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The Lens

Lesson 5 from: The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

5. The Lens

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The topic of the lesson is about lenses in photography.


  • What is the most important thing to know about a lens?

  • The most important thing to know about a lens is its focal length.

  • What does the focal length describe?

  • The focal length describes what you can see through the viewfinder and what you'll capture with the sensor.

  • What are the different types of lenses based on focal length?

  • Wide angle lenses, normal lenses, and telephoto lenses.

  • What is the recommended focal range for most photographers?

  • For most photographers, a focal range of 24-200 is recommended.

  • What is a prime lens?

  • A prime lens is a fixed lens that only has one angle of view.

  • What is a zoom lens?

  • A zoom lens is a lens that can change its focal length, allowing for a range of different angles of view.

  • Which lens is considered the "standard" lens?

  • The 50mm lens is considered the standard lens because it has a normal angle of view.

  • What is a wide angle lens used for?

  • Wide angle lenses are used to capture more from side to side, and are great for showing locations and environmental portraits.

  • What is an ultra wide lens used for?

  • An ultra wide lens is used for capturing a lot from side to side, and is often used in real estate, architecture, or tight environments.

  • What is a telephoto lens used for?

  • Telephoto lenses are used to get closer to subjects that cannot be physically reached, and are often used for portrait photography.

  • What is the advantage of using a telephoto lens for portraits?

  • Telephoto lenses create a shallower depth of field, which allows for a blurred background and a focus on the subject.

  • What is the most valuable lens?

  • The 100mm lens is considered the most valuable because it allows for narrowing the vision and focusing on specific details.

  • What is the purpose of a 200mm lens?

  • A 200mm lens is used to show details and provides working distance between the photographer and the subject.

  • What is the advantage of using an ultra wide lens for landscape photography?

  • An ultra wide lens allows for capturing a larger environment and including foreground and background elements in the frame.

  • What are the differences between prime and zoom lenses?

  • Prime lenses tend to be sharper and gather more light, while zoom lenses are more versatile and can cover a range of focal lengths.

  • What is the recommended lens path for photographers?

  • Starting with a couple of basic zoom lenses and then adding a prime lens or another lens based on specific needs.

  • What is the safest way to clean a lens?

  • Using a lens cloth and blowing hot air to remove moisture is a safe way to clean a lens.

  • How can lenses be made more affordable?

  • Buying used lenses or renting lenses can make them more affordable.

  • What should be considered when shooting video with lenses?

  • Manual focus and smooth focusing are important considerations when shooting video.

  • Do extension tubes diminish image quality?

  • No, extension tubes do not generally diminish image quality, but some lenses may be sharper at close range and optimized for close-up work.

Lesson Info

The Lens

All right, so, I hate to play favorites, but this is one of my favorite sections. It is one of my favorite aspects about photography, and it's one of things I love about interchangeable lenses because when you change the lens, you completely change the camera and now you have a new whole world of possibilities, and there's so many different lenses out there. So let's go through and we'll talk about all the basics and things that you need to know about lenses right here. So first up, the most important thing to know about a lens is the lens' focal length. And that might be a number like 18 to 55, that you might see in a zoom lens, or a 50 millimeter lens on a fixed or a prime lens, which only does one angle of view. And this is gonna describe what you can see through the view finder and what you're going to capture with the sensor as well. So we're gonna start with angle of view here, as to what you see with a normal 50 millimeter lens here. And this is 50 millimeters for those of you w...

