What Does MM Mean On Camera Lens: Answered

What does mm mean on your camera lens? This is a question that many beginner photographers ask, and the question we're going to answer today!

You not only learn what mm is - you'll also learn how each mm has their own 'look and feel' to their results.

Who knows, you may find a lens that gives you 'that look' that you've been looking for!

Let's dive in!

What Does MM Mean In Lenses

MM is directly related to focal length

What Does MM Mean In Lenses

Whoever invented camera lenses, was a genius. Now, whoever standardized the 'name' of a lens made it kinda difficult for the beginner to understand.

No worries, we've got you on this one.

You see, mm is the way we standardize a lens. The mm of a lens is its focal length. Whether it be a zoom lens or a prime lens, the mm of that lens is its focal length.

So, What If I Wanted A Wider Shot - What Camera Lens Would I Use?

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Well, the focal length for a wider shot is pretty simple really.

  • The lower the mm, the wider the shot will be.
  • The opposite can be said for higher numbers.
  • The higher the mm, the tighter/narrower/zoomed-in look you will have.

**Going forward, I will be saying 'focal length' in place of anything that refers to the mm of a lens. This will allow the article to flow better/sound natural/make more sense.**

So, What Does MM Actually Mean On A Zoom Lens

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Zoom lenses aren't much different than a prime. It works much like a prime but with different focal lengths in the same lens.

Obviously, the major difference is a lens barrel and additional elements and glass (to allow it to zoom).

Generally speaking - you have two options. You can either freeze motion or introduce motion blur. The severity of each is entirely up to you and the environment/exposure you're shooting in.

You can harness the look and reach of multiple focal lengths from a single lens (saves a ton of time, money, and resources by having a good zoom lens instead of only primes).

Example would be: A Canon 24-70mm F/2.8 L. This is a lens with a focal length range between 24mm and 70mm.

How Does All Of This Work Inside Of The Camera?

While it's very complicated and mind-boggling how we've developed something as powerful developed lenses capabile of taking such amazing images... the way that it does it isn't too bad to understand.

Basically, the only job of a lens is to allow light to hit your camera sensor. Nothing more.

It's how the lens bends and manipulates the light that gives us what we desire.

The 'quality' at which a lens does this has a lot to do with price, as well.

MM is the distance from the point of convergence (where all colors and waveforms of light intersect), to your camera's sensor.

Its this distance that creates different looks/focal lengths!

Prime Lenses And Zoom Lenses - How Are They Different?

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This is a loaded question - but I'm going to keep it in context with this article. We have a full-fledged article in the works that will explain, in detail, how zoom lenses and prime lenses are different.

But, zoom lenses are lenses that obviously zoom in and out. What it's doing internally is moving a glass element forward or backward (depending on the way you rotated it).

Remember how we talked about the point of convergence? Well, that's what a zoom lens is doing, moving that point of convergence back and forth - all within the lens itself.

Prime Lenses On The Other Hand...

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...Are fixed focal length lenses. A fixed focal length lens doesn't have a barrel/glass element inside to move back and forth. It is literally fixed and doesn't move.

These are the 50mm or 85mm lenses you see on the market that're just that, 50mm. They don't zoom. The point of convergence remains the same and can't be changed.

Again, we will explain the advantages and disadvantages to either camera lens in the near future.

Prime Lenses On The Other Hand...

Well, simply put - it can do a lot of things.

Wide angle lenses are typically lenses that fall below 24mm. A wide angle lens will allow you to see much more of your surroundings than telephoto lenses would (lens with a long focal length).

A wide angle lens is commonly used for landscapes, Real Estate Photography, large outdoor events (photographing a crowd), etc...

Telephoto lenses, on the other hand, are great when you need the reach (sports) - or when you want background compression (nice portraits).

Let's dabble a bit into which focal length is the best depending on the type of photo!

Focal Length Recommendations

I thought it would be fitting for this article to have at least a little bit of a discussion into which focal length is the best depending on what type of photo you're taking.

Because a certain look will always come down to your lens focal length.

Also, remember, these focal lengths we're going to discuss are for a full frame camera. Your focal length will be different if you're shooting on a smaller sensor (like a crop sensor).

Prime Lenses On The Other Hand...

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This sits right on the edge of a 'normal lens' and a wide angle lens.

This is a great environmental focal length and should be used as such.

You should refrain from taking up-close photos of people's faces because of distortion.

Great all-around environmental/travel focal length.

50mm May Be The Ultimate 'Everyday' Focal Length

50mm may be one of the most common, widely used focal lengths on the planet.

You wanna know why? Because it works so well at so many things.

We're talking portraits, street photography, automotive, even landscapes.

Not only that - the 50mm prime lens (all major manufacturers sell their own) is very affordable (less than $130 for a Canon) and produces amazing images.

You would never go wrong with owning a 50mm. Ever.

85mm Is The Go-To For Portraits (Even Though It's Not My Favorite)

The 85mm focal length is great for a lot of things because of the amount of compression.

As your focal length (the mm number) rises, compression starts to eliminate distortion. 85mm is the focal length that nearly eliminates all lens distortion on the human face.

Plus it's the focal length that allows you to move around a little bit and get the environment along with them if you wanted.

135mm The King Of Portrait Focal Lengths (In My Opinion)

I started shooting portraits years ago with an 85mm like everyone else.

It wasn't until about a year and a half ago that I purchased a 135mm f/1.8 and have never looked back.

This focal length, of course, eliminates all distortion on a subject.

The best part - the compression and softness of the background/bokeh.

You can get a 'similar' look from a zoom, but the maximum aperture doesn't go nearly as low (f/2.8) So you're losing out on that and it can be almost twice as expensive.

Canon and Nikon sell a 200mm prime lens (f/2) that takes even better photos - but you're looking at a $6000 price-tag (versus ~$1400 for a 135mm).

That About Wraps It Up!

know that was a bit of a winded article for how simple the answer was - but I thought it could only help to explain a little deeper than just a few simple words.

If you have read this far - you're amazing - and it shows that you're serious about learning photography, different focal lengths, and everything in between. Good for you!

If you have any questions at all - feel free to drop us a line either through our contacts page or Facebook/Instagram.

If you'd like to know more about us and why we love photography so much - you can check that out here!

Until next time folks, be safe and keep learning and creating!


Jeff & Reyna

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a higher mm lens better?

It depends entirely on your needs. A higher mm camera lens (narrower focal length) is great for reach (for sports, racing, etc.), and for portraits. Higher meaning at or above 50mm. But, if you're a landscape photographer, you wouldn't necessarily want a higher focal length because you want to capture more of your environment. Again, it all depends on what you need the lens for.

What MM is a normal lens?

That's a loaded question because there really isn't a 'normal' in the camera world. If you were asking what the most affordable, versatile, and (most likely) widely used camera lens/focal length... then that would probably go to the 50mm. 50mm is also regarded as 'about' the focal length that's seen through our eyes.

What does the 50mm mean?

50mm is the focal length of the camera lens. Specifically, the point of convergence (where all light comes to a point in your lens) is 50mm away from your sensor. a 50mm focal length is unique to itself (much like any other focal length). This is a very common focal length and is regarded by some as the most versatile focal length in all of photography/videography.

What does 300mm lens mean?

300mm is the focal length of the camera lens. Specifically, the point of convergence (the point in your lens where all waves of light come together) is 300mm away from your camera sensor. This is a telephoto lens and will give you quite a bit of reach for things such as sports, wildlife, events/concerts... basically anything you need that much of a reach for.

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