility. While heavier and more expensive than a prime lens, they offer variable focal lengths in a single lens.

Specialty lenses

Fisheye lens – an ultra-wide angle lens that captures a view as much as 180 degrees.  The image, while distorted produces an interesting effect.

Tilt-Shift lens – tilt movements allow you to obtain a wide Depth of Field even at the maximum aperture while the entire subject remains in focus.

Pancake lens – a lightweight, short barrel lens. It’s size makes it relatively flat when mounted on a DSLR body. On a small camera body, the duo may be pocketable.

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18 Responses

  1. Gail Bjork says:

    Edna, if I understand your question correctly, the difference between a zoom lens and telephoto lens is that a telephoto lens is a fixed focal length. They can be a bit sharper than a zoom lens but lack the versatility. Remember that your Canon XS has a focal length multiplier, also known as crop factor, of 1.6 so your 75-300mm lens is the equivalent of a 120-480mm zoom lens. If that focal length isn’t enough for your needs, you’ll need to get a longer lens.

  2. Edna says:

    Hello I have the Cannon rebel xs ESO. When I got the cam It came with the efs 18-55mm and a e f75-300mm. I really need a DSL for dummies but both lens takes great pix. Im wondering what the difference is between zoom and telephoto. I like to take pix of our backyard birds and want to get a closer shot without getting any closer to the birds.

  3. Gail Bjork says:

    Mihai, Canon, Nikon and Sony all make fine DSLRs. Take time to research the type of features you want and also test the ergonomics of a camera before buying to make sure it feels comfortable in your hands.

    Remember, when buying a DSLR, you’re buying into a camera system. Visit each manufacturer’s website and check out their lens line-up to make sure they offer ones that meet your photographic needs. Also check their flash and other DSLR accessory line up such as dedicated hand grips and wireless file transmitters.

    For specific help and no nonsense information about DSLRs, I highly recommend you visit the Fred Miranda site.

  4. Mihai says:

    Hi i wanted to ask which DSRL cameras are best canon nikon or sony ??

  5. Gail Bjork says:

    One of the reasons Nikon and Canon cameras are popular DSLRs is because they have an extensive number of lenses and other accessories to choose from.

  6. Gail Bjork says:

    Kern, if you’re interested in obtaining shallow depth of field, get the fastest lens you can afford. Besides lenses made by the camera manufacturer, Sigma, Tamron and Tokina are well-regarded. They come in several mounts so a lens fits a particular brand camera.

    Also look for a lens that gives good Bokeh, which relates to the quality of the background blur.

    If you intend to upgrade your camera, remember you are buying into a system. In other words, if you buy lenses or a flash for a Nikon camera, they will not fit on a Canon or other brand camera…so think ahead.

    If you buy a shoe mount flash, yet get one with a diffuser. But for more creative control, also consider getting one that bounces and has a swivel head. See this article one Five reasons to use an external flash.

    As mentioned in my other reply, use Fred’s site to research lenses. Only you can decide which one will best suit your needs and your wallet. The time you put in will be well worth it.

  7. Kern says:

    Thanks so much!! I think renting would be a great idea, i wanted to check them out at my school but sadly my one photo class was cancelled so i cannot do that anymore. I went and checked out that website…wow so many options! Any recommendations on which one i should start with? I know i want a small f/stop but there are so many!! And does it have to be Nikon? What about the other brands? I know nothing when it comes to brands…
    I think once i find the right lens and have gone tired of my current Nikon body i will eventually upgrade. For now i just want to take more photos that fit my needs. Btw do you recommend getting a shoe mount flash with a diffuser? I know the slave flash isn’t that great/strong…and having a diffuser would be good too. I like portrait and night photography and i’ve used the shoe mount flash on a Canon before at night and my photos came out great. I used  a tripod so i can get all of the bg, but capture my subjects in focus with the flash. I tried that concept/formula with my D40 and it wasn’t good. Recommendations?
    thanks so much! Reading your website has helped alot!

  8. Gail Bjork says:

    Oh boy, Kern. Upgrade body and lens, or lens only? That’s always a tough question and, of course, depends on the amount of money in your wallet. ;) If I could only pick one, and I think most photographers would agree, I’d always choose a better lens.

