When choosing a telephoto lens, should you select a 200mm or 300mm lens? Let's look at some sample photos that show the effects of different telephoto ends. (Reported by: Kazuo Nakahara)
Different maximum telephoto ends give different lens compression effects
When selecting a telephoto zoom lens, it can be tricky deciding between a lens with a telephoto end of 200mm or 300mm. The main features of a telephoto lens are what we shall call the stacking effect, which appears to compress elements in the background such that they seem closely packed together, and the distance compression effect, which makes far-away subjects appear closer than they actually are.
To elaborate, in terms of the 35mm film-equivalent format, the diagonal angle of view for a 200mm lens is 12 degrees, and 8 degrees for a 300mm lens. Hence, when you compare subjects shot at the same size, the captured range of the background is narrower when using a 300mm lens. Therefore, even when the size of the subject is the same, the stacking effect is more pronounced at 300mm, i.e. the background appears denser than at 200mm.
A 300mm lens can also capture an even narrower range than the 200mm lens. This means that it is more likely to produce a distance compression effect that "pulls" a target subject up closer, making it appear larger. Because the angle of view can differ by as much as 1.5x, the resulting difference can be surprisingly big. Thus, if you want to capture photos that make use of the characteristics unique to a telephoto lens, these characteristics would me more pronounced if you used a lens that goes up to 300mm.
Stacking effect at 200mm
EOS 5D Mark III/ FL: 200mm/ Aperture Priority (f/5.6, 1/250 sec, EV+1.3)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
Stacking effect at 300mm
EOS 5D Mark III/ FL: 300mm/ Aperture Priority (f/5.6, 1/200 sec, EV+1.3)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
I changed the shooting position for this shot so that the size of the flowers is kept constant between the 200mm and 300mm samples. At 300mm, the image is filled up in a way that makes the blurred flowers in the background appear closer to the foreground, creating a bigger stacking effect.
Distance compression effect at 200mm
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM/ FL: 200mm/ Aperture Priority (f/5.6, 1/2500 sec)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
Distance compression effect at 300mm
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM/ FL: 300mm/ Aperture Priority (f/5.6, 1/1250 sec, EV+0.7)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto
Here, I changed the focal length while maintaining the same shooting position. At 300mm, the gate in the centre appears larger when compared to the shot taken at 200mm, as if it has been drawn closer to the foreground. With the addition of the stacking effect, a greater sense of detail comes out in the image.
Remember to check the lens’ size and weight
How your shots look can also differ with differences in maximum aperture. Besides that, generally the longer the focal length, the larger the lens, which means that there is also a tendency for the lens to be heavier. The weight of your equipment can also affect you when you’re moving about while shooting, so do take that into account before making your purchase.
EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
Made specifically for APS-C EOS DSLRs, this telephoto lens features excellent optical characteristics. In addition to being compact and lightweight, it has an angle of view of approx. 400mm at 35mm film-equivalent.
- Max. diameter × length/ weight: 70.0mm × 111.2mm/ 375g
EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
A lightweight telephoto lens that can be used on full-frame EOS cameras. If used with an APS-C EOS camera, it can achieve a super telephoto angle of view equivalent to 480mm at 35mm film-equivalent.
- Max. diameter × length/ weight: 76.5mm ×142.8mm / 630g
EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM
A standard EF telephoto zoom lens. It features the high image quality unique to L lenses, and is compact and lightweight. If used with an APS-C EOS camera, it can achieve an angle of view equivalent to 320mm in 35mm film-equivalent at the telephoto end.
- Max. diameter × length/ weight: 76mm ×172mm / 760g
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
This telephoto zoom lens delivers the high image quality that professionals require, and is suitable for subjects ranging from people to landscapes. This L lens can not only obtain a brightness of f/2.8 through the entire zoom range, but also boasts an impressive size. If used with an APS-C EOS camera, it can obtain an angle of view equivalent to 320mm in 35mm film-equivalent at the telephoto end.
- Max. diameter × length/ weight: 88.8mm ×199mm/ 1490g
EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM
This L lens can be used at the 300mm telephoto end with full frame cameras. If used with an APS-C EOS camera, it can obtain a viewing angle equivalent to 480mm in 35mm film-equivalent at the telephoto end.
- Max. diameter × length/ weight: 89mm ×143mm/ 1050g
Born in Hokkaido in 1982, Nakahara turned to photography after working at a chemical manufacturing company. He majored in photography at the Vantan Design Institute and is a lecturer for photography workshops and seminars, in addition to working in commercial photography. He is also a representative of the photography information website studio9.
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