11 Types Of Camera Lenses (For DSLR and Mirrorless ) And Their Uses

Camera equipment can be confusing to those just getting started, especially the various types of lenses out there.

To help you figure out what lenses you may want to invest in next, I’ve created this guide to break all of the various lenses down by their focal length and what they are commonly used for.

Focal Length Size Guide

Focal LengthNameCommon Uses
4-14mmFisheye, Ultra-WideLandscape, Creative, Abstract
14-35mmWide AngleLandscape, Environmental Portraits, Astro
35-70mmStandardPortrait, Travel, Street
70-135mmShort TelephotoPortrait, Sports
135-200mmMedium TelephotoSports, Wildlife, Action
300mm+Super TelephotoSports, Wildlife, Deep Space
35-100mmMacroClose-Up Shots

What Are The Main Types Of Camera Lenses?

There are many types of lenses but they can broadly be broken down into two categories, prime lenses, and zoom lenses. All lenses are either prime or zoom lenses and then within these two categories, there are many other types of camera lenses.

Many people get confused between zoom lenses and telephoto lenses, but they are different things. I broke down the zoom lens vs. telephoto confusion in this article.

1. Zoom Lenses

A zoom lens is one that has a variable and adjustable focal length. Typically, the focal length is changed by rotating a section of the lens.

Zoom lenses can come in a variety of focal length ranges. The most common ones that you might see in a photographer’s bag are the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm. With those two lenses, you can cover a huge range and shoot a wide variety of subjects.

The 24-70mm is one of the most common zoom lenses

While zoom lenses excel at versatility, they have some limitations. Compared to prime lenses, zoom lenses are typically larger, more expensive, have smaller maximum apertures, and can fall short of prime lenses in terms of image quality.

These limitations are all a result of the fact that being able to adjust the focal length requires more movable lens elements and variability.

Despite these limitations, having a set of zoom lenses in your bag can be extremely useful.

2. Prime Lenses

A prime lens is one with a fixed focal length. If you want to change the focal length, you would need to physically remove the lens and put another one on the camera.

Prime lenses also come in a wide variety of focal lengths. The 50mm is by far the most common and most affordable prime lens for most camera manufacturers and it’s a great place for beginners to start. But you’ll also find prime lenses of 20mm, 35mm, 85mm, 100mm, and many more.

Although you are limited to one focal length, there are some big benefits to using prime lenses. They are often smaller than similar focal length zooms, they are typically less expensive, have wider maximum apertures, and can give you the best image quality in terms of both sharpness and color.

If you don’t need a lot of versatility and want that added image quality and wider maximum aperture, then prime lenses are a great option.

I use both. I keep a couple of zooms in my bag to cover all the focal lengths I may need but also have some primes for the focal lengths I use the most, especially for portraits.

What Are The Other Types Of Lenses?

Now that you understand the difference between a zoom and prime lens, let’s talk about all the types of lenses that fall within those two categories.

In general, we tend to classify lenses by their focal length (which is a measurement of the magnification of a lens). However, there are some specialty lenses that can also come in a variety of focal lengths.

3. Ultra-Wide (4-14mm)

Ultra-wide lenses are at the widest end of the focal length range and have the widest field of view, letting you get more of the scene in your frame.

At this focal length the versatility of this lens is somewhat limited but the results can be dramatic for the right scene. You’ll have trouble shooting portraits but some landscape scenes can be perfect for such a wide angle of view.

Ultra-wide lenses also work great inside buildings (like museums or cathedrals) because you can’t always back up enough to fit everything in the image. However, distortion can make it tricky to make interiors look realistic.

4. Fisheye (4-10mm)

A fisheye lens is an ultrawide lens that uses the wide angle distortion to the extreme for a specific look to the image.

A fisheye lens creates a lot of distortion in the image

Fisheye lenses are quite a niche option and give a specific creative look that can be very interesting but is also very limited. One of the most common places you may see a fisheye look is on an action camera like a GoPro.

For this reason, they are rarely one of the first lenses that a photographer purchases.

5. Wide Angle (14-35mm)

Wide-angle lenses have a more narrow field of view than ultra-wide and fisheye lenses, but are still quite wide.

These are the types of lenses we normally associate with landscape photos but so long as the distortion is not extreme they can also be used for environmental portraits.

Landscape photographers often use wide-angle lenses to capture large scenes in one frame. These types of lenses also allow you to get very close to foreground elements like rocks or flowers and still capture the larger landscape.

6. Standard (35-70mm)

Standard lenses are in a focal length range that is closest to how our eyes see the world. You can basically use lenses in this range for just about anything you want. They are the most versatile but also afford the most “normal” look to your images.

While you will not get the dramatic wide view of a wide-angle lens or the compression of a telephoto, you do get typically very good optics at a reasonable price.

In this range, you’ll find the lens I recommend all beginners start with, the 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. In addition to individual portraits the 50mm lens is great for group portraits because it’s just wide enough to get everyone in the frame without having to back up too much.

7. Short Telephoto (70-135mm)

Short telephoto lenses are just a little longer than a standard lens. This is the focal range where you start to see lenses take advantage of something photographers call “compression.”

It’s a bit of a misnomer, but it really just means that you can stand farther away from your subject resulting in facial features looking less exaggerated and generally more flattering. It also makes the background look closer to the subject.

These characteristics of the short telephoto make it an exceptional lens for shooting portraits. In addition to the optical aspect, it’s also just a good focal length to work with because once you get longer than 135mm, it becomes much more difficult to communicate and interact with your subject(s) because they are quite far away from you.

In this video, I demonstrate the differences between shooting portraits at 85mm vs. 200mm…

8. Telephoto (135-200mm)

Telephoto lenses are similar in a lot of ways to short telephotos but with a little more reach. That extra reach makes these a popular option for sports and wildlife photography when you don’t have to be too far away from the action.

The 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens is the third and longest focal length zoom in the “trinity” of lenses.

9. Super-Telephoto (200mm+)

Super telephoto lenses are for when you need to be far away from whatever you are trying to shoot. You’ll see these lenses in the bags of photographers that shoot sports where you can’t get too close (like football, baseball, or soccer) as well as wildlife photographers.

10. Macro

Macro lenses are less defined by their focal length and more defined by the reproduction ratio as well as close focusing distance.

A higher reproduction ratio like 1:1 combined with a close focusing distance makes it much easier to get close to small subjects.

11. Tilt-Shift

Tilt-shift lenses are specialty lenses used often by architectural photographers that can be adjusted to slide up and down the lens mount as well as tilt. These adjustments can help remove distortion effects that arise when shooting tall buildings or other large objects with straight lines.

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