The two primary types of digital cameras are the point-and-shoot and the DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex).  The point-and-shoot is where most start and everyone is familiar with the style of zoom lens these cameras use.  Depending on the model, they can offer from three times to over thirty times magnification.  Pictures taken with built-in zoom lenses range from poor to excellent, again depending on the make and model of your camera.  Some manufacturers use excellent lenses while others skimp on optics so they can sell their cameras at a lower price.  You may also find that some cameras take better pictures when set to wide and only so-so pictures at the telephoto setting.  Stepping up to a DSLR camera requires you to buy separate lenses for the camera.  The style of picture you want to take, will decide which lens you want to use under those circumstances.  Lens quality will range from excellent to poor, a general guide is the more expensive the lens, the better the quality in most cases. 

The lenses range from the fisheye lens, which is a very wide-angle lens, to the super telephoto lens which features high magnification.  A landscape shot featuring a wide area to photograph, or a single bird in a tree one hundred feet away will decide which lens to use.  As you become more experienced you will also want to pay attention to other ratings besides the focal length, such as your f-stop, and aperture range, both of those adjustments are important as well for the more advanced photographer.  


The Fisheye Lensfisheye distortion picCredit: Wikipedia released to public domain

The first lens which features the widest angle is the fisheye lens, with a focal length of 15mm or less.  The shorter the length the more distorted the photograph due to its wide angle of coverage.  Some people like the fisheye and the distortion it creates for specialty shots in close spaces.  Places where the lens would come in handy are in small rooms to capture the largest area possible, or simply for the distortion as an art form.  At some point in our lives we'll all looked into a reflective surface like an old tea-pot or coffee pot and seen our reflection.  The kind where your nose sticks out and is huge compared to your entire head.  This is sort of what pictures taken with a fisheye look like.  Anything in the center of the picture will appear closest, everything else not in the center will appear warped and distorted. 


The Wide-Angle Lens

This is a very popular lens that is not as distorted as the fisheye but does catch a very large area to photograph.  The lens I use is a zoom lens, and covers from 17mm to 50mm.  The primary purpose I use this lens is fLocal ParkCredit: SJ Saladinoor taking landscape pictures and as my basic walk-around lens when I have no specific plans of anything special to take a picture of.  I use it when I attend boat, camping and fishing shows, as well as a general purpose lens when out hiking through the woods.  In my opinion this lens takes high quality photos over its entire range.  


The Standard Lens

This is an optional lens a lot of photographers like to have, even though many zooms will cover the same focal length.  Rather than a zoom lens it's what's known as a prime lens, which is a lens made to one specific focal length and does not zoom.  This lens is the all around workhorse, usually is one of the fastest and sharpest focusing lenses you'll own.  By fast I mean it captures the most light and will work well even in low light conditions.  There are two general types of DSLR cameras, one uses a cropped sensor and the other is a full frame sensor.  When choosing a prime lens for this purpose the cropped sensor users will choose something around a 35mm lens.  Those with full frame sensors prefer a lens between 50 and 55mm.  My wide-angle lens covers up to 50mm and I do have a cropped sensor camera so that lens will cover this range and it works well in low light conditions.  


Medium Telephoto

The medium telephoto lens usually covers the range starting at 70-75mm and will zoom out to between 200 and 300mm.  This lens is a workhorse as well and many start out with this length when they buy their first DSLR camera.  It might be a little to long on the short end for some general pictures, but covers portraits and close-ups very well.  At the long end it's used for pictures of distant subjects and even birds and other animals under the right conditions.  Using a longer zoom lens allows you to take a picture from a greater distance than a shorter lens.  You will be able to take a picture of a wild animal, depending on size from a fairly safe distance of one hundred or more feet, compared to having to get within twenty feet to capture the same shot.  Because this range is so popular you do have to pay special attention to the lens you buy.  You can't go by tDucksCredit: SJ Saladinohe manufacturer's name but will have to do research on each lens model.  Companies like Canon, Nikon, Sigma and others make lenses in this range at both ends of the scale, from the excellent to fair at best.  Nothing will ruin your enjoyment of photography faster than having a great camera, a great shot opportunity and a bad lens.  It's frustrating and a waste of time unless your happy with at best standard 4x6 inch photos.    

Green BeeCredit: SJ Saladino


The Macro Lens

This is a specialty lens that many people like to have for a specific type of photography.  Every lens  has a minimum distance requirement away from the subject, to focus your camera.  The longer the lens, the farther away from your subject.  As an example imagine you are out walking through the woods or even a local park and you see a beautiful flowering plant.  You take a closer look and see a single blossom that overshadows the rest.  You want a picture of that blossom, but when you try to focus, it's all blurry.  k up and try it again and now you can focus, but instead of the single blossom you want, you see half the plant.  This is when the macro lens comes in handy.  It allows you to get much closer to take a picture of a single blossom, or closer to focus on a petal or the center of the flower.  These lenses are probably the sharpest focusing lenses you can own.

Canada GooseCredit: SJ Saladino


The Long Telephoto

When you go beyond 300mm you step into the realm of the long telephoto.  These lenses start around 400mm and can extend well beyond 1000mm.  I don't have a lens anywhere near 1000mm, and doubt I ever will in this lifetime.  I do have two lenses in this range a 400mm and a 500mm, both are prime lenses not zoom.  I love wildlife photography and these are the lenses I use to pursue those shots.  Even so there are times when 400 or 500mm isn't long enough either.  That's when you start playing it smart and depend on your ability to hide yourself, with clothing or blinds, and not depending on the camera equipment to get you the good shots.