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What are Telephoto and Macro Lenses?

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/30/2010

Here is a look at exactly what a telephoto and macro lens are, respectively.

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    Special Lens Size

    The majority of people are used to using simple, point-and-shoot digital cameras. These types of digital cameras are not designed to be used along with high scale lenses in the way that DSLR cameras are. There are a whole number of different lens types and sizes, with a whole range of focal lengths. Both the telephotos lens and macro lens are specialty digital photography lenses that are unique enough to not be considered part of the regular scale of lens sizes. Here is a look at exactly what telephoto lenses and macros lenses are.

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    Telephoto Lens

    The telephoto lens refers to a type of lens that is used to make something much larger than it would appear to the observer looking at it, which is to say that it magnifies the object. What determines something to be a telephoto lens is the size of the lens, which is to say its depth of field. For the 35mm standard any lens that goes from 70mm or up, especially those over a 100mm, will be considered a telephoto lens. This is why you can notice a telephoto lens easily because it appears very long. If you are in extreme need of this telephoto quality you may want to go all the way up to 180mm to 200mm, but also note how narrow the angle of view is going to be with this additional size. This will also change what you need when you are setting the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.

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    Macro Lens

    A macro lens works much differently than the telephoto lens in that it is used to focus close in a way that would make the subjects of the photo appear life size when it is on film or, in this case, digital prints. This is really used for small objects in a lot of cases, such as capturing minuscule insects and then creating large photos that will show them in wonderful detail even though they are appearing much larger than they actually are. You actually want to have a limited depth of field for macro photography, but you will still need a large image of the subject. Macro lenses also tend to be fairly difficult to get, and you are going to have to pay the price for them.

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    Pairing the Two

    The difference between telephoto lenses and macro lenses is interesting in that it holds much of the parallels that a lot of elements of digital photography do. Both of them are going to be used to amplify images, but the telephoto lens is for further away subjects and macro lenses go right up close. Telephoto lenses are used more commonly because they are perfect both for journalism and for surveillance, but the macro lens is much more specific and less common. There are some lenses that claim to be macro zoom lenses, but these really do not exist as macro lenses and will often give you a low quality image.