11 Types Of DSLR And Mirrorless Camera Lenses To Fit Your Personal Photography Style

Do you find the hundreds of lens purchasing options overwhelming? Are you ready to buy new camera lenses but have no idea where to start? In this tutorial you will learn about the 11 major types of DSLR and Mirrorless lens categories, such as wide and super-wide angle lenses, prime lenses, 50mm normal lenses, standard zoom lenses, telephoto lenses, and many more.

Wide angle lenses

You’ll also learn about specific lenses for Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras, as well as Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic Lumix mirrorless-style cameras. If your camera brand is not mentioned in this tutorial, don’t be concerned. The following information will also apply to any other brand of DSLR or mirrorless camera.

Lenses for night photography

Have you ever looked at a camera lens and wondered why it has a number and an “mm” millimeter designation directly after the number? This is called the lens’ focal length, and it’s also how the camera industry labels their lenses.

Nikon lenses 35mm

There are many lens focal length combinations that you can choose from. The lower the millimeter (mm) number on your lens, the wider your picture will be. Below is a series of photos at the most common focal lengths:

14mm Super Wide

14mm wide lens

28mm Wide Angle

28mm wide angle lens

35mm Wide Angle

35mm wide angle lens

50mm “Normal” lens

50mm normal lens

85mm Telephoto (also known as zoomed-in)

85mm telephoto lens

200mm Telephoto (also known as zoomed-in)

200mm telephoto lens

300mm Super Telephoto (usually equal to or greater than 300mm)

300mm super telephoto lens

Did you notice that the 14mm photo is very wide, and the 300mm photo looks like it was photographed through a telescope? The following chart gives a rough guide as to how lenses are described.

Camera lens focal length naming chart

Before you learn about the specific lens categories, it’ll be useful to clarify camera terminology. The name DSLR is short for Digital Single Lens Reflex. Canon and Nikon are the leaders in this class of camera, however Pentax, Sigma, and others also have DSLR style cameras, or variations on the DSLR system.

Canon lenses

A DSLR style camera has an internal mirror that flips up and down very quickly each time that you take a picture. The mirror is what allows you to see your potential photo through the camera’s eye-piece.

Canon eyepiece

The term Mirrorless camera is now an accepted way to describe a camera system that has a removable lens, but does not have a DSLR style internal mirror. These cameras are rapidly gaining in popularity, and the major players are Fujifilm, Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic Lumix.

Fujifilm lenses

If your DSLR is called a Full Frame camera, that means that you have a 35mm camera sensor. Not to be confused with a 35mm lens, the size of a digital sensor in a full frame DSLR is approximately the same size as a traditional 35mm negative or slide film. The size of the sensor in this Nikon DSLR is approximately 35mm wide.

Nikon camera sensor

There are other cameras that are not full frame 35mm size. These are called APS-C size, and another type is called Micro Four Thirds. For this tutorial please find out if your camera is Full Frame, APS-C, or Micro Four Thirds. This chart shows the approximate dimensions for each of the three sensor sizes in millimeters. Keep in mind that there are slight dimensional size differences between camera manufacturers.

Camera sensor sizes

Canon DSLR Camera Lenses

The more expensive professional camera models are usually Full Frame size, such as the 5D and 6D camera series. Canon’s entry-level and amateur model cameras are usually the smaller APS-C size, such as the Rebel series, 60D, 7D, 77D, and 80D.

Canon’s Full Frame camera lenses are called “EF” lenses. Canon’s APS-C size camera lenses are called “EF-S” lenses.

Canon EF-S lenses

Nikon DSLR Camera Lenses

As with Canon, the expensive and professional camera models are usually Full Frame size, and the consumer model cameras are usually the smaller APS-C size. Nikon’s Full Frame lenses are called “FX” lenses. Nikon’s smaller APS-C lenses are called “DX” lenses.

Nikon DX lenses

Fujifilm Mirrorless Camera Lenses

The X Series cameras and lenses by Fujifilm are all APS-C size.

