Zoom Lens

Zoom Lens Explained

Last Updated on October 28, 2020 | In Photography Equipment by Stefano Caioni Leave a Comment

Zoom lens, this versatile tool is extremely important for photographers since it allows us to shoot at different focal lengths and angles without changing the lens.

It’s important to know the features of a zoom lens and its pros and cons over prime lenses to make a more informed decision when buying new glass for your camera. Zoom lenses are the favorite choice of many professional photographers for their versatility. Hi-end zoom lenses have reached a level of quality that often outdoes prime lenses.

Zoom Lens

If you’ve read already our article Best camera for beginners you will find this explanation of why a zoom lens is important very interesting.

Why is a Zoom Lens Important?

A zoom lens is key for photographers as it gives photographers multiple options of focal lengths. For this reason, today, zoom lenses are more and more an alternative to prime lenses.

By simply rotating the zoom ring on your lens, you can achieve a different angle of view and zoom in and out to get your subject look closer or farther away.

Zoom Lens used for photographing bear

In comparison, prime lenses are more limited, as they only offer one focal length for shooting. What this means is that re-framing a scene is a bit more complicated with a prime lens since you have to move closer or farther away to an object to zoom in or out.

Every zoom lens has its own unique features and benefits. There are many factors to consider when selecting the perfect zoom lens, including price, specifications, size constraints, and of course, the focal length range.

In fact different photography types require a different focal length range as we’re going to see shortly.

When to Use a Zoom Lens?

In order to know when to use a zoom lens over a prime lens, first, you must understand the benefits/disadvantages and main features.

Zoom Lens

Zoom Lens Advantages

Often, beginner photographers are prone to think that prime lenses are better since they are sharper and produce better images. Sure we can talk in a later article about why prime lenses in certain situations, but with a good zoom lens you can seriously work in a lot of different scenarios.


As I said, they give you the flexibility to change angles quickly without changing the lens. You can switch from a wide-angle frame to a telephoto zoom by simply rotating the zoom. Basically going from landscape to wildlife shooting without changing lens and risking to lose the moment.


Easy to Transport

This enables you to carry fewer tools with you since a good zoom lens can replace a couple of primes or even more. They are easier to transport and allow you to keep your camera sensor cleaner because you won’t keep swapping lens constantly.

Different Photography Styles

Zoom lenses are perfect for photojournalism, wildlife, action, portrait photography, and even landscape photography.

Zoom Lens Disadvantages

However, there are some disadvantages when using this type of lens as well.


For example, some cheap zoom lenses may not be as sharp and defined as prime lenses. They may be slower and allow less light in the camera. The lens aperture is more narrow, therefore not allowing as much light to pass into the camera means limited capabilities in low light situations.

The only way to rectify this is to set the shutter speed lower and in certain cases use a tripod. Alternatively, you can solve this issue buying a much more expensive lens.

Weight and Size

heavy Zoom Lens

Even though they allow you to carry fewer items in your backpack, zoom lenses tend to be much heavier and bigger than prime lenses.


A modern zoom lens can be considerably more expensive than their prime “rivals”. Depending on the level of sharpness and optical quality you’re looking for, get ready to pay a fortune for certain types of telephoto zoom. But I guarantee you when it comes to quality you get what you pay for your zoom lens.

Zoom Lens Characteristics

55-200mm Nikkor lens

Constant Aperture vs. Variable Aperture

Lens can be checked for constant or variable aperture by locating its marking. The camera will allow less light in, the more you zoom. The markings and numbers let you know that the lens can be kept at a certain aperture. It is important to check these numbers and markings.

Focal Length

Focal length is a very important term used all the time in photography. You must first understand exactly what focal length means in order to create the best shots possible. Focal length chooses the angle of view. In simpler terms, this mean how much of the scene you are able to capture. Focal lengths are measured in millimeters. The range of focal lengths can be anything from 8mm to 300mm. These measurements pertain to the distance between the lens centre and sensor.

bear in wildlife

Multiple focal lengths can be covered within the same lens. Examples of zoom lens are wide-angle or telephoto. The focal length determines the type of lens, such as wide-angle, standard or telephoto.

Optical Stabilizer

An optical stabilizer is a type of floating lens that balances camera movement when the image is being taken. Optimal stabilizer lens all have the letters “OS” in their name to identify what they are. Optical stabilizers are used as invisible tripods. Optical stabilizers keep hand-held shots defined and sharp at slow shutter speeds.

Zoom Lens and Macro

Macro capture mode is offered on many of these lenses. Macro capture mode is used at the longest focal length. The magnification ratios are between 1/3 and 1/2 actual size. When a Sigma lens has “Macro” included in the name, the maximum ratio is 1/3 & up. Motion is increased with focusing distances. For example, when capturing an butterfly on a flower, any slight motions can cause you to loose focus of the butterfly. Using macro capture mode takes practice, and patience.

Zoom Lens

What Zoom Lens Should You Buy?

The answer to this questions varies depending upon the type of photographer you are and what you plan to use the lens for. A single zoom lens covers everything from wide angle to telephoto, which is versatile and convenient from Sigma. When looking for perfect telephoto performance, the Sigma is a great option. Sigma has a lens that is perfect for every type of photographer and their budget.

Read more about the importance of a zoom lens here.

In Conclusion

A good zoom lens is a fundamental tool in a photographer’s backpack. As you’ve seen there are different zoom lenses for different uses and what’s important is that you understand what type of photography you need to take and the features and limitation of the lens you use.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as “Zoom lenses are better”, to me it’s a matter of what tools you need as a photographer in that particular context.

It’s your turn now, what type of zoom lens are you using or will you start using? Do you prefer wide-angle zoom lenses or telephoto zoom?

Let us know in the comments below.

And don’t forget to share this article with your friends right now!

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