ho are shooting on a full frame, the larger size sensor. I know a lot of you are shooting with the smaller size so I'm gonna include a different set of numbers on the bottom because actually most people are on the bottom of the screen with what type of camera that they have and what type of sensors are in that camera. So the 35 millimeter lens is their normal lens. So once again it depends on what size sensor you're using. These are two of the most popular sensors out there. If you wanna see more from side to side, you get into the world of wide angle photography, and there's different levels of this. There's slightly wide and then there's kind of a middle wide, and then you get into ultra wide lenses, if you really need to capture a lot from side to side. And then at the other end, we're talking about telephoto lenses, and then we'll have different levels of this. We have a short telephoto, a medium telephoto, and then a super telephoto. And you can get either individual lenses or zoom lenses that'll take you from one to the other. Now for most people, what I consider a good toolkit when it comes to photographers, because you need a variety of systems. It's pretty rare that you'll find a photographer who has one lens and their all their work revolves around that one lens. There's a few who have explored the world of photography, they figured out what works for them, and they have honed down what they'll wanna do down to one lens. But most of us like to have a toolkit that has a variety of tools in it for solving different types of problems. And for most people, in relationship to full frame, would be 24 to 200. Some of you might need that extra wide angle or some of you might need that super telephoto. But 24 to 200, in whatever combination you like to work with, is generally a pretty safe range that's gonna be able to cover a lot of different things in there. So let's walk through many of the different options. We'll start with the standard lens. The 50 millimeter lens, it's called the standard lens because it has a normal angle of view. Now when you get into comparing cameras and human eyes, it's not a fair game. That's because we have two eyes and our eyes swivel back and forth all the time so it's not quite the same. But as far as the perspective that you get, as far as the size relationship of one subject into the next, the 50 millimeter is about as normal as you can get. And so I like the 50 millimeter lens when you are trying to be very faithful and honest about what you're shooting. So there's a lot of people who like to do documentary work and they will shoot with a 50 millimeter lens because it doesn't distort reality. It's very much, this is what you can expect to see with your own eyes, when you go to this location yourself. Now because human eyes do see a little bit wider from side to side, the 35 is kind of the wide normal, if you will. This is what a lot of our phones, I used to say this is where most of our phones were at, I think this where most of our phones used to be at, before we all got into the selfie thing. Now they've gone a little bit wider angle. So this is a great documentary lens as well. If you wanna show a location, an environmental portrait, this is a great way to show it without, you know, trying to distort things here a little bit. And so once again street photography, very normal perspective, things are very honest with this lens, you might say. Now, once again, favorites. I really like the 24 millimeter lens. And it's not that I don't like being honest, I just love being able to use a 24 millimeter lens because what that generally means is that not only is this awesome, but this is awesome. You're in an environment that's very large and very interesting and beautiful in its own regard. And so for travel photography and landscape photography, the 24 is really good 'cause it hasn't really dove into any sort of extreme wide, but you are able to grab a lot more from side to side. When you shoot verticals with this, the foreground becomes a whole another element. And so now you can include elements near and far into the frame. The ultra wide is for solving special problems and this might be somebody who works in real estate or architecture, or you're just in a very, very tight environment. In this case, I'm up on this statue and there's this little platform that you can shoot and there's no real room to back up. And so I'm trying to capture as much in there as possible and I wanna be able to see off to the left and right and see my entire subject in there. Once again, when you have foreground material, you can have something in the foreground, something in the background, and you can have two different subjects to help tell the story of what's going on. So most people don't need an ultra wide lens, but they're a lot of fun, especially if you do travel photography and you're trying to show what an amazing or interesting location you're in. Probably the most valuable lens, and the lens that I would choose if somebody said, John, you have to take a great photo and your life depends on it, I would probably choose 100 millimeter lens. Because photography is as much about what you didn't include as you did include. And this enables you to kind of narrow your vision and focus in on things a little bit in smaller package, you might say. Obviously, a telephoto lens is helpful when you cannot physically get closer. They tell you, you have to stand behind this line here and you can't get any closer. So obviously, getting in a little bit closer. These short telephotos, more than anything else, they are known as portrait lenses. This is a very natural place and a natural perspective for photographing the human form, the human face, and so this is a great place to be for doing people photography. Now one of the other side benefits, and we're gonna talk about this in an upcoming section, is notice the background on these photos. It's gone out of focus and this is called depth of field, and as I say, we'll talk more about depth of field, but you start getting into shallower depth of field when you get into these telephoto lenses. Now I mentioned before the toolkit that you probably wanna have will range from 24 to 200. And so 200 gets to be really good because you'll find that many photographers