Common types of camera lenses.
Whether you use film cameras, DSLR cameras, or mirrorless cameras, you will encounter a similar range of available focal lengths in your lenses. “Focal length can be broken down into three categories for the beginner. Those are wide angle, medium, and telephoto,” says photographer Wes Kriesel.
“Do you like to take pictures of landscapes? Then you’re going to need a wide-angle lens to fit everything in. Are you taking pictures of people? Then you’ll want a medium range,” says Kriesel. “And if you’re very far away from your subject, like in bird photography, you’ll want a telephoto.”
At the low end of the focal range spectrum are wide-angle lenses, typically 12mm to 35mm. These show a wide shot of the scene. “If you shoot landscapes, a variable wide-angle lens would support that type of photography,” says photographer Pablo Diaz. “If you're shooting street photography, you might want to shoot with a fixed lens that’s around 35mm, which is on the higher end of wide.”
Nifty fifty lenses
Nifty fifty is a nickname for a 50mm lens that has a wide aperture. The lens elements on a nifty fifty are usually made of affordable materials and are known for their ability to interpret images in a similar way as the human eye. Since they are right in the mid-point of focal ranges, there’s very little distortion or magnification in your image.
With their wide apertures, typically from f/1.4 or f/1.8, nifty fifties can help you create photos with a shallow depth of field or a bokeh background, where the subject is crisp and the background is out of focus.
Lenses for portraits
Almost any lens in the mid-range with a wide aperture will allow you to take stylized portraits with a shallow depth of field. “An 85mm is known as a portrait lens, and one with a wide aperture can capture that shallow depth of field and separation from the subject and background,” says Diaz. “That way it focuses really well on the person in your portrait.”
At the higher end of the focal range spectrum are telephoto lenses, which can range from 70mm up to 500mm and even higher. These are longer lenses with a narrower focal range, but they can help a photographer focus on one primary subject (such as a person) or focus on items that are far away (like wildlife).