What Is a Telephoto Lens? 

What Is a Telephoto Lens featured photo

Do you ever wonder how wildlife photographers capture animals up close? They do not physically come near the wild species. Instead, they use a type of lens called a telephoto. 

A telephoto lens has a long focal length of 70mm and greater. It lets you capture far-away subjects and make them appear closer to the camera. It is suitable for wildlife and sports photography.

However, telephoto lenses have other uses, which we will show you later. This article also covers these lenses in more detail. Below, you will learn about the definition, types, and tips on using a telephoto lens.

What Is a Telephoto Lens?

a telephoto lens

Also known as a tele or long lens, a telephoto lens has a focal length of 70mm or longer. It offers a narrow field of view and a high magnification rate. It lets you zoom in on distant subjects to make them appear closer to the camera. It is ideal when you cannot get near the object due to physical constraints or safety concerns.

A telephoto lens features a special internal construction. It helps elongate the light path without affecting the physical length of the lens itself. It lets you enjoy a smaller and lighter lens while still enabling you to capture far-away subjects.

What Are the Different Types of Telephoto Lenses?

A telephoto is a type of camera lens. It is further divided into three kinds, each with varying focal lengths.

Short Telephoto Lenses

A short telephoto lens offers a focal range between 70 to 135mm. It creates a shallow depth of field and a stunning bokeh effect in the background. It is ideal for portrait photography because it isolates the subject and makes them stand out in the frame. Other uses of short telephoto lenses include wedding and sports photography.

Medium Telephoto Lenses

This type of telephoto lens has a 135mm to 300mm focal lengths. It lets you take pictures of distant subjects and make them appear larger in the frame. It is suitable for capturing action, astronomy, sports, and wildlife.

Super Telephoto Lenses

A super-telephoto lens features a staggering 600mm focal length and greater. This lens type can bring very distant subjects close. It is also characterized by its shallow depth of field. 

Super telephoto lenses are popular among bird and wildlife photographers as they can magnify far-away subjects.

What Are the Uses Of Telephoto Lenses?

What Are the Uses Of Telephoto Lenses

Telephoto lenses have a longer focal length than standard and wide-angle lenses. These make them suitable for several applications.

First, telephoto lenses can take pictures of various wild animals from a safe distance. They are a popular lens choice for wildlife photographers because they deliver sharp photos without disturbing the creatures.

Telephoto lenses are also suited for action and sports photography, especially football or basketball. They capture athletes in the middle of the action from a distance. 

A telephoto lens even produces a stunning bokeh effect, unlike a wide-angle lens with a deep depth of field. It can isolate the subject and make it stand out in the image. Hence, this lens type is also ideal for portraits.

Finally, telephoto lenses magnify distant subjects, so they are also common in astrophotography. They let you capture the moon, stars, and other celestial bodies.

How Does a Telephoto Lens Affect Aperture?

Telephoto lenses affect the aperture or the amount of light entering the sensor. As such, they also influence the exposure of an image.

Most telephoto lenses have a narrower maximum aperture than wide-angle lenses. That is because longer focal lengths result in larger glass elements. These can impact the aperture, which controls lighting and the depth of field.

Some camera brands also produce tele lenses with a small maximum aperture to minimize production costs.

However, a narrow maximum aperture can lead to several problems. First, photographers must use a slower shutter speed or higher ISO setting to achieve the desired exposure. These camera settings are usually out of the question if you want to capture sharp images. Shooting with a small aperture can also increase the chances of a camera shake. You likely need a tripod to stabilize the camera. 

Telephoto zoom lenses also have a variable aperture. That means the focal length of the lens can impact the maximum aperture. So when using long focal lengths, the maximum aperture decreases. You must adjust the shutter speed and ISO to ensure proper exposure.

How To Buy a Telephoto Lens?

It can be overwhelming to buy a telephoto lens, especially with countless choices on the market.

Below, we will share some tips on how to buy the best telephoto lens for your needs.

Choose Between Prime and Zoom Telephoto Lenses

Telephoto lenses come in prime and zoom versions. The former has a fixed focal length, while the latter offers a variable focal range.

