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Understanding Camera Lenses for Beginners

figure showing maximum apertures

Camera lenses are a vital component that aids your camera operation. Whether you are using a DSLR, a mirrorless camera, or iPhone 11 pro max you need to have an appropriate lens.

In general, a suitable camera lens enables you to control how your images will appear. Similarly, they also influence on both the creative and technical facet of photography.


In this article, you’ll learn how light transforms into an image. Firstly, you need to master the different components of the camera lens.

Moreover, it will help you figure out how lens type, aperture, and focal length influence imagery. Secondly, you’ll understand the offset with prime lenses against zoom or fixed focal lenses.

Thirdly, and most importantly, you also need to know how to use wide-angle lenses in the next episode.

In conclusion, discover more about telephoto lenses suitable for magnifying distant subjects.

Usually, a photographer who understands camera lenses has more creative control in the field. However, selecting the right lens for the assignment can be arduous. Most importantly,you must contemplate between odds and ends such as

• Cost
• Lens speed
• Image quality
• Size
Weight
To be sure, let’s begin with a brief of concepts that will help you understand how camera lenses can influence:
• Focal length
• Prime versus zoom
F-numbers
• Image quality
• Perspective

CAMERA LENSES ELEMENTS

example of a camera lens elements
camera lens elements

In most cases, we have seen computer storage advancing from megabytes to gigabytes and now terabytes. However, with lenses, it’s still not distinct, whether more is superior.
When you look at your lenses, you’ll see a listing of the number of elements it has.

Usually, elements are respective glass elements inside the lens itself. That is to say, camera lenses are just a collection of several lens elements. In this case, each element controls the path of light rays to revamp the image precisely on the digital sensor.

Altogether,the aim is to reduce aberration while still making use of less expensive elements.
In the figure above, the lens elements deliver focus light onto a single point successfully. Conversely, if the points in the scene don’t render back onto a single location, then optical aberrations occur. As a result, you see image blur, low contrast, and jumble colors or chromatic aberration. Other effects lenses may suffer include distortion or vignetting.

Effect of lens focal length

example of short and long focal lengths

Typically, the focal length of a lens controls:
• Its angle of view.
• The angle between the edges of the entire field of view.
• Magnification of a particular scene in photography.
A splendid example is that wide-angle lenses and telephoto lenses. Here, wide-angle lenses have short focal length whereas telephoto lenses have longer focal lengths.


Sometimes, photographers say that focal length also determines the perspective of an image. Perspective is how your subject seems with one another when viewed from a particular standpoint.

Notably, perspective can only change with your location respectively to the subject. For instance, if you use a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens, perspective changes.

However, you achieve the same framing because you are moving closer to or farther from your subject.

In the figure above, we have the same subject in the frame taken with different lenses. To deliver the same framing, you have two options. One is to step back further when you are using a longer focal length, and vice versa is true. Here, the wide-angle lens stretches or extends perspective. Conversely, the telephoto lens flattens perspective, making your object appear closer than in reality.

Typical focal lengths

table showing common focal lengths
common focal lengths

The illustration below shows what focal lengths are essential for a lens for wide-angle or telephoto lenses. In essence,the list is an overview, but actual uses on the ground may vary slightly. For example, some photographers prefer to use telephoto lenses in distant landscapes, especially when they want to compress perspective.


Additionally, telephoto is more prone to shake. That is to say that it amplifies even the smallest hand movement when your angle of view is narrower. However, wide-angle lenses are more resistant to flare due to their design.
Compact cameras, DSLR and Mirrorless cameras have original sensor size.

In summary, to adjust the numbers, check online for your camera’s crop factor then multiply by your lens focal length.

Effects of Focal length on sharpness
figure showing types of vibration in a shaky pointer
types of vibration in a shaky pointer

Usually, focal length alone will not control the sharpness of the image you take. It helps you reach a sharp image when operating handheld photographs. In fact, longer focal length minimizes blurring, which results from shaky hands.
An excellent example is when you take hold a laser pointer steady. Pointing it to nearby objects makes the bright spot appears more constant whereas jumps around on farther away objects.

For this reason, there’s a slight magnification with distance on rotational vibrations. Especially, if you have side-to-side vibrations, the laser’s bright spot doesn’t correspond to distance change. It means that longer focal length lenses are prone to shaky hands. Here, they magnify distant objects more if you compare it to shorter focal length lenses.

One over focal length rule gives you a rough estimate of how fast the exposure should correspond to focal length. For example, if you are using a 200mm focal length on a 35 mm camera:
• The exposure time will be over 1/200th of a second. Any figure less than that will cause blurring.

