What Type of Lens to Use for Specific Situations

The lens is your camera’s eye and plays the key role in capturing clarity, color, and details of each image. Whether you’re a specialized or a beginner photographer, choosing the right lens will definitely elevate your photography. With a point and shoot type of camera, the lens is fixed. DSLR cameras offer lens mounts that let you swap and use different type lenses.

types of camera lenses

“photographer” captured by Chanmee Gloria Kim

Before diving into available types, the definition of focal length and the extent of the reach will help to clarify DSLR lenses. When the subject of an image is in focus, focal length measures the distance between the optical center of the lens and the digital camera sensor. It is measured in millimeters and displayed on the actual lens.

Another useful information found on a lens is the extent of its reach: 35mm–80mm, 50–100mm), 200–400mm, and so on.

Types of Lenses

Lens types are classified as prime, which comes with fixed focal length and zoom, which has a variable focal length.

Prime includes subgroups of standard (35–80mm), wide angle (15–28mm), macro (50–100mm), telephoto (80–300mm), and super telephoto lenses (200–400mm).

Zooms come with variations like wide angle to telephoto or standard to telephoto coverage.

Even point and shoot cameras come with a standard 35–80mm lens. The standard lens is also known as “normal-lens.” The term “normal” is used for this type because it captures a scene just as the human eye sees it. A standard lens is great for everyday shots, such as flowers, people, or pets.

Wide angle gives a broader view of a scene than a standard lens does. Because this lens captures a wide area it is used for photographing groups of people and landscapes.

Telephoto is used to enlarge pictures or for bringing distant subjects closer. A common telephoto comes with 75–300mm coverage. When you begin to move from the 35mm into something larger, it’s best to either use a tripod or a stabilizer. A stabilizer will help you hold the camera steady for clear shots even if your hand moves a little bit.

Super telephoto comes with a 200–400mm lens. It is mostly used for capturing wildlife.

A macro lens is designed to capture a tiny subject as a bigger image. Macro photography is a type of shooting that magnifies the size of a subject. As its name implies, it’s great for close up shots, such as flowers, spiderwebs, insects, and other small objects.

Digital zoom simply crops the image to a smaller size, and then enlarges the cropped portion to fill the frame.

Optical zoom works just like a digital zoom. The lens changes focal length and increase magnification as it is zoomed.

Helpful video on this topic:

What Type of Lens Should You Use?

  • For general shots like people, pets, or flowers choose standard.
  • For large groups of people choose wide angle.
  • For landscapes use wide angle.
  • For architecture choose wide angle.
  • For action and sports use telephoto.
  • For portraits the standard lens works best, however you can also use telephoto.
  • For wildlife and bird photography use super telephoto.
  • For close-up shots and tiny objects use macro.

In the photography world, lenses are a small piece of equipment but they help to capture better images.

About the Author:
Zoe Shaw from digitalphotoworks.net is a computer programmer and graphic designer.

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10 responses to “What Type of Lens to Use for Specific Situations”

  1. Rick DeNatale says:

    A couple of comments.

    It’s not just the focal length but also the sensor size. The categories by focal length apply to a full-frame sensor. If you have an SLR with a sensor smaller than full frame you need to multiply those focal lengths by the crop factor (e.g. 1.5 for my Nikon D-5100) so a 28mm lens on a DX Nikon acts like a 42mm lens would on a full frame camera.

    Also, whether or not a lens is a macro or not is independent of its focal length. A macro lens is one which can produce an image on the sensor at least as large as the actual object being photographed. I think most point and shoot cameras label there lenses with the actual focal length but an equivalent 35mm full frame value.

    One of my lenses, which has been in my collection since before the age of digital sensors and auto-focus is a Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm Macro Focusing Zoom lens which has a ‘switch’ to change from zoom to macro mode. In zoom mode you slide the focus ring back and forth to zoom, and twist it to focus. To switch to macro mode you pull the focus ring all the way to the back (210mm) position, and press a button and turn the switch ring. In this mode sliding the focus ring focuses the lens, and turning it does nothing.

  2. Jack Harwick says:

    Most photographers choose a camera and then the add lenses. Being an old school photograper from the days when a camera was just a box to mount the lens on, I searched the whole field of available lenses to find the best one for my type of photography (Travel, landscapes, close ups) What i came up with and still use dayly and highly recommend is a Zuiko 12-60 mm f/2.8 with a 35 mm equivelent of 24-120mm. I hardly ever have to change lenses, yet the zoom range isn’t so extreme that there is excessive distortion and even though it is a zoom it is sharper than many prime lenses. The manufature claims that it is the fastes focusing lens available and I have seen no reason to dispute the claim.

    I have been using this lens for several years on a sucession of Olympus cameras (E510, E30, E5) and still believe that the choice of lens is more important than the choice of camera.

