ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Digital Camera Lenses and Focal Lengths

Updated on June 19, 2013

Lenses are a key part of your creative arsenal in photography. They allow you to crop in or zoom out and to frame and re-frame a composition to your hearts content. Lenses can help draw attention to a subject by blurring the background, or by keeping every detail sharp as far as the distant horizon. They can magnify distant subjects so they fill the frame or make them look quite small. They can squeeze a tall building into a single frame, even if you are standing right next to it. With the right lens on your camera, the whole world is your photographic plaything.

After you decide which DSLR camera is best for you, you can start buying all the fun lenses that go along with it.

The first thing you should know about a new lens for your DSLR camera are the parts of it and what all the numbers and letters mean.

My Canon Zoom Lens EF 75-300mm
My Canon Zoom Lens EF 75-300mm | Source

Most lenses carry a series of letters and numbers on their barrels. These tell you the features and functions that the lens offers. Here's a guide to some of the terminology you will see on your lens.

  • EF (Electronic Focus) - Used to denote Canon's range of autofocus lenses.
  • EF-S (Electronic Focus, Short) - Digital-only lenses that have a short back focus for non-full frame DSLRs.
  • IS (Image Stabilizer) - An in-lens system that detects camera shake and corrects it in the lens itself.
  • USM (Ultra Sonic Motor) - A focus motor offering fast and quiet focusing.
  • DO (Diffractive Optical element) - A combination of lens elements used to combat chrmoatic aberration (colour fringing) and reduce lens size.
  • AF-D (Distance) - The lens supplies distance information to the camera to assist focusing.
  • AF-I (Internal) - An internal autofocus motor used to speed up focusing.
  • AF-G (Genesis) - Similar to AF-I but features a newer internal drive motor and lacks a manual aperture ring altogether. The G classification is to be found on most new models.
  • AF-S (Silent) - These lenses feature a silent wave motor (SWM) which enables faster and quieter autofocus.
  • IF (Internal Focus) - A system used so that the lens doesn't change length during focusing. This gives a more compact design, a non-rotating front element and a closer focusing distance.
  • ED (Extra-low Dispersion) - A type of glass used to help reduce chromatic aberration (colour fringing) on lenses.
  • VR (Vibrations Reduction) - A system of sensors and tiny gyros inside the lens to help minimize problems with camera shake.
  • Micro - Nikon's term for macro. These lenses have a very short close focus distance allowing you to get very close to your subject.
  • DX (Digital Only) - These lenses are for all Nikon's digital cropped-sensor DSLRs.
  • FC (Full-Frame) - The latest DSLR sensor format from Nikon, with a sensor measuring around 36X24mm.

Focal Length

The focal length of your lenses are described in terms of their focal length, measured in millimeters, which in turn determines the lens's angle of view (how much of the scene you can get into frame). The shorter the focal length, the wider the angle of coverage. These are known as wide angle lenses. The longer the focal length, the narrower the angle of view. These are known as long or telephoto lenses.

The wide angle lens has the smallest focal length and allows you to get even more of the scene in your shots. You will notice that may wide angle lenses will overlap with the shorter end of your standard lens but the wide angle lens will usually go down to 10mm or 12mm at the shortest end for a greater angle of view.

Most DSLRs come supplied with a standard zoom lens. These lenses give you a range of focal lengths around 18-55mm. The lens is fine for most every day subjects such as landscape views, holidays and family outings.

18mm Zoom

At 18mm zoom you can see the whole door and windows and the sidewalk as well as part of the sky
At 18mm zoom you can see the whole door and windows and the sidewalk as well as part of the sky | Source

24mm Zoom

At 24mm zoom you can see the flag and most of the door and windows
At 24mm zoom you can see the flag and most of the door and windows | Source

55mm Zoom

At 55mm zoom you can see the whole flag
At 55mm zoom you can see the whole flag | Source

Although any lens longer then 35mm can be classed as a telephoto lens, you will find that the focal lengths for most telephoto zooms start between 55mm to 75mm. This means they are the perfect complement to your standard lens, with hardly any overlap. At the longer end they usually go to either 200mm or 300mm, allowing you to pick out distant subjects and magnify them in your image.

