Camera Lens Series: Short telephoto lenses
A medium, or short telephoto lens is a lens with a focal length of around 85mm to 130mm on a full-frame camera. On an APS-C camera a 50mm lens, or the 55mm end of a kit lens, is also effectively a short telephoto lens.
You can buy a prime short telephoto lens or a zoom that includes these focal lengths. If you’re on a tight budget and have a crop-sensor camera, a 50mm prime lens is an inexpensive and useful short telephoto lens.
A bonus of short telephoto lenses is that you tend to get better image quality out of them than wide-angle lenses. They suffer less from lens aberrations such as chromatic aberrations, vignetting and poor edge sharpness.
I like short telephoto lenses for their versatility. There are two types of subject that I enjoy shooting with them:
Focal lengths of 85mm plus on a full-frame camera (50mm plus on an APS-C camera, or 40mm plus on a Micro four-thirds camera) are idea for taking portraits. These longer focal lengths are flattering and if you have a prime lens you can play around with the narrow depth-of-field that the wide aperture settings give you.
Short telephotos are versatile lenses for photographing people – you can get up close and take a full-frame portrait or move back and include the entire figure. Both the photos above were taken with an 85mm lens.
Close-up and detail work
I like to get up close and photograph details that capture the spirit of a place. The photo above, taken in a street antiques market in Shangai, is a good example.
This type of subject can help develop your eye for composition – I try and keep the composition as simple as I can when shooting details.
If you have a prime lens, the wide maximum aperture lets you shoot this sort of subject in some amazingly low light, especially if you don’t mind using high ISOs.