Difference between the wide-angle lens and telephoto lens

The two most commonly used tools in professional photography are wide-angle and telephoto lenses. These unique lenses are often confused with each other, but each brings distinct functions.

1. What is a wide-angle lens?

A wide-angle lens is a lens with a shorter focal length than a normal lens. Photographers use the short focal length of wide-angle lenses to extend the horizontal range of camera shots. With a wide-angle lens, subjects closer to the camera appear larger than those farther away –resulting in a slight barrel-shaped distortion in the image. A wide-angle lens will keep almost everything in focus unless your subject is very close to the lens.

Lotus flower taken with telephoto lens

Ultra wide-angle lenses, also known as fisheye lenses, can take a full 180-degree radius and are commonly used to create perspective distortion in photography and cinematography.

2. When to use a wide-angle lens?

Wide-angle lenses are an important tool for several different types of photography.

(1) Landscape photography

To capture a wide field of view like mountains, you might want to put as much horizontal range into the image as possible — a wide-angle lens is a perfect tool for this job. Wide-angle lenses also allow landscape photographers to get closer to large subjects while staying in the frame, allowing photographers to emphasize interesting details instead of shooting flat images.

(2) Architectural photography

Wide-angle lenses are great tools for architectural photography. Wide-angle lenses allow you to capture the entire building from a great distance, allowing you to choose an interesting focal point for composition rather than relying solely on the building. Wide-angle lenses create perspective distortion, which is really noticeable when shooting objects with lots of straight lines.

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(3) Urban photography

Wide-angle lenses are most often used for cityscapes because the width of the lens makes it easy to capture large crowds or busy city streets.

3. What is a telephoto lens?

A telephoto lens allows the photographer to use a focal length shorter than the physical length of the lens. The photographer uses a telephoto lens to focus on a single subject and create a contrast between the foreground and background. Like wide-angle lenses, telephoto lenses will be attached to the body of a DSLR or DSLR camera, and some can even be attached to a smartphone camera.

There are many telephoto lenses with different focal lengths, with a variety of shutter speeds and apertures:

The 70-200mm lens can zoom to any focal length within the zoom range. These medium telephoto lenses are ideal for everything from portrait photography to distant events.

The 100-400mm lens is also a telephoto zoom lens with a longer range.

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The 85mm prime lens has a shallow depth of field, making it ideal for portraits with clear foreground subjects and blurred backgrounds.

A 135mm prime lens has the same shallow depth of field as an 85mm prime lens, but at a greater distance. These telephoto prime lenses are used for portraits, weddings, events, and more artistic experimental photography.

Ultra-telephoto lenses, which typically start at around 600mm, are favored by wildlife photographers who capture many far-flung animal subjects.

4. When to use telephoto lenses?

Telephoto lenses make distant objects appear closer than they really are. Telephoto lenses are great for:

(1) Physical limitations

If you can’t physically get close enough to your subject – whether you’re shooting a soaring eagle or a shy animal crossing a field – telephoto lenses are a great way to get a close-up and focus shot.

(2) Security issues

Telephoto lenses are a popular choice for shooting dangerous subjects because they allow photographers to stay at a distance and still capture sharp details.

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(3) Create contrast

Telephoto lenses provide a strong focal contrast between the foreground and background. Telephoto lenses are a great tool for isolating your subject from the background and drawing the viewer’s eye to the detail you want them to focus on. For example, if you want to isolate a sunflower against the background of an entire sunflower field, a telephoto lens will help you bring that flower into focus and blur the rest with a nice bokeh effect without using photo editing software. Use a long focal length to enlarge the depth of the field and a shorter length to balance the sharpness between the foreground and background of your photo.

5. What’s the difference between a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens?

Wide-angle lenses increase your horizontal range, while telephoto lenses allow you to focus on distant objects. These are the main differences between telephoto and wide-angle lenses:

(1) Different focus

A wide-angle lens keeps the entire lens in focus, regardless of distance. Telephoto lenses are all about selective focus or choosing which objects look sharp or blurry. Wide-angle lenses typically have a longer depth of field, which means they’re not suitable for situations like portrait photography, where you just want your subject to be clearly in focus. In order to choose the right lens for your situation, you need to decide how much focus detail you want in the lens.

A wide-angle lens is a photographic lens with a focal length below 40mm (17mm – 35mm).

A telephoto lens is a photographic lens whose focal length is above 60mm (60mm – 400mm).

(2) Different shooting range

A wide-angle lens has a much wider view of the same location than a standard lens, and this is the nature of the wide-angle lens, which can see much more than the naked eye can see.

Telephoto lenses act like telescopes, allowing us to take pictures of distant objects. But the range of its view is far smaller than the naked eye (the view is small), convenient for long-distance capture.

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Wide-angle lenses are designed to increase your horizontal field of view, allowing you to capture as much of the scene as possible, similar to the human eye. Telephoto lenses allow you to focus narrowly on a particular subject in the foreground, blurring details in the background that can distract the composition.

(3) Different shooting objects

The wide-angle lens has a short focal length and a wide-angle of view, while the depth of the field is very deep. It is suitable for taking pictures of larger scenes, such as architecture and landscape.

Telephoto lenses have a long focal length, a small angle of view, and a large image on film. So you can take a larger image than a standard lens at the same distance. Suitable for distant subjects.

Because its depth of field range is smaller than the standard lens, it can more effectively blur the background and highlight the focus of the main body, and the subject is generally far away from the camera. From the perspective of the portrait of the deformation is smaller, the portrait shot is more vivid, so people often put a telephoto lens called a portrait lens.

A piece of the flowers

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