Which lens does what

A camera’s lens makes it possible to produce pictures that depart greatly from our familiar human perception.

Learning to visualise how a different lens can transform a scene is one of the most useful and powerful skills a photographer can master.

But zoom lens, wide-angle, telephoto, normal, macro or fish-eye … which does what?

Here’s my easy guide.

Zoom lenses replace several fixed focal length lenses.

Their focal lengths can be changed continuously within a set range.

They are a travelling photographer’s delight.

Normal lens


The normal lens (50 mm) records the ‘human condition’ and give a faithful, undistorted rendition of space, distance and subject size.

Wide-angle lens


Wide-angle lenses (14–35 mm) cover wider areas are especially suitable for landscape, interior and architectural photography.

A medium telephoto – or tele –  lens (70–135 mm) provides a natural perspective with a slightly increased working distance, making them eminently suitable for portrait photography.

Tele lens


Tele lenses (180–300 mm) enlarge small areas in the far distance to fi ll the frame. They make it easier to photograph elusive or dangerous subjects and help to isolate them from their surrounds.

Super telephoto lens

Super telephoto

Super tele lenses (400–1200 mm) are the professional’s choice for wildlife and sports photography but they are very bulky, heavy and expensive, especially with fast apertures.

Macro lens


Macro lenses have special optical designs for optimum performance up close and give extra working space at high magnifications.

Fish-eye lens


Finally, fish-eye lenses are an extremely wide-angle lens that make pictures look spherical.


  1. Suzanne Stamps

    Thank you. You have simplified this for me so that I can now understand without all the technical jargon. I am new to interchangeable lenses as I have only used compact SLRs in the past. Enjoying the tips.

  2. Hi Ken

    I attended your first conference (Camden) and, although I enjoyed the occasion, did not benefit as much as I should have, being little more than a beginner. I picked up more on commonsense ideas you gave, rather than the technicalities. Now, after a self education program of “try this, and see how it works” I am finding your ebook incredibly useful, and find myself constantly referring to it, since the day I downloaded. Thank you very much.

  3. Thanks for that information Ken. I’m going on a Tigers & Taj trip with a certain well known photographer, in less than 2 weeks. I have a 70 – 200mm Nikon f/2.8 lens & a 2x converter for the trip, should I take my 18 – 55mm lens. This is the maximum I can physically carry along with all the rest of the gear that’s required.
    I’m really enjoying getting your tips. Many I have printed off & carry them in my camera bag.

  4. Great article. One lens you did not mention is the tilt-shift. I’ve just ordered a 17mm f/4 which will be great for architecture and landscapes without the distorted perspective.

  5. Great analyses of the lens and what they are best used for. Have all types but need to pay more attention to what I am using them for.

  6. Very Good tips for all concern! 😆

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