Telephoto Lens vs. Zoom Lens – What is the Difference?

Telephoto Lens vs Zoom LensTelephoto Lens vs Zoom Lens

Telephoto Lens vs. Zoom Lens

Photography remains one of the most popular hobbies and professions worldwide. Thanks to incredible advances in technology, photography has become incredibly exciting and versatile.

Photography equipment has also become immensely varied. Out of the different types of photography equipment, the lens is one of the most important factors that can determine the quality and impact of any picture.

If you wish to learn more about zoom lenses and telephoto lenses, including the difference between telephoto lenses and zoom lenses, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will compare the specific uses of the telephoto lens and zoom lens.

What is a Telephoto Lens?

The telephoto lens is identified by its longer focal length. This is a single-focus lens but provides a focal length much longer than its physical length.

You can attach a telephoto lens to a DSLR or SLR camera and even on certain smartphones. Read more about the definition and use cases of a telephoto lens.

What is Zoom Lens?

A zoom lens offers varying focal lengths and is easily attachable to DLSR or SLR cameras.

Zoom lenses are adjusted manually so you can create focused images from varying distances. You can choose to click a picture using a close-up or choose to click a sharply focused photograph of an object at a considerable distance from the camera.

Zoom lenses are significantly different than Prime Lens, as Prime lenses offer only a specific focal length that cannot be adjusted manually or automatically.

What are the different types of Telephoto lenses?

Telephoto lenses can range from medium (between 70mm and 200mm) to super-telephoto lenses (over 300mm).

These lenses can provide subtle to the drastic changes to the camera’s field of view. The different types of telephoto lenses are ideal for full-frame photography using a wide range of f-stop numbers and varying shutter speeds.

Some of the most popular types of telephoto lenses include:

  • 70mm – 200mm Telephoto Lens – This telephoto lens is a medium-range lens and provides a focal length between 70 and 200 mm. These telephoto lenses are excellent for portrait photography and long-distance shots, such as at events and weddings.
  • 100mm – 400mm Telephoto Lens – These can provide extensive focal length, as compared to 70-200mm telephoto lenses. These lenses are ideal for wildlife and sports photography thanks to their incredible clarity at a higher zoom rate.
  • 85mm Prime Lens – These types of telephoto lenses have a shallow depth of field and are excellent for portrait photography that includes sharp subjects and blurred backgrounds. Your smartphone’s “Portrait Mode” usually mimics photographs clicked using an 85mm prime telephoto lens.
  • 135mm Prime Lens – This telephoto lens type offers a shallow depth of field, similar to an 85mm prime lens, but at a greater distance. These lenses are excellent for portrait, wedding and event photography.
  • Super Telephoto Prime Lens – This lens usually starts with a focal length of 600mm. These lenses are the best solution for capturing stunning wildlife photographs from long distances. These types of telephoto lenses have a remarkably shallow depth of field.

What are the different types of Zoom Lens?

There are different types of zoom lenses available in the market today. Some of the most commonly-sought zoom lenses include:

  • Parfocal Lens – This type of zoom lens maintains focus through all four possible focal lengths and may also be called a “true zoom” lens.
  • Varifocal Lens – This type of zoom lens loses focus when you change its focal length. You will require re-focusing once a new focal length is selected. Varifocal lenses constitute the majority of zoom lenses sold in the market.
  • Telescopic/Superzoom Lens – This type of zoom lens provides a greater range of focal lengths as compared to conventional varifocal and parfocal zoom lenses.
  • Wide Angle Zoom Lens – This type of zoom lens allows you to adjust focal lengths while enjoying a wider horizontal image compared to a conventional zoom lens.

What is the main difference between Telephoto Lens and Zoom Lens?

The terms telephoto lens and zoom lens are often used interchangeably, which is incorrect. In reality, there are significant differences between telephoto lenses and zoom lenses, such as:

  • Longer Reach – Telephoto lens offers a higher range of focal length without even needing to adjust the range.
  • Varying focal lengths – The Zoom lens, on the other hand, needs to be adjusted to achieve greater magnifying power.


We hope that this article helped you learn the specifics of, and the differences between, a telephoto lens and a zoom lens.

Telephoto lenses are mostly ideal for wildlife and sports photography, where there is a significant distance between the camera and the subject. Zoom lenses, on the other hand, are considered more suitable for portrait and macro photography.

Now that you know every basic aspect of the telephoto and zoom lenses, feel free to comment and let us know how helpful this article was.

See Also

Best Landscape Lens for Sony A7iii

Best Camera Polarizer Lens

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