However, if you use a digital camera with cropped sensors, convert it into a 35mm equivalent focal length. Cropped sensor cameras example includes:
• Micro four-thirds cameras
• APS-C cameras
• Compact cameras

Zoom lenses

A zoom lens is a camera lens comprising a mechanical assembly of lens elements with varying focal lengths. Usually, with a zoom lens, you don’t have to change lenses to achieve perspective or variety of composition quickly. As a result, it becomes easier for capturing dynamic subjects such as photojournalism.


Furthermore, working with a zoom lens gives flexibility since you need not change your location. We have two factors that influence this:
• Zooming in. Works by changing the composition.
• Moving in and zooming out. Works by changing perspective but maintains the composition.
A zoom lens will enable you to avoid cropping images or changing positions more often. In essence, you’ll get a tighter composition by zooming in on the subject. Another way of changing perspective is to zoom out and move farther from the subject.

Image taken by 20-70mm zoom lens
20-70mm zoom lens image

Prime lenses (fixed focal length lenses)

We also know a prime lens has a fixed focal length lens and allows a user to zoom in or out. Notably, with a prime lens, you cannot very focal length within a range. The prime lens offers myriads of advantages over their commercial counterparts. They include:
• Weight
• Speed
• Cost
Many photographers will agree that an inexpensive prime lens delivers crisp images as a high-end zoom lens. In brief, an excellent prime lens will offer you a larger maximum aperture or robust light gathering ability. Usually, when working on low light sports or theatre photography, light-gathering expertise will help.
With compact camera lenses, a 5X, 6X, or higher mean the ratio between the longest and shortest focal length. To point out, more towering zoom figures don’t translate to image magnification. Again, that could also mean that the zoom when fully zoomed out has a wide-angle of view. Moreover, the optical zoom is a distinct thing from digital zoom. A digital zoom enlarges the image through interpolation. In fact, it is the one responsible for degrading detail and resolution.

Influence of lens aperture f-stop

An aperture in photography is the opening of a Lens diaphragm where light passes. Generally, you’ll see aperture numbers written as 1.4, 2, 2.8,4, and more. It is calibrated or listed in f-numbers where lower f-stop gives more exposure. Notably, an aperture range of a lens is how much the lens can open up or close to allow light. It can be more or less, depending on your choice.
It’s important to note that a larger aperture opening delivers lower f-numbers. Example:
• Having a lower f-stop makes the lens opening to widen and gives less depth of field. Here, your background will blur more.
• A higher f-stop makes the lens opening to narrow and gives a greater depth of field. Here, your background will become sharper.

Maximum aperture

Typically, when you look at your lens front, there’s a specification listed there known as maximum aperture. Now, you’ll enjoy artistic flexibility if you have a lens with a more excellent range of aperture settings.
You need the highest maximum apertures when working on indoor sports photography, portraits, or theatre photography. It is capable of a faster shutter speed or a narrower depth of field. The smaller depth of field helps isolate your subject from the background when doing portraits. When working with a DSLR camera, you’ll notice that a lens with a larger aperture delivers brighter images. Such is suitable for low light photography and night scenes.

example of Aperture label on the front of a lens
Aperture label on the front of a lens

Additionally, the maximum aperture has advantages when doing manual focusing. The image in the viewfinder will have a narrower depth of field, giving it more visibility.
In summary, we do not often use the maximum aperture because of photo blurring of lens diffraction. Another drawback is that they require longer exposure time to execute the work. If you aim to achieve the extreme depth of field, then go for lenses with a smaller minimum aperture. Again, a larger maximum f-number will work in this scenario to allow for more extensive depth of field.

figure showing maximum apertures
maximum apertures

Range of maximum aperture

example of Range of maximum aperture
Range of maximum aperture

Sometimes, you’ll see zoom lenses on a DSLR and compact cameras listing a range of maximum aperture. Usually, it refers to the range of maximum aperture and not the overall range. Let’s say we need a range of f/3.5-5.6. Here, it means the maximum available aperture f/3.5(fully zoomed out) to f/5.6(fully zoomed in).

Layout:Understanding camera lenses

We have two types of photographers: those satisfied with pocket-sized powerhouse phones and enthusiasts photographers like you. An enthusiast is one who loves intricate DSLR camera with manual controls and interchangeable lenses. His utmost satisfaction comes from the artistic output that he can achieve.

Let’s assume you’re an enthusiast and getting your DSLR camera, and a standard zoom is “wow.” In essence, you’ll take hundreds of shots and enjoy the quality from an enormous imaging sensor. Besides, you will thrill social media followers and alike. Although everything is dazzling with your pictures, you realize far objects look small. Again in some instances, you can’t get close-up of your shots. In other words, you need a telephoto lens to bring a distant object closer and bigger.

So, that is why today I want you to understand camera lenses in details. If you want to make a different view to your photography, keep scrolling.

