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    Wide Angle vs Telephoto Lens: Which One Is for You?

    By June 4, 2020 June 6th, 2020 Gear, Product Reviews

    What is a Wide Angle Lens?

    A wide-angle lens is a lens with a focal length of 35mm or shorter on full-frame cameras.

    As the name suggests, wide-angle lenses offer a wide field of view. 

    These type lenses allow you to easily include multiple elements in your frame.  As such, they are often used to capture vast scenes.

    Wide-angle lenses are classified into three categories: standard wide-angle, ultra-wide-angle, and fisheye. 

    1. Standard Wide Angle 

    Standard wide-angle lenses have a focal length between 35mm and 25mm on a full-frame camera. 

    They exhibit a field of view between 64 and 84 degrees. 

    This is the most common type of wide-angle lens and is popular for capturing vast scenes. 

    At this focal length range, you can typically capture wide-angle shots with little to no distortion. 

    Some of the most popular wide-angle lenses are 35mm, 28mm, and 24mm lenses. 

    Here are some of my recommendations for the best standard wide-angle lenses. 

    BrandFocal Length
    Maximum ApertureAF MotorPrice
    Nikon35mmf/1.8YesCheck Price
    Canon35mmf/2YesCheck Price
    Sigma35mmf/1.4NoCheck Price
    Nikon24mmf/1.4YesCheck Price
    Canon24mmf/2.8NoCheck Price
    Sony24mmf/1.4YesCheck Price

    2. Ultra-Wide Angle Lens

    Ultra wide-angle lenses have a focal length of less than 24mm. 

    They give you a field of view between 84 and 150 degrees. 

    These lenses are common when shooting extensive scenes such as landscape or street photography. 

    The field of view on these lenses is challenging to manage because it can add unwanted elements into your scene. 

    When shooting with an ultra-wide-angle lens it is typically common to experience distortion in your scene, especially at wider focal lengths such as 14mm. 

    BrandFocal Length
    Maximum ApertureAF MotorPrice
    Nikon14-24mmf/2.8YesCheck Price
    Sigma14-24mmf/2.8
    YesCheck Price
    Canon11-24mmf/4YesCheck Price
    Nikon16-35mmf/4YesCheck Price
    Canon16-35mmf/2.8YesCheck Price
    Sigma18-35mmf/1.8YesCheck Price
    Sony16-35mmf/2.8YesCheck Price
    Sony14-24mmf/4
    YesCheck Price

    3. Fisheye Lens 

    Fisheye lenses vary in their focal length, but they are usually between 15mm and 16mm on a full-frame camera. 

    Likewise, on a crop-frame camera, fisheye lenses typically have a range between 8mm and 10mm. 

    Keep in mind, even if your lens has the focal length of 15mm or 16mm, this does not mean you will have the same field of view as a fisheye lens. 

    Fisheye lenses are special lenses designed to give you a 180-degree field of view. 

    When using fisheye lenses, be aware that they typically experience heavy distortion at the edge of the frame.Fisheye lens Architecutre

    Wide Angle Lenses For Crop Frame Cameras

    When using a crop frame camera, you will need to use shorter focal lengths to create the same field of view that a wide-angle lens has on a full-frame camera. 

    This is due to the crop factor of smaller sensors. 

    To determine the focal length that would create the same field of view on a crop frame as a full-frame, you need to divide your focal length by the crop factor. 

    Actual Focal Length / Crop Factor

    Below is a table of the respective focal lengths for wide-angle lenses with different sensor sizes. 

    Sensor SizeCrop FactorWide AngleUltra Wide Angle
    Full Frame-35mm-24mm<24mm
    APS-C (Nikon)1.5x23mm-16mm<16mm
    APS-C (Canon)1.6x22mm-15mm<15mm
    4/3"2.0x17mm-12mm<12mm
    1"2.7x13mm-12mm<12mm
    2/3"3.9x9mm-6mm<6mm

    What is a Telephoto Lens?

    For full-frame cameras, a telephoto lens is a lens with a focal length longer than 70mm. 

    These lenses provide a narrower field of view and allow you to get closer to your subject. 

    They are often used to compress your scene and create a  shallow depth of field. 

    Telephoto lenses are typically classified into three categories: medium telephoto, telephoto, and ultra-telephoto. 

    1. Medium Telephoto

    Medium telephoto lenses have a focal length between 70mm and 100mm. 

    They also give you a field of view between 34 degrees and 24 degrees. 

