What is a Photographic Lens?

In photography, the term “Lens” has a special meaning. The “Lens” is the opening covered in glass, through which a camera receives light from the target subject. A lens is actually and more accurately a “lens assembly”, and not a single “lens” per se, except for very basic and low cost cameras.

Leica zoom lens on a Lumix FZ1000 close-up

Click to enlarge: Leica zoom lens on a Lumix FZ1000 camera, seen up close. Image © Charles Martel 2015


In photography, the role of the lens is ESSENTIAL! It is used to capture light and focus it on the digital sensor (or film), in the form of a sharp image. Without the lens, photography simply would not exist!

Lens types:

There are several types of lens. Each of these fits a particular purpose:

Wide-angle lens:

To be used for photographing landscapes, architecture, etc. Also for special effects. It shrinks away the subject but allows seeing as much of it as possible in the same image. A very handy lens for when the photographer cannot back away from the subject far enough.

Normal Lens:

So called because it reproduces as closely as possible the subject, without swelling nor shrinking it. It therefore gives a “normal” view of the subject, as our eyes see it, roughly speaking.

Telephoto Lens

It is used to bring-in and magnify distant subjects. It is a very useful lens and therefore used a lot for nature photography, for shooting birds for example, or to photograph aircraft in flight. Alos for sports and other situations where the subject is relatively far away from the photographer and he can’t get any closer.

Zoom Lens:

Lens with a variable focal length, that can be used sometimes as a wide angle, normal or telephoto lens. It is an therefore an extremely versatile lens. But it is generally heavier and more cumbersome than fixed lenses. It is also generally slower (e.g. has a smaller aperture) than the majority of fixed lenses.


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