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Zoom lens

In the distance, you spot a magnificent bird perched on a tree branch. How incredible would it be if you could zoom in and capture its intricate details up close? Welcome to the world of zoom lenses, where you can bring distant subjects near and transform your perspective with a simple lens twist...


What is a zoom lens?

The zoom lens is a type of camera lens that can take images at a range of focal lengths. It is a competent type of lens, able to “zoom” in and out based on the photographer's needs.

The focal length is directly related to the camera's angle of view. The shorter the focal length millimeters (mm) a lens has, the wider the angle of view becomes. The longer the focal length, the narrower it gets. The zoom lens allows photographers to adjust their focal lengths on the fly, essentially becoming a three- or four-in-one lens. Photographers can go as wide (zoom out) or narrow (zoom in) as possible.


What is a zoom lens used for?

Well, the zoom lens can certainly be used for many purposes. Zoom lens photography can be easily implemented by anyone, regardless of their experience and photography niche.

Zoom lenses have multiple focal lengths, some ranging from the widest settings to the narrowest fit. They will surely cost you a fortune since they are multipurpose and can be used in landscapes and shooting subjects far away. You can get the most out of your zoom lens if you use them in bright conditions.

The lens doesn’t have the fastest aperture available on the market; even the quickest zoom lens is quite rare (because it’s crazy expensive). Despite the ability to virtually shoot everything in almost every condition, zoom lenses are often connected with traveling.

Street photography, photo journaling, and zoom lenses are always used when you don’t want to fuss about changing lenses every 3 shots. Videographers also find the zoom lens particularly useful because they do not need to change focal lengths during the shooting. Videographers can zoom in once the subject is moving away from the lens or zoom out to capture more surrounding details.

To recap, zoom lens uses are limitless.


Tips for using a zoom lens

Using a zoom lens opens up a world of versatility, allowing you to capture a wide range of subjects and perspectives without changing lenses. Here are five detailed steps on how to effectively use a zoom lens:

1. Understand your lens’s focal range

Familiarize yourself with the focal length range of your zoom lens, which is typically indicated on the lens barrel. Wide-angle focal lengths (e.g., 18mm) capture broader scenes, while telephoto focal lengths (e.g., 200mm) bring distant subjects closer. Experiment with different focal lengths to understand their effects on composition and perspective.

2. Choose the right focal length for your subject

Consider the subject you want to photograph and select an appropriate focal length. Wide-angle settings work well for landscapes, architecture, and group shots, capturing a wider field of view. Telephoto settings are ideal for capturing distant subjects, wildlife, and portraits, allowing for greater magnification and subject isolation.

3. Pay attention to camera stability

Longer focal lengths can magnify camera shake, leading to blurry images. To ensure sharp results, use a tripod or stabilize your camera by bracing it against a stable surface. Additionally, to minimize the impact of camera shake, use a faster shutter speed or activate image stabilization if available on your lens or camera.

4. Experiment with different compositions

Zoom lenses offer the advantage of compositional flexibility. Explore different perspectives and compositions by zooming in or out. Zooming in can isolate your subject and emphasize details while zooming out can incorporate more elements into the frame. Be creative and experiment with different focal lengths to find the most compelling composition for your subject.

5. Adjust the aperture and be mindful of depth of field

As with any lens, the aperture affects depth of field.

A wider aperture (lower f-number) creates a shallower depth of field, blurring the background and isolating the subject. A smaller aperture (higher f-number) increases the depth of field, keeping more of the image in focus.

Consider the effect you want to achieve and adjust the aperture accordingly.


What is considered a zoom lens?

A zoom lens is a lens that can change to a range of focal lengths. There are various types of zoom lenses, each with unique characteristics and uses.

You can find your zoom lens's focal range by looking at its max aperture on the front and base of the lens. A lens with “18-140mm f/3.5” means the camera has an 18-140 focal length range with a maximum aperture of f/3.5. Let us get into the two categories that classify types of zoom lenses:

1. Fast and slow lens

The fast lens normally has a low f-stop as its maximum aperture. A fast lens is wider and allows more light to hit the sensors in the camera, resulting in brighter images.

The name “fast lens” came from its ability to let photographers use faster shutter speeds. In comparison, the slow lens commonly has maximum apertures larger than f/4.

It lets less light enter the sensor, which forces the photographer to use slower shutter speeds. Hence the name “slow lens.”

Constant and variable apertures

Lenses have either a constant (fixed) or variable aperture. You can easily check this by looking at their markings. An example of a constant aperture lens will probably be 70-200mm f/2.8. The markings explain that throughout the changes in focal length (70-200mm), the aperture will stay at f/2.8.

This technology is quite rare and will usually cost you a fortune. On the other hand, the aperture of zoom lenses that have variable apertures will constantly change.

For example, let’s say that your zoom lens has a marking of 55-200mm 1:4-5.6G. The aperture of f/4 corresponds to the maximum aperture at the smallest focal length, which in this case is 55mm. The aperture f/5.6 is linked to the maximum aperture at the largest focal length (200mm).

Basically, the more you zoom in, the progressively slower your aperture becomes. This will decrease the amount of light hitting the digital sensors.

2. Focal length

Zoom lenses are capable of covering several focal lengths within a single lens. There are wide-angle zooms (10mm-24mm), telephoto zooms, and some special zoom lenses that cover wide-angle to telephoto (18-140mm).