are detail-orientated people. Yes, this is all interesting, but, oh, look at that one thing right there. And you want that one lens, it's gonna bring you in and show you that one little subject. And so once again, I mentioned this before, a little bit of mystery. Yes, I could show who the entire shack and the person's face and their eyes and their ear and what they were wearing and everything, but when you come in this close, you can start to see detail and it starts to be a different story. So anytime you wanna show details, anytime you need to be a little bit further back for sporting or other active events where you need to stay back a little bit further, that 200 gives you a little bit of working distance between you and your subject. Some subjects, are very flighty. Some subjects require a lot of distance. And so for professional sports photography, where you need to be much further back to reach out into the middle of that field. That 400 millimeter lens is gonna give you many yards of distance between you and your subject. But it can be used for many different types of things. One of the aspects of telephoto lenses is a compression effect. And so if you were to walk out on these sand dunes, this is deceptive, this isn't how they look to your own eye, but from this point of view with the telephoto lens, I'm able to create a nice pattern showing all these waves in the sand. And so it's a different way of seeing that environment. Now you'll be able to choose between primes and zooms for what you're doing. Now which one is best? Well, that depends on your definition of best, of course. The prime lenses are very popular with a lot of photographers because they tend to be a little bit sharper. They gather more light. And for any individual purpose, they are a little bit smaller than the zoom lenses. The zoom lenses obviously are very versatile and it's smaller than a whole collection of lenses and you don't have to change lenses quite as much. And generally what I have found is that the more precise you are about knowing what you're going to do, that's when you're going to the prime lenses. If you have no idea what you're gonna do, and let me tell you it's perfectly all right to have no idea what you're gonna shoot because almost every time I go traveling to a new country or new location, I might have some ideas of what I'm gonna shoot but I don't know exactly what I'm gonna shoot. And so for travel photography, for instance, I love a zoom lens because I can do a lot of different things with it. If I get down to the point where I know exactly what I wanna do and I wanna get this exact specific thing done, then I start picking a prime lens. And so kind of a good lens path for people to go is to start off with a couple of basic zooms, and then pick up a prime or another prime depending on what your needs are. Maybe your into doing food photography and you wanna get a close up lens, or maybe you're doing portrait photography and you need a portrait lens that shoots with shallower dept of field, or you are doing architectural photography and you need a super wide angle lens. And so that's what's great about photography is we have interchangeable lenses and lots and lots of different choices out there, but I think this is a good start for anybody who is wanting to get into photography. Alright John, we are gonna pause for a Q and A about lenses. So grab a mic if you have any questions here in the studio. We did have a question come in from Zoobin, who is watching on Facebook Live at the moment, and we're talking about lenses and so Zoobin asks, "What is the safest way to clean the lens, "is a lens cloth just fine?" and Zoobin is joining us from India, so shot outs to India. Well it depends on what they mean by cleaning, but for most parts I think they're talking about cleaning the glass element on the lens. So a very very a, conflicting topic is using filters or not. I tend to use filters because they are relatively cheap and they're high quality. And so then I will take a lens cleaning cloth, I'll blow a little bit of hot air, (exhales) didn't have a lot of that. So there's a little bit of moisture and so then I'll take a good quality lens cleaning cloth and clean the lens from there. I will also take old paintbrush, well actually no, I bought a new paintbrush and is dedicated to cleaning the lens on the outside sometimes when I'm traveling if it gets lots of dust in there and so forth. And so, you don't need all these fancy little kits and stuff, and so a good quality lens cleaning cloth you know, five for $10, and they last for many many years. Oh, yeah we've got a question in studio. Lenses are really expensive, and getting a new lens might not be something that everyone can afford. Do you have tips for getting maybe used lenses, where you can get those or just how to make lenses more affordable to buy? So lenses are something that are a much longer investment then cameras. Cameras, most serious photographers seem like they go through cameras every three to five years, and I'm probably stretching that out. Some people go through them every year. But lenses are really the collection that stay with you for a long time. And so, I wanna warn you about going with something to cheep that you're not really happy with. It'd be better if you rented it, while you could just you know for a short time and renting is a great option for trying out to see if it's a good lens. And once you figure out what you want, taking care of that lens, you can buy used lenses, and this is something that I'm not gonna recommend for everybody 'cause you kind of need to know what you're looking at, and you wanna make sure that there's no dust or fungus in there. You wanna make sure that it operated on your camera properly but there's a lot of used stuff that goes around, and it's not because there's anything wrong with it. There's a lot of people that get into photography and can't pay the rent. And so there's a lot of good things out there if your a little bit discriminating, and in general if I was to buy a used lens, I would just avoid anything that was heavily used. That had lots of miles as you might say. If there was lots of wear marks on it, just, I'm probably not gonna bother with it. I'd just go for something clean, and if you do that