What Is a Telephoto Lens?

Deyan Georgiev
Deyan Georgiev

Updated · Jun 03, 2022


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Perhaps you wonder how photographers can make faraway sceneries and distant objects seem closer than they are? 

Alternatively, how can wildlife photographers manage to capture animals in their natural habitat? Do they approach from behind and aim the camera directly into their eyes? 

Absolutely not.

All they do is use a camera telephoto lens!

Wait, what is a telephoto lens?

Stick with us to the end of this article to find out!

What Is a Telephoto Lens?

A telephoto lens distorts the distance between the camera and the subject. With a longer focal length, it captures distant objects with a degree of clarity and precision previously only possible with up-close photography. A telephoto lens can capture a wide-angle image by using an ultra-wide-angle camera lens.

"Telephoto" meaning also refers to any lens having a focal length of more than 80mm that produces a small field of vision. But they are categorized into three distinct subsets:

  • Short Telephoto – These lenses have focal lengths ranging from 85mm to 135mm and are small and light enough to be carried about with you daily.
  • Medium Telephoto   Feature a focal length of 135 to 300mm, making it larger and heavier.
  • Super Telephoto – Focal lengths exceeding 300mm and it provides telescope-like magnification and is too big and cumbersome for handheld photography.

Telephoto Lens types

What are Telephoto Lenses Used For?

Photographers who cannot get up close with their subjects may benefit from this method the most. As an artistic tool, these lenses are exceptional in highlighting the foreground and background of an image.

Canon, Nikon, and other well-known SLR and DSLR cameras are compatible with telephoto lenses. It is even possible to connect a camera telephoto lens to a specific type of compact camera or a smartphone's.

How to Use Telephoto Lenses?

The distinctive manner that these lenses present the world may be just what you're looking for in your telephoto lens photography. They will amplify camera shaking and provide a shallower depth of focus than wide-angle lenses. However, they're not always simple to use

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Concentrate on the Details

Camera telephoto lenses are in handy when you want to get a closer look at the finer features of a scene. 

As a portrait photographer, you'll be able to get a clearer picture of someone's face without having to worry about the rest of their surroundings. 

When taking a telephoto image, you might concentrate on a single mountain peak and make it the focal point of the shot. 

Don't forget macro lenses if you want to capture the finest details.

  • It's All About Perspective

Wide-angle camera telephoto lenses make a tree, for example, look much larger. It’s all about perspective. Objects seem bigger against their backdrop as you get closer to them.

This approach may be handy, from landscapes to sports and everything in between. A mountain, for example, sometimes doesn't seem to make a picture look as powerful as it is when you stand in front of it. 

This case may be solved by zooming in or using a zoom lens camera when the foreground object seems too vast.

  • Keep an Eye Out for Camera Shakes

A camera telephoto lens tends to exacerbate camera-shake issues in your picture, which is undesirable. 

If you've ever wondered about the wide-angle vs. telephoto lenses differences for focal length shooting, here is what you need to know:

Wide-angle lenses may not expose an issue with bad technique, but telephoto lenses are more likely to do so. Еven when the broader angles seem crisp, a tripod shaken by the wind might result in hazy images.

To get the best results from your telephoto lens, you'll want to take extra care while setting up your camera. Longer lenses amplify even the slightest motion, and the issue becomes worse as the focal length increases.

How to use a telephoto lens in this case?

Be prepared to use a tripod to maintain image quality while shooting with a long lens. Consider utilizing a monopod if you need to move your camera more rapidly. For example, when photographing sports or wildlife. 

What Are the Different Types of Telephoto Lenses?

Most telephoto lenses, as noted previously, vary from medium to super telephoto. They may alter your camera's field of vision subtly or dramatically. 

This allows you to capture full-frame images at a broad range of shutter speeds and f-stop values. It means they can take quick action pictures in bright light to nighttime photographs taken with the lens's largest opening.

Below you will find the different camera telephoto examples for lenses that fall within this range:

70–200mm lenses

70–200mm lenses

(Image source: Amazon.com)

It is possible to zoom to any focal length within the listed range with these. Thanks to their nice bokeh effect in the background, we can say they are great telephoto lenses for portraits. They are also perfect for weddings or sports events photography.

