Camera telescopic lens: The best telephoto lenses in 2023

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Focal Length | Understanding Camera Zoom & Lens Focal Length | Nikon

Beginner

Featuring Diane Berkenfeld, Nikon Ambassador Dave Black, Mike Corrado & Lindsay Silverman

Focal length, usually represented in millimeters (mm), is the basic description of a photographic lens.

Glossary

What is Lens Focal Length

Focal length, usually represented in millimeters (mm), is the basic description of a photographic lens. It is not a measurement of the actual length of a lens, but a calculation of an optical distance from the point where light rays converge to form a sharp image of an object to the digital sensor or 35mm film at the focal plane in the camera. The focal length of a lens is determined when the lens is focused at infinity.

Lens focal length tells us the angle of view—how much of the scene will be captured—and the magnification—how large individual elements will be. The longer the focal length, the narrower the angle of view and the higher the magnification. The shorter the focal length, the wider the angle of view and the lower the magnification.

© Dave Black

Zoom vs. Prime Lens

There are two types of lenses-prime and zoom. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length and zoom lenses have variable focal lengths.

Zoom Lens Benefits

The advantage of a zoom lens is versatility. They are ideal when you are photographing a variety of subjects such as landscapes and portraits, and you just want one lens for both situations. Using a zoom lens also reduces the number of times you need to change the lens which saves time and limits the possibility of getting dust in the camera’s mirror box or on the sensor.

Prime Lens Benefits

The main advantages of prime lenses or fixed focal length lenses are their size and weight as well as their maximum aperture or f/stop. Prime lenses tend to be more compact and lightweight than zoom lenses.

Prime lenses also tend to have a larger maximum aperture (f/1.4 to f/2.8). This is an advantage when shooting in low light conditions as it will increase the possibility of hand holding the camera and freezing the subject without shake or blur caused by the longer exposures. Photographing using prime lenses with large apertures also means you can get a shallow depth of field which is useful for portraiture where you might want a softer or blurred background (also known as bokeh).

Lens Focal Length Comparison

Wide-angle Lens

FX format approx. 14 – 35mm / DX format approx. 10 – 24mm

Wide angle lenses are popular lenses for landscape photography, interiors, large group photos and when working in confined situations.

 

© Diane Berkenfeld & Lindsay Silverman

 

Standard Lens

FX format approx. 50 – 60mm / DX format approx. 35mm

Standard lenses are popular as they are closest to the angle of view we humans see. These lenses have minimal distortion, which can be flattering to the subject. They tend to use large apertures and allow a lot of light to enter the lens which makes them fast in low light conditions. Large apertures (f/1.8 – f/1.4) also produce a pleasing out-of-focus effect to the background which concentrates the attention of the viewer on the subject. Standard lenses are the popular choice for a wide range of photography including portraiture, nature and low light situations where the photographer can not use a flash or is looking to capture the scene with available light.

 

© Lindsay Silverman

 

Telephoto Lens

FX format approx. 70 – 200mm / DX format approx. 55 – 200mm

Telephoto lenses between 70 – 200mm are very popular lenses for portraiture and product photography as well as nature and wildlife imagery. They allow the photographer to produce close crops on the subject. In the case of portraiture a telephoto allows the photographer to take the photo at a distance that does not intrude upon the subject.

 

© Diane Berkenfeld & Mike Corrado

 

Super Telephoto Lens

FX format approx. 300 – 600mm / DX format approx. 200 – 600mm

These lenses provide a good range for wildlife and sports photography where the photographer is limited as to how close they can get to the subject.

 

© Lindsay Silverman & Mike Corrado

 

Macro Lens

FX format 60mm, 105mm, and 200mm / DX format 85mm

Close-up photography uses a specific range of lenses that allow up to 1:1 reproduction. These lenses allow the photographer to focus very close to the subject and reproduce them at a 1:1 life-size ratio on film or an imaging sensor. These lenses are popular for subjects such as flowers, insects and small products.

 

© Lindsay Silverman

 

Understanding focal length – Watch the video to learn about the focal length of Nikon DSLR lenses.

Field of view of DX format NIKKOR lenses.

Field of view of DX format NIKKOR lenses.

Field of view of FX format NIKKOR lenses.

Field of view of FX format NIKKOR lenses.

Featuring Diane Berkenfeld, Nikon Ambassador Dave Black, Mike Corrado & Lindsay Silverman

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Telephoto Lens – Everything you need to know

A telephoto lens is a long-focus lens that captures a distant object and gives an enlarged image. The enlarging ability of these lenses is due to the presence of a telephoto group that elongates the light path even with a shorter physical design. As a result, it allows the photographers to choose a focal length shorter than its physical length. Generally, a lens is classified as a telephoto lens if it has a focal length of 70mm or longer. Further, a telephoto lens can be attached to the camera’s body which could be a DSLR, SLR, or even a smartphone camera.