then, you're probably gonna knock of 20% of the price. Name brand lenses like Cannon and Sony and Fugi are nice because they're from the original manufacturer, you know they're gonna be 100% compatible, but there's other companies that make lenses that are very compatible. There might be one or two features that don't work like Sigma, Tokina and Tamron, and sometimes they sell for half the price. And sometimes you know that's just the best choice, is doing one those lenses for three four five years, until you can afford up enough to get a better one. But I would say be very careful and very thoughtful, on buying lenses because they can last for a very long time if you take care of them. It's not uncommon to have photographers who have lenses for 20 years. Alright I'm gonna take one from Facebook and then grab the mic and we'll get ready for you. So Mohammad as well as, we had another same question asked by, let's see Habeeb as well, consideration for lenses when your shooting video versus stills. Hmm Now I know we could go on for a long time about that, but what are starting things to consider? Primes versus zooms and all that. Right so this is another area of conflict in photography, is now in the world of digital, our cameras are shooting video. And on one hand, I am awesome. Now I don't need to go out and buy a video camera. I can shoot high quality video right here, and another part of me is those bastards get outta here. Go buy your own video cameras. Don't try to change these cameras, 'cause these are designed for taking stills, but there is a lot of differences that video users want, depending on how high a level that you wanna get into video. And so I actually have a whole class on lenses for Nikon and Cannon lenses and I go through all the specific differences, but video users, many cases, they like to manually focus. And so they like a very smooth focusing manual focus ring That is very direct. This is a fly by wire system. So as I turn this ring there's electronics that are telling the lens to move. And they don't like that system because it doesn't have the tactile feel of a traditional lens like this one here, where there's actually a focusing scale on the top. But for getting good quality video, as far as image quality, generally not a problem. It has to do with other things about the focusing and maybe changing the zoom, how smooth it is, and so forth. And so there is kind of no end. And if you think of photography as expensive, go into video. The most expensive lens that I can think of right now, is about $18,000. Not saying it's cheep, but when you get to video, it's not uncommon to see $100,000 lenses because they have other levels of exactness when they zoom in and when they change focus. And so photography is cheep. (audience laughing) Relatively. (laughs) It's always relative always perspective. John we'll take another question and this one is from Sandy, who says, "Do extension tubes diminish quality?" So first off, for those of you that don't know what extension tubes are, extension tubes are tubes, that extend, wow I'm really good at this, (audience laughs) they extend the lens from the body like this, and it's a hollow tube with no glass in it, okay. And so in one sense, they have nothing to degrade the image, alright. So they do not, in general, lower image quality. However, there are some lenses that are designed for close up work and they tend to be sharper at the close range. They're optimized for focusing up close. Extension tubes, I think, are a fantastic way for anyone to dabble in the world of close up photography 'cause you can take any lens, normal zoom lens, let me say this again, almost any lens. You take your standard zoom lens, you take a fixed lens, you add an extension tube, it suddenly becomes a close up lens. The light has to travel a little bit further, so there's a little bit less light coming in, minor issue. The lens may not be designed, like a standard 50 millimeter lens, or in this case a 35 1.4, it's probably not the best at close up work even with an extension tube, but it's probably pretty good. And the beauty is, is that these things are not much money. $50, $100 for 'em, and you can use them on all your lenses. And when you save up enough money to buy a real macro or close up lens, you can add the extension tube on top of that, and get even more out of it. And so it's something that you can keep for a very long period of time 'cause it's so versatile. So I'm a big fan of extension tubes. You do a lot of travel photography as well. Yes How do you carry all your lenses, when your traveling? I love to hike here. I want the ability to take close up photos, and photos of people but then the landscape when you get to the top of the mountain, is gorgeous. Right. And I wanna protect my lens, but have it easily accessible for when you know I'm trying to maneuver. So your talking about what I bring or how I carry it? How you carry it. How I carry it. Well there are som many options these days when it comes to photo backpacks and carrying satchels and so forth. I've been on some kind of serious mountaineering trips and I, essentially designed my own because nobody made it, but no they're available. A chest pouch, so that I can keep my camera, one lens, maybe a second lens and a battery in there in the chest pouch so that I can have access to it anytime the photo came around. In some cases I know I'm more or less trying to just get from point A to point B, then I'll throw it in a backpack and if I wanna stop and photograph something, I'll stop and take the backpack off. And so it's always a little bit of a challenge. How accessible do you want it versus how comfortable because on the back it's gonna be more comfortable then over your shoulder or out and about all the time. And so I have a variety of solutions and it depends on what's best and what the weather is and the conditions and how safe I am and do I need my hands and am I gonna be falling or anything like that, as to what works right. But you do need to have a good padded protection. Some people will just throw it and wrap it in their down jacket and put it in their camera bag and they don't have any special weight that they're bringing along, but then it's harder to get to and so there's all these compromises.

