Telephoto lens

What Is a Telephoto Lens?

Telephoto lenses can be incredibly useful, but how is it different from other lenses, and when should you use it?

What Is a Telephoto Lens?

A telephoto lens is a lens that appears to magnify distant objects. To do that, they need to have a focal length longer than that of a normal lens, or a lens that approximates the optical qualities of the human eye. A normal lens has a focal length of between 40mm and 58mm on a full frame camera so any lens with a focal length longer than 60mm can be considered a telephoto lens. The longer the focal length, the more magnification there is.

The most common telephoto zoom lenses have a focal range of 70mm to 200mm. Any lens with a focal length longer than about 300mm can be considered a super telephoto lens as well.

On a crop sensor camera, telephoto lenses are those with a focal length longer than about 40mm, although the magnification will be minimal until about 50mm.

Let’s look at this in action. This photo was taken at 50mm, a normal focal length, on a full frame camera. The photo appears pretty similar to how things look with your eyes. The other photos were all taken from the same spot with a crop sensor camera; I don’t have a long enough full frame telephoto to really make the point clear.

This photo was taken at 45mm using a crop sensor camera. The full frame equivalent focal length is 72mm. You can see how the image is a little tighter on the car.

This photo was taken at 85mm, equivalent to 136mm on a full frame camera. Now the car totally fills the frame.

This photo was taken at 135, equivalent to 216mm on a full frame camera. We’re incredibly close to the car compared to the normal photo. It’s impossible to fit the whole thing in the picture.

How a Telephoto Lens Affects Your Images

The main effect of telephoto lenses is that, like a…

What Is a “Normal” Camera Lens?

The lens you use has a huge effect on how your photos look. A wide-angle lens will give you a much greater field of view, while a telephoto lens will magnify distant objects. These aren’t perfect, though: the photo will look like it was taken with whatever lens you used.

There are weird optical quirks like barrel distortion with wide-angle lenses—straight lines appear to curve—and compression with telephoto lenses—objects appear much closer together—that come with using different lenses.

So what do you do if you want a photo to look something like the real world? For everything to appear how you see it in front of you and not strangely distorted by your lens? That’s when you use a “normal lens”.

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What Is a Normal Lens?

A normal lens is one that best approximates the optical characteristics of the human eye. In other words, the photos taken with a normal lens look closest to how we see the world. This has nothing to do with aperture, but is entirely dependent on the focal length of the lens.

It’s difficult to perfectly compare human vision to cameras; both work in very different ways. Our eyes aren’t the equivalent of any specific lens. Instead, there are a range of focal lengths that will create photos that look roughly the same. There will always be differences, but the photos shouldn’t look distorted like a wide-angle or telephoto photo can.

On a full-frame camera, a normal lens is considered to have a focal length of 50mm. This was set by the creator of the Leica camera system, Oskar Barnack, pretty much arbitrarily. In reality, any lens with a focal length of between about 40mm and 58mm will look roughly like how things appear to your eyes.

On a…

How Does the “8x” Zoom on My Point-and-Shoot Compare to My DSLR?

Your camera may boast “8x zoom”, but most DSLRs do not advertise values like these. So how do they compare? The answer is more complex than you may think.

That “8x” value that doesn’t necessarily mean objects in the photo will look 8 times bigger than they do with your eyes. It just means things will be 8 times bigger than its most zoomed-out position—but two cameras in their most zoomed-out positions will not look the same size.

Every lens affects your image in a different way. A wide angle lens warps the perspective in the image so it shows more than you could see with your naked eye. A telephoto lens does the opposite, zooming in like a telescope to distant objects. These things are separate from the actual “zoom” function on your camera, so one 8x zoom lens may not make objects as large as another 8x zoom lens.

So how do we calculate how much bigger an object appears in a photo compared to your eyes, where you’re currently standing? To find that out, you need to know the focal length and field of view of the lens you’re using.

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Focal Length and Field of View

In photography, the focal length of a lens is the distance between a the camera’s sensor and the internal components of the lens itself. This focal length determines how close objects look to your camera and what part of the scene actually fits within the picture—otherwise known as your field of view. A massive, telescope-like lens with a 1000mm focal length will make objects look very close. Lenses with smaller focal lengths will make objects appear farther away.

Many lenses can “zoom” to different focal lengths. For example, an 18-135mm lens will let you zoom from an 18mm focal length to a 135mm focal length.

Here’s an example. I shot the following two images with my Canon 650D and an 18-135mm lens.

The first photo was taken at the shortest focal length: 18mm. It’s a pretty wide field of view.

The next photo was taken in the exact same place half a second later. The only difference is that I’ve zoomed in to use the lens’ longest focal length, 135mm.

As you can see, the field of view is a lot narrower in the second photo than the first, because we’ve zoomed in on the mountains.

Here’s the catch, though. Different lenses, at their shortest focal length, will show things differently. Remember that 1000mm telescope lens? Even if you don’t zoom in with it, you’re still seeing things much closer than a camera with an 18-135mm lens. So focal length alone isn’t…

What Lenses Should I Buy for My Canon Camera?

The biggest advantage DSLRs have over smartphones and compact cameras is swappable lenses that suit what you’re trying to shoot. Whether you want a lens that can blur the background for great portraits or something that lets you zoom in close to the action, there will be one available.

Lenses, however, are expensive. With so many choices, you need to be make sure you’re getting the right one for your needs. A well looked-after lens will last for years so it shouldn’t be a throwaway choice.

If you’re already an experienced photographer, this article probably isn’t for you. I’m not going to be recommending any super expensive, professional quality glass. Instead, I’m going to look at some of the best options for beginner and intermediate photographers who are looking to shoot new things.

Before diving in, it’s important to note that Canon has two different lens mounts: EF-S and EF. EF-S lenses will only work on crop sensor cameras like the entry-level Canon EOS Rebel T6. EF lenses will work on all Canon’s DSLRs.

If You Want to Shoot Portraits

For portraits, there are two things you need: a focal length of between about 50mm and 100mm, and a wide aperture. This focal length range gives you natural looking portraits without too much distortion and the wide aperture lets you blur the background to nothing.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM fits both these criteria perfectly, and at $125 is an absolute steal. There are very few lenses this good, available that cheap. I still use the one I bought when I first started portrait photography regularly.

If You Want to Shoot Sports or Wildlife

Sports and wildlife photography are technically very similar: you want close up photos that show the action, but, whether because you’re stuck on the sideline or can’t sneak up on a wild…