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How to Use Medium Telephoto Lenses for Photography

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If you're a photographer and you’d like to know more about lenses, then you’ll love our free course, What Every Photographer Should Know About Lenses. In this lesson you’ll learn about medium telephoto lenses.

Medium Telephoto Lenses

What is a Medium Telephoto Lens?

A telephoto lens incorporates a telephoto lens element group, which is a specially-designed set of lens components to magnify far-away things with a more compact design. This would include medium telephoto, telephoto, and super telephoto lenses. Longer focal-length lenses in general are often informally referred to as telephoto lenses, although this is technically incorrect.

A medium telephoto zoom lens fills the gap between a standard zoom lens and longer zoom lenses. It can be an excellent lens to have if you need a little more reach to your shots, but don't want to carry something heavy. This lens type is popular in the market today, including older manual lenses and new autofocus versions.

Medium Telephoto Focal Ranges

A medium telephoto zoom lens is a lens that has a field of view around 10 to 30 degrees. On a full-frame sensor, this means a 70-to-200 millimetre lens. On an APS-C, it's lenses with a range somewhere around 50-to-150 millimetres. For a micro 4/3 camera, you'd be looking at around 35-to-100 millimetres.

There's not really a strict range for these medium telephoto zoom lenses. For example, we could put a 70-200 millimetre lens on an APS-C Camera and get most of the range that you would need, with a bit more on the long end.

Medium Telephoto Examples

Let's check out what these focal lengths look like in action.

Walkabout and Reportage

This is not your typical carry around lens because even at the widest these lenses have a pretty tight field of view. While the medium telephoto is a great lens to use outdoors, it can be a heavy one to carry, so not often an always-on-the-camera walkabout lens.

However for news and photojournalism, it is more common for photographers to use two cameras: one with a wide zoom, one with a medium telephoto zoom.

Photograph taken at 114mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 114mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 114mm - Image by David Bode
Photograph taken at 114mm on an APS-C camera by Dave Bode

The photo above and photos below were all shot using medium telephoto zoom focal lengths on an APS-C camera.

Landscape

For an APS-C sized camera there are not a whole lot of telephoto zooms available. For full-framed cameras, you'll see 70 to 200 millimetre lenses commonly, but for APS-C cameras a lot of time you often have to use lenses that are either slightly wider at one end or slightly tighter on the other end because they don't really make a lot of lenses available that fit the medium telephoto zoom perfectly.

Photograph taken at 124mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 124mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 124mm - Image by David Bode
Photograph taken at 124mm on APS-C camera by Dave Bode

The photo above was shot with a not-so-good Quantaray 70 to 300 millimetre lens set at 124mm on an APS-C camera. (This is not really a medium telephoto lens, more of a medium telephoto to telephoto, but 124mm is in the medium range.)

Group Shots

With group shots, you can avoid an expansive background and instead compose with a fairly tight grouping of objects, people or background elements.

Photograph taken at 70mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 70mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 70mm - Image by David Bode
Photograph taken at 70mm on an APS-C camera by Dave Bode

The photo below was shot with a 28 to 75 millimetre Tamron F2.8 lens. On a full-frame camera a 28 to 75 millimetre lens would be pretty close to the standard zoom. But when you put that lens on an APS-C body, it gives a range between a standard zoom and a medium telephoto zoom.

Photograph taken at 70mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 70mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 70mm - Image by David Bode
Photograph taken at 70mm on an APS-C by Dave Bode

Architecture

One thing you notice about these photos is none are a wide vista. You can take landscape photos with a medium telephoto and you can take photos of buildings, but the angle of view is fairly restricted. This is a great focal length for architectural details or abstracted compositions, for example.

Photograph taken at 75mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 75mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 75mm - Image by David Bode
Photograph taken at 75mm - Image by Dave Bode

With photos that look wider, like the one above, it's easy to spot that they were taken from far away because there's nothing in the foreground. If there is something in the foreground it'll be fairly out of focus because the focus point in wider shots like that is likely several hundred feet away.

Portrait and Group Shots

This focal range makes a great people lens. The medium telephoto focal lengths - so on an APS-C camera that would be 50mm to 150mm - makes faces look really fantastic.

Photograph taken at 75mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 75mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 75mm - Image by David Bode
Photograph taken at 75mm on APS-C by Dave Bode

Wildlife and Sports Photography

A medium telephoto lens is not the typical lens that you think of to use for wildlife or sport. That doesn't mean that you can't use a medium telephoto though, because it's all about your distance away from the subject. To capture more of the action, a medium telephoto zoom works really well.

Photograph taken at 57mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 57mm - Image by David BodePhotograph taken at 57mm - Image by David Bode
Photograph taken at 57mm by Dave Bode

Learn More About How to Use Lenses

Keep learning about how to use photographic lenses with these free tutorials.

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