Difference Between Telephoto And Zoom Lens

A telephoto lens has a longer focal length than a standard one, while a zoom lens has a variable focal length. These categories aren’t mutually exclusive. Zoom lenses are often telephoto lenses, but telephoto lenses aren’t necessarily zoom lenses.

My name is Caleb, and I have more than four years of experience as a sports photographer. Due to the nature of my photography, I’ve done plenty of work myself with telephoto and zoom lenses regularly.

In this article, I’ll explain the differences between the two categories and how they can overlap. If you’re considering buying a lens and don’t know what these definitions mean, read ahead for a complete explanation.

Difference Between Telephoto And Zoom Lens

To understand the difference between a telephoto lens and a zoom lens, you first need to know what a prime lens is. A prime lens is one with a fixed focal length. 

For example, a prime lens with a focal length of 50mm can only shoot with that focal length, nothing more and nothing less.

On the other hand, a zoom lens has a variable focal length. For example, instead of a fixed one of 50mm, a zoom lens could have a focal length range of 24-70mm. 

Can A Telephoto Lens Also Be A Zoom Lens?

There is some overlap between telephoto and zoom lenses. After all, a telephoto lens is just any lens that has a longer focal length than the “standard” of around 40-50mm.

There’s no rule saying a telephoto lens must be fixed. Plenty of zoom lenses are also telephoto lenses, but not all of them. For example, a 10-24mm zoom lens would fall under the wide angle category, not the telephoto one.

Also, some zoom lenses cover both wide-angle and telephoto focal lengths. A 24-70mm lens is an example of this, and lenses like these are popular because of their versatility.

What Are The Pros And Cons of Zoom Lenses?

The main advantage of a zoom lens, obviously, is the increased flexibility compared to a prime lens. 

For some types of photography, like sports, a zoom lens is necessary for capturing moving subjects. 

While not every photographer needs a zoom lens, many prefer them because they can take a larger variety of shots without changing lenses. 

Of course, that’s not to say that zoom lenses are perfect. Because of their added convenience, manufacturers usually charge more for them. Also, prime lenses are often sharper and faster and tend to have wider maximum apertures.


Here are some other frequently asked questions about telephoto lenses and zoom lenses.

What Is A Wide Angle Lens?

A wide-angle lens is a type of lens that has a shorter focal length than standard ones. Basically, it’s the opposite of a telephoto lens. A wide-angle lens can, however, also be a zoom lens.

What Is The Disadvantage Of Telephoto Lenses?

The main disadvantage of telephoto lenses is usually their weight and size. Usually, the longer the focal length is, the larger the lens will be. The largest super-telephoto lenses typically have to be supported by monopods or tripods during extended use.

What Is A Telephoto Lens Good For?

Telephoto lenses are good for photographing something from a distance and making it look close. For example, a nature photographer might use a long-range telephoto lens to get a close-up photo of a bird without scaring it away.


Simply put, a telephoto lens has a longer than normal focal length, but isn’t necessarily a zoom lens. On the other hand, a zoom lens has a variable focal length but doesn’t have to be a telephoto lens.

A lens can be a telephoto and zoom lens at the same time or neither.

Do you use telephoto or zoom lenses in your own photography? Which focal length is your favorite? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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