Wide Angle vs. Telephoto Lens

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The most commonly used lenses in professional photography are wide angle lenses and telephoto lenses. These two unique lenses are usually confused with each other, yet both have very different features that you can benefit from. When it comes to wide angle vs. telephoto lenses, there are certain aspects that you need to consider before choosing which one is best for you.

Wide Angle vs. Telephoto Lens General Overview

Choosing between the wide angle lens vs. the telephoto lens can be overwhelming, especially if you are a beginner.

Man holding a camera with telephoto lens

You need to consider the differences, the features and the similarities so you can get the lens that suits your type of photography.

Wide Angle Lens

A wide angle lens has a focal length that is shorter compared to that of the standard lens. Photographers use the wide angle lenses for the expansion of the scope of their camera shot, especially if the angle that they need is horizontal.

With the help of a wide angle lens, the subjects appear closer to the camera and they also look larger compared to the subjects that are far away. This will result in a bit of a distortion, however, the focus on the subject that is close to the lens is very clear.

Below are the different wide angle lenses and they are classified through their different focal length range:

Telephoto Lens

A telephoto lens allows you to utilize a focal length that is much shorter compared to the physical length of the lens. Photographers use telephoto lenses so they can focus on a single subject that is usually far away.

Telephoto lenses can create a contrast between the image’s background and foreground. The telephoto lens will attach to the body for your DSLR camera or your SLR camera, with some even having the ability to attach to your smartphone camera.

Below are the different telephoto lenses. They all have a wide range of focal lengths, f-stop numbers and different shutter speeds:

  • 70–200mm lenses
  • 100–400mm lenses
  • 85mm prime lenses
  • 135mm prime lenses
  • Super telephoto lenses

Wide Angle vs. Telephoto Lens

Wide angle lenses have a massive field of view, depth-distorting abilities and they are easy to focus on the subject, which means they are amazing at showing off massive landscapes and other subjects in different photography genres. However, they tend to take the focus away from the other subjects within the image.

Telephoto lenses, on the other hand, are great at showing off the shape, size and intricacy of the individual elements within the image. To give you a better idea of what these two lenses are capable of, we’ve broken down the features and abilities that they share and aspects that make them different.

Similarities

The two most used lenses, the wide angle and the telephoto lenses, have their similarities and their differences. Below are the rundown of the features that you can find on both of the camera lenses.

Aspherical Elements

Both wide angle and telephoto lenses are equipped with aspherical glass elements. This is true no matter what the brand of the lens is.

Camera on top of tripod

Aspherical glass elements are added by lens manufacturers to make sure that flares, ghosting, chromatic aberrations and vignetting do not appear on your images, especially when you zoom in on your subject.

Internal Zoom

Since wide angle lenses and telephoto lenses are often used outdoors and they are used by professional photographers to capture subjects that are far away, having an internal zoom feature is very important.

Both of these lenses can zoom in and out without the barrel changing its length and shape. The zoom feature is also quiet and fast, so it captures moments as they happen.

Differences

A wide angle lens is known to increase the horizontal scope of your images, while the telephoto lens can help you focus on your subject no matter how far away they are from the camera. Below are the two main differences between a wide angle and telephoto lens.

Focus

A wide angle lens is used by photographers if you need a wide focus. It can keep the whole shot in focus despite the distance of your subject. Meanwhile, a telephoto lens is centered on selective focus. This means you can use it to choose which subject you would want to appear sharp.

Wide angle lenses have a longer depth of field, which means that they can’t be used in portrait photography where you only want the subject in focus.

Scope

A wide angle lens is created to increase the horizontal field of view, also known as angle of view, of photographers. It allows you to capture as much of the scene as possible, most like how the human eye works.

Meanwhile, a telephoto lens lets you hone in one a particular subject in the foreground via the narrow field of view, and it obscures the details in the background that would distract the subject from the composition.

Major Distinguishing Factor

The major distinguishing factor between a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens is its field of view. Wide angle lenses can cover fields of view in the range of 64° to 84°. Meanwhile, telephoto lenses can cover a narrower field of view in the range of 30°-10°.

Wide angle lenses can capture the scenery just like how you see it. It can add everything that you see in one image. Meanwhile, telephoto lenses just focus on your subject while the rest are in the background with a beautiful blur.

Top view of camera with wide angle lens

When to Use a Wide Angle Lens

You can use a wide angle lens when you want to focus on landscape, architecture and city photography. This lens can capture a wide field of view like a mountain range as it can fit the horizontal scope into your images. It also lets you get closer while keeping the subject in frame.

You can also capture an entire building using this lens, as it gives you a better focal point to frame your shot instead of just relying on the building to carry your shot. It is also used to shoot cityscapes because it can easily capture a large crowd or a busy street thanks to its width.

When to Use a Telephoto Lens

You can use a telephoto lens if you want a subject that is far away to appear closer on your images. You can go for this lens if you are physically constrained and you can’t get closer to the subject as it can create beautiful close-up shots.

Telephoto lenses can also create strong contrast between the foreground and the background in image. You can use this lens if you are looking for a tool to isolate the subject neatly from the background so your viewer’s eyes will be drawn to the details that you want them to pay attention to.

Final Verdict

When it comes to wide angle vs. telephoto lenses, it is all a matter of priorities. If you do not know which one to get, you just need to think about the type of subjects that you want to take pictures of.

In this way, you will know the features that you need to get the result that you want, and you can select which lens suits you best.

Jared Bauman has spent more than twenty years in the professional photography profession. He founded Bauman Photographers in 2001, which is a wedding and commercial photography studio in San Diego, California. The company has been in business for 20 years, and has a stellar reputation in the community. In 2007, Jared co-founded ShootDotEdit, the premium post production company for professional wedding photographers worldwide. The company has edited millions of images for photographers around the world. Jared has spoken and presented at the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International Conference 9 years in a row. He has also given several multi-day courses on Creative Live, in addition to two national speaking tours.