Difference Between Telephoto and Zoom Lens

Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Demi-Brooke

A telephoto lens magnifies an image at a specific distance--and within a specific field of vision--so it appears closer than it is, while retaining its sharpness. A zoom lens also make a distant object appear larger, it offers a range of settings between telephoto and wide-angle. Both can be functional in different situations, but one may favor the other in a specific instance.

Telephoto Lens Overview

In photography or cinematography, the focal length of a camera lens is established with the subject positioned at the infinity point . The distance between the photographer and the subject is the focal point. As stated above, a telephoto lens is meant to magnify an image so it appears closer than it is, at one focal range (generally longer than 50mm).

Telephoto Lens Uses

The telephoto lens' image suggests distance rather than width. This is effective in photographing mountains, islands, avenues, landscapes and faraway action. Because the telephoto lens brings the distance nearer, the atmospheric perspective is far more obvious than in a wide-angle photograph.

Zoom Lens Overview

A zoom lens has the ability to change its focal length, as opposed to a fixed focal length lens. Zoom lenses also offer more versatility.

Zoom Lens Uses

Because of their versatility, zoom lenses can be used for just about anything. They can offer the ability to be more creative, provide sharper images, and can help with faster shutter speeds and faster focusing. They are compact and have an excellent zoom range.


Wide angle lenses have small focal lengths, while telephoto lenses have larger corresponding focal lengths. Telephoto lenses stay in place and can shoot faraway things and make them seem much closer, while zoom lenses can move in and out, providing much more versatility.


About the Author

Phillilp Mansfield recently graduated from Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida with a major in communication, emphases in journalism and media production. Mansfield has written for the Flagler College on-campus student newspaper, The Gargoyle, and two volumes of a 'zine he authored.

Photo Credits

  • Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Demi-Brooke