Types Of Lenses
There are many different types of lenses, and many specialty lenses that don't fit a 'type'. The taxonomy isn't cut and dry either, we can classify lenses accross a variety of fields. I could have an 85mm lens that could correctly be considered a portrait lens, a prime lens, and a short telephoto lens.
- There are ulta-wide, wide, normal, and telephoto lenses: lenses that cover different focal lengths.
- There are prime and zoom lenses, lenses with a fixed focal length or an adjustable focal length.
- There are portrait, landscape and other lenses based on what these lenses are generally designed to be good at.
- There are macro, fisheye, pancake, tilt-shift, and more lenses, which have special design features, characteristics, and/or abiities.
Lets do a run down of the essentials.
The Kit Lens
If you are purchasing a new DLSR the lens that gets shipped with the camera is called the Kit Lens. It is usually a get-the-job-done lens that is not great at any one task, but versitle enough to be used in many sitations. A common kit lens is a f/5.6 18-55mm lens. Keep reading on to learn what those numbers mean!
Some lenses are really really wide. These are called ‘ultra-wide’ and are anything below 20mm or so. One of the widest lenses ever made was a nikon fisheye 6mm lens. It had a 220 degree field of view! It actually looked behind itself! This lens weighed more than 11 pounds!
Technically a 0mm lens might be possible, this is where the optical center of the lens would be touching the image sensor. For all photographic purposes, this is impossible. Although, to be fair, I don’t think anybody has bothered trying. It would also be useless, with a field of view so wide it would be photographing the image sensor!
A fisheye lens is an ultra wide lens that is not rectilinear. In layman terms, it distorts the image - straight lines don’t appear straight.
[[Photo from a fisheye lens side by side with a photo of a fisheye lens.]]
Fisheye lenses are pretty awesome. You’ve probably seen their work if you have ever seen skateboard videos from the 90’s.
Prime Lenses and Zoom Lenses
Some lenses can’t zoom in or out. These lenses are fixed at a single width. These are called “prime” lenses. Lenses that can zoom in or out are called “zoom” lenses (Clever, huh?). More on prime lenses and their advantages later. [link to that section]
Most lenses are capable of, zooming in and out to different widths, and any lens (that isn’t broken) is capable of focusing on different points. The exception to this pinhole cameras, but a small hole in some cardboard is hardly the pinnacle of lens design.
[[Top down diagram of 3 different lenses, with the field of view drawn on them]]