What Is A Telephoto Lens? Why You Should Choose One?

| Last Updated On: January 13, 2022
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telephoto lens

In the world of photography, you are going to come across countless lenses that are going to be available for you to try on.

Each is suitable for different use cases such as portrait, sports, landscapes, cityscapes, and even animal photography, and each lens has a different focal length which somewhat helps you determine what the lens is best suited for.

Amidst all the options, you will find a telephoto lens as well, and if you are wondering what is a telephoto lens, then you have found yourself at the right place as I am going to talk about this lens in detail, so you know that whatever you are getting your hands on is the right one for you.

Remember, there are a lot of things that make up a telephoto lens, so I am going to break everything down for you and give you some information that you can truly use as far as the lens is concerned.


What Is A Telephoto Lens?


In photography or cinematography, a telephoto lens is a long-focus length in which the physical length of the lens itself is shorter than the focal length that it gives.

However, this is not all, as there are more elements to this lens that I would like to clear out so there are no confusions that might come your way later down the road.

Image of the front side of telephoto lens

Now, a lot of the time, I’ve seen people getting confused between telephoto and zoom lenses, and that is not the case. A telephoto lens can be but does not have to be a zoom lens.

Telephoto lenses come in a variety of focal lengths ranging from medium telephoto that generally ranges between 70 to 200mm.

Then you have a super-telephoto that is longer than 300mm. Now, they can either be zoom lenses or lenses with fixed focal lenses, which are also known as prime lenses.

The point here is that you need to find the right telephoto lens for your use as we have come to realize that not all of the mare made the same way, and not all of the mare the same, either. Which ends up creating confusion for the masses.

That is why if you do find yourself in the market looking for a good telephoto lens, you should educate yourself before you go ahead and spend your money on one. That way, you will not be wasting your money or your time on something irrelevant.


What Does A Telephoto Lens Do?


A lot of the time, people find themselves wondering what either of the lenses does, to be honest. Like for instance, why would you buy a prime lens in the first place?

However, since we are talking about a telephoto lens, we need to understand that it does serve various purposes.

Image of a guy taking photos with camera

The most common thing that telephoto is capable of doing is increasing the focal length for you. This is most commonly used to show objects that are pretty far, but at the same time, the detail and perspective are both accurate.

This is, of course, only possible with a good telephoto lens because it punches in the subject.

As I have mentioned previously, a telephoto lens is available in a variety of focal lengths to choose from.

At the end of the day, it all depends on how you want to use the lens and for what purpose. Once you have that figured out, things are not going to be confusing for anyone to begin with.

If you want to learn more about telephoto lenses, keep reading, and I will be sure to tell you all about them.

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Different Types of Telephoto Lenses?


You also need to understand the fact that there are different types of telephoto lenses available in the market.

Choosing the right one is, of course, a lot more important because you might end up buying the wrong one. With that said, I am going to discuss the various options you can currently choose from.

  • Short Telephoto Lenses: These telephoto lenses range from 85mm to 135mm as far as the focal length is concerned.
  • Medium Telephoto Lenses: These telephoto lenses have a focal length ranging from 135mm to 300mm.
  • Super Telephoto Lenses: These telephoto lenses have a focal range that exceeds 300mm and goes above that.

Whenever you are searching for a good telephoto lens, it is better to know that these are some of the most common ones available that you can check out.

However, various manufacturers are also known for having some other options in terms of the focal length, and it is better to know about that too.


Telephoto Lenses And Sensor Sizes


This is a common thing that I have seen across the board whenever people are trying to buy a telephoto lens or at least doing some research.

You have to understand the size of the sensor is something that will impact the focal length of a telephoto lens.

Different sizes of camera lenses

For instance, if you are using a 135mm lens on a full-frame/35mm sensor, the projected focal length will be the same.

However, if you are using the same lens on a crop sensor, then the focal length of the lens will be multiplied by the crop factor of the sensor, and the resulting will be the focal length that you will get.

For instance, if you are using a 135mm lens on a crop sensor Canon, you are going to get a crop factor of 1.6x. Which means that the focal length would be 216mm.

Therefore, whenever you are searching for a lens, be sure that you are paying special attention to the size of the sensor as well. Since that is one of the more important factors here.

Related guide: How To Clean Camera Sensor – (A Step-by-Step Guide)


When To Use A Telephoto Lens


If you have been thinking about just when to use a telephoto lens, you will realize that more often than not, you might find yourself wondering just why you should use a telephoto lens, to begin with.

