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Which Camera Lens Suits Your Needs?

Mixed race woman holding camera

All cameras have lens but they’re not all created equal. Despite the intimidating variety and specifications of lenses that are available in the market, the basics about lenses are actually easier to understand than SEO and HTML.

When I was majoring in Multimedia Arts back in 2010 part of my curriculum was basic photography. So I asked my photographer friends what is the most affordable but good DSLR camera that I should buy for my class. Someone answered me that any DSLR will do but it’s the lens that’s the most important. Selecting the right lens can seem bewildering, for example Canon alone offers more than 60 options of interchangeable lenses for its SLR cameras, each with its own unique features and attributes.

Before I start discussing the simple ways of determining which lens suits your needs, I must tell you that I am quite bias to Canon lenses than Nikon lenses or any other brands because it’s what I am actually using and if you are deciding between point-and-shoot cameras, the principles are the same even if you cannot change the lenses.

photographer

In a nutshell, the focal length of the lens determines how it is used and focal lengths are quoted in milliliters. Any lens below 24mm is considered ultra-wide, between 24mm- 35mm is wide, 35mm to 70mm is standard, 70mm to 200mm is telephoto, and above 200mm is super telephoto.

As the names suggest, a wide-angle lens captures more of a scene; a standard lens offers what you consider a natural perspective – roughly equivalent to what is perceived with the naked eye; and a telephoto lens makes distant object seem closer. Ultra-wide and super telephoto lenses exaggerate the attributes of wide and telephoto lenses, to the extent that photographers have to take care not to include their toes in the images shot with ultra-wide lenses. While some super telephotos cannot focus on anything closer than six meters away! Though remember that different focal lengths gives the final photograph different looks.

Wide-Angle (24mm to 35mm)

Sea at sunset, Honomalino Beach, Hawaii, USA

Perfect for capturing full scope of breathtaking scenery or simply snapping a group photo in tight space. Wide-angles tend to capture more of what’s in the frame in focus. Because the wide-angles makes distant objects seem further away, it is also a great tool to highlight subject matter close to the lens. Take note, this is NOT a good lens for portrait shots because wide-angle lens will display the same effect, it often makes the subject’s nose look dis proportionally large in comparison with the rest of the face!

I recommend this kind of lens like the Canon EF 24mm f1.4L II USM above to street style photographers who wants to vividly capture their stylish subjects in great scenery.

Ultra-Wide (less than 24mm)

lok wah estate

An ultra-wide lens can be very useful to fit more scenery in the frame or in extremely tight spaces. Though this is not a great choice for people photography because ultra-wide lenses can cause visual distortion particularly towards the edges of the image. But if you are like Aimee Song of SongofStyle,com, a fashion blogger and at the same time an interior designer who blogs both about it, then the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM shown above is the lens for you. An ultra-wide lens is a popular choice to capture a whole room or building and those distortions I mentioned earlier can be used for great dramatic effect.

Macro (For Extreme Close-Ups)

macro shot of a pink flower

This kind of lens is what I recommend for beauty bloggers and also to fashion bloggers that do “product reviews” or DIY posts. Macro lenses brings out the details in your close-ups which is perfect for photos that instructs. But be aware that the closer you get to a subject, the hardest it is to get all in focus.

There are a lot of macro lenses in the market, the Canon EF-100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM Lens above is one of it but may best pick is the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 below. It was recommended by my street photographer friend because it has a double function, it can both take standard and macro shots and has a higher magnification too. Perfect lens for portraits and of course, personal style photos. It’s like a lens made especially for fashion bloggers.

mohcine aoki

Lookbook star Mohcine Aoki is one of the bloggers I personally know who uses a Canon 50mm Macro Lens.

Standard (35mm to 70mm)

Alyssa Martinez

Standard lenses (which are often the “kit lens” when you buy a DSLR camera) are the default choices for people photography. The natural angle of view renders facial features in a natural perspective, and the subjects of the photograph will be at a comfortable distance from the camera. The photo above is shot by my art philosophy professor, he was just a few inches away from me when he took this shot of me looking at my back because I could hear dogs barking that are getting nearer and I’m terrified of dogs. Though I don’t look terrified on the photo at all.

The standard angle of view means any subject photographed with this lens will be rendered in a natural way, anyone can use this lens to anything though this delivers less visual impact than what a wide-angle or telephoto can deliver.

Telephoto (70mm to 200mm)

geisha portrait with blurred background

Telephotos can make the subject sharp and the background out of focus, an effect that can be used to great advantage when photographing people while making the background less distracting, just like the photo of the Geisha above probably photographed using a 135mm f/2.0 L lens shown above. This kind of lens is what I recommend if you will be attending a fashion show and planning to take some photos for your blog. I bet this size of lenses are what Scott Schulman of The Sartorialist and Tommy Ton of Jak & Jil uses. Though be aware that too long a telephoto lens will compress facial features, making the subjects look flat. Telephotos also tend to make the background seem closer, even if it is out of focus; a trait that can be used to great effect. Telephoto are also useful for capturing distant scenes.

Super Telephoto (more than 200mm)

Manchester United

Generally the super telephoto lenses is the domain of professional photographers – the lenses are expensive, bulky and often very heavy too. These kind of lenses like the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM above are used by photographers who are separated from the subject such as at international sporting events or stadium concerts. Though there are occasions where amateurs choose them too, particularly for nature photography like those we watch in National Geographic. The subjects are so close especially on the dangerous shots like when a snake eats its prey but actually photographers are really far away from them, they only use telephoto lens that’s why they seem so close.

I can’t state an example where a fashion blogger could use such thing, a telephoto is enough for fashion week runways shows. I guess these super telephoto lenses are really for professional photographers and nature/ wild life enthusiasts.

Hope this post will be helpful next time you will buy a camera!


  • wow thanks, this was super useful! I knew I should get a 50 mm !! A friend of mine who’s into photography told me that it’s the right lens to get that awesome effect of focus you need when you take pictures of people on a background. I like the background to “fade away” and the subject to be clear and neat! Too bad I have a Pentax and lenses are not cheap nor easy to find! I’ll probably have to get a Sigma, which is ok for Pentax too! Thank you for reminding me that I really need to get that lens! <3