Camera Lenses Explained | DSLR for Beginners

Camera Lenses Explained | DSLR for Beginners

DSLR cameras are incredible for a variety of reasons.

But one of the most sought after features with these camera bodies is the ability to change its lens whenever you want.

Check out the video below to get a deeper understanding of how camera lenses work, and which one might be best for your DSLR camera.

Keep reading below to get a deeper understanding of camera lenses.


You see, the lens on your camera is what really makes all the magic happens. And once you know how to control your lens, you can really start to make incredible videos.

But before we go into the different types of lenses, let me explain something that’s built into EVERY camera lens…

and that’s called Aperture.

What the Hell is “Aperture”?!

Aperture is controlled by the opening and closing of multiple blades inside of a ring in your lens. Each step, up or down, is what’s known as an F Stop and is represented by the F-Stop number on your camera lens.

f stop expalined on dslr cameras

We’ll go into more detail about aperture in another post.

For now just remember that the HIGHER a lens’ aperture number is (which again, is represented by a number with the letter F in front of it), the LESS that lens will be able to see in low light conditions.

And the The LOWER the aperture number is, the MORE that lens can see in low light conditions.

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Understanding Aperture

Now, when you’re purchasing a lens, the F-number on the box is telling you the LOWEST possible aperture that you can achieve using that glass.

camera lenses explained understanding aperture on the lens box

So as you can imagine, the lower the number, the better it can see in the dark (and the more expensive the lens is going to be).

Depending on what you plan on shooting will determine which lenses you might want to invest in.

NOW! Let’s talk a little bit about the different types of lenses and what kind of results you get from them…

Kit Zoom Lens

The lens that usually comes with a DSLR camera right out of the box is called a zoom lens.

So, for this particular example, let’s pretend that you bought a DSLR and in the box you found an 18 mm to 70 mm zoom lens.

camera lenses explained

Now, what exactly do those numbers mean? “18 to 70” defines the lenses power of magnification.

So, basically how FAR it can magnify something as you zoom into it. And the numbers themselves are measured in millimeters.

What this zoom does is allows you to adjust your frame, so you can take control of what is and is NOT in your shot.

So for Instance:

If you’re trying to shoot an interview in a public place and you really only want to frame the interviewee, you’d typically zoom closer INTO them. This will eliminate any other distractions in your shot.

As a side note, zooming into a subject is usually used to add more emotion into the frame.

The tighter the frame feels on your subject, the more intense every facial expression, movement, and word seems when they do something.

Make sure to keep that in mind when you’re trying to convey any emotional moment in your videos.

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Focal Length Explained:

You’ve probably heard people before saying, “Oh yeah, I totally shot that on a 24 mm”.

That number is referring to the POWER of the zoom on that particular lens.

And the technical term for that “power” is actually referred to as your FOCAL LENGTH.

On most all camera lenses, you adjust the zoom by turning the ring on the top.

You’ll also see numbers next to and ON the ring which tells you what focal length you’re working with.

camera lenses explained showcasing focal length and zoom ring

Focal Ring

The other ring that you’ll find on ALL lenses is called the FOCAL RING.

This ring allows you to adjust the focus of your lens so that you can manually make your background blurry and really showcase the subject or item that you’re trying to convey in your shot.

The biggest benefit for most videographers using DSLR cameras is that using different lenses and being able to use this type of “focal blur” trick.

The “Focal blur trick” is what gives your videos that “cinematic hollywood” effect that used to cost upwards of $40,000 to produce!

But as you now know… that’s not true anymore.

DSLR cameras can make almost EVERYTHING look absolutely amazing. (they don’t always SOUND amazing, but there’s an easy fix for that too.

depth of field blur trick with camera lenses expalined

Prime Lenses

A prime lens (also called a fixed lens) gives you the very best in optical quality.   great example of a prime lens shot

They’re absolutely amazing.

The ONLY problem with these lenses is that they don’t have the capability to zoom in and out.

pros and cons of prime lenses

So instead, if you want to zoom into something or get a close up on your subject, you have to PHYSICALLY move your camera and tripod.

This might sound like a serious pain in the ass, but in reality, these lenses produce the BEST quality, hands down.

In fact, with the exception of a few live event productions, I typically ALWAYS shoot with prime lenses.

Prime Lens Pricing $$$

And yes, because they’re so amazing, that also means they’re a little more expensive than your typical kit zoom lens.



My biggest tip to you when starting out and choosing a lens, is to stick with your kit zoom lens FIRST.

Learn what kind of shots you’ll be producing by looking at the millimeter gauge on your lens.

lens purchasing pro tip camera lenses explained

THEN, if you’re actually ready to try out a prime lens, try googling a local camera lens rental shop.

They are usually super cheap if rent them by the week or on a weekend.

(BONUS PRO is my preferred vendor to rent lenses and DSLR cameras. Use this link to get a discount on your order!)

borrow lenses promo camera lenses explained

Wide Angle Lens

A wide-angle lens refers to a lens whose focal length is substantially smaller than the focal length of a normal lens for a given film plane.

wide angle lens benefits explained

This type of lens allows more of the scene to be included in the photograph, which is useful in:

  • Architectural
  • Interior
  • Landscape photography (where the photographer may not be able to move farther from the scene to photograph)

wide angle vs prime lens focal lengths

A wide-angle lens contains a large piece of glass, which makes the focal length much smaller than a normal lens.

This allows it to somewhat squeeze more information into the frame and output a “wide” style photo.

You can use these types of lenses to shoot wide architectural, interior and beautiful landscape structures in your videos, which can be used as “establishing shots”.

wide angle usage tips

Wait… What’s an establishing shot?

Well, in general film practice, it’s the first shot of a scene that tells your audience where everything is about to take place.
(We’ll go over some more of these detailed filming techniques in a later post.)

Macro Lenses

The last type of lens that I want to cover is the macro lens.

This type of lens is usually used for shooting extreme closeups.

And by that, I mean it focuses incredibly close to whatever it is you want to film.

macro lenses explained in visual

This type of lens can take a shot of ants, legos, or even a shot of something seemingly bland (like the leaves on a tree) and really make the subject POP in the frame.

That’s what it’s built for.

And if used properly, it can add a sense of giganticism to anything that you’re filming.

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 4.13.33 PM

So, if you’ve always wanted to shoot a film starring your teacup yorkie or that brand new litter of kittens that you just acquired… You’d do it using a macro lens.

Alright! Camera Lenses explained!

That wasn’t so bad… was it?

Please feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments below.

In our next post, we’ll be talking about aperture, iso, shutter speed, and all that other camera jargon that you HAVE TO KNOW to make great video.

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PS: Wanna learn EVERYTHING there is about DSLR Video?
Check out my exclusive “Video Marketing 101” course and start monetizing your video productions.

Take Video Marketing 101


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