Video Production Tips

What is a telephoto lens?

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Want to take amazing shots of sports, far-away scenery or wildlife? You're going to want a telephoto lens. What exactly is a telephoto lens? Keep reading to learn why you should consider buying a telephoto lens and different ways to make use of it to improve your photography and videography skills as a beginner.

Photographer using telephoto lens in morning light image sourced from Shutterstock

What is a telephoto lens? 

A telephoto lens magnifies distant objects in a manner that seems natural almost as if you are only a few feet away. In technical terms, a telephoto lens will typically have a focal length of over 60mm. The usual range on a telephoto lens is 70-200mm but you can find some telephoto lenses that are much higher. Not sure what different focal lengths mean? Read our ultimate guide to focal length.

These lenses are particularly useful for photos of wildlife or sports. With a good telephoto lens, you can see things you never would have been able to before. The whiskers on that lion's face and the beat of a hummingbird's wings are all revealed without needing to be up close and personal in the danger zone. Even detailed human expression on a playing field is crystal clear. 

Telephoto lenses are large and bulky, and you probably associate with professional photographers only.

When to use a telephoto lens

The uses of a telephoto lens are pretty niche. The general use case of a telephoto lens is to capture scenes from a distance. While more commonly used for active scenes, some are designed with portrait-style photography in mind too.

How to use a telephoto lens

Using a telephoto lens is not very different than using any other lens. Keep in mind that as telephoto lenses are magnifying things far away, human error or shaky hands, can really impact the results. 

Additionally, it's important to be aware of the depth of field you choose. Higher focal lengths will give more dramatic effects.

In contrast, a lower focal length can create a more true-to-life image or video, with a balance between the foreground and background. 

Let's now answer some common questions about the uses and types of telephoto lenses.

Young photographer taking photos using telephoto lens

What is a 2x telephoto lens used for? 

A 2x telephoto lens is something that will magnify your target object by two. Often these lenses are treated as an auxiliary or detachable addition to a current lens.

Even if you already have a standard telephoto lens, you can attach a 2x and turn it into a super telephoto lens. This means the 200mm focal length will function as 400mm focal length, perhaps saving you money and space on an extra lens. They're not known to work very well with DSLR cameras, though. 

Telephoto lens vs zoom lens—what's best for you?

While they might sound like the same thing to most people, there are a few key differences between telephoto and zoom lenses.

A zoom lens is not stationary. You can adjust the level of zoom without needing to be physically closer to the thing you're shooting on your camera. 

Telephoto lenses are stationary and more specialized. You should make sure you know it lines up with the things you love to shoot before purchasing.

The zoom lens can be more versatile and offer a wider view if you like that style. The best way to capture things in the distance is definitely using a telephoto lens—it simply can't be beaten. You should consider these things before buying a telephoto lens for yourself.

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How to use the Telephoto lens on iPhone?

Newer iPhones have a "telephoto lens" which does magnify the regular lens by two while maintaining similar quality. Of course, it's not going to offer the crazy wildlife shots you'd be able to achieve on a "real" telephoto lens attached to a camera but it does offer a whole new level of functionality. 

You can also find iPhone attachment lenses from several companies. This can take your handheld device to the next level without adding bulk or a separate camera bag.

There are a few telephoto iPhone lens attachments out there, which can be much more economical for a hobbyist. 

Video ideas using a Telephoto lens

Changing perspective using Telephoto lenses

Let's start with some advice from a famous cinematographer. In this video, you can see how easily lenses can change your perspective. The difference between wide-angle, telephoto, and normal lenses can change the exact scene. 

In the movie The Graduate, the telephoto lens was used as a stylistic choice o give a sense of real distance. As the car approaches, it takes a longer time than it would if the camera was closer. You can check out the movie scene.

What else should you know? 

With the question "what is a telephoto lens" answered, go forth and capture those live-action scenes with ease. There are many different types of lenses out there to explore.

You want to make sure you have the best editing software out there and you don't want to spend more than you need to. Be sure to check out our free video editor and other services at Clipchamp! 

Turn your telephoto content into videos

Now that you know what a telephoto lens can achieve, why not brush up on more camera related terms like aperture, focal length, and more in Clipchamp's Video Glossary?

If you're ready to turn your telephoto images into videos, Clipchamp’s online video editor can help with our easy drag-and-drop style video editor that lets anyone make a video for free in minutes.

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