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How to Understand Lens Numbers

Thursday, October 30, 2014

what do the numbers mean on camera lens
When I decided to buy my first lens, I taught myself what all the different numbers on the lens meant. This is important to understand, so you're buying the lens that you want.

What does the mm mean?

what do the numbers mean on camera lens
The mm number on your camera lens represents the focal length, which is the distance between the front of the camera and the camera sensor. This number is how wide your photos are. The smaller the number the wider the photo. A wide angle lens typically is a number below 24. A larger number has a more zoomed in appearance.

What is the difference between one number and two numbers mm?

what do the numbers mean on camera lens
The number in front of the mm is either a single number (left lens is 50mm) or two numbers separated by a dash (right lens 10-20mm). A single number is a prime lens, which means that it doesn't zoom. If you want to get closer or farther away from your subject, you have to move your foot. The numbers with a dash is a zoom lens.

What does the ratio mean?

what do the numbers mean on camera lens
The ratio, which always starts with 1: is the widest or maximum aperture. Aperture is what gives you blurry backgrounds. To read more about this, check out my post about exposure.

What does the f mean?

what do the numbers mean on camera lens

When you buy a camera lens online, the aperture is shown by f and a number, instead of a ratio. Just like the ratio example above, the f describes the maximum aperture.

Read more photography tutorials here:

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3 Responses to “How to Understand Lens Numbers”

  1. Thanks, Rebecca. I pinned this so I can read all of your tutorials. I'm just starting to learn how to use my DSLR instead of of using it as a point and shoot. I'm looking forward to taking some time to read these tutorials more in depth :)

  2. I've been wanting to buy a new lens for our Canon! This post is so helpful. Now I'm going to go back and read your other photography posts!

  3. Your explanation makes all those numbers less intimidating.


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