Types of Telephoto Lens

The following are the types of Telephoto lenses:

  • Short telephoto lens- 85mm to 135mm in 35mm film format
  • Medium telephoto lens- 135mm to 300mm in 35mm film format
  • Super telephoto lens- over 300mm in 35mm film format

Purpose of a Telephoto Lens

Whether you are a beginner, an amateur, or a professional photographer, a telephoto lens benefits you in the below-mentioned ways:

Faraway Objects Appear Closer

A telephoto lens captures distant objects easily as it compresses the distance between a subject and its environment. Additionally, these lenses capture the subject with precision as they magnify it and make them appear closer to the camera. As a result, these lenses are especially beneficial for wildlife photographers who cannot always get closer to their subjects. Additionally, in landscape photography, this compression effect blends the buildings of a city with the surrounding mountains rendering beautiful images.

Emphasizes Blurred Backgrounds

A telephoto lens shrinks your subject in the foreground while maintaining the background. A blurred background highlights your subject effectively and attracts your viewer’s eyes. This effect can be achieved when a longer lens is coupled with a wider aperture.

Subjects Appear Smaller Than the Background

When a telephoto lens is used with a longer focal length, the subject appears smaller compared to the background. Therefore, the facial features appear proportionally; hence, they are an excellent tool for portrait photography.

How to Choose a Telephoto Lens For Your Photography?

Your choice of telephoto lens depends on the scenarios listed below. Once you know your requirements, you can choose an appropriate lens:

  • Your preferred type of photography
  • Your camera
  • Your budget
  • Compatibility with your camera’s body

1. Settle Between Zoom or Prime

A telephoto lens is available as both zoom and prime lenses. To decide the type that fits you well, you need to understand its pros and cons. They include:

Prime Lenses

Zoom lenses
Pros
  • They have a fixed focal length.
  • Compact
  • Offers better image quality
  • Performs well in low light conditions
  • They have a variable focal length.
  • They aid in composition.
Cons
  • Lacks flexibility
  • Challenging to carry
  • Risk of distortions and aberrations.

Despite the pros and cons, the choice of zoom or prime lenses depends entirely on your needs. For example, if you prefer to have a better image quality with a fixed focal length, you can opt for a prime lens, whereas a zoom lens comes into the picture when you want to photograph at different focal lengths quickly.

2. Determine the Focal Length

Telephoto lenses come in different focal lengths that dramatically impact a camera’s field of view. As a result, they open up the possibilities of full-frame photography you can shoot with a wide array of shutter speeds. Some of these lenses include:

Focal Lengths Features Common Uses

70-200mm

  • Produce versatile and stunning images
  • Helps you shoot photos that are constantly moving.
  • Blurs the background to isolate the subject.
  • Balanced position between not too close and not too far away
Portraits, weddings, sports, wildlife

85mm Prime

  • Produces sharper and brighter images
  • Helps you shoot at a wider aperture
  • Blurs the background and creates the illusion of compression.
  • Allows to work closely
Portraits, weddings

100-400mm

  • Great for shooting subjects far away but tend to move around a lot.
  • Offers flexibility
Sports, wildlife

135mm Prime

  • Gives you better clarity than the 85mm, more pleasing compression illusions, and even more magnificent bokeh
  • Making subjects appear closer together in a photo
Portraits, sports, weddings, wildlife

600mm (and Above) Prime

  • Suitable for shooting images that are quite far away.
Sports, wildlife

3. Look for Image stabilization

During photography, your lenses should have built-in image stabilization to combat camera shakes and vibrations. Long telephoto lenses experience vibration due to camera movements that can be nullified when shooting at high shutter speeds. However, this is impossible with a budget telephoto lens, owing to its slow maximum aperture. For lenses devoid of built-in vibration reduction and hefty super-telephoto lenses, you have to use a tripod to stabilize them.

4. Full frame lenses or Apsc lenses

Lenses are designed to fit the size of specific camera sensors. Hence they fall under two categories, namely:

  • Full-frame lenses
  • Apsc lenses

Full-frame lenses offer better image quality. However, based on your use, you need to know when to switch to APS-C lenses.

If you turn your lens the other way around, you will notice an imaging circle surrounding the optic in your camera body. This image circle teams up with the sensor in the camera, making the lenses work with specific sensor sizes. For example, a full-frame lens is similar to a 35mm film frame, while an APS-C sensor is smaller. Due to this size difference, the APS-C sensor magnifies your subject to match the full-frame lens’s image circle. The magnification rate is expressed as a numerical value called the crop factor, which varies for different camera brands. When a full-frame lens is mounted over a camera with an APS-C sensor, the resultant image is cropped due to crop factor. Therefore, your camera captures only a lesser part of your subject, suitable for portrait photography.

However, when you wish to capture the entire scene, as in wildlife photography, landscape photography, or sports photography, you must opt for an APS-C lens to mount over an APS-C sensor. Alternatively, you can use a full-frame or an APS-C lens over a full-frame camera sensor to produce stunning images.

