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Explaining Camera Lenses


Welcome to the fascinating world of camera lenses! Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced photographer, understanding camera lenses is essential to taking great photos. In this article, we’ll be explaining camera lenses and the different types of lenses, their specifications, and how to choose the right lens for your needs. So, let’s get started!

Types of Camera Lenses

Explore the diverse range of camera lenses available, from wide-angle and telephoto lenses to macro and fisheye lenses, and learn how they impact your photography.

Prime Lenses

Prime lenses have a fixed focal length, meaning you can’t zoom in or out. These lenses often offer superior image quality and a larger maximum aperture compared to zoom lenses, allowing for better low-light performance and a shallower depth of field. They’re also typically smaller and lighter, making them a popular choice for travel and street photography.

Zoom Lenses

Zoom lenses, as the name suggests, offer a range of focal lengths in a single lens. This versatility allows you to change the framing of your shots without needing to physically move or switch lenses. While they might be slightly heavier and have a smaller maximum aperture, zoom lenses provide a convenient all-in-one solution for various shooting scenarios.

Important Lens Specifications

Understand the key lens specifications, such as focal length, aperture, and field of view, and learn how they influence your images and creative choices.

Focal Length

Focal length is measured in millimetres (mm) and determines the lens’s field of view. A shorter focal length (e.g., 18mm) provides a wider field of view, while a longer focal length (e.g., 200mm) narrows the field of view, bringing distant objects closer. Remember, the focal length also affects perspective and depth of field.


Aperture refers to the opening in the lens that allows light to pass through. It’s expressed as an f-number (e.g., f/2.8). A lower f-number indicates a larger aperture, which allows more light to enter and creates a shallower depth of field. A higher f-number corresponds to a smaller aperture, less light, and a deeper depth of field.

Image Stabilisation

Image stabilisation (IS) is a feature found in some lenses that helps to minimise the effects of camera shake, leading to sharper images when shooting handheld. This is particularly helpful when using longer focal lengths or shooting in low-light conditions.

Different Lenses for Different Purposes

Discover the importance of selecting the right lens for various types of photography, including portraits, landscapes, sports, and wildlife.

Wide-Angle Lenses

Wide-angle lenses have a short focal length and provide a broad field of view, making them perfect for capturing landscapes, architecture, and interiors. They can also create a sense of drama and depth in your images, drawing the viewer into the scene.

Standard Lenses

Standard lenses have a focal length that closely resembles the human eye’s field of view, usually around 50mm. These lenses produce images with a natural perspective and minimal distortion, making them suitable for various subjects, such as portraits, street photography, and everyday snapshots.

Telephoto Lenses

Telephoto lenses have a long focal length, allowing you to capture distant subjects, such as wildlife or sports events, without getting too close. These lenses can also produce a shallow depth of field and beautiful background blur, making them ideal for portraits with a professional look.

Macro Lenses

Macro lenses are designed for close-up photography, allowing you to capture intricate details of small subjects, such as flowers, insects, or jewellery. They typically have a 1:1 magnification ratio, meaning the subject appears life-size on the camera sensor.

Lens Quality and Construction

Learn about the factors that contribute to lens quality, including optical design, build materials, and coatings, and how they impact image quality and durability.

Lens Materials

The quality of the glass and materials used in a lens’s construction can greatly impact image quality. High-quality lenses often feature extra-low dispersion (ED) or aspherical elements, which help reduce chromatic aberrations and improve sharpness across the frame.

Lens Coatings

Lens coatings are applied to the surface of lens elements to minimise reflections, glare, and ghosting, ultimately improving contrast and colour accuracy. Look for lenses with multi-coated or nano-coated elements for optimal performance.

Additional Lens Features and Terminology

To further your understanding of camera lenses, it’s essential to be familiar with additional features and terminology often used in the photography world.

Manual Focus vs Autofocus

Most lenses offer both manual focus and autofocus capabilities. Manual focus requires the photographer to adjust the focus ring on the lens to achieve the desired focus, while autofocus relies on the camera’s built-in system to achieve focus automatically. Some lenses also offer full-time manual focus override, allowing you to fine-tune the focus manually even when the lens is set to autofocus.

