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Difference Between Zoom and Telephoto Lenses

Zoom vs Telephoto Lenses

When it comes to digital photography, it is the lens that determines how you focus on your subject. Instead of using prime (or fixed focal point) lenses, zoom and telephoto lenses were created to provide an easier time shooting. The main difference between zoom and telephoto lenses is the benefit they provide. Zoom lenses make it possible to vary focal lengths to focus on subjects of varying distances without needing to switch lenses. A telephoto lens is more compact than an ordinary lens while still retaining the same focal length.

A single zoom lens can take the place of several prime lenses thereby reducing the number of lenses that a photographer needs to carry around. It is not unusual for photographers nowadays to carry two or three lenses around and still cover the necessary ranges. It also negates the need to change lenses all the time which is not only time consuming but can also expose the sensor to dust and other contaminants.

On the other hand, a telephoto lens is a design wherein the actual length of the lens unit is shorter than the achieved focal length. The benefit of telephoto lenses is virtually lost in short focal length lenses (typically under 100mm) but is quite apparent in longer ones. Imagine a focal length of 500mm; while an ordinary lens would be over half a meter long, a telephoto lens could be half that length or even less.

Telephoto and zoom are not mutually exclusive of each other. This means that a lens can be a zoom lens, a telephoto lens, neither, or both. Zoom lenses currently come standard nowadays as they provide the best combination of flexibility to price. Telephoto and telephoto zoom lenses are very popular among sports and wildlife photographers as they are the ones who need extreme focal lengths. A non-telephoto lens that would suit them would be extremely long.

Choosing between lenses it is best to know what you intend to use it for. Zoom lenses are what most people would use while telephoto lenses are special, not to mention pricey, lenses that are intended for special purposes.


1.Zoom lenses reduce the number of lenses needed while telephoto lenses reduce the size of the lenses.
2.Zoom lenses have varying focal lengths while telephoto lenses don’t necessarily have to.
3.Telephoto lenses are shorter than their focal lengths but zoom lenses are not.
4.A camera lens can either be a zoom lens, telephoto lens, neither, or both.

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