Telephoto lens vs Zoom Lens And Their Basic Differences (2023 Updated)

telephoto lens vs zoom lens

Hey, Welcome Back! Recently we are receiving so many questions regarding the differences between telephoto lenses vs zoom lenses. Therefore, today we are going to talk about the difference between telephoto and zoom lenses in detail. We will be discussing if there is a difference? What is the difference?

Basic Difference Between Telephoto And Zoom Lens

The basic difference between a Telephoto and Zoom lens is that a Zoom lens has a variable focal length and is used for dynamic photography while a telephoto lens has a fixed focal length of greater than 50mm and is used for static photography.

More Differences Between Zoom and Telephoto Lens

Some other differences between zoom and telephoto lenses are given below. After reading this post you will be clear about the rivalry of telephoto vs zoom lenses.

  1. A zoom lens decreases the number of lenses needed while a Telephoto lens reduces the size of the lens.
  2. Zoom lenses vary in focal length but telephoto lenses don’t.
  3. Zoom lenses make it possible for focal length to focus on subjects of varying distances without needing to switch lenses while telephoto lens is more compact but retains the same focal length.
  4. Zoom lenses are mostly what people would use for landscape and general photography but telephoto lenses are special and pricy and are intended for special angle shots.

A telephoto lens is generally greater than 60mm of focal length and a zoom lens is around 70-200 or 400mm, for example, a Canon EF 75-300 zoom telephoto lens.

A zoom lens pretty much gives you more versatility. The idea behind a 75mm focal length to a 300mm is that you could go anywhere between that range and that gives you a much greater distance. Now, this is an EF lens that is specifically used for canon 600D or T3I depending on what region you are in.

You are going to need an APS crop sensor for using a zoom lens but a telephoto lens has generally fixed focal length and therefore you can’t get much versatility.

The difference in Photography of Telephoto vs Zoom Lens

This is the question on everyone’s lips nowadays is that, what is the difference between photography of telephoto and zoom lens and also whether you need a telephoto lens as a must-have lens in your camera gear or not?

So the clear answer without any suspense is “No” IF you are not a professional, then you don’t necessarily need an expensive telephoto lens. Though the compression you got with a telephoto lens is just incredible. It’s pretty nice.

So I thought I would show you guys this lens and talk a little bit about why telephoto lenses are a great tool to have in your kit. The telephoto lens brings the scene a little bit closure to you than rather pushing it away as a wide-angle lens does.

You can get super tack sharp images with the telephoto lens with a nice depth of field which makes those subjects pop so hard off the background. For example here is a picture taken with a telephoto lens. You can see how crisp and sharp it is and the color reproduction is just absolutely phenomenal.

telephoto lens vs zoom lens
Telephoto Lens Photography

So I thought I would show you guys this lens and talk a little bit about why telephoto lenses are a great tool to have in your kit. The telephoto lens brings the scene a little bit closure to you than rather pushing it away as a wide-angle lens does.

Besides that, you can see the crispness and sharpness in the picture taken via a telephoto lens.

telephoto lens vs zoom lens
Zoom Lens Photography

The pictures above are taken by a zoom lens. Both of these pics are taken from the same point, yet you can see the difference. The first one is zoomed-in while the second one is in a normal frame.

Photography With Telephoto Lens

Here I am going to give a few meaningful examples to make it clear to you, if you need a telephoto lens or not. I will point out a few advantages or better performing situations of a telephoto lens. Read these points carefully.

Compressing the Perspective

A telephoto lens actually compresses the perspective, it squeezes everything together and brings the foreground and then the background and crushes them together.

So, you can fit much more into the frame and you don’t get that kind of perspective where things in the foreground look very big, and the things in the distance just disappear.

This is something you can use at particular locations and works well in some cases if the subject is fixed.

Backlit Mist

This level of compression looks even better when atmospheric conditions like mist or fog or haze separate different parts of the scene which really reinforces a perception of layers in the landscape.

Let’s assume you are capturing some hills with a telephoto lens that are at least a kilometer away. But when the mist is lying between each one of the hills and the telephoto squash the furthest hill with the closest hill and that really emphasizes the separation of different layers with the mist.

Now it can be particularly rewarding because these scenes, other times of the day not generally have a lot of interest, and what really worked here is the separation.

