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Lens FAQ #7: What is the difference between a 200mm and 300mm telephoto lens?

Trying to decide on which telephoto zoom lens to buy, or which focal length to use, can be tricky. How much difference does that extra 100mm make? Let's take a look. (Reported by: Kazuo Nakahara, Digital Camera Magazine)

 

The two unique characteristics of telephoto lenses

Telephoto lenses have two main characteristics:

- Pull-in effect: Draws in faraway objects so that they look nearer to the camera than they actually are.
- Stacking effect: This makes things that are some distance away from each other appear closer together.

 Both of the effects are more pronounced at 300mm because of the angle-of-view, i.e., the range of the scene captured by the lens. On a full-frame camera, at focal length 200mm, the diagonal angle-of-view is about 12 degrees. At 300mm, it is about 8 degrees. In other words, at 300mm, the image captures a narrower part of the scene compared to at 200mm.

 

Comparing the pull-in effect

The difference between an 8 degree and 12 degree angle-of-view may not seem like a lot, but it does result in a visible difference. Take a look at the two images below.

At 200mm

Crowd at temple 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

At 300mm

Crowd at temple 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

For these shots, 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. This, together with the stacking effect, makes details more visible.

 

Comparing the stacking effect

The stacking effect occurs because the draw-in effect occurs more with things closer to the background, making them look even bigger and closer to the camera. In other words, distances appear to be compressed, which is why we also call it the perspective compression or distance compression effect.

At 200mm

Flowers at 200mm

EOS 5D Mark III/ FL: 200mm/ Aperture Priority (f/5.6, 1/250 sec, EV+1.3)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto

At 300mm

Flowers at 300mm

EOS 5D Mark III/ FL: 300mm/ Aperture Priority (f/5.6, 1/200 sec, EV+1.3)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto

I moved back to take the 300mm shot to keep the size of the flowers constant. In the 300mm shot, the blurred flowers in the background appear bigger and hence closer to us. This shows that the stacking effect is stronger at 300mm. 


Find out more how to take advantage of these telephoto characteristics in:
Professional Composition Techniques (3): Making Good Use of Lenses
Improve Your Travel Photos with the EOS M10 #3: Using a Telephoto Zoom Lens
Camera FAQ #15: How Do I Photograph Small Animals Against a Busy but Beautiful Background?

 

Other things to consider: Lens’ size and weight

Generally, the longer the focal length, the larger and heavier the lens tends to be. You may need a tripod or monopod for better stability, depending on the scene. When you choose your lens, consider how much mobility and portability you require.

 

Examples of Canon 200mm and 300mm zoom lenses

*All focal lengths stated are 35mm film (full-frame) equivalent


EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM

EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM

 

An affordable lightweight telephoto lens for full-frame EOS cameras. It has an LCD panel that displays information about shooting distance, focal length and degree of camera shake. It's popular with birders, sports photographers, and landscape photographers who like shooting with telephoto lenses.

- Telephoto end on APS-C cameras: approx. 480mm

- Max. diameter × length/ weight: 80mm × 145.5mm / 710g

 


EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

 

For those who require a professional-quality lens, the L-series version of the above lens offers the same focal length and aperture range and image stabilisation capabilities with better image quality and weather-proofing.

- Telephoto end on APS-C cameras: approx. 480mm

- Max. diameter × length/ weight: 89mm × 143mm / 1050g

 


EF70-200mm f/4L IS II USM

EF70-200mm f/4L IS II USM

 

Light and compact, this lens for full-frame EOS cameras features the high image quality unique to L lenses, and has up to 5 stops' image stabilisation. A popular choice for sports and event photography.

- Telephoto end on APS-C cameras: approx. 320mm

- Max. diameter × length/ weight: 80mm × 176mm / 780g

 


EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM

 

The native lens for EOS DSLR cameras with APS-C sensors (The EOS ***D and **D models). Affordable, compact and lightweight, it can be used for wildlife, sports, landscapes and even portraits. Can be mounted onto an EOS M-series camera with the EF-EOS M mount adapter

-Telephoto end on APS-C cameras: approx. 400mm

- Max. diameter × length/ weight: 70.0mm × 111.2mm/ 375g

 


EF-M55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM

EF-M55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM

 

This lightweight and compact lens is designed for EOS M-series mirrorless cameras.

- Telephoto end on APS-C cameras: approx. 320mm

- Max. diameter × length/ weight: 60.9mm × 86.5mm/ 260g


 

See more examples of what telephoto lenses can do, and learn how to recreate them in:
How to Photograph Dreamy Images of Decorative Lights
Telephoto Lens Techniques – Creating Multiple Layers of Bokeh
Composition Tips for Making Mist Pop
 


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Kazuo Nakahara

Kazuo Nakahara

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.

http://photo-studio9.com/