Join Jim Heid for an in-depth discussion in this video Exploring lenses and accessories, part of Getting Started in Photography.
- Let's talk lenses. If you're shooting with a phone or a point and shoot camera you're more or less restricted to the lens that's built in. I say more or less because there are some lens attachments that snap onto phones or point and shoot cameras and modify their optics in some way. For example, letting you take close up shots with a phone. But by and large the world of lenses becomes most interesting with a mirrorless camera or a SLR, cameras that accept interchangeable lenses. By removing one lens and replacing it with another you give your camera a whole new way of looking at the world.
Because of that you'll want to learn about the kinds of creative options the different lenses provide. Now I'm going to oversimplify things a lot by saying this, but there are basically three categories of lens. Wide angle, normal, and telephoto. The difference between each deals with how much of the world the lens can see. With a normal lens the lens is seeing the world pretty much the way your eyes do when you aren't looking through a camera. A telephoto lens on the other hand is a bit like a telescope. It makes distant subjects appear closer. A wide angle lens is a bit like moving further away from your subject.
It lets your camera take in more of a scene. So what makes one lens a wide angle lens and another lens a telephoto? The design of the lens itself, it's optics. The way a lens sees the world depends on something called focal length. The longer the focal length, the more the lens magnifies. Focal length is described in millimeters and higher the number, the longer the lens. For example, a 200 millimeter lens is a longer lens, a stronger telephoto lens than say a 100 millimeter lens.
So why would you use different focal length lenses? Well the obvious reason is to capture what you want to. Sports and wildlife photographers often use telephoto lenses to bring their subjects closer. Real estate photographers will sometimes use wide angle lenses to include more of a room in each shot. But that's just the start of it. The truth is each type of lens has interesting optical qualities that you can use to your advantage. For example, lenses that are slightly longer than normal are popular with portrait photographers, they're flattering.
With a longer lens it's also easier to get that blurry, soft background that helps focus attention on your subject. Another factor that sets lenses apart is their speed. The speed of a lens refers to how much light the lens is capable of gathering. A very fast lens lets in a lot of light, great for nighttime and low light photography. But making a fast lens requires a lot of glass and oftentimes a physically larger lens. All of that makes the price go up. So in another way the speed of the lens refers to how fast the lens drains your bank account when you buy it.
Now there is a type of lens that combines wide angle, normal, and telephoto all into one. Of course, I'm talking about zoom lenses and they're everywhere these days. Most mirrorless cameras and SLRs include one and most point and shoot cameras have one built in. And the reason is that they're versatile. A zoom lens lets you twist your way from wide angle to telephoto and anything in between. There's no spending time changing lenses and no spending money buying lots of different ones. At least in theory. Zoom lenses do have some drawbacks.
They contain more glass than non-zoom lenses, which are called prime lenses by the way. And because each piece of glass in a lens blocks a little bit of light, zoom lenses are often not as fast as prime lenses. They're not always as good for low light photography. Now we've taken a 30,000 foot view of lenses here and there's a lot more you'll want to explore. Specialty lenses for example, like fish eye lenses, which are the ultimate wide angle lenses. Or extreme telephoto lenses, which cost a fortune to buy, but can be pretty cheap to rent.
And macro lenses for getting extreme close ups. Macro photography is hugely popular and it's a great way to discover new photo subjects all around you. To help you get the most out of your lenses you'll also want to learn about some technical points, like image stabilization, which you'll find in most lenses or camera bodies these days. It helps you get sharper shots even when you're moving the camera a bit. And auto-focus, which usually lives up to its name, but often needs some help from you. And finally, you'll want to learn about all the things you can attach to lenses.
Filters and polarizers that change the light in useful ways, and adapters, like the Lensbaby, which let you add distortion in some beautiful, creative ways. Lenses are so important that most of our photography courses touch on them in some way. You'll find a list of courses specifically about lenses in our playlist center. I'll talk about that more at the end of this course.
- Essential gear, including cameras, lenses, accessories, and smartphones
- Shooting skills
- Using software to manage and edit your images
- Sharing and printing photos