For those who are beginners in the field of photography, lens types can be a daunting topic to broach. With their rather opaque naming conventions and plethora of modifying adjective, it can be hard to get a grasp on even the building block basics of lens classification. Because of this, many newbies choose to put off learning about lenses until they’re a ways in. While this is certainly an option, knowing your way around lenses can help you achieve a pleasant diversity of shot styles, as well as making it possible to get your photographs to looks exactly how you want them to. With this in mind, here’s our beginner aimed guide to a basic distinction between lenses: the wide versus long debate.
When distinguishing between wide-angle and long-focus lenses, the primary difference comes down to focal length. A wide-angle lens has a substantially shorter focal length than a normal lens. This means that the distance that the camera equipped with a wide-angle lens has to be from the object to be photographed is shorter than the distance a normal lens would have to be to produce a focused picture.
This kind of lens is perfect for shots of big objects that you can’t photograph from a long distance, as it will allow you to get a sharp image without putting much space between the camera and the object. It also produces an exaggerated distancing effect, where items close to the lens look disproportionately large while items far away look disproportionately small. This effect can be exploited to make the relative distance between objects seem larger than it really is.
Wide-angle lenses also capture a wider angle around the camera, which means that the image has “more” of the surrounding in it. This is evidenced by a fish eye effect, where the center of the image (what a normal lens would capture) is normal, while the edges are somewhat curved and distorted. Fish eye images have an interesting panoramic quality, and certain photographers express a great devotion to this whimsical style.
Long-focus Lenses have a longer focal length and a shorter depth of field than a normal lens. This means that they need a greater distance than usual to focus, and have a smaller range of distances at which objects will appear to be in focus at one time.
These lenses have the advantage of being able to focus over a very long distance, which makes them the lens of choice for shooting wildlife and other human-sensitive subjects. The short depth of field makes for an interesting, often cinematic effect, wherein the primary subject is in sharp focus while everything else is washed out and blurry.
Long-focus lenses also have the advantage of having relatively less distortion than regular or wide lenses. This means that they are good for taking pictures where the integrity of lines is important, like for technical photography or even portraiture. They are your go-to lens for documentation.