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Photography cheat sheet: lens glossary

(Image credit: Future/Jean-Daniel Francoeur)

Although there's an amazing range of lenses on the market today, from the best lenses for landscapes (opens in new tab) to the best lenses for weddings (opens in new tab), the sheer selection can be intimidating. When you're making a buying choice, you need to consider the variety of types, technologies and features available, and to work out what's right for you.

Of course, manufacturers don't always make it easy for us, and lenses tend to be bandied around with a lot of complex terminology. Only with a good knowledge of the lens and of the common pitfalls of the lens type can a photographer make informed decisions about each optic.

Read more: Photography cheat sheet: focal lengths explained (opens in new tab)

The terminology of lenses is often far from self-explanatory, and is made more confusing by variations between different manufacturers. Modern lenses come armed with a wealth of advanced technology – some software based, some hardware and chemistry related. Each feature is responsible for a small portion of the overall design, which is tailored to produce the optimal sharpness and contrast, with minimal distortion. 

Understanding the technology present in a lens is essential for making informed decisions about which models you need in your kitbag. 

The glossary sheet below rounds up some common terms used in relation to lenses, and if you don't know your magnification ratio from your MFT, it should help you. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but it will make sense of common terms, allowing you to dig further into areas should you need to. 

Why not save it onto your phone roll and refer back to it later?

Why not save and download this lens glossary sheet onto your phone for later use? (Image credit: Future)

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Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 


An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over eight years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)


In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography. 

With contributions from