  3. Raghav says:

    I guess many photographers serious about Portraits would prefer Prime lenses & not a zoom lens for portraiture.
    Also a Zoom which covers Wide-Angle to Telephoto? Guess that should be Wide-Angle to Standard.
    And speaking of Digital Zoom with reference to Lenses seems off the topic.

  4. Jose Estrella says:

    We cannot forget also the aspect of perception here, humans have the ability in its brain to correct perception of our bifocal sight, camera sensors and lenses do not (except for TS Lenses in which we can manually correct for this distortions, therefore we really have to take into account this factors, while either Primes or Zooms, Wide or Tele; all have this distorting factors to account for. In the meantime, yes, composition and software help us dealing with this issues but only to a degree, we have to really first look at the scenes and the angles in which we are to be taking a shot before we even pull out a lens out the bag, it will be a matter of whats the scene you want to portrait and how good you want that image to look whats important, some lenses will offer you convenience while others will offer you the tool to accomplish a determined task, prime, zoom, wide or tele can play an important role if the the purpose for what has been chosen serves its most valuable asset on the final product, we won’t negate the use of variable zoom focal length lenses as it is inevitable to prevent space and reach limitations in a particular photographic environment but I personally prefer primes due to the lesser distortion factors existing in their interior lens groupings and the faster the better. Someone here already said is easier to stop down but is not too easy to open up…totally truth. While larger aperture means larger DOF and we may think that we rarely need such a deep DOF or that we cannot open up that wide in sunny skies unless we use very heavy filters to neutralize, but one have to remember that more light for a sensor means more focusing power for our cameras, in any type of light situations.

  5. Mark says:

    Sadly this article shows a real misunderstanding of lenses. I shoot wildlife and landscapes and can personally attest that Landscape images can be done with ANY LENS. There are times when I wish to compress the apparent depth of an image and chose a telephoto lens for that reason. Conversely, if I want to exaggerate the depth of the image I will use a wide angle, so you really cannot generalize on this. You can say that the majority of landscapes are shot with a wide angle, but that is about the limit.

    Macro lenses do not have any focal length limits. I have seen macro lenses well beyond 100mm both in prime and zoom lenses.

    As to the super telephoto lenses, Canon does not classify a lens this way until it exceeds 400mm. So their 100-400mm zoom is listed as a telephoto, but their 500mm prime is a super telephoto! This is what I have generally heard until this article and tend to agree with the other sources. For birding and most wildlife shooting I personally rarely use less than 300mm and often wish I could afford the Canon 800mm lens! Generally I have the 100-400mm at the 400mm end all the time!

    Your explanation of optical and digital zoom is all messed up. The optical zoom is the physical movement of the lens to zoom in tighter and is the better of the two for not distorting the image. Digital zoom is cropping the image and enlarging it back to the original size. That will severely degrade the image most of the time, so it is best to not allow the camera to digitally zoom. If you wish to do this to get a subject to fill the frame, it is much better to do this in an editing program like PhotoShop or GIMP as they use much better algorithms for the enlarging than the ones that camera manufacturers build into the cameras today.

    I hate to say this, but this article misleads more than it informs and leaves much to be desired.

  6. Mark says:

    Even the video has some misleading data in it when it discusses zoom vs prime lenses. He claims that the 50mm prime is usually less expensive than the zooms that cover that focal length. Price does not enter into it at all. Canon makes the “nifty fifty” a 50mm f/1.8 prime that IS in fact cheaper than most zooms, but they also make a 50mm f/1.4 that is about four times as much AND they make an L series 50mm f/1.2 that is way more than many zooms that cover the 50mm length.

    The main reason for using prime lenses is never mentioned in the video!!! All zoom lenses make compromises to get the best average performance at all lengths. The prime lenses do not need to make these compromises as they are engineered from start to finish to be the best lens at their focal length and price point. Thus Canon’s L series is great, while their f/1.4 is very good quality at a lower price, yet the f/1.8 nifty fifty is very compromised to get to the lowest price point. While some may never need a lens better than the nifty fifty, professionals almost always do need better.

  7. Alex says:

    I am new to photography and i would like to know what lens do you recommend to take panoramic pictures at night ? im looking for something that will also permit me to zoom in a bit.


  8. dalton says:

    Great tips. The video was very visually helpful as well! I tend to prefer zooms for weddings and street photog and primes for editorials and portraits. I love the versatility of a good zoom.

  9. aditya kapoor says:

    nice video & details. it is helpful for me. I will definitely follow this.
    thanks for your tips.

  10. claude B. says:

    I don’y us zoom anymore. My zoom is now my legs and my pictures improved in quality with fix lenses.
    My pictures are done with 19mm, 30mm and 60mm on APS-C Sony. I’m still have zoom but now dusty. :)
    I’m not doing birds, animals.
    Portraits, streets, architectures are my loves.

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