Lens Handbook

Wide Angle Lenses, Normal Lenses, & Telephoto Lenses

What are the differences between Wide Angle, Normal, & Telephoto Lenses? The answer depends on the lens format.

A "normal" or "standard" focal length is one that produces about the same image as the human eye would see with no magnification. The focal length required to do this varies with the camera format, and magnification will vary depending also upon the size of the monitor screen. Note that a lens never actually magnifies an object, since the lens takes a large object and images it onto a very small sensor.

Camera Format Focal Length

 

"Normal" or "Standard"

1/4"

4mm

1/3"

6mm

1/2"

8mm

2/3"

10mm

1"

12mm

 

A "wide angle" lens is one that has a shorter focal length than a "normal" lens, which produces less magnification of the object and a wider field of view than the normal lens. At very wide angles this can result in what is called a "fish-eye effect," which means that the image is curved and distorted at the outside edges of the frame.

A "telephoto" lens is one that has a longer focal length than normal, which produces greater magnification of the object and creates a narrower field of view than the normal lens.

The terms "wide angle" and telephoto" are not exact in describing a lens. For example, a 200mm lens is usually described as a "telephoto," but an 80mm lens might be described as "near telephoto" or "telephoto" or "moving toward telephoto." The term itself is not important. What is important is an understanding of the effect on the image as lenses shift from the "wide angle" to "normal" (or "standard") to "telephoto" ranges.

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