Understanding camera lenses Layout photo

Lens Hood:Understanding camera lenses

Notably, It’s a device you’ll see on the front end of a lens to prevent flare and ghosting. Also, it helps protect the lens from scratches without the need of a lens cover. Besides, they will help you improve the contrast and colors of your photos.

Focus ring: Understanding camera lenses

If you enjoy working with a manual focus on DSLR, you’ll agree with me that the focus ring is an important part. How it works is simple, you turn the ring while looking through the viewfinder to set focus. 

Distance scale: Understanding camera lenses

Notably, it sits near the back of the lens when you twist the focus ring, distinct parts of the shot you make come into focus.

Understanding camera lenses: Zoom ring

The zoom ring mechanism allows you to change the focal length in real-time as you take photos. Usually, cameras nowadays come with a rubber ring.

Lens mount: Understanding camera lenses

A lens mount is a joint which connects the camera body and lens. Usually, It can operate through mechanical or electrical means, depending on your camera.

 Here is an outline of the popular standard lens mount:

T-mount

Notably, T stands for Tamron, a Japanese company that manufactures lenses and accessories. T-mount or M42 mount system, as often called, consists of a T-ring, T-adapter, and a lens. In most cases, they are used as alternatives to F- mount for line scan cameras.

Besides, it uses threads measuring 42mm and 48mm diameter and a pitch of 0.75mm.

Best T-mount adapters

Opteka T-mount Adapter

  • It’s high-quality anodized aluminum that allows you to mount any T-mount lens onto the Canon EOS camera body.
  • It gives you more options since you can use it across different camera platforms.
  • It’s compatible with many T-mount lenses. Here you can use it in 500mm preset, 420-800mm, and 650mm-1300mm.

Celetron 93419 T-ring adapter for Canon EOS

  • It attaches to Canon EOS DSLR and other SLR camera body
  • It works only with a canon EOS model camera- from 1D through 700D. Again, I can work on rebels from T2i through T5i.
  • They are made of lightweight metal.

UltraPro T/T2 lens mount adapter for Nikon SLR

  • Compatible with Nikon SLR camera model D-90/80/70/60/50/40/40X/800/700. Also, compatible with D-600/300/200/100/7000/5200/5200/5100/3200/3100/300/4/3X.
  • Alternatively, you can also use it with telescope and microscope attachment.

S-Mount

  • They are quite a small lens mount systems used in surveillance CCTV and webcams.
  • You can only make a minimum adjustment on them.
  • S-mount uses thread with m12x0.5mm

C-Mount

  • They are used mostly in machine vision applications and applications such as 16mm movie cameras, CCTV cameras, and microscope tubes.
  • Not suitable for larger sensors cameras because it has a small diameter – 1nch (25.4) mm.

Best C-mount lenses

35mm f1.6 APS-C CCTV Lens for 16mm C Mount Camera

  • It is a C-mount camera lens that works with Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and Olympus.
  • It features alloy casing
  • Suitable for places such as bars, parking lots, shops, or even warehouses.
close-up-Mountain-photo

Vanxse 2.-12mm 1/3 Auto-iris Cs-Mount

  • It features 1/3 inch format DC drive
  • It allows the maximum focal length of 60mm and a maximum aperture of 1.4f

Fujian 35mm f1/7 lens

  • Fujian 35mm is a macro lens that works well with c-mount and or Mirrorless cameras.
  • It features a full metal body and large aperture of F1.7
  • They are ideal for places such as bars, parking lots, shops, or even warehouses.

F-Mount

In particular, F-mount is a name from the Nikon Company for Nikon’s SLR camera lens mount system. In particular, it’s compatible with NIKKOR lenses.

Also, F-mount allows you to choose from a large selection of lenses. It can include:

  • AF NIKKOR
  • AF-S
  • PC-E

Moreover, some features you’ll get here are autofocus, advanced metering, electronic aperture control, and more.

Aperture ring :Understanding camera lenses

Usually, the aperture controls the amount of light reaching the camera sensors. An aperture ring is the first ring you’ll see on the body of your lens.

The ring operates by mechanical means to control the aperture diaphragm size. In most cases, the aperture ring exists in old manual focus lenses.

Best Nikon lenses with aperture ring

Nikon -AF NIKKOR 50mm

  • It features a wide-open aperture and can capture crisp photos without using a flash.
  • Suitable for shooting stills and videos
  • They perform better in the low light shooting. Here, the f/1 and larger 50mm collect a lot of light for your subject.

Nikkor AF-S 28mm

  • Enhance portraits and landscape shots.
  • Enhance portraits and landscape shots.
  • Features a maximum aperture of F1/4
  • Another feature is the autofocus motor that allows you to have quiet shots.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm

  • It features an aperture range of f1.8 to f/16
  • Suitable for example both low light performance and control over depth of field.
  • Another feature is silent motor that allows quiet shooting
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