Minimal and Abstract Composition

Often in landscape photography, a telephoto lens really forces you to step away from there and try to get everything into the frame that you can often find yourself doing with a wide-angle.

The telephoto lens will force you to focus on the foremost elements of the scene and remove everything that’s not particularly important. Now our eyes and our brains really respond to order and simple designs. So whenever we have an opportunity, we should try to compose the scene with that in mind.

A telephoto lens limits how much you can fit in the frame but in reality, this encourages the idea of reducing a shot to its most basic element. Here are two shots of a waterfall in Iceland.

Amazing here is the color of the water which is really astonishing. It is wonderful bluish-white color. You can see in the first picture which is a full-frame and gives a lot of uninteresting subjects too. For example, these bushes and the greyish color of clouds don’t look like the perfect background.

telephoto lens vs zoom lens

But the same scene is captured with a telephoto lens, cutting out all of the extraneous details and just focusing on what was important about the shot which is water flowing through.

So the telephoto lens has compressed everything here, so we have got the waterfall in the background and water is running off into the stream in the foreground.

telephoto lens vs zoom lens

Single Point of Interest

As I have just said that minimal abstract images work really well when you can find repeated pans where you have got layers. Using a telephoto lens can really elevate your level of photography to the next level when you can find a single point of interest, something for the eye to focus on, that actually interrupts the pan.

Exclude the Foreground

There are some scenes where the foreground really ruins the image and it’s something that you just don’t want to put in an image and the most interesting part is something. It is why the telephoto lens is interesting because it let you reach out over that boring foreground and frame more interesting elements of the scene.

Now, this is a very classic shot of the Belvedere Farmhouse in Tuscany, Italy. The foreground is really boring, withstanding in the middle of a field which is nothing to capture in the image.

But what actually attractive is the farmhouse that sits on the hill and is surrounded by mist with the valley and different hills going off into the distance and again at moring, this is particularly full of mist. So, you get the compression between the different layers again the hills at the back and the farmhouse which now becomes the foreground.

telephoto lens vs zoom lens

Exclude Sky

Eliminating unexciting foregrounds using a telephoto lens, sometimes allows you to eliminate uninteresting skies because quite often nothing is interesting happening in the sky and is giving nothing to the image.

So, in reality, it is going to be detracting from the image and so it should be removed. By using a telephoto lens you have a chance to capture a much tighter image and cut out the sky from the scene and create a much more abstract-focused composition.

Advantages of a Telephoto Lens

The reasons below are going to show you why you would need a zoom lens:

  1. A Fast lens as you don’t have to choose between multiple focal lengths.
  2. Images are clear, crips, and really spectacular.
  3. Can be used as a prime lens
  4. It Can also be used as a wide-angle lens

Disadvantages of a Telephoto Lens

You might not like zoom lenses due to the following reasons:

  1. A bit pricy than the zoom lens as it is a professional lens.
  2. You don’t get much versatility to choose between multiple focal lengths.

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Photography With Zoom Lens

Now I am going to highlight a few photography situations where zoom lenses perform better. You can use a zoom lens for the following kinds of photography:

Variable Focal Length

The most important reason you need a zoom lens is its variable focal length. For example, if you are having a lens of focal length ranging from 70 – 300, then you can shoot something wide at 70mm. Similarly, if you want to shoot something closer, you can change your focal length to something greater.

So, you can have a variable focal length. You can be at a position where you can zoom in and change the composition. This is the negative point of prime and simple telephoto lenses since they cannot zoom and you actually have to move by yourself.

Another advantage of the variable zoom lens is that you don’t need to move around with multiple lenses because you can adjust one into multiple forms which are very handy in photography.

Wildlife And Sports Photography

Another reason for using a zoom lens is sports and wildlife photography. It’s no rocket science that if you want to shoot wildlife like birds, rabbits, and other quick animals, you can’t get close to them, and also they are going to move away from you.

For this reason, you need to have a zoom lens so you can adjust your focal length, whether the subject is near or far, and also if the subject is moving or still depending on the type of animal or type of situation you are in.

So, the zoom lens is obviously the go-to choice for wildlife and sports photography. There are certain sports where you can’t go right close to the players and you have to be at a variable distance. When you are at a distance and you’re able to zoom up to 200-400mm, then you can do sports photography.