Best Telephoto Lens for Different Cameras

Considering all the above scenarios, here we have compiled a list of the best telephoto lenses that suit other cameras:

Type of camera Suitable lenses
Canon Mirrorless camera

Canon RF 70-200mm F2. 8 L IS USM Lens

Nikon DSLR Cameras

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens

Sony Cameras

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

Smartphone cameras

Moment Tele Lens – 58mm

Canon DSLR cameras

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens

Fujifilm shooters

Fujifilm XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

 

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens

Buy at Amazon

 

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens

Buy at Amazon

 

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens

Buy at Amazon

 

Moment Tele Lens – 58mm

Buy at Amazon

 

 

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens

Buy at Amazon

 

Fujifilm XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

Buy at Amazon

 

 

Additionally, we have some lens recommendations based on your purpose. These include:

Purpose

Suitable lenses

Budget Lens (under $1000)

Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens

All-in-One Lens

Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Contemporary DC Macro OS HSM

For Portrait Photography

Sigma 135mm F1.8 Art DG HSM

For Enthusiasts

Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary OS

For Sports

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

For wildlife photography

Sigma 150-600 mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens

 

Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens

Buy at Amazon

 

Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Contemporary DC Macro OS HSM

Buy at Amazon

 

Sigma 135mm F1.8 Art DG HSM

Buy at Amazon

 

Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary OS

Buy at Amazon

 

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1. 4x

Buy at Amazon

 

Sigma 150-600 mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens

Buy at Amazon

 

Usage Tips

Stabilization

Camera shake is a concern with longer lenses. Hence it would help to reduce the same to add sharpness and focus to your image, provided your subject is stationary.

Aperture

When you capture an image with a wide aperture, your camera shutter quickly closes, which helps, especially during low light conditions or when your subject is moving.

Shallow Depth of Field

You can produce images with a shallow depth of field when you shoot a subject with a longer lens and wider aperture. As a result, you can blur the background entirely and isolate your subject. This also balances the sharpness between the foreground and background.

Videos

Telephoto lens tips

How to use a telephoto lens?

How does a telephoto lens work?

How to use a long telephoto camera lens?

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are telephoto lenses so expensive?

Telephoto lenses are expensive because they contain elements that contribute to their complex construction. These elements help :

  • Reduce chromatic aberrations
  • Reduce vibration
  • Cuts down ghosting and flare.

What is the difference between a telephoto and a zoom lens?

A telephoto lens is often confused with a zoom lens. For example, a lens whose focal length is greater than 70mm with a narrow field of view is called a telephoto lens. On the contrary, lenses whose focal lengths can be varied are classified as zoom lenses.

What Is the Difference Between a Telephoto Lens and a Wide Angle Lens?

A telephoto lens vastly differs from a wide-angle lens as it captures an enlarged image of faraway objects. In contrast, a wide-angle lens captures an extensive photo of an image.

Final Thoughts

If you want to escalate the quality of images and add a new dimension to your skill, investing in a telephoto lens is a great choice. However, always consider your niche or area of interest and the lens’s compatibility with your camera to explore and master your skill.

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Xiaomi has developed a telescopic camera for smartphones

Xiaomi has shown a prototype smartphone with a compact telescopic lens. This allows for a larger optical system and more light reaching the sensor at typical smartphone thicknesses.

Modern smartphones are usually not more than a centimeter thick, and often noticeably less. Because of this, developers have to use compact optical systems in camera lenses, which impose restrictions on their capabilities. For example, camera modules with a large zoom, up to five times, have only recently begun to appear in smartphones, but they also use not a standard lens arrangement, but a periscopic one: light passes through an external lens, is refracted by 90 degrees and hits the main lens array. In addition, the thickness of the optical system does not allow the use of a wide lens for the main camera with a normal focal length.

Compact cameras (soapboxes) that were common in the 2000s and early 2010s often used a folding design, in which the camera is thin when folded, but when turned on, the lens slides out of the body. In 2013, Samsung applied this design to the Galaxy S4 Zoom smartphone. Its main advantage was that the lens gave a tenfold optical magnification. But the design of the lens was directly borrowed from compact cameras, so the smartphone turned out to be large and did not become commercially successful, and in the future this approach was not used in smartphones.

Xiaomi engineers have developed a camera module for smartphones, which has a retractable design, but does not differ in thickness from conventional modules with a fixed length. It consists of two cylindrical blocks, one of which is embedded in the other. If necessary, they almost instantly leave the case or fold back. In the video published by the company, you can see that the front element of the lens is much wider than those used in smartphones today. Xiaomi claims that this has quadrupled the amount of light entering the lens.

The company did not disclose the module’s ability to enlarge the image, and most importantly, did not tell whether the lens can be extended to an arbitrary length. If the design allows it, then potentially such a module can provide an arbitrary zoom. Modern smartphones use lenses with a fixed focal length, and intermediate zoom is achieved by software.

It is not known whether the company will use such a module in mass-produced smartphones in the near future. In the summer, journalists discovered a Xiaomi patent for an unusual smartphone design with one large camera, similar to the one presented, and a screen that partially extends to the back panel.

Xiaomi has recently patented an original method for obtaining a wide-angle image without a wide-angle lens. The company’s developers suggested inserting a block of two identical cameras into smartphones, which can be pulled out and turned sideways to take two frames, and then programmatically combine them into a wide-angle shot. Other manufacturers are mainly working on technologies that allow smartphones to get a large focal length in hardware without increasing the size of the device.