Weather Sealing

Weather sealing is a protective feature found in some lenses that helps prevent dust, moisture, and other environmental elements from entering the lens or camera body. If you frequently shoot in challenging conditions, investing in a weather-sealed lens can provide added durability and protection.

Internal Focusing (IF)

Internal focusing is a lens design feature where the focusing mechanism moves elements within the lens without changing the lens’s overall length. This design can result in quicker autofocus performance, reduced weight, and improved balance when using the lens.

Apochromatic (APO) Lenses

Apochromatic lenses are designed to correct chromatic aberrations more effectively than conventional lenses. They use special glass elements or coatings to bring different wavelengths of light into focus on the same plane, resulting in sharper images with minimal colour fringing.

Tilt-Shift Lenses

Tilt-shift lenses offer a unique perspective and depth-of-field control by allowing the lens to tilt and shift relative to the camera sensor. These lenses are popular among architectural photographers for correcting perspective distortion and among landscape photographers for creating seamless panoramas or selective focus effects.

Understanding these additional features and terminology can help you make more informed decisions when choosing lenses for your photography needs. By investing in the right lens for your shooting style and subjects, you can unlock new creative possibilities and achieve professional results in your images.

Understanding Lens Distortions and Aberrations

No lens is perfect, and various optical imperfections can lead to distortions and aberrations in your images. By understanding these issues and how they affect image quality, you can better choose lenses that minimise these effects.

Barrel and Pincushion Distortion

Barrel distortion occurs when straight lines near the edge of the frame appear to curve outwards, giving a ‘barrel-like’ appearance. This distortion is more common in wide-angle lenses. Pincushion distortion is the opposite, with lines curving inwards towards the centre. It’s more common in telephoto lenses. Some lenses may exhibit a combination of both types of distortion, known as moustache distortion. Lens manufacturers often correct these distortions using software, but higher-quality lenses can minimise these distortions through their optical design.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration, or colour fringing, appears as coloured outlines along high-contrast edges in your image. This happens when the lens fails to focus different wavelengths of light on the same point. Higher-quality lenses often feature special glass elements or coatings to minimise chromatic aberration and produce sharper, more colour-accurate images.


Vignetting is a gradual darkening of the corners of an image, usually caused by the lens’s optical design, aperture, and focal length. It’s more common in wide-angle lenses and at larger apertures. While vignetting can be corrected in post-processing, some photographers intentionally use it as a creative effect to draw attention to the centre of the frame.

Lens Flare and Ghosting

Lens flare occurs when bright light sources, like the sun or streetlights, cause unwanted artefacts, streaks, or haze in your image. Ghosting is a specific type of lens flare that appears as multiple reflections of the light source. High-quality lens coatings and a lens hood can help minimise lens flare and ghosting, maintaining contrast and colour accuracy in your images.

Choosing the Right Lens for Your Needs

To choose the perfect lens for your needs, consider the types of subjects you’ll be photographing and your preferred shooting style. For example, if you enjoy landscape photography, a wide-angle lens would be a great choice. If you’re into portrait photography, consider investing in a fast prime lens or a telephoto lens. Remember to also consider factors like weight, size, and compatibility with your camera system.

Caring for Your Camera Lenses

Proper care and maintenance of your lenses can ensure they last a lifetime. Store your lenses in a padded bag or case, use a lens cap to protect the front element, and clean the lens regularly with a microfibre cloth or a lens cleaning solution. Avoid exposing your lenses to extreme temperatures or humidity, as this can cause damage to the internal components.

Lens Filters and Their Importance

Lens filters are accessories that can be attached to the front of your lens to modify the light entering the camera, protect the lens, or achieve specific creative effects. Some common types of lens filters include:

UV Filters

UV filters are designed to block ultraviolet light, which can cause a bluish haze in your images. They are often used as protective filters, shielding the front element of your lens from dust, scratches, and moisture.

Polarising Filters

Polarising filters reduce glare and reflections on non-metallic surfaces, like water or glass, and can also enhance the saturation of colours in your images. They are particularly useful for landscape photography, where they can help to darken blue skies and reduce haze.

Neutral Density (ND) Filters

Neutral density filters reduce the amount of light entering the lens without affecting the colour balance. They are often used in long-exposure photography, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds or larger apertures without overexposing your images.

