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A Quick Start Guide to 6 Specialty Lenses


Often, lenses in the photography community are similar in design. Each brand has similar focal length ranges and speeds for their popular lenses (all major brands make a 24-70mm and 70-200mm for example). However, many lenses are also specialized, with features such as macro and tilt shift. Here is a breakdown of seven of these lenses and their practical purposes.

1. Tilt Shift Lenses

Tilt shift lenses have been favored by architectural photographers for decades. They aim to reduce distortion and achieve straight and even lines for their images. Tilt shifts have made their way into popular photography styles by providing interesting depth of field options, which used as a particular style in modern photography.

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Image credit: Tilt Shift by pinboke_planet

A pin allows you to rotate the glass elements inside the lens. The tilt shift lens was originally designed to provide a deep, artificial depth of field for photographers. However, by reversing the effect, you're able to adjust the depth of field to be extremely shallow, and selective within the frame. This is a popular style often used in portrait and landscape photography in recent years.


Popular tilt shift lenses are the Canon 24mm T/S, Canon 45mm T/S and Nikon 24mm PC-E. Lens manufactures such as Lensbaby also build lenses used to achieve a similar effect in photos. Tilt shift lens are often marketed as "perspective control" or PC lenses.

2. Macro Lenses

A macro lens is a highly specialized lens that many photographers have a desire for, but haven't yet invested in. A macro lens allows you to focus very closely to subjects, which allows you to see the detail at a near microscopic level. It's worth noting that there are also micro lenses, which offer even more close-up magnification.

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Image Credit: Macro by A Guy Taking Pictures

A macro lens works because of the glass elements within the lens can be adjusted. A macro lens is able to reduce the minimum focus distance on a lens by having an extra long "throw," meaning you can move the lens elements farther away from your sensor than you can with a normal lens. This magnifies the subject, while also providing an exceptionally shallow depth of field.

Macro lenses are a requirement for those taking photos of insects, flowers and other small objects, but macro photography is used in other fields as well. Food Photographer Taylor Mathis uses a macro lens in nearly all of his shoots. Wedding photographers everywhere have also found it a much needed lens for the classic ring photograph.

Some popular macro lenses are the Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro and the Nikon 120mm f/2.8 Macro.

3. Ultra Wide Angle Lenses

It is said that the human eye is somewhere between 45mm-55mm on a full frame camera. Anything before this focal range is considered a wide-angle lens, for its ability to expand the focal range of the human eye. When wide enough (usually anything shorter than 20mm), you begin to go into the realm of ultra wide angle lenses.

The special quality of these lenses is that the barrel distortion from them will have a tendency to stretch the background, creating a visually interesting and almost surreal look to the images.


There are a variety of Ultra Wide Angle lenses from manufactures. Among the common ones are the Canon 10-22mm f/2.8, Canon 17-40mm f/4L, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, and the Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5-4.5.

4. Fisheye Lenses

Fisheye lenses are obscure in the sense that while most camera lenses look to minimize distortion in images, a fish eye exploits the idea. A fisheye lens warps an image using a convex front element within the lens. This creates some highly distorted and highly surreal imagery.

Image Credit: Fisheye by *Light Painting*

While fisheye lenses are not commonly used for portrait work because of the distortion caused from the image, they are pretty popular among sports photographers, especially when it comes to skateboarding and other sports where you're able to get close to your subject.

5. Soft Focus Lenses

A style popularized in the 1980s with "glamour shots", the soft focus lens intentionally softens the image, removing any blemishes on your subject. While this technique is often done in Photoshop today, the soft focus technique still exists in modern photography today through screw on filters and even within lenses themselves.

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Image Credit: Soft Focus by 55Laney69

Soft focus, in this sense, does not mean out of focus. The effect is more hazy than anything else, and most soft focus lenses have a greater effect toward the edges of the frame than the center. It's actually achieved by having an array of small holes for the aperture instead of just one. Common soft focus lenses are the Canon 135mm f/2.8 Soft Focus and the Lensbaby Soft Focus.

Soft focus aperture
Soft focus aperture.

6. Specialize Bokeh Lenses

There are many lenses that set themselves apart by producing interesting bokeh. Lenses such as the Helios 44 are known to create a spiraling effect (often called swirl bokeh) in images because of the overcompensation of reducing barrel distortion within the lenses glass elements.

While other lenses, such as Petzval lenses, create incredible smooth and "milky" bokeh. Often, these effects are highly desired and help create an interesting signature to your images.

Copyright Piotr P  httpwwwflickrcomphotosatheist_lenses
Image Credit: Swirl Bokeh by Piotr P

Expand Your Toolkit!

Each and every one of these lenses serves a purpose within photography. While some are more practical than others, the effects acheived by each of them can add some extra flare to your work.

Do you own any specialty lenses? Did we miss any? Leave us a comment below, and share a picture you made with one of these interesting lenses.

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