Landscape Photography

Now you might wonder that sport and wildlife might need a zoom lens somehow but why for landscape photos when you can have a wide-angle lens?

Actually, a zoom lens is a must for landscape photographers because if you want to actually focus on the smaller part of the landscape, you actually need a zoom lens. Take an example below:

telephoto lens vs zoom lens
Zoom with Zoom Lens

In this example, you can get a wider perspective of the landscape with a zoom lens when you set the focal length at somewhere around 16 or so but if you want to concentrate part of the photo, you can do that with the zoom lens.

There are landscape photographers that use bigger zoom lenses up to 600mm. Yeah! You might have thought that zoom lenses are not for landscape photography. Give it a try and I am sure you’ll get positive results.

Portrait Photography

The next reason for using a zoom lens is portrait photography. You can use zoom lenses also for taking portrait shots. Now there is a difference. There are two types of zoom lenses.

The cheap ones have an aperture f/4 of F 5.6. I wouldn’t recommend these if you wanna creamy smooth bokeh. I would recommend a 50mm f/1.8 telephoto zoom lens.

The portrait images coming out of these lenses will be really good. So, again prime lenses can be a good option for portraits but telephoto and zoom lenses are the best choices in our knowledge.

Zoom Compression

Last but not least is the zoom compression which means that the distance between the subjects actually starts getting reduced. You might be able to compress layers and make them close to each other just like you can do with a telephoto lens.

Advantages of a Zoom Lens

The reasons below are going to show you why you would need a zoom lens:

  1. A zoom lens is versatile and can change focal length according to the need
  2. Cover a wide range of focal lengths and that’s why best for wildlife photography and for moving objects
  3. Can be used as a telephoto lens
  4. Can also be used as a wide-angle lens

Disadvantages of a Zoom Lens

You might not like a zoom lens due to the following reasons:

  1. A bit heavier than a telephoto lens as it has multiple focal lengths
  2. A little bit slow lens as you have to work on setting the perfect focal length
  3. Pictures are not that much crisper and sharper

Zoom vs Telephoto – Which Lens Should You Prefer

In case you don’t have unlimited resources of money, then do you need the expensive telephoto lens? No, you don’t. You can also use a Zoom Lens as a Telephoto Lens. All you need is to rotate the barrel or push the switch on the camera to increase or decrease the field of view to make the image appear big or small.

You can zoom in to and increase the focal length the 50mm and lock it. Now your zoom lens has turned into a telephoto lens. Thought you might not capture as crisper shots as a telephoto lens but I guess you trade this little feature if you wanna save big money.

Telephoto vs Zoom Lens – What I Prefer?

For my type of photography, I’ll prefer the zoom lens over the telephoto lens because of the reason because the zoom lens gives me more versatility.

So, if I am looking at a subject or photo-shooting something that isn’t too far or is closed or is extremely far, you can get a perfect photo with a zoom lens because you can adjust the focal length according to your need.

On the other hand, the telephoto lens will give you a much more clearer image or a much more crisper image. I haven’t used it for photos too much but I know that you cannot get many variations with a telephoto lens as compared to a zoom lens.

You can use a telephoto lens where you know that you don’t need different focal lengths, for example, you are taking portrait shots or making videos from a fixed point and you know the fixed distance of the subject, then you can lock the focal length and take crisper and clearer photos.

Although with a manual telephoto lens it’s gonna be a little more difficult to capture a squirrel or a bird with its wings spread out as you would not be sure about the focal length. It is because you would have to set the focus manually and there is very little time for it.

However, there are other professional telephoto lenses like the ones with sports photographers and the ones who got a giant set up and you know that 80% of their whole setup is the lens and the last 20% is this little tiny camera.

Those are the telephoto lenses that are gonna get you those crisps in which they are gonna separate the actual subject from the background.


So, here was a complete detailed article about telephoto lens vs zoom lens. Now you will know the basic difference between a zoom and a telephoto lens. If you still have any query, You are free to ask in the comment section.

Also we would suggest you to watch this YouTube video about the comparison of zoom and telephoto lens

Apart from knowing these lenses, you also need to know more about the following stuff:

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