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What Every Photographer Should Know About Lenses

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Master the basics of photography lenses with this comprehensive course. Discover different lens types, their uses, how to choose the right lens, and more.

Watch the Full Photography Lenses Course 

Table of Contents

This course consists of 7 lessons (broken up into smaller sections) and the video is about 2 hours and 45 minutes long -- that's a lot of quality instruction for free! 

What You'll Learn 

In this course, you will learn:

  • The different types of lenses available and their uses
  • How to choose the right lens for your photography needs
  • The basics of aperture and how it affects your photos
  • How to control depth of field
  • The importance of focal length and how it affects the perspective of your photos
  • How to use different lens features such as image stabilization and autofocus

About Your Instructor

david bode

 1. Introduction

This comprehensive video course is designed to help photographers of all levels master the basics of lens selection, aperture, focal length, and more. So, let's dive in!

1.1 Introduction

Watch video lesson (2 mins) ↗

If you're a photography and want to learn more about lenses, this is the course for you! We dive deep into the subject, with coverage of topics like focal length, special features, and lens types. But first, we talk about how lenses function.

2. How Do Lenses Work?

This section of the course is dedicated to discover the inner workings of lenses, learning about the different lens elements and their functions, and gaining a better understanding of how aperture, focal length and other lens features affect the final image. 

2.1 Focal Length and Field-of-View

Watch video lesson (9 mins) ↗

Focal length is a measure of a lens's ability to magnify an image. It's the distance from the lens to the point where the light rays converge to form a sharp image on the sensor or film. 

Focal length is not a description of how long a lens is physically.

Field-of-view (FOV) is the extent of the observable world that is seen at any given moment. This describes the angle of view of the lens, the angle of the area captured by the lens, and the angle of the area that the lens can see.

focal length and field of viewfocal length and field of viewfocal length and field of view

In simple terms, the focal length of a lens determines the magnification of an image and the field of view determines how much of the scene will be captured in the frame. So, a shorter focal length means you'll have a wider field of view, while a longer focal length results in a more narrow field of view.

2.2 Aperture

Watch video lesson (13 mins) ↗

Aperture is an adjustable opening in the lens that regulates the amount of light that reaches the camera's sensor. It is measured in f-stops, and the size of the aperture is controlled by a diaphragm within the lens. Aperture also affects the depth of field, which is the range of sharpness in an image.

The aperture controls the exposure of the image, with a wide aperture letting in more light and a narrow aperture letting in less light.

2.3 What Does A Bad Lens Look Like?

Watch video lesson (21 mins) ↗ 

In this section, you will be introduced to the common issues that a bad lens can cause, such as:

  • Soft or blurry images
  • Loss of contrast
  • Chromatic aberrations, which appear as color fringes around the edges of objects
  • Vignetting, which is a darkening of the corners of the image
  • Distortion, which causes straight lines to appear curved or bent

By the end of this section, you will know how to identify and avoid bad lenses so you will always select the high-quality options instead.

3. Special Lens Features

Get to know the special features of lenses in the next section of the course, which will help you to understand what features like stabilization and coatings are and how they can enhance your photography considerably.

3.1 Stabilization, Coatings, and Focusing Motors

Watch video lesson (10 mins) ↗

In this chapter, expect to learn about the following special features and how they impact the quality of your photographs:

  • Stabilization: A feature that compensates for camera shake to produce sharp images.
  • Coatings: Materials applied on lenses to reduce glare and improve image quality.
  • Focusing Motors: Built-in or external systems that adjust lens elements to focus the image, improve focusing speed, and accuracy.

You may find it beneficial to invest in a camera with these qualities.

Related tutorial: If you want to see what you can do with quality stabilization and focusing motors, check out this collection of 100 self-portrait photos as inspiration. 

4. Choosing a Zoom Lens

Next up, you'll learn about the variety of different zoom lenses available from standard to telephoto to give you a sense of what's out there and which type is best for individual situations. 

4.1 Standard Zoom Lenses

Watch video lesson (13 mins) ↗

Standard zoom lenses cover a moderate range of focal lengths, typically around 18-55mm on a full-frame camera, making them ideal for everyday photography. They are versatile and suitable for a wide range of photography such as landscapes, portraits, and events. They are also relatively compact and lightweight, making them easy to carry around.

4.2 Wide Angle Zoom Lenses

Watch video lesson (8 mins) ↗

Wide angle zoom lenses have a shorter focal length than standard zoom lenses, typically starting at around 12-24mm on a full-frame camera. They are great for capturing more of the scene in a single frame, making them ideal for landscape, architectural and interior photography. They can also be used for street and environmental portrait photography.

wide angle zoomwide angle zoomwide angle zoom

These lenses have a wider field of view, which allows for a greater sense of depth and a more immersive image. They can also make smaller spaces appear larger and can be used to create dramatic perspectives. However, they can also create distortion if not used correctly, especially when you get too close to the subject.