    The Nikon D40 came out in 2006 and it received very favorable reviews. However, since then, there have been improvements in such things as Dynamic Range and and the ability to shoot at higher ISO numbers with less noise. In addition, even entry level DSLRs offer Live View but also Full HD video capture. If these things are important to you, it may be worth getting a new camera.

    One of the best places to get information and reviews of lenses is at the Fred Miranda site. I highly recommend you visit there, read the user reviews and ask any further questions you have.

    Also consider renting before buying to help ensure a camera or lens meets your needs. I’ve done so and am very happy I did.

  9. Kern says:

    Hi! I have a Nikon D40 got it for my intro class and ended up loving photography. I’ve been reading a lot of reviews about lens and camera body. I’ve had this camera for about over a year now. And i finally realize what kind of photos i want. I really love shallow depth of field photographs, and that would help alot with indoor photos with low lighting. Would you recomend upgrading my body and lens? or getting a better lens? and if so what kind? From my knowledge and readings i’m sure i want a lens with a really low f stop. But not sure what would best fit what i want. What do you recomend? thanks!

  10. Gail Bjork says:

    Lisa, glad you found the information helpful.

    There is no one lens that is best for photographing food. But what is important is the degree of sharpness of the lens at a given magnification. Saying that, a good Macro lenses would be excellent for close-ups.

    The FZ3 has a zoom range of 33-100mm/35mm equivalent. For travel, it would be more useful to get a wider angle lens and one with a longer focal length. Then you can photograph wider vistas, as well as zoom in when needed.

    The lens that comes with the Nikon is well regarded. It’s wider and has a slightly longer telephoto lens than your current camera. Like all lenses it has its pros and cons. One of the best places to learn about lenses is Fred Miranda’s site. Here’s what others have to say about the lens that comes with the D7000.

    I wish I could give you a more direct answer but it’s easier said then done. Get the best lens you can afford. btw, kit lenses are usually lighter weight than their more expensive counterparts, something to consider when you travel.

    Here are a few related articles you may find helpful:

    DSLR lens uses

    DSLR macro lens

    Photographing food like a pro

  11. Lisa says:

    Hi Gail,
    I am looking forward to buy my first DSLR … hopefully a Nikon D7000 (which will be in Australia soon).  I wish to seek your advice on these matter:
    a) I am a foodblogger… so camera with a good lens is essential… what type of lens should i  buy?  I am currently using Panasonic Point and shoot DMC-FS3 
    b) I am travelling soon and wish to take nice holiday photos… again appreciate if you could give me a head start with the type of lens..
    c) should I buy the camera that comes with the kit lens?
    Appreciate your article… I have learnt heaps… thanks

  12. For a normal user, a zoom lens called ‘travel lens’ is particular useful (e.g. 18-200mm), these kind of lens cover a long focal length, so they dont have to change their very often.

  13. Gail Bjork says:

    Eileen, I recommend you contact Ritz Camera to make sure. It is my understanding that the Quantarary lens was originally sold by them. The lens has a T-Mount and you might be able to get an adapter that lets you manually focus the lens. Just make sure before you buy a DSLR. Another good place to contact for that type of information is B&H photo.

  14. Eileen says:

    Hi I have a quantaray 800-1200mm f:9.9-14.9 lens. It was used with a 35mm camera. Will it work on a newer digital camera?

  15. Gail Bjork says:

    For about $300, the Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR DX is a decent lens. It is the kit lens that often comes with newer Nikon DSLRs. Make sure you get the one with Vibration Reduction. It is said to be better than the older version without VR. Make sure your camera is compatible with DX lenses.

  16. Abby Brown says:

    Hi I have less than US500. I won a D200. What’s the best lens to get under US500? I want a practical zoom. Keep up the good work.

  17. Gail Bjork says:

    It’s difficult to answer because there are so many types of lenses, both primes and zooms. You need to determine what type of subject matter you’ll be shooting. A good place to read about Nikon lenses, with lots of user feedback, is at Fred Miranda’s site.

  18. G.srinivasan says:

    Hi,

    Can you please suguest i am having d90 Nikon camera plz suguest which type of leans we have to use for the cristal clear photos can u plz suguest