Class Materials

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Ratings and Reviews

Kanoelani Patenaude

I am a pro photographer in my dreams, where I know the in's and out's of my camera; however, reality proved differently, as real life would tell you, I was a deer caught in headlights just looking at my new 7D Mark II. I am a photographer enthusiast without the skills, but a lot of love for the moments one, or the profession/hobby of it can capture. I mostly shoot my husband, friends, and community surfers in the lineup, and of course, my children, who rarely sit still. Thus, I switched from Nikon to Canon, venturing on the 7D Mark II for the grand reviews of how stellar of camera it is for action shots (surfing, and kids, this was a no brainer). That said, and overwhelmed with the way beyond my skill set, but noted desire and aspiration to grow, I made the purchase, and sought help rather quickly as I wanted to feel confident with what I was utilizing to capture the best memories possible. I came into this John's courses knowing the "on/off" button, and "auto" shoot mode. I came out of the course feeling like the pro in my dreams, and ready to shoot manual. John's teaching style is on point, and his detailed visuals are a huge plus. My first shots post this photography kit course, I thought were great for my first educated shoot, and shockingly, I even received and email from one of the sponsors of the surfers I captured, asking if they could use my image for their sites and publications. Not bad for a newbie. Though, my intent was never a business purpose, I did not know if I should charge a small fee, or give it for free. I don't mind free as it's not my business, yet I don't want to ruin it for any professional photographers in town doing the same thing that are charging. Perhaps another course to help me with that. I highly recommend courses by John Greengo! Thank you so much, John!


I'm not sure my first review posted. But I LOVE this class! John Greengo is a great, engaging teacher who is really adept at representing the concepts visually and excellent at explaining them verbally. I love how he goes through examples with photographs he has taken. Even though I only have a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, it does have Manual, Shutter priority, and Aperture priority modes. Through his class I've gotten a really good sense of how to balance ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. It's a great overview for me especially since I am new to photography, I can play around with some of these settings, and I have a greater understanding of what I might need in a higher level camera in the future. Money well spend! (For $29, this is an absolute steal). John Greengo is an awesome teacher and I hope to take more of his classes in the future!

Megan Wagner

John is extremely articulate and is a great teacher with lots of visual aids and metaphors to help understand photography. I have been doing photography for a few years now and this class was a tremendous help in boosting my knowledge and refreshing my memory in multiple aspects of photography. The graphics that John uses are helpful and he even goes through images and asks which settings would be best to use and will go through the why. He makes things easy to understand and is very clear about the information he provides. I am so glad I took this course and I would highly recommend it even to an experienced photographer. Thank you John Greengo!

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