Types of Lenses

Posted in Analog photography
1469 words
Estimated reading time: 7 min read

It has been known that the good lens is almost (or not as important) as important as the camera you use. It’s never simple to choose your lens. There are different kinds of lenses that provide different effect or are for different purposes. Therefore, you have to pick wisely and know what you can expect of your equipment. Even today, when digital cameras are much more popular, old analog lenses are in everyday use, because of their exceptional quality and an evergreen charm they give to image.

1. Wide angle

Wide angle lenses are the ones which focal length is much smaller than the focal length of appropriate standard lens. These types of lenses are widely used for taking photos of buildings and architecture in general, nature, landscapes and interior.

They are great tool for photographers who want to explore their creativity, because they provide variety of different effects. Also, they are useful and very common for photographing nature because they give the feeling of actually standing there to anyone who looks at the image; basically it literally draws the viewer into the scene.

First they are useful when you want to separate background from the rest of the picture by emphasizing objects in front (if they’re too close even deform them) and objects in the background seem smaller and more distant than they are in real life. This exaggeration of size of the foreground objects is used to make objects more prominent and striking, while capturing expansive backgrounds. Wider lenses tend to give bigger depth of field while magnifying the distance between the objects.

They give much greater depth of field than telephoto lenses, so when photographing landscapes it will provide the sharpness in the background.
Another specific result of using a wide-angle lens is a greater apparent perspective distortion, for example, if you take a picture of a building it will appear to be falling backwards much more when photographed with wide-angle lens from ground level than it would if photographed with standard lens from the same place, and that happens because more of the building is visible in the shot taken with wide-angle.

Wide angle lenses for analog cameras are considered to be ones with focal lengths much smaller than 50mm, starting from 28mm, while the other popular focal lengths are 24, 21, 20, 18 and 14mm. Lenses with smaller focal lengths are considered to be ultra wide, or they are classified with special lenses.

2. Standard (Normal)

A standard, or “normal” lens is the one that sees in a similar proportion to the human eye and this lens has a focal length range of 35-70mm, depending on a camera you use. Basically that means that what you see in front of you by eye, will be captured approximately equally in camera. They do not distort the perspective.

For the most commonly used 35mm film camera, with a diagonal of 43.3 mm, approximate focal length of a standard lens is 50mm. 40Mm to 58mm lenses will also give the similar look and are also considered normal for a typical Leica format film.
As mentioned before, it all depends on camera type, the size of the film will change the size of the lens you need – for example, large format camera uses 4×5 inch sheet film, so 150mm lens gives you the standard view. For a medium format cameras (that use 6×6 cm sized film) lens of approximately 80 mm will be equal to a human eye.

Standard lenses are the most popular and the most used types of lenses. They are great for street photography and travelers in general, because the images strikes you as something that you would see with our own eye. It is also an excellent choice for beginners or anyone who feels insecure with their photography skills.

Pioneers of photography, such as Henri Cartier Bresson, used only 50mm lens, for it gave the most natural look to photograph, capturing the world as you would see it yourself.
If you want to calculate which lens is normal for your camera, you do it like this (based on 35mm example): Image dimensions in this case are 24 × 36 mm, so the diagonal of the image is 43,3 mm. The closer the focal length of your lens is to the diagonal, the more normal view you get.

3. Telephoto

Name telephoto refers to a lens that has focal length that’s much bigger than the focal length of standard lens. It gives a narrow depth of field and a magnified image. Telephoto lenses have variety of common uses, they are very popular among nature photographers (for capturing animals in wilderness, for example), sport photographers, concert photographers and basically are good for everyday use when you want to capture an object that is in a distance and also for photographing portraits for they separate objects from the background thanks to their small depth of field.

It’s important to clarify that same depth of field on wide angle lens and telephoto won’t give the same result, and that the background will be much more blurry when using the telephoto. Telephoto lenses are often separated to subcategories; there are medium-telephoto lenses (from 85mm to 135mm), those that are called just ‘telephoto’ (from 135mm to 300mm) and super-telephoto (300mm and over).

The invention of telephoto is credited to Thomas Rudolphus Dallmeyer who introduced it in 1891, though many other people independently came up to the same invention at the similar time. 
Telephoto lenses by photographers are most commonly used as a tool to drastically separate background from the subject and to change perspective. In order to put background out of focus as much as possible, for a head shot, you should use the largest aperture, lens with the biggest focal length and get as close as possible to your subject to fill the frame.

As for perspective, you should place your subject against the background and then use the longest lens you have to compose the picture, and also choose your f-stop wisely: when using a large aperture may happen that your background is out of focus too much, and a smaller aperture may force you to use a shutter speed that will be very tricky to hand hold without camera shake, so tripod may be necessary.

4. Special lenses

Tilt shift lens

Tilt shift lenses encompasses two different movements and solves two problems: rotation of the lens plane relative to the image plane, called tilt, and movement of the lens parallel to the image plane, called shift.

Basically what tilt shift does is allowing avoiding converging verticals in your images. Beside its standard use, Tilt-shift lens can also be used to create variety of effects and get the results you couldn’t with any other. You can create dreamy look of your photograph by playing with the focus (You can specify how wide the band of focus in the photo is by how much you tilt.

A big tilt will appear to have a narrower band of focus running across the frame and a small tilt will give you the opposite.), avoid obstacles and reflections you don’t need in the picture, create ‘’toy-town’’ effect by pointing your camera up, then tilting the lens down, etc. Tilt shift lenses are not for everyone, it takes time and effort to learn how to use them properly, but when you do, they offer many options and leave the space for creative work.

Soft-focus lens

Not very common, and not so popular, soft focus lenses are designed by Leitz in the 30s, with the legendary model Thambar 90mm f2.2. The soft focus effect is used as an effect for glamour photography, because the effect eliminates imperfections on model’s face and in general produces a dream-like image.

Nowadays there’s many other ways to create this effect, like using diffusion filter or simply to stretch nylon stocking over the front side of the lens, so soft-focus lenses are mostly just a part of history.

Fisheye lens

Fisheye lenses were first introduced to public in 1960s, and they easily made their way to the heart of photography enthusiasts. They provide distorted, round-like look to image, and they open the whole new space to experiment with photography.

For 35 mm film format cameras, typical focal lengths of fisheye lenses are between 8 mm and 10 mm for circular image. Given the fact they provide somewhat of an effect, they’re not used in commercial photography so much. The look they give to an image can be described the best by telling that this lens almost pushes the vertical “corners” of the subject photograph closer to each other.

They’re like the younger brother of a wide angle lens, they’re just even wider. You can use in very places and still get the interesting photo.