Photography for Beginners: Intro to Camera Lenses

Jenny Starkey Photography for Beginners Camera lenses
So you got the fancy pants camera of your dreams…Now to figure out how to use it, right? One of the reasons people move from a point and shoot camera to a DSLR is the ability to use a variety of different lenses to fit your needs. But when it comes to Photography for Beginners, camera lenses can be a bit overwhelming! Today’s post is all about giving you a basic overview and intro to lenses that will keep the camera anxiety in check !

Photography for Beginners: Intro to Camera Lenses

Chances are if you just got a new DSLR (or maybe it’s one you’ve had for a while now), it came with at least one or maybe even two lenses. These lenses are called “kit” lenses, and while they’re lower level lenses they are a great place to start until you are ready to move to a higher quality or more versatile lens.

Types of Camera Lenses

Camera lenses can be broken down into two categories: Zoom and Prime.

Zoom: A zoom lens is one that allows you to zoom in an out to  different focal lengths.

Prime: A prime lens has one set focal length- in other words, no zoom. In order to “zoom” in or out on your subject you must physically more closer or farther away. These lenses are ofter portrait lenses that have a reputation for producing a sharper image.

In addition, every camera lens has nomenclature (a fancy way of saying a name) that gives you all the specs and details you need in order to know what the lens is capable of. There are a lot of letters and terms that we can go into at a later date. To begin with there are two main numbers you need to look at: the focal length and aperture.

Focal Length and Aperture

Focal Length: The distance between the point of convergence within a lens and the sensor or film in your camera. Ultimately though, what you need to know is that the focal length determines how “zoomed in” your photos are. The higher the focal length number the more of a zoom you will have on your lens.

Your focal length will be the first number noted in the lens name. For example:

Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM

The 28-300mm refers to the focal length of the lens. The fact that there is a range given indicates that this is a zoom lens.

Aperture: The other key factor in choosing a lens is aperture. Aperture refers to how much light the lens allows to enter the camera. This is measured using the f-stop which you will see noted on your lens. In the above example the f-stop given is f/3.5-5.6. Because this number is given as a range it indicates that the aperture will change based on the focal length at use.

The smaller the f-stop number the greater the amount of light allowed to enter the camera. When you shoot with your lens at the smallest f-stop setting (therefore letting in the greatest amount of light possible) it is called shooting “wide open.” When you move from a smaller f stop number to a larger one this reduces the amount of light coming into the camera and is called “stopping down.”

Types of Focal Lengths

Photography for Beginners Rule of thumb: The smaller the number is the wider the angle of the lens (so more scenery you’ll have in your photo).

Ultra Wide Angle 14-24mm: These wide angle lenses allow you to get a lot in the photo and can be great for shooting in a confined space. While great for shooting events or architecture, they are not idea for portraits because the wide angle is actually further than our eyes naturally see when taking in a scene resulting in a distorted appearance.

Wide Angle 24-35 mm: While still giving a wider angle than what the eye normally sees, the amount of distortion is minimal.

Standard 35-70 mm: In the 45-50mm range the camera starts to reproduce what our eyes actually see.

Mild Telephoto 70-105mm: This is typically as far as a kit lens will go for focal length. 85mm is considered a portrait lens.

Telephoto 105-300mm: Lenses in this range are typically used for shooting distant mountains or buildings. They have a tendency to flatten a scene so they are not ideal for landscapes. Anything higher than this range is typically used for shooting sports or wildlife photography.

Want to learn more?

So there you have it! A photography for beginners intro to camera lenses! There’s so much more we can go into when it comes to aperture and focal length and how that influences the photos you take, so stick around and in the coming weeks we’ll just into some more beginner photography tips! You can also find out more about my in person beginner photography workshop or my Photo Photography ebook!

Photography for Beginners jenny Starkey photography