Fujifilm lenses

Sony Mirrorless Camera Lenses

The a7 Series FE-mount cameras and lenses by Sony are all Full Frame size.

Sony lenses

Olympus & Panasonic Lumix Mirrorless Camera Lenses

Both Olympus and Panasonic Lumix produce Micro Four Thirds size cameras and lenses.

Olympus lenses

To summarize, there are three classes of DSLR and mirrorless camera sizes: Full Frame (the largest), APS-C (middle size), and Micro Four Thirds (the smallest). Continue along with this tutorial after you find out what class of DSLR or mirrorless camera that you have.

In the following lens category explanations you will see links to various lenses within a specific lens category. Please remember that these links are not exhaustive. For each camera model, and within each lens category, there could be up to ten great purchasing options.

Be aware that when choosing a camera lens, contact the lens seller to make sure that the new lens will fit your camera model.

1. Purchase Your First DSLR Or Mirrorless Camera With A Kit Lens

The term Kit Lens refers to the lens that comes bundled with many DSLR and mirrorless cameras. These lenses are easy to use, inexpensive, and lightweight. If you plan to buy a new camera, the most cost-effective way to get both a camera body and lens is to buy them both together as a package.

If you plan to purchase a Canon Rebel or similar APS-C sized camera, the 18mm-55mm standard zoom lens usually comes with the camera. Kit lenses are usually in the range of wide-angle to normal view.

Canon kit lens

Nikon DSLR cameras also have kit lenses, and one of the most popular is the 18mm-55mm standard zoom lens. If you plan to purchase an APS-C sized Nikon DSLR, this is the lens that usually comes with the camera.

Nikon kit lens

Sony has a line of Full Frame size cameras called the a7 Series, and they all have what Sony calls the FE-Mount. The Sony FE-Mount cameras are the a7, a7R, a7S, a7 II, a7R II, a7S II models. These cameras are usually available with a kit lens such as the 28mm-70mm standard zoom lens.

Sony kit lens

Fujifilm X Series mirrorless cameras have very good quality kit lenses such as the 18mm-55mm standard zoom lens. While more expensive than other kit lenses, these are often bought by professional photographers as a lightweight back-up lens.

Fujifilm kit lens

Panasonic Lumix mirrorless cameras use Micro Four Thirds size lenses for their mirrorless camera bodies. The 14mm-42mm standard zoom is a popular kit lens with a Lumix camera body.

Panasonic Lumix kit lens

Olympus mirrorless cameras also use the Micro Four Thirds camera and lens size. An advantage to the Micro Four Thirds system is that often an Olympus lens can fit on a Panasonic Lumix camera, and vice versa. The Olympus 14mm-42mm standard zoom lens is a common pairing with an Olympus camera.

Olympus kit lens

2. Use A Super Wide Zoom Lens For Dramatic Landscape Photography

Professional landscape or architectural photographers often have a super wide angle zoom lens in their camera bag. A super wide zoom lens allows the photographer to get as much of the scene into the shot as possible. This photo is an example of a super wide zoom lens set at a focal length of 12mm.

Super wide angle lens view

Because of the lens’ zoom capabilities, you’ll be able to zoom from a very wide-angle view to what is called a wide-angle view. Canon makes a 10mm-18mm super wide-angle zoom lens that fits any APS-C size Canon DSLR, such as the Canon Rebel series.

Canon super wide angle zoom lens

Nikon also makes a super wide-angle zoom lens, and their version is a 10mm-24mm lens that fits any of their APS-C size camera bodies.

Nikon super wide angle zoom lens

3. For Sharpness And Lighter Weight Use A Super Wide Prime Lens

The term prime lens refers to a lens that cannot zoom. Prime lenses are usually lighter weight, sharper, smaller, and often less expensive than zoom lenses.

Super wide angle prime lenses

So far you have been learning about zoom lenses that have a range such as 10mm-24mm. A super wide prime lens only has one ‘mm’ designation, such as this Sony FE/E-Mount 14mm lens.

