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Many of the creative options available to a photographer hinge on an in-depth understanding of lenses. In Foundations of Photography: Lenses, Ben Long shows how to choose lenses and take full advantage of their creative options. The course covers fundamental concepts that apply to any camera, such as focal length and camera position, and shows how to evaluate and shop for DSLR lenses. The second half of the course focuses on shooting techniques: controlling autofocus, working with different focal lengths, and managing distortion and flare. The course also examines various filters and contains tips on cleaning and maintaining lenses.
Lenses come in two flavors: prime lenses, which have a single fixed focal length, that means they have one field of view, and zoom lenses which have a variable focal length. So they have a field of view that can go from wide to more narrow. For the most part a lens with a longer focal length will be physically longer. For example, I've got this 400mm lens, which is as you would expect much longer than this 50mm lens. Now I say for the most part, because zoom lenses can complicate things. For example, I've got this 50mm lens here and then I've got this is a 16 to 35 millimeter zoom.
It's much longer than the 50. That's because zoom lenses have complex mechanics and sometimes require extra glass. So even though this is ultimately a shorter focal length, it's a physically longer lens. With primes you'll sometimes find a kind of odd size variation. For example, here is a 28mm lens and here is a different 50mm lens. The 28mm is a shorter focal length, but in this case it's a physically larger lens. That's because this lens can open to a wider aperture. If the lens is really fast sometimes it may require more glass and so it ends up physically larger.
These days everyone is familiar with zoom lenses, either from video cameras or still cameras. Every point-and-shoot camera has a zoom lens and of course it's not possible to swap the lens on your point-and- shoot camera for another zoom or prime. The great thing about point-and- shoots though is that their lenses are physically very small and they sit very, very close to the sensor. As a lens gets shorter and narrower and can be positioned closer to the sensor, it becomes easier to engineer a very good quality lens. So even though this lenses tiny it might actually deliver better quality than some of these larger lenses for an SLR.
As you shoot more and as you practice you're going to become more aware of what focal lengths you tend to favor and how picky you are about sharpness, flare, and other potential lens problems. Right now don't worry too much about whether the lens you have is right for you. You'll be able to make a more educated decision in that regard as we learn more.
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