What is a Telephoto Lens?

Professional photographers extol the virtues of using a telephoto lens fervently. A telephoto lens helps capture pictures with such immense clarity that it has taken photography to another level. Let’s check out the basic features of a telephoto lens, its advantages and its uses.

What is a Telephoto Lens Anyway?

Telephoto lenses are finding increasing popularity among professional and amateur photographers around the world. A telephoto lens has a long-range of focus which allows photographers to capture subjects from a significant distance, or by magnifying the subject into the frame. Usually, any lens with a focal length above 60mm is termed a telephoto lens. 

Often, a zoom lens is wrongly considered to be the same as a telephoto lens. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. A telephoto lens can (but not necessarily) be a zoom lens. Telephoto lenses are classified into different categories depending on their focal lengths. For example, a telephoto lens with the focal length of 70-200mm is termed as a ‘Medium Telephoto’ lens while those with focal lengths of over 300mm are considered to be ‘Super Telephoto’ lenses. Keep in mind, that these can be either prime or zoom lenses. 

What are the uses of Telephoto Lens?

Let’s check out the top reasons why photographers prefer telephoto lenses so much:

1 – Brings the subject closer to the camera

This is the prime use of a telephoto lens and the reason why many amateur photographers tend to choose one to practice their skills with. A telephoto lens allows photographers to capture far-away subjects with immense clarity. This lens is the perfect solution for situations where you can’t, or won’t go near the subject for a closer shot. Additionally, there are times when a subject feels more comfortable when the camera lens is far from view. 

Brings the subject closer to the camera
What is a Telephoto Lens- Brings the subject closer to the camera

Telephoto lenses are commonly used by sports and wildlife photographers to capture the subject clearly from a distance. This lens also creates a compression effect which improves the visual connection between subject and background. 

2 – Helps to highlight blurred background

You must have seen photographs with the subject in focus but the background is blurred and thought about how the photographer was able to achieve this effect. A sharp subject with a blurred background becomes easy to capture with a telephoto lens. 

This technique is most often used in portrait photography. The trick to capturing such images is to shoot with a long lens and the widest aperture possible. For instance, using a 70-200mm telephoto lens at 200m with an aperture at f/2.8 will highlight the subject against a smooth, blurred background. Simply put, the longer the lens and wider the aperture, the more enhanced is the blurred background effect.

3 – Captures perfect portraits

A surprising benefit of telephoto lenses is seen when capturing a perfect portrait. Telephoto lenses often give an effect that creates flattering portraits of people. The distance between the camera lens and subject determines how close the subject appears in the frame and how they will eventually appear in the photograph. 

Captures perfect portraits
What is a Telephoto Lens – Captures perfect portraits

When you shoot a subject from the same distance, but by gradually increasing the focal length, you will notice that the subject in the foreground tends to get smaller in relation to the background. This effect makes facial features appear in proportion by avoiding distortion. 

Which Telephoto Lens should I use?

Professional photographers will tell you that there is no one single telephoto lens that can work for all occasions or settings. The ideal telephoto lens needs to be selected depending on the type of photograph you wish to capture. You can read more on this at how to use a telephoto lens.

Which Telephoto Lens should I use
What is a Telephoto Lens – Which Telephoto Lens should I use

Here’s a simple table to show the common uses for telephoto lenses according to their focal lengths:

Focal Length Common Uses
70-200mm Wildlife, portrait, sports and weddings
85mm Weddings and portraits 
100-400mm Wildlife and sports 
135mm Wildlife, sports, portraits and weddings
600+mm Wildlife and sports



To put it simply, a telephoto lens works just like a telescope, by bringing closer the subject in focus. These lenses have considerably longer focal lengths than the standard camera lenses. The ability to pull the subject near without blurring the clarity and to capture features in a flattering way are the two strongest benefits of using a telephoto lens. 

See Also

Best Nikon Telephoto Lens

Best Canon Telephoto Lens

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