Sony Rokinon super wide angle prime lens

Did you notice that this lens for Sony a7 mirrorless cameras was actually not manufactured by Sony? Samyang is a third party lens manufacturer that creates lenses for Sony, Canon, Nikon, and many other camera companies.

The term third party refers to lenses that fit many different camera brands, but are actually manufactured by a completely separate corporation. The most common third party lens manufacturers are Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, Rokinon and Samyang.

Third party lenses are often more affordable than first party lenses made by the major camera manufacturers. While there’s nothing wrong with buying a third party lens, make sure that you ask the seller if your exact camera model will fully work with whatever lens you choose.

4. Use A Standard Zoom Lens For Vacation And Travel Photography

A standard zoom lens has a range that goes from a wide-angle view to a slight telephoto view. For example, this is a wide-angle view from a standard zoom lens:

standard zoom lenses

The term zoomed-in refers to changing your zoom lens from a wide-angle view all the way to the lens’ maximum telephoto view.

Standard zoom lens

Standard zoom lenses are a great choice for travel and vacation photography, as you’ll be able to get many different types of photos using only one lens. Often it’s inconvenient to switch lenses while traveling, which is why the standard zoom lens is very popular. Nikon makes a 24mm-85mm standard zoom lens for their Full Frame FX cameras that’s ideal for traveling.

Standard zoom lens Nikon FX

5. Use A Wide Angle Prime Lens For Street Photography

Zoom lenses are convenient because you can photograph many different views with a single lens. Prime lenses only give you a single view, so they’re not as convenient as zoom lenses. Why bother with wide-angle prime lenses then? They are usually smaller, lighter, sharper, and less expensive than wide-angle zoom lenses.

Street photography with wide prime lens

Wide-angle prime lenses are the favorites of street photographers. Street photography is an art form where the photographer records the drama of people going about their daily lives. If you would like to follow in the footsteps of such photographic masters as Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Doisneau, a wide-angle prime lens is for you.

Prime wide angle lens street photography

The Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera system has a 17mm wide-angle prime lens that works well for not only street photography, but also architecture and landscape photography.

Olympus wide angle prime lens

If you own a Canon Rebel series camera or other APS-C size Canon DSLR, this small 24mm lens is fantastic for street photography. Because the lens is so thin and small, people on the street won’t feel as self-conscious as they may with a very large zoom lens.

Canon wide angle prime lens

6. Use A 50mm “Normal Lens” For Recording What Your Eyes See

50mm is a similar focal length as what the human eye sees when our eyes are open, and focused on an object. If you want to faithfully photograph a scene the way that your eyes see it, the 50mm lens is a good choice. This is an example of a 50mm focal length view:

Normal 50mm lens view

Nicknamed the Nifty Fifty, or a Normal lens, the 50mm lens is highly prized by professional photographers. The lens is one of the sharpest you can buy, it’s relatively inexpensive, it’s small, lightweight, and it also allows a lot of light into your camera.

street photography normal 50mm lens view

For Nikon APS-C size cameras, the following lens is both inexpensive and very good quality. Even though the lens says 35mm, it’s actually a 50mm view. Because APS-C size lenses are smaller than Full Frame lenses, you can multiply your APS-C lens focal length by 1.5 to figure out what the actual focal length is.

Nikon 35mm normal lens

For example, a 35mm APS-C size lens multiplied by 1.5 = a 50mm view. Take a look at the lens naming chart again, and you will see that a 50mm Full Frame lens has the same view as a 35mm APS-C lens, and a 25mm Micro Four Thirds lens.

Focal length lens naming chart

Compare the 35mm APS-C size Nikon lens above to this 50mm Full Frame Nikon lens below:

Nikon normal 50mm lens

Even though one lens says 35mm, and the other lens says 50mm, both lenses will give you the same view when both cameras photograph the same scene. Use the 35mm lens on an APS-C size Nikon, and the 50mm lens on a Full Frame size Nikon.

