Camera Lenses: The Basic Things You Should Know

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A lens is the part of the camera that allows light to pass through to the sensor to create a final image. They come in different shapes, sizes, and specifications allowing use in all different kind of scenarios. In this post I will tell you the things you should know about camera lenses that relate to travel photography. This post isn’t overly technical and tells you about types of lenses as well as some of the features you’ll often find. So if you have just got your first DLSR camera then keep reading to learn about things you should know about camera lenses.

You may also like my post: Quick Guide to Features of DSLR Cameras

Types of lenses

Wide angle

A wide-angle lens tends to be around 24mm and wider and allows you to capture more in your photograph. For example, a lens that is 16mm would be able to capture more of the scene than one that is 24mm. You can also get fisheye lenses which are even wider and can create a very cool and distorted image.

Wide Angle Lens - CC0 (Pixabay)
Wide Angle Lens

A wide-angle lens is great for:

  • Interior shots such as churches, restaurants, museums, hotels etc
  • Landscapes allowing you can to capture as much in your scene as possible such as foreground and background
  • Compact cities where you don’t have much room to move back for your photograph
  • Where you want to capture large amounts of people
  • For lookups in cities such as around skyscrapers

Things to know about a wide-angle lens

When using these types of lenses objects will generally look smaller, so for landscapes, they are good to include foreground objects, but objects really far away may appear tiny. Same with shots that include people, you may be able to get lots of people in your shot, but they may appear very small.

Find a wide angle lens on Amazon

Capturing the interior of a church using a wide angle lens
Capturing the interior of a church using a 14mm wide angle lens


A telephoto lens is also known as a zoom lens, allows you to zoom into your subject for a magnified image. I would say a zoom lens can be anything over 50mm, but over 100mm is generally quite significant. You can also get an extender which will further amplify the magnification of the lens and a lot of wildlife photographers use such equipment.

Telephoto lens - CC0 (Pixabay)
Telephoto lens

These types of lenses are good for:

  • Getting close to your subject without having to physically move closer
  • Wildlife
  • Sport photography
  • Event photography
  • Compressing the scene, ie making objects that are far away from each other appear closer together

Find a telephoto lens on Amazon

Photograph with a 75mm focal length - compressing subject and landscape so they appear closer
Photograph with a 75mm focal length – compressing subject and landscape so they appear closer

Prime lens

A prime lens is one that is fixed and doesn’t allow you to adjust the focal length. So if you have a lens that is 35mm and can’t be adjusted or changed, then you’d have to move around to adjust what is in the shot. They often allow wider apertures (read more below), so that you can blur out the background (also known as Bokeh) and create more emphasis on your subject.

Canon 50mm prime lens - CC0 (Pixabay)
Canon 50mm prime

These types of lens are great for:

  • Portraits and people
  • Objects
  • Close-ups
  • Food

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Portrait of a girl in India
Portrait of a lady in India | 40mm at f/3.2

Features of camera lenses

Here are some of the features of lenses that you should know.


Aperture is the size of the lens opening which light travels through. This is then focused on the camera sensor. A small number such as F/1.8 is a wide aperture (top left below), whilst a large number such as F/22 would be a smaller opening (bottom right below).

Aperture and lenses - CC0 (Pixabay)

Few things to know about aperture:

  • A wide aperture or opening needs a slower exposure time in the same light than a narrow aperture
  • Wider apertures have a smaller depth of field than a narrow setting which affects how much of your scene may be in focus
  • A lens that has a very wide aperture such as F/2.8 or wider is often referred to as a fast lens
  • Wider apertures are good for low light photography and help allow the use of a lower ISO
  • Using a wide aperture can create a bokeh effect where the background is blurred and there is more focus on the subject
  • Narrow apertures such as over F/11-F/22 would create a starburst on lights (such as street lights, halogen lights) when taking pictures at night

Manual and autofocus

Lens often have a switch at the side which allows you to set whether the camera will focus automatically, or if you have to manually focus yourself.

Manual focusing can be good for night photography, landscape photography, architecture and also for focus stacking.

Automatic focus is great for when you are just walking around or won’t have time to adjust your focus. Automatic focus is also good in case you have a sudden photography opportunity which you might miss if you had the lens in manual focus, as well as event and sports photography.

Camera Lens - Focus Mode - Automatic Manual - CC0 (Pixabay)
Focus Mode – Automatic Manual

Image stabiliser (IS), vibration reduction (VR)

Image Stabiliser or vibration reduction is something that is built into more expensive lenses. This feature allows you to shoot at lower shutter speeds and for your camera to try and cater for any movement such as handshake or other vibrations.

Dust and moisture-sealed

Having your lens dust and moisture-sealed is handy for when visiting destinations that are humid, sandy or dusty. It helps protect your camera from natural elements which may otherwise get in and start ruining your equipment.

You should remember that even if your lens is dust or moisture sealed you need to be careful when changing your lens, as that will break the seal and expose the none protected parts.

Connector – metal or plastic

The connector between your camera and the lens can often be metal or plastic. Generally, a metal connection would be on a more expensive lens and if your camera body isn’t cheap then I would recommend only using lenses that have a metal connection. This is because I’ve heard of some plastic connections snapping when being attached to the body which could potentially ruin your camera body if you can’t safely remove it.

What lens is best?

The type of lens you need will really depend on what you’ll be taking pictures of. Ideally, it’s good to have a range of lenses in your camera bag to cater for all situations. It’s also good to have one that is general purpose. The lens I have on my camera most of the time by default is a Canon 24-105 F/4. I would then switch this to something else when required.

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Written by

Mike Clegg

Mike is a traveller, photographer, WordPress developer and the creator of He started this website so as to share his experiences and tips with travellers. He is from the UK and has travelled to many places around the world. He loves to shares his pictures and stories through Instagram and this website... [Read full bio]

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