Types of DSLR Lenses

Lawrence Bonk Profile image

Written by:

Updated November 18, 2022

If you are new to digital photography, you may want to learn about the various DSLR lenses. Many of the best digital cameras, after all, are DSLR models, and these cameras integrate with plenty of lenses to suit different tastes and requirements. So why learn about lens choices with the best DSLR cameras, and what should you keep in mind as you shop for lenses? Keep reading to find out.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • There are many types of DSLR lenses out there to suit the needs and tastes of many photographers.
  • The standard DSLR lens is called the prime lens, while the most popular add-on is the zoom lens.
  • Other types of lenses include fisheye, standard, macro, and other types of lenses.

DSLR Camera Lens Types

When learning about the finest DSLR cameras, lenses come next. DSLR cameras let you swap out different lenses to create unique effects, which is something you won’t find when looking at digital point-and-shoot cameras. There are lenses for wide shots, macro shots, and beyond if you are learning the best Canon lens for video.

Insider Tip

No matter the lens you choose, make sure it fits your camera before making a purchase.

Here are the major lens types for DSLR cameras so you can move on to learning about the various types of camera mounts.

Zoom Lens

This is the most common type of external lens for a DSLR camera, as it allows users to zoom in on subjects to create unique photographic outcomes. This comes in handy when taking simple shots of friends and family or taking a photo safari in a remote location. In other words, these are versatile lenses, with the most popular type falling into the 70-200 mm range.

To that point, zoom lenses have variable focal lengths, so with a 70-200mm lens, for example, you can zoom from 70mm all the way up to 200mm.

Reasons to Buy

  • Every photographer needs a zoom lens or two in their arsenal, even when taking wedding photos and the like.
  • The variable focal lengths inherent in zoom lenses’ design mean you only have to buy one.
  • Zoom lenses are extremely popular, so you can get fantastic deals and find lenses with unique features.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • Your DSLR may have already shipped with a zoom lens, or you may have an older one lying around from a previous camera.
  • Zooming is great but rather limited when compared to unique lenses like macro and wide-angle lenses.
  • Zoom lenses with denser focal ranges tend to cost more than standard zoom lenses.

Tips for Buying a Zoom Lens

  • Not all zoom lenses fit every camera lens mount, so perform research ahead of time.
  • Zoom lenses can often be found in the used market to save a few bucks. Just perform a thorough inspection.
  • Make sure the lens you purchase has a vast variable focal length range to maximize the available shot types.

Prime Lens

The prime lens is the basic lens that typically ships with every DSLR camera, though unique versions are available for purchase. Prime lenses have been around as long as cameras have. They feature a fixed focal range, so there is no zooming allowed, but they deliver excellent results with that pre-determined focal length.

In other words, these lenses are finely-tuned for taking standard portraits and the like. The lack of zoom is an issue for some, but the increased visual clarity makes up for that limitation for many others.

Reasons to Buy

  • Though not appropriate for every scenario, prime lenses tend to create better-looking photos than zoom lenses.
  • There are many types of prime lenses. They may not allow for variable focal lengths, but you can mix and match.
  • Landscape photographers prefer a 35mm prime lens, while portrait photographers choose the 50mm prime lens, otherwise called the Nifty Fifty.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • You will not be zooming with these lenses. What you see is what you get.
  • To account for variable focal lengths with prime lenses, you have to purchase multiple lenses with different fixed lengths.
  • Some prime lenses with unique fixed focal lengths may not integrate with all camera lens mounts.

Tips on Buying a Prime Lens

  • You can sometimes find multipacks of prime lenses that include various focal lengths.
  • Before purchasing a prime lens, try it out in your camera or even at the store to make sure the length is to your liking.
  • If you want to avoid buying a dedicated prime lens, make sure the camera you purchase ships with one.

Telephoto Lens

If your zoom lenses are not quite, uh, zoomy enough for you, look toward the humble telephoto lens. These are like zoom lenses on steroids, with huge variable focal length ranges of around 100mm to 600mm and the ability to zoom ultra close or far from a subject. Some can go even closer to a subject.