7. Use Telephoto Zoom Lenses For Sports

If your favorite sports arena allows you to take photographs during a game, a telephoto zoom lens is a good choice to get close to the action. Because you’ll probably be photographing from the bleachers, a zoomed-in view will allow you to see the players. Think of telephoto zoom lenses as zoom-able telescopes.

For Fujifilm X Series camera users, this 55mm-200mm telephoto zoom lens will get you close to the action. If you want to see a lot of the arena, choose a lower millimeter (mm) number such as 55mm. If you want to zoom in very close on just one athlete, choose the highest millimeter (mm) number such as 200mm.

Fujifilm telephoto zoom Fujifilm

8. Use Telephoto Prime Lenses For Low-Light Scenes

Concert photographers love telephoto prime lenses, as prime lenses usually work better in low-light areas than telephoto zoom lenses. As mentioned previously, sometimes prime lenses are sharper, smaller, lighter, and less expensive than their zoom counterparts. Telephoto prime lenses also work well for street photography.

Telephoto prime lenses

This Nikon 85mm telephoto prime lens works for both Full Frame Nikon FX cameras as well as smaller Nikon APS-C size DX cameras. With a Full Frame camera, the view that you’ll see is 85mm. If you use this lens on an APS-C size Nikon camera, your view will be equivalent to a 128mm lens.

Nikon telephoto prime lens

Tokina is a respected third party lens manufacturer, and their lenses usually work for both Full Frame and APS-C size Canon cameras.

Tokina Canon telephoto prime lens

9. Use Full Range Zoom Lenses For Maximum Convenience

Full range zoom lenses cover almost all focal length ranges, from wide-angle views all the way to telephoto or even super telephoto views. This type of lens is meant for those who don’t want to change lenses on their camera. Traditionally this type of lens has a range of 24mm at the wide view, up to 200mm at the telephoto view.

This is an example of the widest end of a full range zoom lens, set at the 24mm mark:

Lenses full range zoom wide

This is an example of the telephoto end of a full range zoom lens, set at the 200mm mark:

Lenses full range zoom-in

You may ask why doesn’t everyone use this type of lens, as it can see almost every focal length view? The advantage is the convenience of only needing one lens, however there are a few disadvantages with a full range zoom lens. The lenses are long and sometimes heavy, and they’re not as sharp as smaller lenses. You also often need to use a tripod when the lens is zoomed-in to a telephoto view.

Canon’s full range zoom lens is well made and does a fairly good job of avoiding the above-mentioned disadvantages. The lens is an EF-S 18mm-135mm zoom, which compared to a full frame lens view would be equivalent to 29mm-216mm. With that zoom range you may never choose to remove your lens again!

Lenses full range zoom Canon

For Panasonic Lumix mirrorless camera users, this 14mm-140mm full range zoom lens is relatively small and light. Compared to a full frame lens view, this lens would be equivalent to approximately 28mm-280mm.

Lenses full range zoom Lumix

10. Use A Super Telephoto Zoom Lens For Wildlife Photography

A super telephoto zoom lens is popular with safari and other wildlife photographers, as the lens can zoom-in close to objects that are very far away. Wether you are planning an African photo safari, or like to photograph birds in your backyard, a zoom lens like this Nikon-mount Tamron 150mm-600mm will get you close to the wildlife.

Lenses super telephoto Tamron Nikon

11. Use A Super Telephoto Prime Lens For Astrophotography And Wildlife

With a lack of zoom ability there are fewer mechanical parts inside a prime lens. With a simpler construction, prime lenses, especially super telephoto prime lenses, can be lighter, smaller, cheaper, and potentially sharper than an equivalent focal length zoom lens.

This Canon 400mm super telephoto prime lens is ideal for astrophotography (photographing night sky details), as well as wildlife photographers who carry their camera gear in their backpacks. As prime lenses are usually lighter than zoom lenses, backpackers prefer lenses like this Canon.

