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Photography: choosing the right lens

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In the hands of a creative photographer, the right lens is what makes the perfect picture. Your task is to choose yours with care!

1. Tips

  • Avoid choosing solely on the basis of affordability. You are likely to be sorely disappointed.
  • Professional quality lenses are reliable, high-performance devices that will stay with you for virtually your entire life.
  • Aperture is a key factor when it comes to lens quality. A lens that goes as wide as f/2.8 will always be better than one that only goes up to f/4 or f/5.6.
  • The focal length must match the chosen subject.

2. Choosing the right lens to match the subject


Subject conditions

Recommended lens

Second best option

Other options

Insects, flora, small objects, coins..

Macro lenses: 50, 85 or 105mm depending on the required magnification

7-200 or 70-300 zoom lens with "macro" function

Macro extension tube or macro bellows + 50-200mmf fixed focal length

Sports figures at a range of distances

100-300mm telephoto lens or greater

70-200 or 70-300 zoom

1.4x or 2x focal length multiplier attached ti a 70-200mm zoom

Building or large tree

17-35mm perspective correction lens

12-28mm wide angle lens

24-70 zoom (or 17-55 APS-C) with the minimum focal length possible

Bird or small animal in the distance

500mm telephoto lens

Téléobjectif de 400 mm

500mm f/8 mirror lens or 2x focal length multiplier on a shorter lens

Animals and wildlife more generally

300mm telephoto lens or 300mm zoom

400mm telephoto lens or 400mm zoom

70-200 zoom or 200mm telephoto lens with 2x focal length multiplier

Small indoor spaces

12-28mm wide angle lens

Fish-eye if distortion is acceptable

 Flash required in low light

Urban or rural landscapes

12-35mm wide angle lens

24-70mm zoom, or 70-200mm, giving a distorted perspective


Portraits (head and shoulders)

70-135mm lenses

70-200 or 70-300mm zoom

50mm, possibly combined with a 1.4x or 2x focal length multiplier

Group photos

28mm-35mm lenses

24-70 or 24-105mm zoom

18-35mm wide angle lens

Tip: Break the rules!

Using a lens in a non-standard way will let you to shoot a given subject from a new perspective.

E.g. using a wide angle for taking a portrait shot. The subject's outline appears distorted, emphasising the sense of  angst portrayed by the background closing in on them, or playfully exaggerating the size of their nose to comic effect.

3. Choosing lenses according to focal length

Wide angle lenses

Any lens with a focal length of less than 35mm is deemed to be a wide angle lens. They are useful when you are unable to stand further back to take in wide scenes such as landscapes and trees. However, they distort the perspective.

  • Ensure you shoot straight to prevent vertical lines from converging at the top or bottom.
  • Because of the distortion, avoid placing horizontal or vertical lines near to the edges of the picture.


Standard lenses

35-80mm, offering a viewing angle similar to that of the human eye. 70/80mm, useful for separating the subject from the background. At these focal lengths, fixed focal lengths often offer wide apertures (f/1.0-f/2.8), which is particularly useful in low light, and higher quality compared to zoom lenses. However, you will need to step towards or away from the subject to ensure they are properly framed.


Telephoto lenses

These lenses, with focal lengths above  60 mm, allow you to bring distant subjects closer to the camera without the need to actually move closer. The have a shallow depth of field. Above 300 mm, they require a tripod, as they are heavy and bulky.


Zoom lenses

A zoom lens is one with a variable focal length. Those with a fixed aperture (e.g. f/2.8 or f/4) will be better than those with sliding aperture range (e.g. f/3,5-5,6 ). There come in 4 types.

  • Wide-angle zooms: 8-16, 12-24, 17-35 or 17-40mm
  • "Standard" zooms provide multiples of particular focal lengths such as 24-70 or 24-105, (17-55 or 17-70mm in APS-C format). They are fairly multi-purpose and can be used to capture a broad scene such as a  landscape or take a close-up portrait of a single figure.
  • Telephoto zooms: 70-200, 70-300, 100-300, 200-500mm
  • "Ultra zoom" lenses rated 28-200mm (18-135mm APS-C) or 50-500mm are extremely flexible and can take the place of several lenses, from a wide angle to a telephoto. Warning: the wide range of focal lengths and sliding apertures often have an adverse effect on image quality at either end of the focal range!