To be honest, there are various instances when a telephoto lens would make sense as compared to some of the other options available to you.

For instance, a telephoto lens essentially allows you to take photos of subjects that are farther away than you and are not in reach for you. These are great when you are trying to take pictures of objects that you cannot photograph otherwise.

Image of a person taking photos with telephoto

Telephoto lenses are used in weddings; they are used in events that are held publically. Additionally, telephoto lenses are excellent for photographing wildlife, as well as sports events.

So, if you are looking into that, you should be aware of the fact that you can use a telephoto lens for that.

Another interesting use case of a telephoto lens that a lot of people have no idea about is that they are great when you want to use them for portraits.

Especially the lenses with a fixed or a lower aperture, in general. You can get some great shots with a telephoto lens, especially the 85mm offering, as it will not let you down.

The point here is that if you are looking to use a telephoto lens for good photography, you can easily achieve that and will not even have to stress over anything going wrong or out of the way, either.

These lenses are excellent, and the more expensive the glass is, the better photos you are going to get out of it.


The Advantages & Disadvantages


Although telephoto lenses are great, it should not come as a surprise that they do come with their own set of benefits and disadvantages that make them what they are.

Therefore, before you go on and buy the lens, you have to be aware of the reasons you are going for it, so you know what you are looking into.

Image of four different telephoto lenses

Below, you can see some of the advantages of using telephoto lenses.

  • Telephoto lenses are great when it comes to allowing you to have more distance between you and your subject, which is great in wildlife and even wedding photography.
  • Another benefit of a telephoto lens is that it can let you photograph without having to physically move around, which is very convenient for everyone who wants to be still.
  • Telephoto lenses also allow you to be a passive observer during events like weddings or other performances, and you can get a shot without having to do much work.

At the same time, you are going to run into some disadvantages when you are buying a telephoto lens as well. So, we are going to look at them right now.

  • Telephoto lenses are often on the heavier side, and they are bulky, as well.
  • In most cases, you will need to use a tripod to balance them.
  • Telephoto lenses with wide apertures are often expensive to invest in, sometimes crossing the $1,000 mark with ease.

There you have it; if you have been wondering about the advantages or disadvantages of telephoto lenses, I have listed them for you so you can have a proper understanding as to whether these lenses are good for you or not. This should be of great help to everyone.

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How To Deal With Camera Shake


When you are dealing with a telephoto lens, any sort of camera shake is more or less a thing that is going to ruin your photos, and that is not what anyone would want to go through.

Therefore, it is always advised that whenever you are looking for a telephoto lens, you also learn how to compensate for the camera shake.

Image of a camera on the stand

The most common way of doing it is by using a tripod with a telephoto lens. These lenses, especially with long focal lengths, have a mount that you can use to attach the lens to a tripod, and it helps to create a balance.

In addition to that, another way of dealing with camera shake is buying a lens that has image stabilization. That should help compensate for the camera shake that might take place otherwise.

These are just some things that are good when you are trying to deal with a camera shake with a telephoto lens, as this is a very prevalent issue that comes.

But rest assured, you do not have to worry about this as a camera shake is easy to deal with once you have had enough practice.


Depth of Field, Aperture & Perspective Compression


The thing with telephoto lenses is that they are different in a lot of ways. You are going to have to get the right depth of field, the aperture, and perspective compression is also a common thing with these lenses.

For a really shallow depth of field that easily isolates the subject that you are trying to photograph, you are going to need to get a lens that offers a wide-open aperture because that you will not have to worry about getting a shot that does not have the type of depth you want.

Image of a camera taking moon photos

With that said, now that we are looking at the aperture, with most telephoto lenses, you are not going to be able to get a fixed aperture.

This means that if you do want to go that route, you will have to spend extra on such lenses that give you the fixed aperture so you can take good shots.

Last but not the least, you also have to know that when you are talking about going for a telephoto lens, there is one thing that is called perspective compression.

It’s common because when we are talking about perspective compression, it means that your perspective is going to be closed off, and in most cases, you will not be getting more than the subject in the frame, and that is what most photographers prefer, to begin with.

Regardless of the type of pictures you are trying to take, if the result can be achieved using a telephoto lens, then there is no need to go for something else that gets the job done.

I agree that telephoto lenses take some time to get used to, but once you are done getting used to them, the process itself becomes a lot easier and simpler, too.