Here is a more detailed categorization of them:

Wide-angle

These types of lenses are targeted primarily at landscape photographers. They have short focal lengths, usually 35mm or shorter. However, if the focal length is shorter than 24mm, the lens will be classified as ultra-wide, which is a greater option for landscape photographers.

Normal/standard

The normal focal length is around 50mm. Photographers often use the standard lens to shoot street, candid, and portrait shots.

Telephoto lens

Usually, the telephoto lens covers a small portion of a shot/scene. These types of lenses are often used to take flattering photos of subjects or scenes that are far away. The lens is often used in wildlife and sports photography.

Photographers still debate about when the telephoto lens starts and ends. I’d say that telephoto lenses start at focal lengths above 85mm and end around the 135mm mark.


Do you need a zoom lens?

I wouldn’t go that far to say a zoom lens is a must-have in your arsenal. I think it is a worthwhile investment for certain situations. Don’t get me wrong—the zoom lens is certainly very useful. Unfortunately, it doesn’t produce the sharpest images. Prime lenses certainly do a better job than them at capturing a tack-sharp photo.

They sure are useful for beginners who still need to learn the basics and experiment around with various focal lengths. They will also come in handy if your field of photography requires a lot of commuting since they are lighter than bringing four prime lenses.

A zoom lens will also help you better in situations where your movement is limited or when your subject is just too far away. Shooting in tight spaces that limit movement will be easier with zoom lenses. In the end, it all depends on your niche in photography.


Is a prime lens better than a zoom lens?

Well, you can’t really say a definite yes or no in this debate. Both lenses have their specific uses and purposes in mind when created.

The prime lens was made as a super sharp lens at the expense of its price, weight, versatility, and simplicity. In comparison, bringing a high-end zoom lens is like bringing multiple prime lenses since you can just change the focal length in a heartbeat.

The main advantage of a zoom lens is its ability to change focal length without changing lenses. If you use a prime lens, you are subject to constant lens changes while also carrying multiple prime lenses with you.

Since you can just use one zoom lens in multiple situations, you can travel lighter. Traveling light is a blessing for photographers that are going on a trip, especially if they are in a run-n’ gun situation. However, some disadvantages should be taken into consideration.

A zoom lens isn’t quite as sharp as a prime lens and is unfavorable for shooting in a low-light situation because of its slow aperture. A slower aperture prevents light from entering the camera. To counteract this, it is suggested that you lower your shutter speed or buy a fast zoom lens (which is expensive).

The slower shutter makes your image more prone to motion blur; make sure to bring a tripod and a remote shutter release to prevent it.


What is the difference between a telephoto lens and zoom lens?

Zoom lenses are essentially lenses that can change their focal length. Your field of view becomes narrower or wider with every twist or press of a button. A narrow field of view makes an object appear larger and vice versa.

A telephoto lens is commonly referred to as a lens that has a long focal length. A zoom lens has two focal lengths, often inscribed on the lens, e.g., 18-140mm. This means the zoom lens can change from a wide-angle to a telephoto zoom.

The non-zoom variant or a fixed-focal-length telephoto lens has only one focal length. A moderate telephoto starts at 135mm and above. We will then peek into the purpose of using the telephoto lens. A telephoto lens is ample for every situation that involves a subject far away from you that cannot or should not be approached (safety and practicality issues).

The telephoto lens increases the focal length, previewing far-away objects with a high level of detail that is usually only found in close-range photography. They are also significantly sharper than their Zoom counterparts.

However, the telephoto lens is fixed at a single focal length and isn’t versatile. This is where the zoom lens excels since it can freely morph its focal length at will.


So, are you interested in purchasing a new zoom lens to add to your arsenal of lenses? Here are some of my recommended zoom lenses for both Canon and Nikon shooters:

  • Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art
  • Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II
  • Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS III
  • Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
  • Nikon Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR

These lenses aren’t listed in any order, not a ranking list, they’re just my favorites. Before you visit Amazon or the closest lens provider, there are a few things that you need to consider.

1. Max aperture

Aperture will determine the amount of light that will hit your camera’s sensor, affecting its performance in low and high light conditions.

The faster/larger your aperture is, the easier it will be to shoot in low light. You can also manipulate the shutter speed to either compensate for the slower apertures or to capture fast-moving objects. Use it however you see fit.

2. Stabilization

You’ll feel your camera shake, even more, when you zoom further in. Some lenses will have built-in stabilization, while others are better off using tripods at extremely long focal lengths. Depending on your shooting style, the stabilization will have a big impact on your image and bank account.

3. Sensor size

Your camera's size will impact the lens that you can use. Not all are created equal; some sensor types are just not compatible.

The APS-C sensor will add an “adding” effect to your zoom. This makes you feel that you’re getting more reach using a crop sensor camera despite the image having a lower angle of view.

4. Size & weight

Zoom lenses will vary in size and weight, even with the same focal range. Luckily, some of the zooms are light. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them are significantly heavier. Longer lenses will always weigh more.


A zoom lens is basically a lens that can change its focal length based on its range. Zoom lens photography is often looked down upon because it is incapable of producing images as sharp as its prime counterparts. But behind that single weakness lies the strength of the zoom lens: its versatility and simplicity.

Prime may suit your taste better since it can shoot sharper images, but the zoom lens offers much flexibility. Choosing only one is surely a hard choice, even though I doubt choosing a zoom lens as my ONLY lens.

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