What Is A Telephoto Lens?

What Is A Telephoto Lens?

Widely used among both professional and amateur photographers, telephoto lenses are incredibly popular and can help take your photos to a whole new level.

Telephoto lenses are used in landscape, portrait and sports photography and can enhance the precision of your images. A telephoto lens has a long reach, allowing you to magnify a subject that is several meters away.

Here’s what you should know about the benefits and disadvantages of using a camera equipped with a telephoto lens

Telephoto Lens Definition

A telephoto lens is generally defined as any focal length beyond 'normal'. Put simply, this is any focal length beyond around 50mm

Some people confuse telephoto lenses and zoom lenses, usually because most telephoto lenses are of the zoom variety. However, the two are not necessarily related and one can find telephoto lenses in both the Prime and Zoom configurations. You can read more about the differences between zoom and prime lenses here.

What Does A Telephoto Lens Do?

Essentially, a camera equipped with a telephoto lens allows you to capture far-away subjects or simply have a close object fill more of the frame.

Because of this, telephoto lenses are ideal for wildlife photographers or other individuals who cannot move close to their subjects because of physical constraints or safety concerns, likewise event and sports photographers also find them essential. However, these types of lenses also enhance the artistic appeal of a photograph by blurring the background behind your subject, making them very popular for portrait photographers as well.

This is known as 'subject isolation' - allowing the photographer to eliminate distractions and ensure that the viewers focus is on their chosen subject. Telephoto lenses excell at this, regardless of where they are applied

Most Commonly Used Telephoto Focal Lengths

Here are the most commonly used telephoto focal lengths:

  • 70–200mm lenses:

    These lenses are ideal for capturing portraiture and events. You can capture a sharp subject with a blurred background so the focus remains on the subject. They are often the 'fastest' (wide aperture) telephoto zoom lenses, making them popular for low light situations like events and indoor sports where a slower zoom lens, or less versatile prime lens, may not be ideal.
  • 100–400mm lenses:

    This lens type allows photographers to accurately capture subjects that are far away. While usually 'slower' this lens type is a popular choice for wildlife photographers shooting in bright outdoor situations.
  • 85mm prime lenses:

    These lenses are great for shooting portraits as they have a shallow depth of field. You can easily capture sharp subjects that appear crisp and concise. As a Prime Lens, they are generally some of the fastest lenses you can get, creating fantastic subject isolation under controlled conditions.
  • 135mm prime lenses:

    Similar to 85mm lenses, 135mm have a shallow depth of field that is ideal for shooting portraits, weddings and sporting events. They can be rather large and bulky however, making them less ideal for photographers on-the-go compared to an 85mm
  • Super telephoto prime lenses:

    These types of lenses typically start at around 600mm. While generally large, bulky and slow, they provide a field of view generally un-acheivable with any other lens and are popular for wildlife, deep sky astro and bird photography.

Why Use A Telephoto Lens?

Because a telephoto lens closes the distance between the photographer and the subject, it is perfect for capturing wildlife and sporting events.

Here are the benefits of using a camera equipped with a telephoto lens:

  • Photography subjects are magnified and appear closer to the camera.
  • Telephoto lenses help produced blurred backgrounds, providing excellet subject isolation
  • Telephoto lenses are ideal for creating flattering portraits, generally focal lengths below 50mm can create undesirable distortion which can be unflattering for human subjects. Between 70 - 135mm is often cited as the ideal focal range for flattering portraits.

Best Telephoto Lenses to Choose

There are countless telephoto lenses on the market to choose from. With so many options, how do you know which one to choose? Here are three of the best-selling telephoto lenses available from C.R Kennedy:


Pentax D FA 70-200mm f/2.8 ED Lens

Weather sealed and optically precise, the Pentax D FA 70-200mm f/2.8 ED Lens is one of the best lenses on the market. The Pentax has a bayonet hood and a long petal configuration that snaps easily into position and helps elminate flare without darkening the edges of your image. The hood also comes with a removable section that allows you to enable the filters without removing the lens.

Each lens comes with a clutch mechanism that allows you to manually focus the adjustments. The lens also comes with various modes of operation, including the ability to limit your focus within a selected range, greatly improving the speed and accuracy of the autofocus.


Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary Lens

Another quality lens is the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Contemporary Lens. It’s sturdy and durable but has a lightweight construction that allows for flexibility. Designed for mirrorless cameras, it seeks to strike a balance between weight, size and optical performance. The lens also comes with an optional tripod mounting ring, allowing for maximum stability while photographing subjects.

The lens also features excellent optical stabilisation for when you need to go handheld.


Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 Lens

The Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 Lens is very light and compact prime lens, allowing for flexibility without making a compromise on image quality

While many 135mm lenses feature faster apertures, this is often at the expense of size and weight, making this lens ideal for those looking for excellent portraits without sacrificing portability.

If you are ready to purchase a high-quality telephoto lens that is both affordable and functional, look no further than C.R. Kennedy.

C.R. Kennedy is one of Australia’s leading distributors of cameras and photographic equipment. We offer a wide range of Lenses along with Mirrorless, Full Frame, and Action Cameras.

If you need more information on macro lenses and camera lenses in general, check out more articles on the C.R. Kennedy blog.