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Being a good photographer isn’t just about strapping on a different lens to your camera, pointing at a subject, and taking a photo in hopes that it will turn out good. No, understanding your equipment plays a big part in taking good photographs as well.
A camera lens is just one of the pieces that allow you to capture a scene as you see it. There are lenses that have a fixed range while others allow the capture of subjects from miles away. While each lens brings out different creative options, the basics stay the same.
When you read different photography blogs or any gadget & tech sites, you’ll no doubt come across various lens terminology. Understanding what they are gives you better insight into the capabilities of a lens and whether or not it is what you are looking for.
- focal length – represented in millimeters (mm), this determines how much of a scene will be captured.
- zoom lens – a lens with a variable focal length. For example, an 18-5mm lens can capture a view as wide as 18mm and as close as 55mm, including everything else in between.
- prime lens – this lens has a fixed focal length. In short, it cannot be zoomed. One of the most popular prime lenses is the 50mm, which is usually used for portraits and some close-up photography.
- f-stop – aperture measurement. The smaller the number, the wider the aperture. For instance, f/1.8 is wide while f/5.6 is narrow.
- aperture – part of the exposure triangle – the others being shutter speed and ISO – that makes its way to lens descriptions. Aperture determines how much light your lens allows in. A lens with a wide aperture (e.g. f/1.8) captures more light making it useful in low-light situations. On the other hand, a lens with a narrow aperture (f/5.6) allows less light in.
- filters – attached to the thread located on the front of the barrel, these items serve to enhance or protect a lens. There are many kinds, including UV filters which protect the lens form dust, dirt, and moisture; polarizing filters which reduce reflections, increase contrast, and enhance color; and neutral density filters which limit the amount of light entering the lens and is mostly used to achieve motion blur.
- wide-angle lens – provides a wider field of view; includes lenses in the 18-30mm range.
- standard lens – these mirror what the eyes can see, usually around the 35-85mmrange.
- telephoto lens – have long focal lengths, around 100-300mm, and are useful for capturing subjects that are far away, like wildlife or athletes on a large pitch or court.
Here are the common parts of your camera lens:
- filter thread – located on the front of the lens and is where filters are attached.
- front lens cap – hooks onto the thread for the filter. This keeps the lens protected during storage and transport.
- zoom ring – allows you to choose your desired focal range. Only present in zoom lenses.
- focus ring – adjusts to desired focal point when lens focus is switched to Manual.
- lens mount – the metal area used to attach the lens to the camera. Different manufacturers use different lens mount designs.
Each manufacturer has different lens terminology and parts and the ones presented here give a more general overview so you can understand lens descriptions a bit better.