These are unique and specialized lenses best suited to a professional wildlife photographer than an amateur looking to get some decent shots of friends and family.

Reasons to Buy

  • If you want some serious zoom with oomph, then this is your best bet.
  • The variable focal length range tends to be on the wider side, so a telephoto lens boasts multiple applications.
  • If you are exiting the amateur space into professional photography, you can’t go wrong with adding this type to your lens collection.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • The zoom capabilities on offer may simply be too much for standard amateur photographers. These are best for pros.
  • They are not exactly practical, as telephoto lenses are bulky and require a tripod to support them.
  • They are extremely expensive, especially when compared to standard zoom lenses.

Tips for Buying Telephoto Lenses

  • Only look at telephoto lenses once you have maxed out the capabilities of standard zoom lenses.
  • As previously stated, these are expensive lenses, so look for sales before making a purchase.
  • Make sure your camera can accept the lens and that you have an appropriately-sized tripod to accommodate the added weight.

Wide-Angle Lens

This is another must-have lens type for budding professionals looking to expand their photographic arsenal and skillset. Wide-angle lenses boast a wider focal field than prime lenses, so you can capture more of any scene that is presented in front of you. This makes them ideal for landscape photographers, architecture photographers, and the like.

These are not fixed focal length lenses, but the range of focal lengths tends to be on the smaller side, at around 16 to 35mm.

Reasons to Buy

  • There is really no other choice for capturing pristine wide-angle shots.
  • They tend to offer higher image clarity when compared to zoom lenses, so your landscape shots will look great.
  • This is a tried-and-true lens type, so you should not encounter any integration issues with your camera.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • Though many wide-angle lenses feature a variable focal length, the range is on the smaller side.
  • There is a large disparity in quality with wide-angle lenses, so it is risky to purchase from an unknown manufacturer.
  • These are not very useful for taking standard photos, such as portraits.

Tips for Buying Wide-Angle Lenses

  • There are many different wide-angle lens manufacturers out there, so try before you buy.
  • Not all lenses integrate with every lens mount, so shop wisely.
  • Wide-angle lenses can get expensive, so wait for holiday sales and the like.

Fisheye Lens

The fisheye lens is to the wide-angle lens as the telephoto lens is to the zoom lens. In other words, fisheye lenses take that wide field of view to the next level, creating the unusual “fisheye” effect in the process. This effect, which looks like a GoPro image, may have limited real-world applications, but when it works, it really works.

These are useful for indoor photographs or when using your camera to create unique designs and image contrasts.

Reasons to Buy

  • If you have maxed out the angle width of your wide-angle lens, this is the next step.
  • No other type of lens can create the unusual and highly specific fisheye effect.
  • The focal lengths here go as low as 8mm, allowing for some truly unique shots.

Reasons Not to Buy

  • These lenses tend to feature fixed focal lengths, so you won’t be doing any zooming in or out.
  • The fisheye effect may be cool, but it is not necessary for most photographs.
  • This is a highly specialized lens type with a higher-than-average price tag to match.

STAT: While full-frame lenses can be used on a crop sensor, a lens designed for a crop sensor can’t be used on a full frame. (source)

Tips for Buying a Fisheye Lens

  • Fisheye lenses may struggle to integrate with some DSLR cameras, so check ahead of time.
  • You should try to max out the capabilities of a standard wide-angle lens before moving on to a fisheye.
  • Try before you buy, if you can, to ensure that you are pleased with the end results.

DSLR Lenses FAQs

What are the main types of camera lenses?

There are many types of lenses for street photography, portrait photography, and more. These include macro lenses and various standard lenses. Lenses always have some limitations, such as a shallow depth of field.

What is a prime lens?

This is your standard lens that ships with most cameras, with a traditional depth of field and not too many bells and whistles. In other words, macro lenses are more unique, but prime lenses are handier.

What is a zoom lens?

These lenses zoom in or out, which minimizes the depth of field but focuses on the subject. This makes them great for street photography, wildlife photography, and more.
Lawrence Bonk Profile image