OP Home > Gear > Lenses > Going Tele: A Complete Guide


Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Going Tele: A Complete Guide

What you need to know about buying and shooting with long lenses


Going Tele: A Complete Guide

Long lenses are terrific tools when you can’t get close to your subject, providing dramatic frame-filling images of distant wildlife and sports subjects. Long lenses are also useful to isolate a subject from busy surroundings and for telephoto compression effects. There’s a variety from which to choose today—both prime (single-focal-length) lenses and tele-zooms. Following are some considerations when buying and using long lenses.

What’s A "Long Lens"?

Anything longer than a camera's "normal" lens is long, but it generally takes a lens of at least twice the camera's normal focal length to produce a noticeable long lens effect. For a 35mm camera, 50mm is considered normal, so anything from 100mm up is long. For a 6x7cm medium-format camera, 105mm is normal; 210mm and longer is long. For a 4x5-inch view camera, 180mm is normal, so anything from 360mm up is long for this format. For a typical digital SLR with an APS-C-sized image sensor, 32mm is normal and 64mm on up is long.

There's nothing magic about "long." Principles of optics don't suddenly change when you attach a lens that exceeds the camera's normal focal length. But the longer the focal length, the bigger the subject's image will appear in the image frame and the narrower the angle of view. And because we generally shoot from farther away when using longer lenses, perspective is compressed—objects at different distances in the scene seem squashed together due to the great shooting distance, what's known as the telephoto compression effect (more on this later).

Additionally, while photographers tend to call any lens longer than a camera's normal lens a telephoto, technically the term refers to a specific optical design that employs refracting elements in such a way that the physical length of the lens is shorter than its focal length. Most of today's long lenses are of telephoto design, so it's okay to call them telephotos. Just be aware that not all long lenses are true telephotos.


Add Comment


Popular OP Articles