Ep 151: Snapshot: Everything you need to know about working with telephoto and zoom lenses

A telephoto or zoom lens is an important addition to any photographer’s toolkit. But are you using your lens in the most effective way? When should you – or shouldn’t you – whip out this big boy (or girl)? It’s not just when you want a tighter shot.

In this episode, Gina and Valerie discuss the ideal way to use your telephoto or zoom lenses, the ideal instances when you should call on their skills and much more.

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Show notes

I’m a big fan of long lenses and in the last 10 years or so the zoom lens has been my go to lens

Many purists believe you are not a real photographer if you shoot long or use zoom. I disagree.

PROS of long lenses

  • Narrow angle of view means you can make any location look amazing
  • Images shoot long feel more intimate
  • Long lens gets you close to the action without having to be on top of people or in their personal space
  • Compression: make stuff that is far away appear closer eg long lens makes moon or sun appear huge in the sky
  • Lens compression can be used to advantage when photographing people that are different heights of widths
    many shots would be impossible without a long lens eg sport, movie stills, weddings, theatre
  • Compresses backgrounds and makes everything feel a lot closer
  • Great for throwing the background out of focus.
  • In portraits this compression can be flattering (nose appears flatter)
  • Long lens is best for larger groups
  • It also gives the face a fuller look

Cons of zoom and telephoto lenses

  • Heavy
  • Not great for tight spaces
  • Conspicuous
  • Dust gets on sensor from zoom action
  • More expensive
  • Camera shake
  • Not as sharp
  • Tricky to work with

Prime telephoto lenses

  • Sharper
  • Faster
  • Cheaper
  • Lighter


Zooms easier and faster to work with

Optical zoom: The lense will magnify an image in the distance  Eg. If I photograph a boat on a river I can use optical zoom to zoom in on or “reach” the boat

Digital zoom: Camera zooms into the image in post production and enlarges it.

If I photograph the same boat using digital zoom the camera takes the shot at a shorter focal length and then zooms in and enlarges the shot.

Image by Gina Milicia
Image by Gina Milicia
Image by Gina Milicia
Image by Gina Milicia
Image by Gina Milicia
A 200mm lens will only show a narrow section (12 degrees) compared to 84 degrees when working with a wide lens.


A longer lens is more flattering on the face


Use a tripod

How to avoid camera shake when you can’t use a tripod

  • Ideal is to shoot at a shutter speed that is double the focal length of your long lens
  • bare minimum is to match shutter speed to focal length
  • 100mm focal length shoot at 1/200th sec
  • 200mm focal length shoot at 1/400th sec

Zoom go with the longest measurement eg 70-200

Shoot at 1/400th sec


Image Stabilization

Is clever technology built into the camera to move camera lens or make micro adjustments to compensate for camera movement or camera shake

A lens with IS inbuilt means you can hand hold at slower shutter speeds than one without.

Different camera manufactures have different names for Image Stabilization

Canon – Image Stabilization (IS)
Nikon – Vibration Reduction (VR)
Tamron – Vibration Control (VC)
Sigma – Optical Stabilization (OS)
Fuji Panasonic and Samsung – Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)

Turn Off Lens IS or Image Stabilization / VR Vibration Reduction when shooting off a tripod

Use the right IS mode

Mode 1 is usually for general photography.
Mode 2 is for panning or following a moving subject


The Sweet spot
Avoid shooting at the extremes of the lens ( wide open or stopped down) or full zoom



Practice using zoom in a park and try photographing birds in flight or dogs running or your kids

Start slightly wider to get a feel for where the action is then zoom in closer



A teleconverter (or tele extender) is a lens that is mounted between camera and lens to extend the reach of your lens

When your telephoto lens isn’t quite long enough, the Extender EF 2X III Teleconverter from Yongnuo can help you double its reach. Designed to work with select Canon EF mount lenses, this teleconverter provides a 2x magnification factor that effectively doubles the focal length of your lenses. This takes a 400mm f/2.8 and transforms it into an 800mm f/5.6. Featuring electronic communication from the lens to the camera, this teleconverter allows for all standard functions of the lens to work as normal, including autofocus and image stabilization.

– not as sharp
– slower AF
– Lose 2 stops F2.8 become f 5.6


Prime (fixed focal length) will be cheaper than zoom
Look for Image stabilization
The faster the lens the more expensive and heavier it will be
Get as fast a lens as you can afford
Consider 2nd hand
Try teleconverter
Cheaper lenses not as sharp
Hire long lens for special shoots



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