What is a Zoom Lens?

Camera Equipment

For amateur and professional photographers alike, one of the more confusing aspects to deal with when you want to come up with really good photos is choosing the right kind of lenses for your camera. A DSLR kit usually comes with a basic zoom lens that allows you to do a reasonable amount of photography. A basic kit lens is usually a zoom lens which is around 18-55mm, which is a useful range but soon becomes limiting when you are learning photography as it won’t give you the opportunity to try out many types of photography where perhaps a longer zoom is more useful. Because of this, investing in a better zoom lens to match your camera body is a must if you want to try things like sports photography or wildlife photography. If you just want to stick to portraits, landscapes or street photography then a basic kit lens may be enough for a while. It really depends on the type of photography you want to learn.

Zoom Lenses in Photography

Before reading up on advice about how to select a zoom lens, it is important to understand exactly what a zoom lens does. There are two kinds of zooming in in modern photography: digital zoom, and optical zoom. For purist photographers who appreciate the value of having control over their photographs, optical zoom is the way to go. Digital zoom is often seen on point and shoot cameras where you aren’t really the one twisting and adjusting the lens but rather, it is the camera that does it for you. Digital zoom often results in a lower quality image than optical zoom does and should only really be used when you have no other choice. Optical zoom, on the other hand, will give you better quality images as it’s only using the glass elements within the lens instead of the additional digital “enhancements”.

It’s also worth pointing out that a zoom lens isn’t always a long telephoto lens that you see sports or wildlife photographers use, a zoom just means that you have a range of focal lengths to choose from. So it could be a small range like an 11-18mm on a wide lens used for landscapes or it could 70-400mm on a long telephoto lens to help make the subject appear closer than it is.

Last but not the least, I think you should also be aware of the difference that a basic zoom lens and prime lens has. Zoom lenses allow you to magnify your subject without having to move from your spot. A prime lens, on the other hand, does not give you this option. If you want to get close to your subject, you actually have to get physically closer to it because prime lenses do not have adjustable focal lengths.

The flexibility of zoom lenses is attractive to a photographer, especially if you are in a situation where you your subjects vary in their position. It means you don’t have to keep changing lenses or running around getting things framed properly.

How to Select a Zoom Lens

Digital SLR with zoom lensYour DSLR would usually come with a basic zoom lens, but if you’re looking for more range in the focal lengths you have, you ought to consider buying a better zoom lens to give you more control over your photos. Here are some tips which can help you know how to select a zoom lens:

  • First, identify the kind of photos you want to have, or are more drawn taking. Do you prefer taking photos of big spaces or do you prefer to be a distance from your subject?
  • Remember that a short focal length will give you a wider view of your subject, so if want to take more landscape photos, for instance, then this is the type of lens to go for.
  • Longer zoom lenses, like a 70-200mm or 70-300mm give you more flexibility but are larger lenses and are a more awkward to carry around. When you get to these size zooms, you’ll have a lens suitable for candid photography, sports and wildlife. A good type of lens to have in your collection.

Before you buy any camera equipment, especially lenses, always do your research. There are lots of web sites that give product reviews and lots of web forums where people give their views on the camera gear. My main advice for buying lenses is not to go for the cheap lenses. It’s fairly true that you get what you pay for and investing in good quality lenses will benefit you in the long run.

Basic Zoom Lens Pros and Cons

Zoom lenses have more moving parts compared to prime lenses and because of this, maintenance and care can be more laborious. More moving parts are directly proportional to a higher risk of breaking something, so be careful when handling zoom lenses. They can be heavier than prime lenses of similar size because of having more parts inside them.

Despite these cons though, a good zoom lens gives versatile framing which can allow you to take wide-angle photos, portraits, or even photos of wild animals even from a distance depending on the focal length your selected zoom lens has. Not having to change lenses when you’re on the go is one of the advantages of investing on a good zoom lens.

That having said, it would still be a good thing to have a nice zoom lens as part of your lens collection when considering buying lenses other than the one your DSLR kit came with!

2 thoughts on “What is a Zoom Lens?

  1. Hello, very good article. I have been enjoying your information for a while and went from a point and shoot to a canon sl1 DSLR. I love the camera and have already picked a tamron 70 – 300 as the lens to help break the bank. I would like to suggest a topic on lens quality. I have seen a ( I believe ) Vivitar 500 mm lens for like $250. Granted it has no image stabilizer or auto focus, but could this be a good lens for the price. Looking forward to more articles.
    Council Bluffs, Iowa

    1. Hi Mike, it’s great to hear you are enjoying the site and photography. I’ll add this article idea to my plans for future articles, it’s a good subject for an article but also a tricky one given the amount of makes and models of lenses that are available. Many thanks.

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