100–400mm lenses

100–400mm lenses

(Image source: Amazon.com)

Since these are tele zoom lenses, they go much beyond the capabilities of a 70–200mm lens. Long-range features also make these lenses popular among sports and wildlife photographers.

85mm prime lenses

85mm prime lenses

(Image source: Amazon.com)

Because of their small depth of focus, these lenses are ideal for creating precise foregrounds and soft backgrounds in portrait photography. 

A "portrait mode" that resembles the look of an 85mm prime lens is common in today's digital and mobile phone cameras.

135mm prime lenses 

135mm prime lenses 

(Image source: Amazon.com)

These telephoto camera lenses have the same narrow depth of focus as the 85mm prime ones but more considerable distances. Besides portraits and events, you can utilize them for more creative and aesthetic photographing forms.

Super telephoto prime lenses

Super telephoto prime lenses

(Image source: Amazon.com)

This section brings out the big guns—the super telephoto prime lenses. 

Wildlife photographers use them, because they typically start at 600mm and go all the way up to 1,200mm. Photographs taken with long lenses tend to have an exceptionally narrow depth of focus.

What Is the Difference Between a Zoom Lens and a Telephoto Lens?

It's common for some photographers to use the phrase "telephoto lens" to refer to a tele zoom lens. But they’re not the same.

People may often define telephoto lenses as those with a focal length of 60mm or longer, but they don't need to have variable lengths.

Instead, the ability to switch between several ones makes a zoom lens what it is. However, some zoom lenses don't magnify sufficiently to be classified as "telephoto". 

Rather than relying on the actual equipment, digital zoom relies on the power of computer processing. In other words - photo editing software.

You may use either a: 

  • zoom telephoto lens, which changes focal lengths as you move the lens
  • a prime camera telephoto lens, which keeps its focal length constant throughout its zoom range

What Is the Difference Between a Wide-Angle and a Telephoto Lens?

You can achieve increased focal length by using a telephoto lens. Close-range photography was formerly the only method to capture fine detail on distant things. You can now do so without losing perspective.

A wide-angle lens increases the horizontal range of a photograph. One of the advantages - you can make a shot more like how we see the world through our own eyes. Such options often alter the perspective of a shot.

But you can’t use them for portrait photography or when you want only the subject to be in focus.

So if you were wondering which one is better: wide-angle vs. telephoto lenses - now you know!

Wrap Up

Using a telephoto lens might be an excellent option whenever you can't go too near your subject. They are very handy if you're looking for a narrow depth of focus or want to prevent barrel aberrations. 

To discover what lenses you require, experiment with various types of photography. See which ones you can utilize to their full potential in your art.

It doesn't matter if you're just starting or you've always dreamed of being a professional photographer: patience and practice are essential.

And a good lens. Of course.


What is a telephoto lens used for?

So, what does a telephoto lens do?

It extends focal length in photography, making it possible to capture images of distant objects in high-quality detail. A photographer can achieve expansion in horizontal scope with it.a

What's the difference between a zoom lens and a telephoto lens?

Telephoto lenses have fixed focal lengths of more than 50mm. Zoom lenses have a variable focal length and are usually used in dynamic photography.

What is the difference between a telephoto lens and a standard lens?

A "telephoto" lens has an increased magnification and smaller field of vision than conventional lenses. With a "normal lens," you'll get a picture similar to what the human eye perceives, and it will seem natural to the viewer. 

Do I need a telephoto lens on my phone?

For high-class phones, it's ideal to have a telephoto lens since it is a significant boost in the quality of the camera. Still, there are other variables like memory and processor in the mid-range to consider if your budget is low. 

To find out what a telephoto lens is, check out my guide.


Deyan Georgiev

Deyan Georgiev

Deyan has been fascinated by technology his whole life. From the first Tetris game all the way to Falcon Heavy. Working for TechJury is like a dream come true, combining both his passions – writing and technology. In his free time (which is pretty scarce, thanks to his three kids), Deyan enjoys traveling and exploring new places. Always with a few chargers and a couple of gadgets in the backpack. He makes mean dizzying Island Paradise cocktails too.

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