4.3 Medium Telephoto Zooms

Watch video lesson (7 mins) ↗

Medium telephoto zoom lenses have a longer focal length than standard zoom lenses, typically around 70-200mm on a full-frame camera. They are great for portraits, action and sports photography, as they allow you to get in close to your subject while still being able to maintain a safe distance.

medium telephoto zoommedium telephoto zoommedium telephoto zoom

This focal length range is also great for capturing details, such as facial expressions and textures, in your subject. They are also good for isolating your subject from the background, creating a shallow depth of field.

4.4 Telephoto Lenses

Watch video lesson (9 mins) ↗

Telephoto zoom lenses have a longer focal length than medium telephoto zooms, typically around 150-600mm or 70-300mm on a full-frame camera.

telephoto zoomtelephoto zoomtelephoto zoom

They are ideal for wildlife and bird photography, sports, and action photography. They allow you to isolate your subject from a distance and also for creating a more narrow field of view. 

4.5 Super Zoom Lenses

Watch video lesson (7 mins) ↗

Super zoom lenses, also known as all-in-one lenses, cover a wide range of focal lengths, typically from wide-angle to telephoto, such as 28-200mm on a full-frame camera. They are great for photographers who want the convenience of carrying one lens that can handle a variety of shooting scenarios, instead of switching between multiple lenses.

super zoomsuper zoomsuper zoom

They are also good for travel, family and event photography, as they allow you to quickly adjust to changing subjects and environments. They can suffer from image quality issues, however.

5. A Guide to Prime Lenses

In this chapter, you will learn about the benefits and drawbacks of using prime lenses, which have a fixed focal length, as opposed to zoom lenses, which allow you to change the focal length.

5.1 The Good and Bad of Prime Lenses

Watch video lesson (5 mins) ↗

Prime lenses offer several advantages, such as sharper images, wider maximum apertures, and better low-light performance. They are also generally smaller and lighter than zoom lenses, making them more portable and versatile.

On the other hand, prime lenses have a fixed focal length, which means they can't be zoomed in or out, making it difficult to adjust to different compositions or subjects.

5.2 Fish Eye Lenses

Watch video lesson (22 mins) ↗

Fish-eye lenses are a type of lens that have a very wide angle of view, typically between 100-180 degrees. They are characterized by their distinct, distorted image that creates a circular or semi-circular effect. They are used for capturing very wide landscapes, architectural shots and for creative and artistic photography. 

fish eye lensfish eye lensfish eye lens

6. Getting Perspective Right in Your Photographs

In this next chapter, you'll learn all about how to use focal length to make someone looks their best in photos as well as how focal length and perspective can be used to recompose images.

6.1 The Right Lens For Portrait Photography

Watch video lesson (11 mins) ↗

Focal length and field of view can dramatically change the way a human face looks in a portrait photo and by adjusting both of these things, you can achieve different results. Using a wide angle lens up-close for a portrait can make the subject look distorted. Just take a look at the difference between 18mm and 35mm in this side-by-side comparison: 

right lens for portraitsright lens for portraitsright lens for portraits

On the left, the subject's nose is much more pronounced, as wide-angle lenses exaggerate whatever is in the foreground. In the photo on the right, the nose is push back more into the face, and is more reflective of what the subject actually looks like. However, when the focal length gets even higher, another distorting effect can happen, making the face look wider than it actually is. 

portrait compressionportrait compressionportrait compression

6.2 Compress For Composition

Watch video lesson (8 mins) ↗

This chapter discusses how to build upon the ideas in the previous section to compose foreground and background elements differently. Basically, focal length can be used to control how large background elements appear and how much of the background you see in a photo. It compresses things and can make background elements appear closer. 


6.3 Guide to Macro Lenses

Watch video lesson (16 mins) ↗

All lenses have a limit to how close they can focus on an object. And on a normal lens, this isn't really that close. However, a macro lens can allow you to get super close. 

Macro lenses are specialized lenses designed for close-up photography. They have a high reproduction ratio and allow you to focus at close distances, capturing fine details of small objects, such as flowers, insects, and other tiny subjects. The finished photograph will feature a subject at a greater than life-size. 

A few key terms to know here: 

Magnification refers to the level of enlargement of an object in the camera's viewfinder compared to its actual size. In other words, it is the ratio of the size of the subject in the image to its real-world size.

macro lensmacro lensmacro lens

Reproduction ratio describes the size of the image of a subject in relation to its actual size. It is the ratio of the size of the image of the subject on the camera's sensor or film to its real-world size. 

7. Conclusion

All there's left to do is to wrap things up!

7.1 Conclusion

Watch video lesson (3 mins) ↗

By following along with this tutorial and course, it's hopefully apparent by now that there's a wide range of lenses available that provide a tremendous variety of possibilities. To leave you with a few parting tips: 

  • Get the best glass you can because it will last longer and have better resale value. 
  • renting a lens is always an option if you need a particular lens type for a special event. 
  • Take care of your gear as best as you can and investing in a good lens case is a must.

I hope you've learned some valuable information here today about photography lenses, your options, and which ones might be right for you. 

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