An easy guide to camera lenses
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Thanks to all the new digital camera technologies, taking great photos is no longer down to luck. It's now easier than ever to get a bit more creative and adventurous with photography, and if you really want to get up close and personal or take in that huge open vista you'll want a lens that can perfectly capture the scene. But where do you start?
If you're about to invest in a new digital SLR or micro system camera, want to swap and change camera lenses, or just want to understand the difference, here is a brief guide:
Classifications here are measured in focal length. This measures the distance between the centre of the lens to the focal plane (the point where light coming into the lens is in focus). This is measured in millimetres - the lower the focal length, the wider your angle of view. To give you some idea, the naked eye is considered to be the same perspective as 33mm.
Standard zoom lens
Usually around 18 - 55mm, a standard zoom lens is generally the kit lens that comes with your camera and is intended for all-purpose use. These lenses zoom in and out and will give you a small degree of both wide angle and telephoto for taking both landscapes and portrait pictures.
A prime lens has a fixed focal length, meaning you cannot zoom in and out. These lenses can be both wide angle and telephoto and come in a range of sizes. The advantage is the optical quality is considered superior to a zoom lens (although zooms are improving), as they are better in low light conditions and can be used indoors without a flash. They are lighter and cheaper than zoom lenses but are less flexible than a zoom that offers a range of focal lengths in one.
Typically 21mm and below, a wide-angle will make subjects appear further away so that they fit into the frame and are ideal for taking landscape, interior room shots and large groups of people. They're also a good way of emphasising a subject in the foreground of the frame, as the lens creates a disproportionate perspective.
Anything from 35 to 300mm and above, a telephoto zoom lens will usually be the first additional lens you'll buy. These lenses are perfect for those candid photos of the family, taking shots of wildlife and sporting events as they bring distant subjects close enough to fill the frame.
From 50 to105mm, a dedicated macro lens ideal for extreme close-up photography of flowers and insects for example. A 100mm macro lens provides focus from infinity to life size, making it perfectly adequate as a general purpose lens with short to medium telephoto capability. And you won't have to get so close that you scare aware your subject!
Basically an extreme version of a wide-angle lens, the fish eye lens is used to take unique distorted images of broad, panoramic subjects, making them appear convex. They are often used for interiors as they can fit a whole room in one shot.
If you're looking for one lens that does everything, a superzoom lens is probably the answer. Providing both wide-angle and telephoto capabilities, a typical superzoom will have a focal length of between 18 and 200mm. The big advantage of this type of lens is that you won't need to swap and change lenses between shots but they are bigger and heavier and the optical quality is not as good. However, this shouldn't put you off, unless you're planning to blow your photos up to poster size, a superzoom is fine.
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