Lenses super telephoto prime Canon

Summary Of Lens Types

Now that you’ve read through the descriptions of the main lens types, here is a cheat-sheet summary to help you in your future lens purchasing choices.

Kit lenses: Inexpensive and lightweight, these lenses are great for hiking and general photography. Kit lenses usually come bundled with consumer-level DSLR or mirrorless camera bodies.

Super wide zoom and super wide prime lenses: These lenses are great for architecture and landscape photography.

Standard zoom lenses: Good for travel and general walk-around photography, these are popular lens choices.

Wide angle prime lenses: These lenses are very good for street photography.

50mm normal lens: Similar to what your eyes see, this lens is great for documentary photography.

Telephoto zoom and telephoto prime lenses: These lenses are great for sports and wildlife photography.

Full range zoom lenses: These lenses are excellent for travel, as no lens changing is needed.

Super telephoto zoom and prime lenses: These are very good lenses for sports, astrophotography and wildlife photography.

Lenses street photography

Think of various lenses as different types of brushes that an artist would use. Each brush has a unique ability to apply paint to the canvass. Similarly, each lens has its own unique light-gathering characteristic, which allows for a high amount of creative expression. Enjoy experimenting with different lenses, and remember to have fun with your DSLR or mirrorless camera!

  • Very succinct description of types of lens. Comparison & explanations for prime & zoom was valuable & to the point e.g., no flower full descriptions, etc.

    • Thanks

      • Good explanations using compare/contrast to distinguish differences.

      • Mark Hemmings

        My pleasure Sue! – Mark Hemmings, Photography Pro

    • Mark Hemmings

      Glad you like “succinct” as much as I do! All the best – Mark Hemmings from Photography Pro

  • Susan Ferency

    At first I was excited to see mention of the Panasonic LUMIX camera but then realized you were not discussing my LUMIX bridge camera. My Lumix DMC-FZ70 does not have a removable lens, however the lens has a range of 20-1200mm. I have captured beautiful macro shots to excellent telephoto shots of osprey. Will you consider including this bridge camera in your discussions?

    • Hi Susan, you have a very good point! The only problem that I encountered is the fact that I need to keep the tutorials limited to about 4000 words, or I start to lose the interest of many readers. What I did therefore was pick the cameras that statistically were the most common, and used them as examples. Your camera model is fantastic by the way, and I’m glad that you are using it successfully. Have a great day! Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • Leo-Paul

    Great new site!!!!
    Excellent article. By the way, I am a fellow NBer. I recognized the Bricklen car in one of your earlier article. I live in the Shediac area, was born in Saint John quite a few years ago.
    I have already put a shortcut to your new site on my homepage. I shoot with a full frame Canon DSLR and a nifty fifty.Eagerly waiting for your next instalment. LPLB

    • Leo-Paul, its so great to chat with a fellow NBer! Yes the Bricklen is a classic, I love seeing it and other’s throughout NB. And thanks for bookmarking photographypro.com, I will be putting a lot of content on it. BTW I love Shediac, I take my family there in the summers as a nice drive from Saint John. All the best, talk soon! Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • Arthur Brown

    Excellent overview of cameras and lenses, many thanks.

    • I’m glad the tutorial was useful to you Arthur! Thanks for your kind comment. Please check back often for more tutorials and courses! Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • LindA House

    Thanks so much Mark, I have never understood the differences between all the different lenses before and you have explained it so that it is easy to understand

  • Linda House

    The clearest explanation of the differences in sensor and lens size that I have read anywhere. Thank you so much Mark . I am no longer confused.

    • Linda thank you so much for your encouraging comment, it actually encourages me to keep teaching 🙂 There will be many more tutorials to come, thanks for being a part of photographypro.com! Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • Susana N Salessi

    What do you know about the Tamron 18-270 zoom lens for my Canon Rebel EOS 100D SL1 Shall I change it for the Cannon zoom 18-135?

    Also is a Canon prime 85mm lens worth keeping?

    Your info. is very clear and useful. Thanks!!!

