Telephoto Vs. Wide-Angle Lenses

Outdoor Photography

Many photographers have a preferred way to capture what they see in the world. Some possess telephoto eyes and bring everything closer or desire to make their subjects bigger. Others are born with wide-angle vision and love to push everything back to take it all in. Is either one right or wrong? Will the wide-angle photographer capture better images? Will the telephoto photographer always bring home the blue ribbon? Regardless of each photographer’s preferred way to visualize their environment, what’s important is each comes back with an image about which they feel proud.

What are the attributes of each focal length? Telephoto lenses bring distant objects close, isolate pieces of a whole, compress perspective and limit depth of field. Given these factors, certain types of images shine. Headshots of wildlife and people work well since the background can be thrown out of focus. This allows the subject to pop off the page. Subjects that are dangerous, shy or skittish are best photographed with a long lens to make them appear larger in the frame. Birds that float on open water are fantastic candidates. Water acts as a barrier so the telephoto provides a tool to fill the frame.

Wide-angle lenses take in a much greater angle of view, allow photographers to work in tight quarters and still get the shot, expand depth of field due to their inherent qualities and make images of tall subjects with the camera positioned horizontally. Mountain sides of autumn-colored trees can be incorporated into a single frame. A room full of people can all be included in the image. Foreground to background sharpness can be attained using wider apertures. This translates to cleaner files if the ISO doesn’t have to be raised to as high a number.

The above illustrates the positive aspects of each lens, but negatives for each exist. A wide angle distorts items placed close to the front element of the lens. The items become rounded and elongated. Wides don’t create beautiful bokeh, therefore they’re not conducive to making portraits. Wides are more prone to vignetting.

Telephotos are long, heavy and clunky to carry around. They restrict a photographer from making images of an animal in its environment. Typically, telephoto zooms are slow given their small maximum aperture.

As you can see, each category of lens has both positive and negative characteristics. The important thing is you get to know all aspects about both and choose the one that will provide the best image.

With the above laid out, the bottom line is to return from a shoot with great images. Therefore, do as I so often say: Exhaust All Possibilities. If you’re one who naturally sees the world through a wide-angle lens, don’t overlook the telephoto version. If you’re one who naturally sees the world through a telephoto, don’t overlook the wide-angle image. The more often you adhere to this adage, the more diverse your images will be.

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit to get more information.

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