Prime lens

A lens with a fixed focal length, as opposed to a zoom lens. Prime lenses are more restrictive, but they tend to produce better optical quality with fewer aberrations and offer a wider maximum aperture. They also tend to be lighter and smaller, and many photographers find that having to change position to get the best framing leads to better pictures.

Zoom lens

A lens which can be adjusted to give a range of different focal lengths. Most lenses in use today are zooms because they’re so much more versatile than fixed focal length (prime) lenses – you can adjust the framing without having to change the camera position. The disadvantages of zoom lenses are increased distortion and other aberrations, reduced maximum aperture and greater cost and weight.


A lens which gives a magnified view of the scene. The magnification is proportional to the focal length of the lens, so a 100mm telephoto gives 2x the magnification of a 50mm standard lens.


A special magnifier lens that fits between a telephoto lens and the camera body to increase its focal length. Teleconverters are often matched to specific lenses to ensure optical quality and performance. They typically come in 1.4x, 1.7x and 2x magnifications.

Super-wideangle lens

A lens with a much wider angle of view than your camera’s kit lens. In 35mm camera terms, a super-wideangle lens is one with a focal length of around 20mm or less. Super-wideangle lenses are quite expensive and characterised by large, bulbous front lens elements.

Pancake lens

A fixed focal length (‘prime’) lens designed to be as slim as possible so that the camera/lens combination is lighter, more compact and more unobtrusive. Their only real concession compared to a regular prime lens is maximum aperture – typically f/2.8 for a pancake lens.

Optical zoom

A zoom function produced by changing the magnification of the lens rather than by simply blowing up a central part of the image (digital zoom). Makers will always specify optical zoom and digital zoom separately in their specifications.

Mount adaptor

An adaptor which lets you mount a lens designed for one camera or brand on a different make or type of camera. For example, you can get adaptors for fitting DSLR lenses on some mirrorless cameras. Mount adaptors are used widely in videography.

Maximum aperture

The maximum light-gathering power of a lens and a major selling point.It lets you use faster shutter speeds or lower ISO settings in poor light.This lens has a maximum aperture of 1:2.8. This is the same as f/2.8 – different makers use slightly different terminology.