By understanding the various lens distortions, aberrations, and the importance of lens filters, you can further improve the quality of your images and achieve the desired creative effects. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your camera lenses and take your photography to the next level.


Understanding camera lenses is crucial for any photographer looking to elevate their work. By familiarising yourself with different types of lenses, their specifications, and their ideal uses, you can make informed decisions about which lens best suits your photography style and needs. Proper care and maintenance will ensure that your investment in quality lenses will serve you well for years to come.


Can I use lenses from one brand with a camera from another brand?

While some lenses can be used with adapters, it’s generally best to use lenses designed for your specific camera system to ensure full compatibility and optimal performance.

What is the difference between a full-frame lens and a crop sensor lens?

Full-frame lenses are designed for use with full-frame camera sensors, while crop sensor lenses are designed for cameras with smaller APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensors. Using a full-frame lens on a crop sensor camera is typically possible, but using a crop sensor lens on a full-frame camera may result in vignetting or reduced image quality.

What does ‘fast’ mean when referring to a lens?

A ‘fast’ lens has a large maximum aperture (e.g., f/1.8 or f/2.8), allowing it to gather more light and achieve faster shutter speeds in low-light situations. Fast lenses also create a shallower depth of field, making them ideal for portrait photography and achieving subject separation from the background.

What is a kit lens, and is it worth upgrading?

A kit lens is typically an entry-level zoom lens included with a camera when purchased as a bundle. While kit lenses offer versatility and convenience, they may not provide the best image quality or low-light performance. Upgrading to a higher-quality lens can significantly improve your photography, especially in terms of sharpness, contrast, and low-light capabilities.

How do I know if a lens is compatible with my camera?

To determine lens compatibility, check the lens mount type specified by the lens manufacturer and compare it to your camera’s mount type. Some camera systems, like Canon’s EF and EF-S mounts or Nikon’s F and Z mounts, have multiple lens mounts within the same brand. Additionally, consider factors like autofocus and image stabilisation compatibility, which can be affected by lens-camera combinations.

What are the main differences between prime and zoom lenses?

Prime lenses have a fixed focal length, while zoom lenses have a range of focal lengths. Prime lenses often offer superior image quality, faster apertures, and are generally smaller and lighter compared to zoom lenses. On the other hand, zoom lenses provide greater flexibility and versatility in framing your shots without the need to change lenses.

What is the significance of the ‘f’ number on a lens?

The ‘f’ number, also known as the aperture or f-stop, represents the size of the lens’s aperture opening. A lower f-number indicates a larger aperture, which allows more light to enter the camera and creates a shallower depth of field. A higher f-number corresponds to a smaller aperture, which allows less light and results in a deeper depth of field.

How do I choose the best lens for low-light photography?

For low-light photography, it’s essential to choose a lens with a large maximum aperture (e.g., f/1.8, f/1.4, or f/2.8) to allow more light to reach the camera sensor. Fast prime lenses are especially suitable for low-light situations, as they offer both large apertures and superior image quality. Image-stabilised lenses can also help reduce camera shake, allowing for longer handheld exposures in low light.

Can I use a DSLR lens on a mirrorless camera?

Yes, it is possible to use DSLR lenses on mirrorless cameras with the help of an appropriate lens adapter. These adapters connect the DSLR lens to the mirrorless camera body while maintaining the correct flange distance required for proper focus. However, using an adapter may result in reduced autofocus performance or compatibility with certain features, such as image stabilisation.

What is the importance of image stabilisation in a lens?

Image stabilisation, often referred to as IS, VR (Vibration Reduction), or OS (Optical Stabilisation), is a feature in some lenses that helps minimise the effects of camera shake, allowing for sharper images at slower shutter speeds. Image-stabilised lenses are particularly useful for handheld photography in low-light situations or when using telephoto lenses, where even small movements can result in blurry images.


About Owen Howell

Is the third generation and the current owner who was born into the business, learning all about the new and used camera trade from his father Barry and grandfather Tom. He now has a highly qualified team who themselves are practising photographers with a combined experience of over 100 years. You can catch Owen and his team using either the live chat on the website or by emailing [email protected] or telephone 01223 368087.

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