    These lenses are the closest to a standard lens and are an excellent transition lens if you don’t need a full telephoto, but the standard lens does not offer sufficient zoom. 

    Medium telephoto lenses are most commonly used for portrait photography. 

    These lenses are great for filling the frame and creating a shallow depth of field. 

    The most common medium telephoto lens is the 70-200mm medium telephoto zoom and the 85mm prime telephoto. 

    2. Telephoto

    Telephoto lenses have a focal length between 100mm and 300mm and a field of view between 24 and 8 degrees. 

    Telephoto lenses are great for bringing faraway objects close to you. As such, they are often used for wildlife photography.

    Telephoto lenses are also common among landscape photographers when they are photographing subjects far away.

    The most common telephoto lens is the 70-200mm lens. 

    Here are some of my recommendations for the best telephoto lens. 

    BrandFocal Length
    Maximum ApertureAF MotorPrice
    Nikon70-200mmf/2.8YesCheck Price
    Canon70-200mmf/2.8
    YesCheck Price
    Canon70-200mmf/4YesCheck Price
    Sigma100-400mmf/5-6.3
    YesCheck Price
    Sony100-400mmf/4.5-f.6Yes
    Check Price

    3. Ultra Telephoto 

    Ultra telephoto lenses have a focal length greater than 300mm and a field of view of 8 degrees or smaller. 

    They are often used for extreme close-up photography such as wildlife, astrophotography, or documentary. 

    These lenses are typically much more expensive than other focal lengths. 

    Some of the most common ultra-telephoto lenses include the 100-400mm lens, 500mm lens, and 600mm lenses. 

    Here are my recommendation for the best ultra-wide telephoto lenses. 

    BrandFocal Length
    Maximum ApertureAF MotorPrice
    Nikon200-500mmf/5.6YesCheck Price
    Sigma150-600mmf/5-6.3YesCheck Price
    Canon100-400mmf/4.5-5.6YesCheck Price
    Sony200-600mmf/5.6-6.3YesCheck Price

    Telephoto Lens for Crop Frame Cameras

    On a crop frame camera, shorter focal lengths will create the same field of view as a full-frame camera. 

    You can use this to your advantage by buying smaller lenses while still getting the same effect as a long focal length for full-frame cameras. 

    Below is a table of the respective focal lengths for telephoto lenses on different sensor sizes.

    Sensor SizeCrop FactorMedium TelephotoTelephotoUltra Telephoto
    Full Frame-70-100mm100-300mm<300
    APS-C (Nikon)1.5x47-67mm67-200mm<200mm
    APS-C (Canon)1.6x44-62mm62-187mm<187mm
    4/3"2.0x35-50mm50-150mm<150mm
    1"2.7x25-37mm37-111mm<111mm
    2/3"3.9x18-26mm26-77mm<77mm

    Prime vs. Zoom Lens

    Before we move forward, I would like to clarify the difference between a prime lens and a zoom lens. 

    Zoom lenses are often confused with telephoto lenses, while prime lenses are often confused with wide-angle lenses. 

    Zoom lenses are lenses with a variable focal length.

    This means that you can get closer to your subject by adjusting the focal length on your lens. 

    For example, the lens below is a 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens. 

    Zoom Lens ExampleFor this lens, you can take photos using the entire 70-200mm range. 

    Prime lenses have a fixed focal length.

    This means that to get closer to your subject, you have to move physically. 

    For example, the lens below is a 85mm f/1.8 prim telephoto lens.

    Prime Lens ExampleFor this lens, you only have one focal length option to take photos, 85mm. 

    I want to point out that both telephoto and wide-angle lenses can be either prime or zoom. 

    Prime lenses and zoom lenses offer different benefits. 

    Telephoto lenses are great because they offer a variable focal length making them versatile. 

    On the other hand, prime lenses are often faster and sharper than telephoto lenses. 

    Wide-Angle vs. Telephoto Lens

    Here I am going to compare the differences between wide-angle and telephoto lenses. 

    Perspective and Compression 

    A lot of people confuse perspective with compression when shooting with a wide-angle lens. 

    Perspective has to do with the position and angle of the camera while you shoot. 

    For example, if you keep your camera at the same angle and switch from a wide-angle to a telephoto lens, your perspective remains the same. 

    The difference in wide-angle and telephoto lenses is the scene is compressed. 

    Wide-angle lenses cause near objects to appear larger and farther objects to appear smaller. 

    Wide-angle lenses are great for creating depth because they make background objects appear farther than they are. 

    On the other hand, telephoto lenses have the opposite effect on your image. 