How Telephoto Lenses Affect The Subject & The Background


A common concern whenever you are looking to buy a telephoto lens is the concern with how the telephoto lens is going to affect the subject as well as the background.

This happens all the time, and while there are ways to mitigate this, it is, at best, an annoying ordeal that you have to deal with.

In case you find yourself wondering how it happens, in the first place. It is a simple explanation. When you are using longer focal lengths, it becomes more difficult to keep both the subject and the background in focus, and that is what people usually prefer.

If you are trying to keep both the subject and the background in sharp focus, you are going to need to use a smaller aperture.

Remember, a smaller aperture is a larger number, and a larger aperture is a smaller number. The purpose here is to find the right aperture.

If you want to isolate the subject from the environment altogether, then it is better than you are keeping the aperture wide open.

Image of a duck

However, if you are looking to have both the subject and the background in focus and possibly have a sharper looking shot, it is advised that you close the aperture down, and that way, you will not only be getting a sharper picture, everything will be the incomplete focus, giving you the type of shot you want.

I do understand that this might not be for everyone right away, but with enough practice and taking good shots, you are going to be able to take a good picture without any issues.

Another way a telephoto lens can affect the subject and the background is through the compression of perspective, which is also a very common thing that I often get to see.

While it is not all that terrible, but your perspective is going to be shrunk in most of the cases, and therefore, you will have to be careful as far as the overall shots are concerned.

Image of the camera with telephoto lens

Telephoto lenses are great, in general. Granted, some people do talk about how they have some specialized uses, but if you want, you can, without a doubt, go ahead and start using your telephoto lenses without any issues that might come in your way otherwise.

Just be certain that you are looking at all the options available at hand, and you will be good to go.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by a telephoto lens, I understand the reasoning behind that because these lenses are difficult to use by a lot of people, but with enough understanding, you will be able to take the pictures you want to take, and there will not be any issues.

The start of photography, regardless of the lens you are using, is often difficult for everyone, but you have to keep practicing, and you are fine in the end.


10 Best Ways To Use A Telephoto Lens For Photography


If you have finally decided that you will be using your telephoto lens for photography and you are still relatively new to this all, then it is safe to say that you are going to need to know how to take photos and when to take photos.

There are some tips that I am going to list down for you because they are only going to help you get better with a telephoto lens.

Image of a guy taking wildlife photographs

Considering how these lenses are not for everyone, having access to these tips is only going to be helpful for everyone, and you will not have any problems, either.

Let’s not waste time and have a look, shall we?

Related: Portrait Vs. Landscape: Which Is Best For Photography?

1- Using a Tripod is a Must

Let me make it simple for you. I do understand that tripods are not for everyone, but whenever you are trying to achieve the best possible pictures using a telephoto lens, I would always suggest that you are using a tripod.

The thing is that a tripod helps compensate for a lot of factors, and most importantly, it gives you a stable platform, as well. This is excellent whenever you are taking pictures, and I can assure you that you will not run into any issues, either.

Just be sure that you have a good tripod at hand, and you are good to go.

2- Using a Shutter Release

If you are looking through the viewfinder while the lens is attached, a telephoto lens will amplify the movement. So much so that even just pressing the shutter could throw off the view by a great measure, and that is not what we want.

To compensate for that, use a shutter release that would help you in taking the right picture.

3- Turn off Lens Image Stabilization

If you have mounted the camera on the tripod, you would want to turn off the lens image stabilization or vibration reduction. It helps in making sure that the image is in line and there are no issues that might come in the way, either.

4- Telephoto Effect

Telephoto lenses have a unique optical effect, which results in the scene being flattened, and also gives a great depth. Using this effect can result in some strikingly beautiful images.

5- Tightly Framing Your Subject

The most obvious use here is tightly framing the subject, so you get the subject in full detail and sharpness. Telephoto lenses are good at that. However, you will need to maintain the right distance to get the best experience.

6- Isolating the Subject.

Another suggestion that I would give to you is that you should always focus on isolating the subject as this is one of the more important things that you will need to take care of. That way, you can get an amazing looking picture.

7- Use The Shallow Depth of Field

The great thing about telephoto lenses is that they are good at producing shallow depth of field, and you can easily achieve, and you should use that for your shots.

8- Going Macro

If the lens you are using also has a really low minimum focusing distance, you can use that for macro shots, and macros with a telephoto are always stunning.

9- Panning in Action

Panning can be difficult with a telephoto lens but if your lens has enough stabilization, use panning in scenes that are moving. For instance, in sports or wildlife photography.

