Wide Angle vs Telephoto Lenses

Sections: Fixed, Lenses, Zoom

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Every category of lens focal length has its own characteristics. From fish eye to super telephoto, each possess inherent qualities.

wide angle lenses

©Russ Burden

Different families are fish eyes, super wides, wides, normal, telephoto, medium telephoto, and super telephoto. Add zooms to the mix that cover some of these families and it’s easy to see why beginning photographers find it difficult to decide what lens to add to their arsenal. In the hierarchy of purchased accessory lenses, telephoto zooms rank the highest and then comes wide angles.

Wide Angle Lenses: Wide angle lenses are those whose effective focal lengths are 35mm and wider. Ultra wides start at 24 and go all the way down to the realm of fish eyes. They provide a vast field of view compared to a normal or telephoto. In other words, they “see” what you would see if it were necessary to turn your head to the left or right.

telephoto lenses

©Russ Burden

Telephoto Lenses: Telephoto lenses typically start at 100mm and go up from there. Super telephotos begin at 400mm and go higher. They have a narrow field of view – the more telephoto, the narrower the field. It’s this narrow field that provides subject  magnification. If you need to pull distant objects closer so they fill the frame, a telephoto fits the bill.

A telephoto is primarily used to fill the frame with subjects that are too far away to be captured with a wide angle or normal lens. Sports and wildlife photographers rely on their use. The farther the subject, the higher number focal length is necessary to make the subject appear large. Additionally, the smaller the subject, the greater the need for a super telephoto. Bird photographer’s bread and butter lenses are commonly in the 500mm and 600mm range.

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