    Telephoto lenses make background objects appear larger and compress the sense of depth in an image. 

    This makes it seem like objects in your image are closer to each other than they actually are. 

    Although there is no actual movement in your camera the nature of each lense does cause a change in perspective. 

    Field of View

    One of the most noticeable differences between wide-angle lenses and telephoto lenses is the field of view. 

    The field of view of a lens determines how wide or narrow your image is. 

    Wide-angle lenses offer a larger field of view, allowing you to see more of the scene. 

    Standard wide-angle lenses typically have a field of view between 63 and 114 degrees. 

    On the other hand, telephoto lenses have a much narrower field of view. 

    Telephoto lenses have a field of view between 34 and 4 degrees. 

    The narrow field of view allows on a telephoto lens is great for excluding distracting elements from your scene. 

    Below you will see the difference between focal lengths and their field of view. Lens Type - Focal length range

    Depth of Field

    There is a common misconception that wide-angle lenses have a deeper depth of field than telephoto lenses for the same aperture value. 

    The reality is that if you maintain the same composition, the depth of field will remain the same. 

    Keep in mind, to maintain the same composition on a wide-angle lens and telephoto lens; you will need to move backward when shooting with your telephoto lens. 

    Without adjusting for your composition, then the comparison is between apples and oranges. 

    If you keep the distance and aperture value the same, wide-angle lenses will produce a deeper depth of field.

    For this reason, wide-angle lenses are ideal for capturing scenes with the entire frame in focus. 

    Likewise, telephoto lenses are ideal for creating a shallow depth of field and emphasizing your subject while blurring the background. 

    Distortion

    Wide-angle and telephoto lenses both experience distortion. 

    The type of distortion you experience with each lens is different. 

    Wide-angle lenses experience barrel distortion. 

    Barrel distortion causes straight lines to curve inwards. 

    This happens because the size of the frame you are trying to capture is larger than the sensor.

    To fit the entire scene on the sensor, your camera bends your image inwards. 

    Telephoto lenses experience pincushion distortion. 

    Pincushion distortion bends straight lines outwards. 

    This occurs because the size of the frame is smaller than the sensor.

    To accommodate for the smaller scene, your camera stretches the scene. 

    Keep in mind that lenses experience distortion differently. 

    Some wide-angle lenses experience more pinhole distortion than other lenses. 

    Likewise, certain telephoto lenses experience more pincushion distortion than other lenses. 

    Size and Weight

    Telephoto lenses are longer and heavier than wide-angle lenses. 

    There are some exceptions. 

    Whether your lens is zoom or prime lens will have a bigger impact on the overall size and weight. 

    For example, an 85mm prime telephoto lens is typically shorter than a 14-24mm wide-angle lens. 

    Prime ultra-telephoto lenses are typically longer, but using an ultra-wide-angle zoom lens, such as the 14-24, will be heavier.

    As a result, the larger the focal range of your zoom lens, the heavier and longer it will be. 

    On the other hand, if you compare a prime wide-angle lens will typically be lighter and shorter than a prime telephoto lens. 

     Filters

    When using a telephoto lens, you won’t have any issue using filters. 

    Nearly all telephoto lenses have a threaded lens allowing for the use of circular filters. 

    On the other hand, this is not always the case with wide-angle lenses. 

    Often times wide-angle lenses come with built-in hoods or have a circular lens making it difficult to use filters. 

    For example, most 14-24mm lenses come with a built-in lens hood. 

    This is one of the most popular lenses used for landscape photography. 

    Likewise, the circular nature of fisheye lenses makes it challenging to use circular filters as well. 

    Aperture

    When comparing maximum apertures wide-angle lenses usually have the upper hand. 

    Wide-angle lenses are typically faster (have larger maximum apertures) than telephoto lenses. 

    It is also easier and cheaper to find a wide-angle lens with a fixed maximum aperture. 

    One way you can overcome this issue with a telephoto lens is by going with a prime lens. 

    When buying prime lenses are typically cheaper and faster than their zoom counterparts for both wide-angle and telephoto lenses. 

    A Nikon 35mm f/1.8 lens will cost you around $200, while a Nikon 16-35mm f/4 costs around $100. 

    Likewise, a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 will cost around $1,800, while a Canon 200mm f/2.8 will cost about $700.

    When to a Use Wide Angle Lens?

    Wide-angle lenses typically used to capture vast scenes. 

    These lenses are great when you want to capture as much of the scene as possible. 

    This is ideal when you want to include multiple elements in your frame. 

