The complete beginner’s guide to the zoom lens


If you’re buying your first camera, congratulations! Welcome to the world of interchangeable lens cameras. You get zoom because it does something your phone can’t do as well. Zooms can be pretty awesome, but also keep in mind that they come with a ton of things you need to learn. So we’re going to cover some things that any beginner buying a zoom lens should know.

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This guide will attempt to cover almost everything there is to know about using and understanding a zoom. I go deep and deep to share information you need to know.

Benefits of a zoom lens

Let’s first look at some of the benefits of a zoom lens:

  • Best frame: You can compose a scene much more easily with different focal lengths compared to what you can do with a single lens on your phone. New photographers literally do this by zooming in or out.
  • Optical Zoom: Optical zoom gives you much better picture quality than your phone’s digital zoom.
  • Improved Focus Area Blur: This is one of the best reasons to buy a zoom.
  • You can capture more distant moments: Have you always wanted to participate in the baseball game you attend? Or have you ever seen a beautiful snowy owl and wanted a better picture of it? Well, a zoom lens helps you do that when you combine it with yourself moving around.
  • Candid moments are easy: Capture candid moments of family and friends without them even knowing you’re there. This way you capture the moment as you see it instead of influencing how it looks.
  • Very good ones are quite affordable: The quality of zoom lenses has increased over the years, and they have become very affordable because the quality has increased so much. Standard lenses that come as a kit with a camera can work just fine.

Disadvantages of a zoom lens

Let’s break down some of the downsides of your zoom lens so you know what you can and can’t do. For those of you reading at home who are more advanced, we’re focusing on really affordable variable aperture zooms:

  • Night photography is not so simple: Autofocus in low light and at night may suffer. The same goes for shutter speed. Shutter speeds are calculated in fractions of sections. The longer the duration, the more your camera and your hands may shake. You need to practice good grip techniques in this case.
  • In general, the image quality is not very good: Compared to a single prime lens, you won’t get as good image quality. Those out-of-focus, out-of-focus areas won’t look as creamy.
  • They can be big: one of the reasons people forget to use interchangeable lens cameras in the first place is their size.
  • They encourage you to take pictures recklessly: On the back of your camera, your photos could look really good. But once you put them on a screen or a phone, you’ll see that you’ve probably messed it up somehow. Always be careful. Years ago, that’s why photographers often forced people to use prime lenses instead of zooms.

Best practices for getting better photos with a zoom lens

Now that you have your new zoom lens, here are some best practices:

  • You should take a look at our free guide to essential photography terms.
  • At the wider end, your lens will let in more light. At the longer end (telephoto, zoom in) it will let in less light.
  • A camera’s pop-up flash can be fun to use. But it is not effective beyond 5 feet away.
  • Chances are your camera and lens aren’t weatherproof or waterproof. So be careful.
  • Always have the camera body covered. Think of lens removal much like open-heart surgery. Cover it whenever you can.
  • The zoom lens is connected to your camera. It’s not a mind reader and your camera will only do what you tell it to. That said, zoom lenses often have settings on them for things like image stabilization. Make sure they are enabled.

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