10- Try Astrophotography

Another benefit that you can get out of a telephoto lens is that you can go ahead and get some nice astrophotography. Sure, you will need different settings, but with the right amount of practice, you can nail the perspective.


Difference Between A Telephoto Lens And A Zoom Lens?


This is something that is going to surprise a lot of people, but it is important to understand that telephoto and zoom lenses are entirely different lenses.

Zoom means that the focal length of the lens can be changed, which means that it can either zoom in on the subject or zoom out, based on the requirements of the shot.

Image of a zoom lens

On the other hand, telephoto more or less means that the lens has a relatively narrow field of view, and that is why it can be used to look at things that are across a distance.

Now, it is also important to know that a telephoto lens does not necessarily have to be a zoom lens. For instance, an 85mm prime lens is a great example of a telephoto lens.

This is one of the things that confuse most people as far as the telephoto and zoom lenses are concerned, as people often confuse them with each other.


What About The Wide Angle Lens?


Wide-angle lenses are also generally loved by almost everyone who is in the market for them. I love such lenses thanks to their ability to capture a lot in a single shot.

They are the exact opposite of telephoto lenses, wherein wide-angle lenses have a really wide field of view and can be on the cheaper end, too. However, some of the higher-end wide-angle lenses are on the expensive side.

Rest assured, if you are in the market looking for a good wide-angle lens, you will have to be careful as far as the choice of lens you are going with because it is going to matter a lot.

A bad-quality lens with average glass is not going to cut it if you are trying to get a good shot with sharpness around the entire image. It simply is not a good enough option that you should be sticking with.


Wrap-Up:

I understand that photography can be difficult, and choosing lenses is another complicated matter for a lot of people. But the good thing is that I am here to help you out.

A telephoto lens is one of the most important inclusions in your camera arsenal, and while you would not want to use one at the beginning of your photography career, this is something that will be needed at a later stage, so it is better that you are buying one just for that, and for the fact that you can get some amazing shots with a telephoto lens.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

#Q1- What is the use of a telephoto lens?

Answer: There is no specific use case of a telephoto lens to begin with. A telephoto lens can be used for various purposes as taking portraits, wildlife photography, covering weddings, public and sports events.

If you believe you have scenes that are better suited for a telephoto lens, you can use the lens for that purpose without any issues.

#Q2- Which is better, telephoto or zoom lens?

Answer: Honestly, it all depends on your use case. If your use is only limited to a telephoto lens and you believe that a prime telephoto lens is going to be able to do a better job, then that is what you should be going for, so you can have the best experience.

#Q3- What is a telephoto lens on iPhone?

Answer: Almost all the iPhones that ship with a telephoto lens has a 2x telephoto lens that allows the lens to have twice the focal length of the standard lens, allowing you to take really good close-ups of the subject that you are trying to photograph.

#Q4- What lens do I need for long distances?

Answer: That depends on how long of a distance you are trying to cover. If you are looking at a 135mm lens, that should be good enough and is often considered a short telephoto lens.

However, if you want, you can go for medium and long telephoto lenses, too. They are great and will result in great overall photography, as well.

#Q5- Do I need a telephoto lens?

Answer: Generally, professional photographers suggest that everyone should have a combination of lenses. Everything ranging from a good wide-angle lens to a prime lens to a telephoto lens.

Having a trio of lenses will give you the best experience whenever you are taking pictures, so it is better that you are taking care of this.

#Q6- How do you shoot with a telephoto lens?

Answer: Shooting with a telephoto lens is not going to be difficult for anyone. You can just get started with a tripod, and that should be more than enough.

Having a tripod is important for any lens that is above 135mm. Because the higher you go with the focal length, the more the lens will become sensitive to movement.

#Q7- What is the best telephoto lens for iPhone?

Answer: iPhone already has a good telephoto lens that is installed on the phone by default. Installing another lens is not going to be very good as you are just adding glass on top of the glass, and the result will not be

#Q8- What is the most powerful telephoto lens?

Answer: Whenever you are looking for good lenses, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM is one of the most amazing and one of the most powerful telephoto lenses available in the market.

This is also one of the most expensive lenses and is specifically used by specialists whenever they are taking pictures.

#Q9- Can you use a telephoto lens for macro?

Answer: Yes, if you are looking to use a telephoto lens for macro, that is entirely possible. However, be sure that the lens is made for macro photography.

You can check that on the lens specifications, and that should give you an idea as to what you need to look into.

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