    1. Landscape Photography 

    One of the popular uses for wide-angle lenses is landscape photography. 

    Wide-angle lenses allow you to capture the full view of the landscape without having to compromise your composition. 

    This is great if you are trying to capture wide scenes such as mountain ranges or long scenes, including the sky. 

    When shooting landscape photography, the most popular wide-angle lens options are a 14-24mm lens or a 16-35mm lens. 

    Both of these lenses offer a wide and ultra-wide angle range, which is excellent for landscape photography. kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls and kirkjufell in Iceland.

    2. Architecture Photography 

    Architecture photography is another great time to use wide-angle lenses. 

    A wide-angle lens will allow you to capture the entire building with ease without cutting out essential features. 

    When shooting architecture photography, you usually have limited space. 

    Wide-angle lenses will help you overcome this issue by capturing wide scenes without having to back up too far.

    Be aware of the amount of distortion you lens causes. 

    Distortion can cause buildings and rooms to look compressed at the edges. 

    Remember this before you use your architecture photos. 

    If there is too much distortion, you can cause post-processing software to remove the distortion and make your building look more like it did in real life. Leaning Tower of Pisa in Pisa - Italy

    3. Street Photography

    Wide-angle lenses are also great for street photography. 

    To capture to feeling and culture of a city, you will need to use a wide-angle lens. 

    This will allow you to capture the entire view of the city in a single photo. 

    Wide-angle lenses are also great because they force you to get close to your scene. 

    This is a great way to truly embed yourself in the city and get a feel for the culture. Man with umbrella crossing on the street

    When To Use Telephoto Lenses?

    You must experiment with different focal lengths and a telephoto lens is a great option. 

    There are a lot of instances where telephoto lenses are a great option. 

    Below are some of the best times you can use your telephoto lens. 

    1. Make your subject Appear Closer

    One of the most common and obvious reasons to use telephotos is to make elements in your frame appear closer. 

    Telephoto lenses allow you to take photos of subjects that are far away without having to get near them. 

    This is great if the weather, environment, or safety don’t allow you to get closer to your subject. 

    With a telephoto lens, you can get around these obstacles by using the zoom feature of your lens.

    2. Create a Shallow Depth of Field

    Telephoto lenses are a great way to fill your frame and create a shallow depth of field. 

    This is perfect when you want to emphasize your subject and blur out your background. 

    It is also useful for compressing your image and make it look like the elements in your image are closer together. 

    This is typically more effective when you are using longer focal lengths and wider apertures. 

    3. Portrait Photography 

    Telephoto lenses are also great at creating great portrait photos. 

    A telephoto lens will allow you to fill your subject in the frame while creating a great bokeh effect in your background. 

    Telephotos also keeps your features more proportional compared to a wide-angle lens. 

    This will make your subject appear more like they do in real life. 

    Also, telephoto lenses allow you to capture portrait photos from a distance, keeping your subject comfortable. 

    Portrait Photography of Woman

    4. Wildlife Photography

    Telephoto lenses are incredibly useful when photographing wildlife.

    Telephoto lenses allow you to capture wildlife without disturbing them in their natural environment.

    This will keep you a safe distance from your subject.

    This is important if you’re taking photo of dangerous or fragile wildlife that can be spooked easily.

    When shooting wildlife, a zoom telephoto lens is the most effective.

    It will give you the flexibility and versatility to shoot different wildlife at varying distances.

    Some of the best focal length range for wildlife photography is 100-400mm and 150-600mm.

    Both these lenses offer a versatile range that you can use to capture your wildlife in with their environment and close up.Close-up Photography Of Blue And Yellow Macaw

    5. Astrophotography

    Wide-angle lenses are often used when photographing astrophotography, but telephoto lenses are also a great alternative. 

    Telephoto lenses are also ideal if you want to capture close-up photos of the moon, Milkyway, or star trails. 

    Use a telephoto lens if you want to eliminate other objects in your frame and only focus on the moon or Milkyway in your photo. 

    When shooting astrophotography close-up, you will want a focal length of 400-600mm. 

    If you need a longer focal length, I recommend using a teleconverter of 1.6x or 2.0x. 

    A teleconverter is a great way to expand your focal length without buying a new lens. 

    Full Moon Emerges Behind Mountain

    About The Author

    Photographer. Explorer. Story Teller. For the past 5 years, I’ve voyaged across the world seeking the next great photograph. If you’re anything like me, you love to travel, capture beautiful moments, and live life to the fullest.

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