100mm Zoom

At 100mm zoom you can see almost all of the flag
At 100mm zoom you can see almost all of the flag | Source

200mm Zoom

At 200mm zoom you can still see part of the stripes on the flag
At 200mm zoom you can still see part of the stripes on the flag | Source

300mm Zoom

Zoomed in on the flag at 300mm you can see the stitching of the stars
Zoomed in on the flag at 300mm you can see the stitching of the stars | Source

A macro lens usually has a focal length of between 50mm and 105mm. The difference between macro and the normal telephoto lens is that macro lenses allow you to focus really close to the subject, allowing you to record small subjects such as flowers and insects at life-size magnifications.

When you are purchasing a new lens for your camera there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

  1. What focal length are you wanting to get?
  2. Which type of lens will best fit the needs you are looking for?
  3. Make sure the lens is the correct one for your camera (most lenses are not interchangeable with different cameras).
  4. You don't have to purchase every lens to get the picture you want.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      6 years ago from Pune, India

      Thanks for sharing this information. I found a page which readers of this hub may like: https://www.facebook.com/photo.equipment

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      cam8510 - Wow, I didn't know that set up worked either! I've never shot with a Sony, I started with a Kodak and graduated to my Cannon I have now. I do have a bit bigger Cannon on my wish list for Christmas so I might be learning a new camera all over again. Good thing it's mostly the same! Thanks for stopping by and the comment ;)

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 

      7 years ago from Dallas, Texas through August 23, 2019.

      I've just begun using a DSLR.Thank you for the descriptions of lens parts. I use a Sony Alpha 390 with Minolta film camera lenses. Most people are surprised to hear that the auto focus works with this set up. It is so much cheaper for lenses and I get to buy the best lenses Minolta ever made. My 50mm Minolta Maxxum AF is my favorite. Thanks again.

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      j-matlock - your welcome :) Thanks for the comment!

    • j-matlock profile image

      j-matlock 

      7 years ago from Somewhere.

      Great hub, thank you.

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Simone - There are so many little bits and pieces and acronyms on a lens that I too was overwhelmed at first. It really does help knowing what it all means and how to read it :) Thanks for the comment!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      This is SO USEFUL!! When I first started learning about lenses and focal lengths, I was so flummoxed. This Hub would have been a lifesaver for me back in my beginning photography class.

      Thanks for the great photo demonstrations and that super helpful explanation of common lens feature acronyms.

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Glad you liked it soundtrack junkie :) Thanks for stopping by!

    • soundtrack junkie profile image

      soundtrack junkie 

      7 years ago from New Hampshire

      great tips.. thanks for sharing

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Billy - I've got so many more hubs in the works about photography and what equipment to use and what all the buttons and knobs mean :) Once I get back from vacation my life will be all about hubbing (when the kids let me that is LOL) I hope you do learn some great things from my hubs :) Just remember, it's not about how expensive or how much equipment you have, you just have to know how to use what you got! Thanks for the comment :)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love taking pictures, but I have never invested in decent equipment and I never take the time to really practice the art. I could learn so much from you.....I will be a much more loyal follower from now on. Maybe you can teach the teacher.

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Thanks :)

    • E V Thomas profile image

      E V Thomas 

      7 years ago from India

      good one :)

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      SidKemp - Glad this helps you with your lenses. I don't have a macro yet either but I'm still having way to much fun with the two lenses I do have :) Amazing how just those two can keep me busy for hours! Thanks for your comment :) And good luck in your photography!

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 

      7 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Very helpful - meets me right where I am with my Cannon DSLR and my zoom telephoto and zoom wide angle. I'd like to get a macro lens next - getting into close-up photography!

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      kelley - I'm glad you enjoyed my tips :) Thanks for the votes and Shares :) Always appreciated!

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      krsharp05 - There is so much information on your lenses :) I, too, now know what all those little numbers and letters mean! Glad you were able to follow along as well! Thanks for the comment :)

    • profile image

      kelleyward 

      7 years ago

      I love the tips you provided here. Voted up and shared! kelley

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 

      7 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      Cassy, I love your new dingbat! Thank you for such a detailed explanation of lenses. I had to get my camera out and follow along. Very helpful information. -K

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Lynn S. Murphy - Thanks for the votes and the comment :)

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 

      7 years ago

      Great information and love how you pare it down and make it understandable. voted up!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)