    • Hi Susana, your Canon 85mm prime lens is a great lens, I would keep it. As for switching your 18-135 for a Tamron 18-270, I think it may be useful if you do wildlife photography. If you don’t regularly do wildlife photography, I would keep your Canon 18-135 as it is a very good lens. Hope that helps! Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • Jerry Morgan

    Excellent article for us amateur photographers who are striving to learn
    how to take better shots with a variety of equipment. Very helpful !

    Thank you,

    Jerry

    • I’m glad it was a useful tutorial Jerry! Many more tutorials and special content to come 🙂 Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • Dale Elliott

    Great article I have had my Nikon D7100 for a short while still trying to learn all the in and outs of the camera. I learned some things about the sensors and the difference in taking 1:5 x a FX lense. Thanks Again Dale

    • Hi Dale, I’m glad that you could learn about sensor size from this tutorial. It’s something that’s not talked about very much, but critical information when getting ready to purchase lenses. We will be posting regularly to http://www.photographypro.com, so please check back often! Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • Diane Turner

    Great comparisons in easy to understand language. Thank you.

    • Diane I want to thank you for the feedback, especially about the writing style. My hope is to write in a way that is accessible to new photographers, but still informative for advanced photographers. Have a great day! Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • I have used 35mm film cameras and a short time ago I purchased a Nikon D7100 and still trying to learn the in and outs. Your article was a great help I didn’t know about the sensors or the 1:5 x a fx len
    Thank you Dale

    • Thank Dale for your kind comments! I will be writing many more blog tutorials on photographypro.com, plus a video course, so thanks for checking back often! Enjoy the D7100, its a great camera. Mark Hemmings – Photography Pro

  • Stella oliver

    My husband has a Nikon full frame camera and I have a Nikon Dx camera. If I use his full frame 50 mm lens on my dx, will I be getting a 75mm view? Or a 35mm view?

  • Sarah badwi

    Thanks for your very clear information,I’m looking forward to your video lessonstutorials

    • My pleasure Sarah, thank you for the kind comment!

    • Thanks Sarah! We are almost done filming them 🙂

  • George

    Good information. Can you comment on the types of protection to use with the lenses that would not compromise lens quality?

    • Hi George, I use B+W filters, which are incredibly clear!

    • Certainly! Any UV filter from B+W. That is the filter company that I useand I love them! I also use Nikon branded filters too.

      • Ray Cooney

        Agreed – excellent glass and choice. A bit more expensive, yet worth it!

  • Like this, it gives an overview for sure!

  • Cliff McFarlane

    I’ve been making camera and lens changes recently and you have put the info all in one place – great stuff.

  • Kimberly Gould

    This is so very helpful!!!!!! Thank you so much!!!!!!

  • Donna Rita Cetroni

    Wow!

  • Elena

    This is such a easy to understand explanation of the different cameras, lenses and their uses! Thank you

  • Ray Cooney

    Very well-written, easy for anyone to understand and then make a choice. One of the very best that I have ever seen. Nice job! And good use of photos of lenses, cameras, and scenes….! Thanks!

    • I appreciate the kind comments Ray, thank you very much! I’m glad it could be useful to you.

  • Ron Ames

    A very clear and precise explanation of the photographic hardware. Well done.

  • I want to print the summary and hang it on my wall! I usually shoot with a Nikon and own several lenses. Last year I bought a “Micro Four Thirds” Panasonic Gh4 to add to my bag because of it’s 4K video capability, ability to monitor and adjust audio levels, and other features that are beneficial when shooting short films and documentaries. The camera shoots beautiful images. My frustration is that Panasonic has not produced a competitive sports lens for the GH4. So back to the phrase “add to my bag”… I still have to lug around two cameras and their lenses to achieve the variety I need.

    • Hi Robin, yes that is a bit of a shame about no sports lens, but I agree that the camera is excellent!

  • Kenneth William Jefferson

    excellent. I feel I can make some progress through the minefield Thank you very much

    • Joanna

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