Cameras,  Technology

Prime-Zoom-Telephoto-Wide Angle-Macro OH MY!

While messing around with my camera, and checking out another photographer/videographer’s equipment (CAMERA AND LENSES PEOPLE), I realized that I finally know what all the funny little photography jargon means, yay!

That has given me some inspiration to distill it down, and pass on some of the knowledge. Today, I’d like to explore the words I threw up in the title. Prime. Zoom. Telephoto. Wide Angle. Macro. What all these words have in common is that they are types of SLR/DSLR lenses.

(For the record, DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. The SLR is the film version.)

Forgive my crude attempt at a graphic
Forgive my crude attempt at a graphic

In my A+ worthy art above, I’m showing a somewhat visual idea of the categories of lenses.

A Wide Angle is somewhat how it sounds. You get a… Wide Angle. Usually from 18mm to 35 and anywhere in between, you get full shots. This would usually be some sort of landscape or establishing shot. If you wanted to get all of a building in your one photo/frame, this would be your best option.

A Telephoto lens, some argue is 70mm and above, others, 135mm and above. This zooms you in on the action. With the wide angle, you’ll see the entire school building from your vantage. With the Telephoto, you’ll see the student on the lawn reading her Psychology text.

In between these two types fall the standard lens. The goldilocks of the two, it’s of neither extreme.


Now that you know the two big types of lens (we’re bypassing Standard and we’ll get to Macro in a bit), there are two different ways we can have both of these lenses.

A Prime lens has one size. 55mm. 70mm. 400mm. This means if you want to get more of something, or less of something in your shot, you have to physically move. The benefit to this is that you must contemplate your composition more carefully and you can get better aperture with a smaller budget (more on this in a later post), the downside… you actually have to move.   A prime lens can be a wide angle, a prime lens can be telephoto.

A Zoom lens allows you to, well, zoom in on your image with the camera lens. You can start wide, and zoom with the camera to focus on an aspect in the scene. This type can be a bracket of Wide Angle, Telephoto or a mix of the two.  My first camera kit came with an 18-55mm camera. This WOULD NOT be considered both Wide Angle and Telephoto, although I now have a lens that spans from 18-135mm, and this WOULD be both.

I put the “Macro” lens outside of the quadrants because while it’s usually a prime lens, there is debate about it’s actual definition, and you can get a Macro lens in any combination of Prime, Wide Angle, Standard, Zoom (not usually but I’ve seen it advertised) and Telephoto. The Macro lens is best understood as having a 1:1 ratio, where the image on the sensor equals in size the object being photographed. Basically, you can get really close to stuff and have it in focus. Like a magnifying glass. But cooler. Again, there are all sorts of definitions and it’s not super clear (with every company throwing “Macro” on its lens like food companies are throwing “gluten-free” on their products).

I hope this cleared up a bit for you, comment if you have any questions, or if I can make anything more clear. 🙂 Have a great day everyone!

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