Choosing between two types of telephoto lenses will depend on your needs.

If you want to achieve better image quality, go for a prime telephoto lens. This usually offers a larger maximum aperture, allowing more light into the sensor. A prime lens is also lighter and more compact, ideal for traveling. 

Those who prioritize versatility can invest in zoom lenses instead. These lenses have various focal lengths to suit different photography needs. However, a telephoto zoom lens tends to have a narrower maximum aperture and heavier build than primes.

Select The Appropriate Focal Length

After choosing between prime and zoom lenses, the next thing to consider is the focal length. 

Telephotos offer various focal ranges that affect the field of view and magnification rate. It ultimately depends on you and the type of photos you shoot to select the appropriate focal length.

If you often shoot portraits and weddings, a short telephoto lens (70-135mm) will suit you best. This lens type can offer a stunning bokeh blur effect to make the subject stand out in the frame.

Those who are into action, sports, and wildlife photography must get a medium telephoto lens. It has a 135mm to 300mm focal range that makes the subject appear closer in the photo.

But if you want to take photos of very distant subjects like birds and wildlife, invest in super or long telephoto lenses. These telephoto lenses compress far-away subjects due to their 300mm and greater focal lengths.

Look for Image Stabilization

You might also want to consider telephoto lenses with built-in image stabilization. This feature can minimize camera shake and vibrations common in tele lenses. As such, it can help you achieve sharper photos.

Consider the Lens Weight

Weight is often overlooked when buying a lens. However, choosing a lightweight design can help save your back, especially when you already own a heavy DSLR camera.

Telephoto lenses are notorious for having a heavy and bulky lens body. Fortunately, some models are lighter than others, so you can still use them for traveling. 

Set a Budget

Telephoto lenses come in various price points, from beginner-friendly to professional-level costs. It is best to set your budget when buying a telephoto lens to avoid spending more than you can.

Consider your needs and the type of photography you do. For instance, you might not necessarily need image stabilization when shooting portraits indoors. This feature is only important when capturing fast-moving subjects and having a tripod is a liability.

How to Use a Telephoto Lens? 4 Tips to Know

Using a telephoto lens is relatively straightforward. However, as a beginner, it is easy to make mistakes.

Below, we will share some tips on using a telephoto lens to capture great pictures.

Compress the Frame

Telephoto lenses make the subject appear flat and closer to the foreground. They can ruin the image when you are not careful. However, the distortion in this perspective can also enhance your photos.

For instance, you can place the moon strategically in the frame and make them look larger in landscape photos. Or you can also maintain its small proportion in traditional astrophotographs.

Isolate the Subject

If you want the subject to stand out in the frame, use a telephoto lens with a large maximum aperture. This camera setting can introduce a bokeh blur effect to your photos and isolate the subject.

You might also want to choose short to medium telephoto lenses to prevent distorted faces. These types of lenses are ideal for tight half-body shots or head portraits.

Minimize Camera Shake

Minimize Camera Shake

It is best to mount the camera on a tripod when using a telephoto lens. The reason is that this lens type can exaggerate camera shakes and vibrations. Just one movement can lead to blur.

But if a tripod will hinder you from shooting stunning photos, consider investing in a lens with built-in image stabilization. This feature can significantly reduce camera shake as long as you are not moving a lot. 

Pan to Achieve Motion Blur

Motion blur is not always unpleasant. In fact, some photographers use this effect to achieve creative shots of various subjects. 

You can also use your telephoto lens to get creative motion blur. Set the shutter speed to 1/30s or slower. Then, pan or move the camera parallel to the action. Ensure the subject is visible in the frame to capture the action.


Wildlife photographers often use a heavy and bulky lens called a telephoto to capture distant animals.

A telephoto lens has a long focal length of 70mm and greater. It offers a narrower field of view and a greater magnification ratio than a wide-angle lens. As such, this lens type can make far-away subjects appear closer and larger than they actually are in real life. It also has other benefits and applications, as previously mentioned.

Do you have other questions about a telephoto lens? Visit our contact page to send your queries!