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Getting photography effects with different lenses

Add some flare to your photography, here we explain how different lenses can affect your photographs


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Interchangeable lens cameras can be broadly split into two groups:

  • DSLRs are traditionally shaped and have been around as film SLRs and more recently DSLRs for decades
  • Compact System Cameras (CSCs) remove the mirror and prism from the traditional DSLR design and allow for a smaller chassis while maintaining the ability to have a large sensor as shown by the image of the Fujifilm X-A2 below.

Having the correct lens will allow you to create a range of different types of photo – such as up-close nature shots, panoramic landscapes, fast-moving action and more. Here we'll explain the main ones...

Why do lenses matter?

Light is the key component in photography; more of it allows for a clearer image and for this reason, large sensors which capture more light are desired by professionals.

But before light even reaches the sensor, it has to travel through your lens, which is why each type of lens allows you to take a different type of picture. DSLRs and compact system cameras therefore are very versatile but it can be hard knowing which lens is right for you. Read on for a brief explanation of each lens type.

Key point to considerfocal length

The focal length of a lens affects how big your subject – be it a mountain, a group of friends or a pet – is in the frame.

The focal length is measured in millimetres. The higher number, the closer you can get to your subject. While lower numbers mean you can get more focused area within the photo.

Long focal length: portraits, up-close wildlife and sports photographs

Short focal length: landscapes, buildings and large group photos

When the focal length is between 2 numbers – i.e. 85-135mm – that means it's a zoom lens and can be zoomed to any point between the 2 numbers.

When a lens has a focal length with 1 number – i.e. 50mm – it's a prime lens. This means there's no capacity to zoom, so if you want to get closer to a subject you have to walk closer to it.

Lenses with different focal lengths

1. Wide (10-35mm)

Ideal for: Landscapes, group photos and large subjects

This lens will give you a wide field of view – putting your entire subject into the frame. Think sweeping panoramas of mountains, fields, lakes and stately homes.

2. Standard (35-120mm)

Ideal for: Portraits and travel photography

Standard lenses sit in the middle ground between wide angle and telephoto lenses in terms of focal length. At 50mm a lens is expected to give a similar angle of view to that of the human eye and so with their relative lack of size, these lenses are great all-round lenses

3. Telephoto (120mm and above)

Ideal for: Sports and wildlife

Wanting to get up-close shots of something in the distance? Whether it's the kids playing football or a bird in flight, a telephoto lens will help. A narrow field of view means that you can focus on one subject and make it really stand out from the crowd.

Special lenses

1. Macro

Ideal for: Extreme close-ups

Think detailed photos of flower heads and insects. A macro lens gets so close to the subject that it fills the whole frame. Can also give brilliant results with portraits.

2. Fisheye

Ideal for: Arty pictures

Creates immersive images that pull you in to the picture. Images taken with a fisheye lens have a curved look – almost like how the world looks when you peer through a peephole in your front door. With one you can create really interesting, arty landscapes and portraits.

3. Tilt-shift

Ideal for: Architecture, landscape and product photography

Tilt and shift lenses have specialist designs which allow you to control the perspective and depth of field in an image. Tilt can be used to affect the focus to get massive depth or limit it to a tiny area which can also lead to 'miniature' scene images. Shift allows you to keep perspective and perpendicular lines throughout an image.

Want to learn more? Head over to our photography buying guide

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